Saturday, August 31, 2013

Book Review - Declan's Cross

Declan’s Cross (Sharpe & Donovan)

By: Carla Neggers
Publisher: Harlequin MIRA
Publishing Date: August 2013
ISBN: 978-0-7783-1463-9
Reviewed by: Amy Lignor
Review Date: September 1, 2013

For any fan of the Sharpe and Donovan series, you will fall into the pages of this book as if welcoming home old friends you’ve really missed. If new to the series, the good news is this is most definitely a stand alone story (but it is so good, you will run back and get the other two).

This tale leaps from Ireland to the United States and back again, telling of an art theft that took place ten years ago. Colin Donovan, an undercover agent with the FBI is coming down from a rather harrowing mission and has gone to Ireland to relax. His girlfriend, Emma Sharpe, who is also an FBI agent, heads along to the Emerald Isle, as well.

Emma has a background in the art world. She lived in Maine as a child near the Donovan’s hometown. An ‘almost’ nun, Emma left her calling to move to Ireland where she worked for her family’s business in Art Recovery before then working for the FBI art crimes division.

Julianne Maroney is trying to get over a romance with Andy Donovan and has also gone to Ireland to recover from her lost love. Heading to the village of Declan’s Cross on the Irish coast, she meets the two agents; much to her dismay, seeing that Colin is brother to the man who broke her heart.

A decade ago an art thief entered a mansion in the town of Declan‘s Cross and Emma Sharpe’s grandfather had investigated the theft, but the stolen art has still not been found and the thief has never been apprehended.

Add in Lindsey Hargreaves to the cast, a marine biologist who was the person who invited Julianne to come to Ireland but forgot to pick her up at the airport, and soon Colin and Emma’s downtime turns into a full-blown investigation. When a character ends up dead, the hunt begins for a killer.

This complex, entertaining mystery is beyond interesting (not a shock, considering Neggers is an A+ writer), and all readers will truly enjoy it. The old saying: “You can’t tell the players without a score card,” rings true in this narration, and the thrills never stop.

Quill says: This book is an excellent combination of romance, suspense and family, making it an unforgettable read for many genres.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Book Review - First-Degree Fudge

First-Degree Fudge: A Fudge Shop Mystery

By: Christine DeSmet
Publisher: Obsidian
Publication Date: September 2013
ISBN: 978-0451416476
Reviewed by: Deb Fowler
Review Date: August 30, 2013

Ava Oosterling had finally returned home to Fishers’ Harbor, Wisconsin after fudging a few things in her life. Well, one anyway. Her job working on a television production, “The Topsy-Turvy Girls,” was about ready to flop after five years and she needed a change. The real catastrophe had been her marriage to Dillon Rivers, a man she’d jilted Sam Peterson for. Mistake. Dillon decided bigamy was his forte and as a lingering result Ava decided fudge would be hers. When Grandma Sophie fell and broke her leg it was time to return home and help out Grandpa Gilpa. “Ooosterlings’ Live Bait, Bobbers and Belgian Fudge” had quite the ring to it, that is if you could hack minnows next to your fudge.

Ka-ching! Ava would make a little money (in spite of the minnows) and start a new life. Her best friend, Pauline Mertens, a kindergarten teacher, would be her moral support and her new assistant, Cody “Ranger” Fjelstad, would help her whip up the fudge. First thing on the agenda was to throw together some Cinderella Pink Fudge. Isabelle Boone, the owner of the Blue Heron Inn, assured her that “We’ll make sure Rainetta gets the first piece.” Rainetta Johnson was an aging film star but there was no telling what she could do for business if she became addicted to Ava’s creation, that inimitable Cinderella Pink Fudge. If that worked, no telling what would happen next.

What happened next was what nightmares are made of. “She staggered out choking ... on your fudge,” Isabella exclaimed. Excuse me? Of course if that wasn’t enough, Jeremy Stone, a local reporter snidley claimed it was a “fudge fatality.” Sheriff Jordy Tollefson made it perfectly clear that even though Ava hadn’t been seen stuffing the Cinderella Pink down Rainetta’s delicate throat, she just might be responsible for that fudge fatality. “And,” Jordy asked her, “do they know about your diamond smuggling?” Ava’s Cinderella Pink Fudge was loaded with hot diamonds. The recipe for trouble was doubled when she found yet another body sprawled at the bottom of a staircase at the Blue Heron Inn. Would she be able to find out whodunit or would she end up making fudge in Fond du Lac?

Ava Oosterling and her cast of characters is going to charm the socks off the cozy mystery world. The introduction of her assistant, Ranger, is a novelty because he’s on the autism spectrum. Ava has confidence that he’ll succeed as an employee, but recognizes his limitations ... that is until he disappears into thin air. That of course is part of the plot. There’s that hint of romance with jilted Sam Peterson who is also Ranger’s social worker. There are lots of potentially interesting characters and persons of interest to be had in future books, including sixty church ladies. Grandpa Gilpa is a character to be reckoned with as is Grandma (“We Oosterlings are in a pickle.”). Looks like this will be a great series if the first is any indication of the fun, the humor, and the twists and turns as Ava Oosterling whips up her fudge and finds out whodunit in between batches.

Quill says: If you like your cozy mysteries with a lot of small town charm along with a dollop of fudge, you’ll love the new Fudge Shop Mystery series!

Book Review - Colette


By: Michelina Vinter
Publisher: Michelina Vinter
Publication Date: August 2013
ISBN: 978-0-9891102-0-4
Reviewed by: Mary Lignor
Review Date: August 30, 2013

It’s the Summer of 1938, in the City of Light. In this well-lit and much beloved city, a young lady by the name of Colette, and her friend Anne, have just finished their exams. They are celebrating the fact that they are newly graduated corporate secretaries. They both have jobs lined up and the world is most definitely their oyster. Now, readers will recognize the date and place; 1938 in Paris is the setting for the veil of darkness that’s coming in over the people as WWII opens its eye on the world.

On her first day, after completing her schooling, Colette meets Adam Walker in Paris, a professor of political science in California. They fall in love and in a few short weeks are married and on their way to the United States. The first stop is the only stop for most visitors, New York City. This is where Colette meets her new in-laws before heading on to California. Colette soon discovers that she is going to have a child, and suddenly her life is a blessing and she’s walking on air.

Adam, however, is not over the moon because he didn’t want children so soon…maybe not ever. Colette soon realizes that Adam is not the man she thought she married, as he becomes verbally abusive to her and has a few girlfriends on the side to keep him amused. She is trying her very best as she goes through a lonely pregnancy, with few friends to help her except for a couple who run a small grocery in her neighborhood and a young Asian man, John Wu, who looks after her and luckily is around when the child is born.

In time, the war begins and life changes. Adam is working for the government in some sort of intelligence job and is sent to Europe. Colette is asked to come to war torn Europe to help the French Resistance, namely her brother, who is a spy. This is the turning point where the plot changes and many things start to happen. Colette lives a life of secrecy and joins the Freemasons, which gives her a lot of friends stuck in all sorts of situations.

The story starts to get a little more exciting as Colette goes on her journey through the War and afterward, offering readers a novel full of romance, suspense and intrigue. There are twists and turns that make the plot a bit different than the usual war stories.

Quill says: This new romantic/thriller is not your usual war story and while it's rather slow early on, it does pick up.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Books In For Review

Here's a sample of the books that have recently come in for review.  Check them out and then stop by our site in a few weeks to read the reviews.  Enjoy!

Nick and Tesla's High-Voltage Danger Lab: A Mystery with Electromagnets, Burglar Alarms, and Other Gadgets You Can Build Yourself by Bob Pflugfelder Nick and Tesla are bright 11-year-old siblings with a knack for science, electronics, and getting into trouble. When their parents mysteriously vanish, they’re sent to live with their Uncle Newt, a brilliant inventor who engineers top-secret gadgets for a classified government agency. It’s not long before Nick and Tesla are embarking on adventures of their own—engineering all kinds of outrageous MacGyverish contraptions to save their skin: 9-volt burglar alarms, electromagnets, mobile tracking devices, and more. Readers are invited to join in the fun as each story contains instructions and blueprints for five different projects.

Colette by Michelina Vinter In 1938, Colette, an eighteen-year-old Parisian girl, falls for American professor Adam Walker. Within weeks, the young couple married and moving back to the United States, and Colette must say goodbye to the only home she’s ever known. After traveling to New York and eventually to her new home in Berkeley, Colette discovers that she’s expecting, and life doesn’t seem like it could get any better. Colette soon discovers, however, that Adam isn’t the man she thinks. Forced to endure an abusive husband and a lonely pregnancy, the only solace she can find is with her neighbor, John Wu. A devoted friend, John proves to be the shoulder she can cry on, and the man she can depend on to take care of her. But as time goes by and war draws nearer, life begins to take a dramatic turn. As the world begins to change around her, Colette’s fantastic story will take her around the world and back in defense of her family, her child, and her love. Packed to the brim with dramatic twists and turns, this exhilarating story follows one woman’s incredible journey through life, love, and war. Colette is an exciting new romantic thriller by Michelina Vinter filled with fast-paced emotions and gripping suspense. Exploring the constraints of life and family, this captivating novel uses romance, action, and intrigue to draw readers in while showing them something more. An enthralling romantic thriller, the novel is a perfect read for anyone who enjoys leisurely reading. From action aficionados to romance junkies, this book is perfect for readers of all backgrounds and interests and will keep them hooked until the very last word. A delicious blend of action, adventure, and romance, Colette is a one-of-a-kind story that follows one woman’s fantastic journey through life. Encountering everything from first love and domestic abuse to the Gestapo and even a kidnapping plot, Colette’s life proves to be as exciting as it is dramatic and a truly remarkable story to experience. Keeping readers guessing until the last sentence, this tremendous novel will stick with readers long after they’ve put the book down.

Cold Tuscan Stone: A Rick Montoya Italian Mystery by David Wagner Rick Montoya has just moved from Santa Fe to Rome, embracing the life of a translator. He’s beginning to embrace la dolce vita when school friend Beppo, now senior in the Italian Art Squad, recruits Rick for an unofficial undercover role. Armed with a list of galleries, suspects, and an expense account, Rick would arrive in Tuscany posing as a buyer for a Santa Fe gallery and flush out traffickers in priceless burial urns. But, before sunset on his first day in Volterra, the challenge intensifies. Rick has one quick conversation with a gallery employee who dies minutes later in a brutal fall from a high cliff. Has the trade in fraudulent artifacts upgraded to murder? Are the traffickers already on to Rick? The local Commissario and his team consider Rick an amateur, and worse, a foreigner. Plus Rick is a suspect in what proves to be the dead man’s murder. While the Volterra squad pursues its leads, Rick and the Volterra museum director continue to interview his list: a top gallery owner, a low-profile import/export businessman and his enterprising color-coordinated assistant, a sensuous heiress with a private art specialty and clientele. When Rick’s lover Erica, an art history professor, arrives from Rome to visit him, she rekindles a friendship with an alluring, maybe dangerous, heiress. Has Rick’s role made him the target of both cops and criminals?

Volcano Rising by Elizabeth Rusch Simple science text geared toward young children introduces the parts of a volcano and explains the ways in which volcanoes create new land, mountains, and islands where none existed before. An informational second layer provides specific examples, featuring volcanoes found in the United States and other parts of the world.

Alphabet Trucks by Samantha Vamos An alphabetical treat for truck lovers. Readers encounter familiar and unusual trucks, learning about where they work and what they do. Each letter of the alphabet plays a supporting role in the accompanying art.

A Commonplace Killing by Siân Busby The police assume that Lil must have been the victim of a vicious sexual assault; but the autopsy finds no evidence of rape, and Divisional Detective Inspector Jim Cooper turns his attention to her private life. How did Lil come to be in the bomb site – a well-known lovers’ haunt? If she had consensual sex, why was she strangled? Why was her husband seemingly unaware that she had failed to come home on the night she was killed?

Book Review - Ripley’s Believe It or Not!: Dare to Look!

Ripley’s Believe It or Not!: Dare to Look!

Publisher: Ripley Publishing; Annual edition
Publication Date: September 2013
ISBN: 978-1609910778
Reviewed by: Ellen Feld 
Review Date: August 28, 2013

Ewww!!! A band of 500 pumpkin zombies invading New York City’s Botanical Garden….Yum! A chocolate record...Weird! A dress made from fermented wine...Neat! The world’s longest hair extension is an amazing four soccer fields long! Yes, the folks at Ripley’s have done it again, producing another very enGROSSing book about the weird, strange, and fantastic that is guaranteed to keep young and old turning the pages to see what might pop up next.

This new edition is divided into twelve chapters covering all sorts of topics including Animals, Body, Digital, Art, Feats, Food, and my favorite, Beyond Belief. Pages are bright and jam-packed with photos, lists, and factoids. The vivid, eye-catching photos are definitely the stars of this book as so many of them grab the eye and while you might want to, you can’t look away. You have to look closer and read the accompanying descriptions to see if what you’re looking at is real.

Like last year’s edition, Download the Weird, this year’s book uses “OddScan,” an app for smartphones. Once downloaded, you can scan your phone over the various OddScan symbols throughout the book to see videos of some of the truly odd, weird, and funny stories. It’s fun, easy, and will keep you flipping through the pages of this new book for hours.

Quill says: Believe it or not, yes! There is new material, new excitement, and new, very cool things to learn in the newest edition of Ripley’s Believe It or Not!

Monday, August 19, 2013

Book Review - In Falling Snow

In Falling Snow

By: Mary-Rose MacColl
Publisher: Penguin Books
Publishing Date: August 27, 2012
ISBN: 978-0-14-312392-7
Reviewed by: Mary Lignor
Review Date: August 20, 2013

When Iris Crane receives an invitation to a ceremony honoring the women who ran Royaumont, a field hospital in France during WWI, memories come flooding back. She remembers following her under-age younger brother to war in Europe, determined to bring him home, but instead remained in France to serve at Royaumont Abbey on the outskirts of Paris, staffed exclusively by women. Despite the horrors of war, Royaumont became home for Iris. She met a remarkable group of women including the spirited Violet Heron, discovered a talent for medicine and fell in love. Yet just three years later, Iris left Royaumont and never looked back.

In the story, as Iris remembers times in the past and present the readers learn about the full life that she had; from living on a farm, to being a nurse in WWI and then, after this, becoming a wife, widow, mother and grandmother back in Australia.

Iris’s granddaughter, Grace, is a doctor, living near Iris in Brisbane. Grace is a very busy women looking after her husband and three children and working as an obstetrician at a major hospital. She is trying to keep up with the demanding work that she chose and the family she and her husband are trying to raise. Grace is worried about her son’s health, and also, the fact that Iris's health is failing and she doesn’t think Iris should plan to attend the event in France. Grace does not know most of her grandmother’s past and is completely surprised by what she discovers when she takes Iris’s place at the event because Iris passed away before she could make the trip.

The author does a fantastic job switching between the lives of the two women and leaving the reader with an understanding of the many changes in the way women were treated over the years. For example, the work of women in medicine as far as working as doctors instead of nurses; also the role in running a home and taking care of children while the man of the house went out and made a living.

Quill says: In Falling Snow is based on the real Royaumont, a hospital completely run by women during WWI. The incredible women who served as doctors, nurses, orderlies and drivers in an all women hospital. A wonderful story!!

Book Review - Astor Place Vintage

Astor Place Vintage

By: Stephanie Lehmann
Publisher: Touchstone a Division of Simon & Schuster, Inc.
Publication Date: June 2013
ISBN: 978-1-4516-8205-2
Reviewed by: Diane Lunsford
Review Date: August 20, 2013

Is it possible for two women to live somewhat parallel lives, feel as though they have met, yet never to have done so because a century of years lay between them? In her debut novel, Astor Place Vintage, Stephanie Lehmann delivers an intriguing story of the lives of these two women and how they were able to connect even though they never met.

On the fifteenth floor of the white brick high-rise on Tenth near Broadway, Amanda Rosenbloom makes her way down the long hallway to meet with Jane Kelly. Barefoot and bearded Rob Kelly welcomes her at the door and escorts her to a tidy nook of a living room before seeking out his grandmother. Jane Kelly may be 98, but she’d yet to receive the memo that addresses how to behave once one reaches such a monumental age in life. Kelly’s first impression of Jane was: ‘this woman hasn’t lost her chutzpah.’ Jane Kelly has cancer and her days are dwindling. As a vintage clothier, Amanda’s job would be to relieve Jane of the myriad of coveted fashions and designs she held onto for decades—pieces ranging from forties and fifties day dresses to snazzy sixties cocktail attire. Rob’s purpose was to assist his Grandmother with the transition and certainly clutter clearing. After an unsuccessful haggling session over price, the two women agree Amanda will take the items on consignment. Besides, it was time for Jane’s nap.

As Amanda begins to sort the items into time periods, she retrieves a fur muffler from the stack and discovers there is something inside. As she reaches inside the muffler, she feels a book—a book that had been sewn into the lining. Pulling the contents through a slight tear, she opens to the first page and sees that the diary belonged to someone named Olive. Curiously drawn to the book and its content, she slips it into her purse before Rob returns. Somewhat conflicted as she had never done anything like this to a client, she still disallows her conscience to force her into retrieving the journal from her purse. When Rob returns, Amanda coordinates a drop off date for the items and leaves for her next appointment.

Olive Westcott is a strapping, young, forward thinking woman. After the sudden and tragic death of her father in 1907, she leaves Cold Spring for Manhattan. Even though Aunt Ida was the only ‘mother’ Olive ever knew since her real mother died giving birth to Olive, she knew Aunt Ida would be fine in Cold Spring. Besides, Olive has drive and determination. She is going to have a career as a department store buyer, yet Victorian times emphatically disagreed with Olive’s aspirations. To the contrary, a woman’s role at the turn of the century was to find a suitable husband and get busy with the only career back then: have children, tend to the home and take care of your man. In some respects, she could blame her father for her wanderlust. He was a successful businessman with the Woolworth Co. and when she was younger, she worked in the store he managed. Of course she did the work for no pay because it simply wasn’t proper to pay a woman for her work.

What Amanda doesn’t realize and Olive will never know is Jane Kelly and Olive’s journal will unlock the connection between these two women before it is Jane’s time to pass.

Quill says: Astor Place Vintage is not only a delicious contrast of the turn of the century past and modern day grandeur, but a glorious homage to the Big Apple as well.

Book Review - Close Knit Killer

Close Knit Killer: A Knitting Mystery

By: Maggie Sefton
Publisher: Berkley
Publication Date: June 4, 2013
ISBN: 978-0425258392
Reviewed by: Deb Fowler
Review Date: August 19, 2013

Fort Connor was welcoming two new residents and one of them would change the face of Kelly Fynn’s gang. Pete and Jennifer would be taking his niece, Cassie, under their wing after her grandfather suffered a heart attack. The young ‘tweener was most certainly welcome, but one other resident, Jared Rizzoli, was returning from a long absence and was decidedly not welcome. Jared claimed he’d paid his due to society after a long jail term, but many in Fort Connor begged to differ. His Ponzi scheme had wiped out more than a few people in town and destroyed some families. The idea that he’d returned to the scene of the crime just blew some people right out of the water.

Jared Rizzoli wasn’t there to repay anyone, nor offer up any apologies. “You,” Barbara screamed in an emotional outburst, “You’re a thief and a murderer! My father is dead because of you!” The normally calm woman who instructed part-time at Lambspun had become positively unhinged at the sight of the unapologetic Rizzoli. Malcolum Duprey, another man who’d lost everything, including his livelihood, wasn’t exactly thrilled when the man had the nerve to show his face in Fort Connor again. Was he planning on fleecing even more victims or torturing his previous ones? Scumbag, the man was nothing more than a scumbag.

Kelly watched the swirl of activity around her with amazement. It wasn’t long before someone decided Rizzoli had to get his. “Some guy died in his car last night,” Julie told Kelly over the phone. It happened in the Lambspun parking lot of all places. At first Kelly thought it might have been a suicide, but it looked like someone took their revenge on Mr. Jared Rizzoli after harboring resentment for twelve long years. Burt told her that “All Dan heard was that Rizzoli was stabbed in the throat with a knife.” Both Malcolm and Barbara had publicly confronted the man, but it wasn’t likely that they violently murdered him, or had they? Could Kelly and Burt put together the case and clear them?

Kelly Flynn has to dig deep to find out whodunit in this perplexing mystery. There were several odd things hidden beneath the surface of this winding whodunit. There were people seemingly covering up for others and a missing phone and a very unusual “mystery text” sent from it. Things are not particularly exciting in this book, but rather more perplexing. It’s business as usual with Kelly and her gang of friends, but I can see the arrival of Cassie as a possible character who will bring more life to the series. The unraveling of the mystery and the culprit’s admission was a bit rushed. Perhaps this book will be a bridge that sees more characters coming in to reanimate the series, however, Kelly Flynn remains one of my favorite female sleuths.

Quill says: If you love Kelly Flynn, you'll definitely enjoy Close Knit Killer!

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Interview with Author Christine Sunderland

Today we're talking with Christine Sunderland, author of The Magdalene Mystery

FQ: In your bio, you address your years of Christian studies between Rome and France. You also include a tongue-in-cheek reference to the “historical Jesus” movement. Would you care to further expound on this notion?

At the risk of oversimplification, I would say that the historical Jesus movement rose during the twentieth century (and ongoing) in an effort to apply new ways of analyzing the historical documents traditionally used as a basis for Christian belief, i.e. the early writings of the first Christians, known as Holy Scripture, and other letters written by contemporaries in the first century. It was argued by some in this movement (which was both broad and individual for the most part) that this new way of analysis discredited the accounts of Christ's resurrection and thus discredited Christianity. The "historical Jesus", they claimed, was merely a good teacher, not the Son of God, if indeed he existed at all. Over the last twenty years these methods and claims, from my viewpoint, have been exposed as inaccurate, and I refer to this debate in The Magdalene Mystery. The movement greatly influenced Western culture, tapping into its Gnostic leanings, causing many believers to lose their faith. I consider this a great tragedy and a greater loss to Western Civilization as a whole, undermining the Judeo-Christian basis of our legal system, i.e. the moral underpinnings of our rule of law.

FQ: There is a dialogue between your characters Kelly, Daniel and Father Francis when they are at the Santa Susanna church I found to be quite moving: "We can know history in many ways. The community of Christians of the first century and the ensuing history of the Church all point to the historicity of the Resurrection...'God enters into a dialogue with the people he created, speaking through creation and even through silence, but mainly in the Church through the Bible and through his son Jesus'..." This is a powerfully moving and hopeful statement. I'm curious to know what inspired you to capture something so prolific.

The quote within the quote - 'God enters into a dialogue with the people he created, speaking through creation and even through silence, but mainly in the Church through the Bible and through his son Jesus’ I attribute(d) to Pope Benedict XVI. I have been inspired by many authors who have considered these questions at greater depth than I have and with far more appropriate credentials (I include a bibliography of some of them), authorities I can trust because they are qualified. I am convinced from my reading that the tapestry of the history of man is largely the tapestry of God and his love for us; it is beautiful, hopeful, powerful, exciting, a glorious conversation. God has and does speak to us through his Church, his son, and his Holy Spirit. This is the Good News of the Resurrection. It is natural to deeply desire the proclamation of this good news.

Author Christine Sunderland

FQ: I sense you have a strong Christian-based faith as well as an innate commitment to dissuade "urban legend." The world is full of opinionated people and while the subject matter of your book is extremely fascinating and heart-felt, have you experienced any abject negativity because of the subject matter? If so, how do you overcome the negativity?

So far, everyone has been positive, kind, encouraging, and have kept any negativity to themselves. For the most part readers have expressed appreciation that their own concerns, beliefs, and thoughts were being aired and in a fictional format. Atheists and agnostics have said they see my novels on a symbolic level, mythic stories about man and his search for meaning, etc. I can't change hearts and minds; I can only tell of what I have experienced to be true, and what my reason has led me to believe to be true. Life is full of negativity, suffering exists, we are a fallen world. I overcome negativity and suffering, of any kind, by offering them to God to be redeemed by his grace. If I found a cure for cancer of the body, I would feel compelled to share it. Just so, I feel compelled to share this cure that Christians have found for cancer of the soul. If the cures require certain behaviors, i.e. diet and exercise to prevent cancer or following the Ten Commandments to cure one's soul, there will be some who find the discipline too hard and react negatively.

FQ: Lester Sansby's character was sinister, dark, borderline creepy and I gather, quite the agnostic. Was your intent in developing such a distinct opposite persona of the main characters to broaden the appeal of the story to a wider and more diverse audience?

No, to widen the audience in this way was not my particular intent. I did want to broaden the appeal of the story by creating dramatic tension. For me, it is difficult to develop characters like Lester, to dwell on this darker side of human nature, but in a novel there needs to be an antagonist with whom the protagonist must wrestle, whether interior or exterior.

FQ: When it comes to Christianity and faith in general, we have the next generation to think of as to what path religious studies take. There was a fair amount of suggestion in your book that eluded to the changing face of theological study—almost to a point of the next generation seeking the answers via the internet and blogs. Do you think there will come a time when traditional churches and houses of worship in general will take a back seat to the internet highway for such information? If so, why?

I hope not. Christianity is a sacramental religion, physical and present in real time. Traditional churches offer this and the Internet does not. We use water for Baptism, bread and wine for Holy Communion, oil for Unction, spoken words for Confession, Matrimony, Confirmation, and Ordination. I do hope that the next generation trundles right down to their bricks-and-mortar church. I hope they sit in real pews and sing real praises to God, alongside one another. I hope they meet and greet with hands and arms outstretched, sisters and brothers, a family of God. Theological study is already available through online classes and colleges. The Internet is invaluable for long distance learning. One compliments the other. Online study compliments worship but will never replace it.

FQ: I cannot help but think there are places you have described in your book that are perhaps more fact than fiction. Of your many travels between Rome and France, what church stands out most in your experience and why?

All of the churches are factual settings. Each one has a different personality, so it is like comparing people. They each have a different history and different present, different congregations and different religious orders caring for them. They are all beautiful and inspiring, and they are all equally important because their central focus is the altar, the worship of God. My husband and I enjoy worshiping at Santa Susanna, the colorful frescoed American Church (they have my books in their library); we were happy to meet Father Paolo at the lovely Baroque Santa Maddalena (his Order of Saint Camillus are celebrating their 400th anniversary this year); we marvel at the marvelous Santa Maria Maggiore, the stunning Santa Croce, the white marbled Lateran Basilica. Each is an incredible experience just to cross the threshold. Each opens a door to the past and to more marvels.

FQ: Your character Kelly has a recurring dream where she is climbing to a place that seems so serene in the way you have described it: " she climbed, she heard a distant melody, feather-light and in a major key, or was it minor now, weaving through her, louder with each step, a harp or a violin or a piano. She climbed, full of fear and hope and wonder..." My interpretation was perhaps she was experiencing a prelude to what Heaven could be like. Was that your intent?

Yes, there was a hint of Heaven calling Kelly in these dreams and I think we often dream of Heaven, of flying, soaring. We long for something undefinable; we yearn and we dream. It is possible that Heavenly beings - our loved ones or angels - visit us from time to time for many reasons. I'm not sure how this happens, what the rules might be, but somehow a veil is pierced. I think love must be involved for the veil to be pierced.

FQ: Thank you for your time Ms. Sunderland. For me, The Magdalene Mystery was full of intrigue and mystery as much as it was a fascinating educational account. Are you currently working on a new project? If so, would you be willing to share?

Thank you. I have many images and ideas for the next novel. They are still a jumble and need some sorting. We shall see if they come together and form a plot and compelling characters that readers might like. I have an image of an altar that becomes a door to safety. Music may be involved, a concerto perhaps. I see a priest walking the sidewalks of an ordinary neighborhood in suburbia, praying for the people in the houses. And many more such images. I've written some scenes and created some outlines. We shall see what comes!

To learn more about The Magdalene Mystery please read the review at: Feathered Quill Book Reviews.

The Magdalene Mystery

By: Christine Sunderland
Publisher: OakTara Publishers
Publication Date: February 2013
ISBN: 978-1-60290-126-1
Reviewed by: Diane Lunsford
Review Date: August 15, 2013

Christine Sunderland easily invites the reader to join her characters, Kelly Roberts and Daniel Weaver, on their religious quest to the far reaches of Rome, Italy in her latest novel, The Magdalene Mystery. The mission: uncover the real truth about Saint Mary Magdalene. The experience: nothing short of intrigue and adventure.

Kelly Roberts is a single mom and most recently, a single mom without a job. She worries about her five-year-old son, Matt. Her worries range from the fact he has asthma to his overall safety. It’s been ten years since the death of her parents—murder, actually; yet the shock of their deaths cuts like a knife when she thinks about how they died. What if something happens to her? Who will take care of Matt? As she dresses on that Saturday morning in May, she cannot shake the thoughts of loss and death. She’s off to another funeral; again, someone who was once a part of her life. When she received word of Father Gilbert’s passing, the familiarity of facing another loss came rushing back. He was her Godfather; yet she had lost touch with him after her parents’ death. In some respects, she blamed him for their tragic demise. As she finished her final touches, she gathered herself and Matt and just before she stepped out of her apartment, she straightened Father Gilbert’s icon that he’d given her years before. The image was one of three angels in the form of men who visited Abraham. Kelly couldn’t recall the exact story from the Old Testament, but she was drawn to the gilded image just the same. It was called “Trinity.”

After dropping Matt with her neighbor Andrea, Kelly leaves for Father Gilbert’s services. Upon arriving at Saint Mary’s, Kelly was consumed with the memories of Father Gilbert. He was her inspiration to pursue her religious studies at Berkeley. When he left to return to Rome, Kelly drifted away from the church as well as her religious beliefs. Father Gilbert was no more than a fading memory as was the case with the many tenets of her professors. When she meets Daniel Weaver at the graveside and learns Father Gilbert was his mentor, Kelly soon learns her life is about to veer off in a completely unexpected direction. It seems Father Gilbert has left his goddaughter a legacy, but she must travel halfway around the world with Daniel in order to receive it. What Kelly doesn’t know is the mysterious Lester Sansby is going to do everything in his power to make sure he gets to her legacy before she does.

Christine Sunderland has written a wonderfully thought-provoking story in her depiction toward the allure and wonder of the life of the religious icon, Saint Mary Magdalene. Her writing flows beautifully as she delivers page upon page of in-depth and breath-taking depictions of the myriad of Roman churches her characters Kelly Roberts and Daniel Weaver encounter. Ms. Sunderland’s writing is authoritative as she tackles a complex and theological plot. Nowhere does her writing falter from anything less than a fast-paced and intriguing read. What I found to be extremely helpful is how she catered to her audience by including a very helpful notes section at book’s end. It includes a wealth of information that provides not only directions in a church, but terminology and her context toward its usage—brilliant! Ms. Sunderland has done an admirable job in delivering a most entertaining and theologically fascinating story.

Quill says: The Magdalene Mystery is as much an informational and educational read as it is wonderfully entertaining.

For more information on The Magdalene Mystery, please visit the author's website at:

Friday, August 16, 2013

Sharkopedia! Our August 'Win A Book' Title

Do you have a youngster who just can't get enough 'Shark'???  Or maybe you watched the recent SyFy movie Sharknado and now want to learn about 'real' sharks.  Whatever the reason, you should enter this month's book giveaway contest to win a brand new copy of the Discovery Channel's new book Sharkopedia.  We gave this book a 5-Star review on Feathered Quill Book Reviews and now it's your chance to win a copy.  It takes less than a minute to enter (really, less than a minute) and we don't collect names/emails from the entrants.  What are you waiting for?  Enter now!

Books In For Review

Here's a sample of the books that have recently arrived for review.  Check them out and then stop by again in a few weeks to read the reviews!

In Falling Snow by Mary-Rose MacColl Iris Crane’s tranquil life is shattered when a letter summons memories from her bittersweet past: her first love, her best friend, and the tragedy that changed everything. Iris, a young Australian nurse, travels to France during World War I to bring home her fifteen-year-old brother, who ran away to enlist. But in Paris she meets the charismatic Dr. Frances Ivens, who convinces Iris to help establish a field hospital in the old abbey at Royaumont, staffed entirely by women—a decision that will change her life. Seamlessly interwoven is the story of Grace, Iris’s granddaughter in 1970s Australia. Together their narratives paint a portrait of the changing role of women in medicine and the powerful legacy of love.

Downtown Strut: An Edna Ferber Mystery by Ed Ifkovic A wintry Manhattan, 1927, finds Edna Ferber preparing for “the Ferber season on Broadway.” The bestselling author has two shows opening back to back. On December 27, the musical adaptation of Show Boat by Oscar Hammerstein and Jerome Kern. December 28: The Royal Family, her comedy of manners written with George Kaufman—Ethel Barrymore has pondered legal action for the play’s depiction of theatrical royalty like, say, the Barrymores. Why does Edna miss both opening nights? She has something else on her mind—murder. Edna has been mentoring some talented, young black writers and actors who are part of the heady milieu of the Roaring Twenties’ Harlem Renaissance—the jazz clubs, the faddish dances, the frenzy—and the lively pulse of Broadway that entices these talented young “Negroes” to push for a downtown strut, for mainstream recognition for Negro voices and talents. Only recently have Negroes been allowed on downtown stages with Whites. Edna knows poet Langston Hughes, but she’s most intrigued by unknowns. Her housekeeper’s young son, Waters Turpin. Bella Davenport, a beautiful vamp. Ellie Payne, a jazz singer. Freddy Holder, a rabble-rouser. Lawson Hicks, Bella's handsome boyfriend. Taken by some fiction by the boyishly handsome Roddy Parsons, a charismatic man most recently in the “Negro chorus"" of Show Boat, she heads to Harlem to take him to lunch, only to discover he’s been stabbed to death in his bed. Who killed this promising young man?

Ripley's Believe It Or Not! Dare to Look! Dare to Look! is the 10th book – and best yet – in the phenomenal bestselling Ripley's Believe It or Not! annual series. It offers up the world of weird in an all-new collection of unbelievable stories from across the globe. The new Ripley's Believe It or Not! app allows hidden content in the book to come alive. Jam-packed with a mind-boggling selection of incredible facts, crazy stories, jaw-dropping pictures, lists and interviews, this fantastic book also comes with bonus hidden content that's accessible using our Ripley's Believe It or Not! app. Step right into the world of Ripley's and see it come alive by scanning the special oddSCAN™ logos with a smartphone to reveal exclusive videos, images and more. Organised into thematic chapters, the crazy stories are illustrated with a wealth of amazing images throughout.

Declan's Cross (Sharpe & Donovan) by Carla Neggers For marine biologist Julianne Maroney, two weeks in tiny Declan's Cross on the south Irish coast is a chance to heal her broken heart. She doesn't expect to attract the attention of FBI agents Emma Sharpe and Colin Donovan—especially since a Donovan is the reason for her broken heart.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Book Review - Downtown Strut

Downtown Strut: An Edna Ferber Mystery

By: Ed Ifkovic
Publisher: Poisoned Pen Press
Publication Date: August 2013
ISBN: 978-1-4642-0155-4
Reviewed by: Mary Lignor
Review Date: August 2013

The year is 1927, and Manhattan is all the rage. At that time, New York City was the place to be. There are shows to see and people to meet all the time. Miss Edna Ferber, author of books and short stories, is a resident of Manhattan and has just come home from a trip to Philadelphia where she was present at tryouts for a musical interpretation of her novel Show Boat; which was to open on Broadway in a few weeks. She decides to return to New York and get in a bit of rest and relaxation before opening night.

Upon arrival, she finds her apartment filled with young people who are aspiring writers and friends of her housekeeper’s son. Broadway is booming with new plays and people and actors who are becoming a part of the Roaring Twenties Harlem Renaissance and Revival; this includes the Jazz Clubs that are popping up bringing talented young ‘negroes’ to get recognition for their music. Edna has been mentoring some of the young men and women who are part of this movement including her housekeeper’s son, Waters Turpin. She meets Roddy Parsons, who has recently tried out for the ‘Negro Chorus’ of Show Boat and is on her way to Harlem to take Roddy to lunch to discuss his career. When she arrives, she finds the body of Roddy Parsons, stabbed to death.

Who murdered Roddy? There are the writers who meet at Edna’s apartment, among them Bella Davenport, a beautiful girl, who has eyes for all the boys; Ellie Payne, a jazz singer; Freddy Holder, a trouble maker of the first order; and Lawson Hicks, Bella’s boyfriend. There is also Jed Harris, the young producer of The Royal Family, all of Broadway loves him but he is a notoriously cruel man. With her housekeeper and son and the help of poet Langston Hughes, Edna sets out to find Roddy’s killer. This is a fun read and many will be looking for the previous Edna Ferber mysteries. Edna is a fascinating character, one who was never married but could really write about families. In one of her books Dawn O’Hara the character of an Aunt stated: “Being an old maid was a great deal like death by drowning – a really delightful sensation when you ceased struggling.”

Quill says: This novel is a great story including both fictional and non-fictional characters who will stay with you for a long time.

Interview with Author Disko Praphanchith

Today we're talking with Disko Praphanchith, author of Courage: A Story of Love and Friendship

FQ: There are many Asian cultures that share most (all?) of the same values as the Korean culture. Given that fact, was there a particular reason you made Jenny a Korean-American rather than say a Japanese-American?

First of all, I’d like to sincerely thank Feathered Quill Book Reviews for reading my novel and for allowing me this interview. It’s an absolute honor, and I hope there will be many more interviews in the future as well.

There are in fact two ways to answer this question, though the first answer should be granted more weight and consideration than the second.

To put it simply, no, there was no reason at all to create a character that was, shall we say, ‘Korean-American.’ Had I created a character that was ‘white-American’ or ‘African-American,’ or ‘French-American,’ the main purpose—rather, one of the main purposes—of the novel would have still been met: that is, exposing the conditioning nature of language.

Language is ideologically motivated. This means that every utterance of voice, action, and thought is dictated by an ideology that exists before the individual. When we think of ‘African-American,’ for example, certain cultural, historical, and personal connotations will force us to think about the noun ‘African-American’ in a way that is unconsciously biased. I made Jenny Korean-American because I wanted to let readers see for themselves their own cultural biases when seeing the word ‘Korean-American’ on the page. Courage is not a novel that investigates themes of culture or ethnicity: neither the author nor the characters in the novel ‘act’ Asian, and such an Asian ‘presence’ in the novel does not warrant simple categorization of genre. To do so—to categorize Courage as an ‘Asian’ novel—would be to degrade the novel into something simplistic. The novel is less about being ‘Asian’ or ‘American’ or any type of signifying noun than it is simply being a work that attempts to understand the romance between friends and lovers. For one must asks themselves: does seeing the word ‘Asian’ in a novel make the entire novel ‘Asian’ in theme? Does having an African-American writer automatically assume him/her to be a writer about race in America? In other words: should language and words dictate who we are, and should the biases of others prohibit us from being who we wish to be?

The second reason why I created a Korean-American character was a bit more strategic. As a first-time writer, I know how essential it is to market myself and find a stable platform. South Korea—and everything else relating to its culture such as music, fashion, movies, celebrities, etc.—is absolutely hot right now in Asia. The Korean Wave, as it’s called, has been spreading through the entire Asian continent for more than a decade now, and it is still very, very strong. It not only has enveloped most of Asian mainstream pop culture, but it has also been slowly reaching overseas as well, gaining slow but steady footholds in places such as America, France, Brazil, and even in the Middle East. It’s no exaggeration to say that Seoul is the equivalent of Hollywood right now—its cultural feats in the past few years have been extraordinary. And as a beginning writer that must find his platform, it would only seem natural that I try my hand at appealing to the Asian market.

FQ: Jenny’s struggles with her Korean-American identity are very realistic. Does this aspect of the story perhaps in some ways reflect your own struggles coming to the United States as a young boy from Laos?

Actually, no, not at all. I grew up in Seattle, Washington, a very liberal, accepting, wonderful, and intellectually diverse place to live—I’ve never experienced racism in any form. I’ve moreover been lucky enough to retain a sense of my Laotian heritage since my move to America, and similarly share typical ‘American’ traits as well. In this regard, I pride myself for being a citizen (and stranger) in both lands, as such a distance from the two cultures—American/Western culture, Laotian/Eastern culture—allows one to objectively ‘see’ the type of ‘languages’ that exist in each culture.

The inherit realism that pertains to Jenny’s struggles with her Korean-American identity comes from nothing more than scientific imagination. That is, because I myself am bilingual and bicultural, I have an understanding of what it means to be with dual-identities. Because I have never experienced racism or an identity-crisis before, it then becomes easier for me to write objectively about racism, identity crises, and dual identities. Also—and this comes from my background as a scholar—I understand the crisis that occurs when one is in a realm of language that is ‘untranslatable.’ As we all know, it is impossible to translate everything perfectly from one language to another. Puns, wordplay, cultural metaphors, and the like always escape translation. If this is the case then, one must wonder: how does an individual exist as themselves if s/he is lost in an area of language that is ‘untranslatable’? If one is continuously situated in a realm of two languages that is cultural, which language will s/he speak? How will s/he communicate to the world?

FQ: The scenes with Jenny and her abusive husband, Tom, were quite vivid. Were they hard to write?

Interestingly enough, I’ve had similar questions like this before, and I am always surprised. As a first-time writer, I can’t ever know the amount of emotional impact my words may have, and can only humbly hope for the best. As such, my answers may disappoint a few readers.

I have never experienced domestic abuse before, and so, the vividness describing the abuse scenes was not at all difficult to write. This may come as a surprise to people, but readers must remember: language always motivates. It makes us angry, and it makes us sad. Certain words, verbs, adjectives, and nouns, when used properly, can dedicate the destiny of emotions. When I write, I attempt to see words and their possibilities, and excuse myself from their emotions. I weigh metaphors and similes seriously, and ask myself: does this analogy make sense? How would using a simile change the meaning of the sentence? What about utilizing metonymy? I want to use words precisely as I can to evoke the proper emotion, but must never allow my words to overtake me as an emotional writer—doing so would only cause me to become subversive to my own story, where I no longer become master of my words. In fact, I would simply become cliché and write in a cliché manner. In this objective manner of weighing and choosing the most precise word for a description—la mote juste, according to Flaubert—I remove myself from any emotional language that would prohibit me from writing clearly. The reader, then, in turn fills in this necessary ‘emotional gap’ where words have meaning, and they supplement the final destination of my words.

FQ: The same goes for the dramatic scene between Daniel and Bill. Without giving too much away, did you struggle to write that episode?

Not at all. My attempts with Bill and Daniel were twofold. I first wanted to give emotional depths to the two characters, and, secondly, wanted to explore one of the main themes of my novel: the theme of pity.

Daniel pities Bill because of his obesity. Yet at the same time, Daniel is aware of his pity, and is disgusted with the implication: in pitying someone else, the pitier must always become superior to the pitied. And with Daniel, someone who has lived his entire young life being “better” than most simply because of his intelligence, Bill’s self-hate of his body hurts him. Daniel wants to help Bill, but he also understands that by helping him, he inevitably must pity him. Thus Daniel is in emotional distress when simply wanting to help others around him.

Bill, on the other hand, wants to reject Daniel’s help, saying that Daniel is nothing more than a typical elitist that must rely on others’ miseries in order to assert his dominance. Somewhere in their last conversation together, Bill sharply asks Daniel where he would be in life with his intelligence were it not for all the other ‘stupid’ people he encountered. Moreover, Bill knows that Daniel pities him, and knows that no matter what type of friendship he may hope to develop, it will be all under false pretenses, and so, declares that Daniel can never be his friend.

FQ: I understand that you have a background in philosophy and Daniel seems to also enjoy really robust philosophical discussions. How much of you is there in the character of Daniel?

It’s difficult to say. I like to try and distance myself from my own characters lest I become accused of escapism, but I know that as an author, there will always be echoes of truth in every fiction.
Intellectually, there’s a large parallel between Daniel’s words and my own personal thoughts. This is especially true in the Interludes. I am in fact the author of all these essays that Daniel writes in the novel, and I am ninety-five percent behind with all that I write. In fact, the essays that are presented in the Interludes were drafts that I had written during my college years. Moreover, the sources that I used in the Interludes are all real scholarly sources that I am familiar with. Names such as Sartre, Camus, Heidegger, Barthes, and Adorno will be recognizable to any student studying under the humanities. Daniel can be said to be my own mouthpiece when it comes to presenting any type of theoretical, cultural, and or philosophical idea in the novel.

Emotionally, then, I suppose that there too is another large parallel between Daniel and me. I suppose that much of Daniel’s isolation comes from my own subtle experiences with loneliness. While I’m not intelligent in any regard, my drive and curiosity throughout my educational career as a student has at times left me with a very few select number of friends. I too become a little hurt inside when declared smart or outstanding, as it’s equality with friends and the world that I wish to have as an individual, not dominance. In Daniel’s case, his intelligence prohibits him from loving those around him, as those around him will always perceive him with a language befitting of elitists. As such, Daniel’s love will always be perceived as a pitying love, as any attempts at an authentic love will be seen as ‘patronizing’ and ‘false.’ In turn, Daniel has no choice but to pity them, thus isolating himself and carrying a deep hurt in his heart. While I’m not like my characters, I too wish it that intelligence was respected and admired rather than perceived with fear and violence. And I too, like Daniel, hurt whenever I must pity, where my pity is not a condition of my so-called intelligence, but rather, the violence and fears of friends and lovers.

FQ: One particularly interesting discussion was between Daniel and his college girlfriend Emma. They talked about Hollywood, whether morality and/or ethics play a part and this soon develops into a discussion on freewill (my philosophy major son’s favorite topic!). Would you explain to our readers a little of Daniel’s thoughts on freewill?

Daniel’s thoughts are derived from 20th century existentialism and overlap with classical Marxist thought. The critique made against Hollywood using these two philosophical frameworks of thought are explored further in the Interludes sections part of my novel.

In brief, 20th century existentialism declares that all individuals are ‘condemned to be free’ in this world: we have no reason to exist and cannot rely on the premise of a Creator. Thus, every individual is responsible for his or her own actions. There is no excuse that we can place onto others when declaring our failures or successes—we are responsible for each of our lives, and can blame no one.

The sheer weight of responsibility of being free is what propels individuals to dive into escapism. Remember: freedom requires responsibility, and responsibility is often times burdensome. Freedom thus can be frightening and produce angst. In the fictional world of Hollywood, actions are played out to the point of satisfaction where freedom—and thus freewill—is temporarily suspended. When freewill is suspended, this burden of responsibility is lifted from the individual, where the individual is now liberated from life. Hollywood is constructed through stereotypes, clichés, and archetypes, and when the individual is in company of these familiar themes—when they know the damsel-in-distress will be saved, when they know the villain will be vanquished, when they know their naïve worldview of other cultures is upheld—a relinquishing of life is made, and their ego is comforted. It’s much easier, as Daniel states, to worship celebrities on the Red Carpet than it is to see one’s self as already beautiful and handsome: to worship one’s self would require work and diligence where failure may very well be an outcome. Such failure, consequently, propels individuals to worship Hollywood figures that are ‘better’ than them.

Daniel also counters arguments that state that escapism is a form of entertainment. Using language borrowed from Marxist theory, Daniel critiques American capitalism, stating that capitalism does not instill equality within a society. In Daniel’s mind, because capitalism is about competition, there inadvertently will always be ‘winners’ and ‘losers.’ The majority of the American population, of course, are ‘losers.’ Moreover, because capitalism requires labor, the losers of capitalism often become weary. In becoming weary, the losers must find a way to compensate for their wretched existence. Just as with existentialism, individuals have a choice of how to live out their life: they may accept their position as ‘losers,’ attempt to find a solution to their plight, or simply flee. The majority, according to Daniel, flee from life, and so are called ‘philosophical cowards.’ The office cubicle, the 40-hour work week, the paying of the bills, and the commute through traffic—these all prompt the individual to flee from life, where life for the fleeing individual is compensated through fantasy. Freedom is again relinquished in order to find temporary relief. Yet at the same time, as Daniel remind us, once the credits have rolled, the bills still must be paid: going to the theater was simply a cowardly way to temporarily push aside life for one brief moment. This is why Daniel calls moviegoers philosophical cowards and states that human beings don’t want freedom—they want enslavement.

FQ: I found a quote from Daniel (pg. 472) very interesting – “I don’t know what life’s going to be like now that we no longer have people telling us what to do.” That says so much about the characters of Jenny and Daniel, particularly with Jenny and her slow loss of her true identity. Would you discuss this a bit?

At this point in the novel, Jenny and Daniel are about to graduate from high-school. Daniel’s statement about the unforeseen future is a comment that we all have felt at one point or another as teenagers: now that four years of high-school is about to come to an end, what are we supposed to do with our lives?
Daniel’s comment implies something that has already been discussed: the burden of responsibility through freedom. In saying that he doesn’t know what life will be like when there is no longer someone telling him what to do, Daniel is essentially stating that he now must be the creator of his own life, the dictator of his own destiny, and the originator of his own actions. As stated by Sartre, Heidegger, and every other 20th century existentialist, there is a level of anxiety and angst that comes with realizing one’s freedom—Daniel states this anxiety offhandedly, but means it very specifically, where he realizes that he now must be the creator of his own identity. Again, now that we no longer have teachers telling us to turn in our homework, what are we supposed to do in life?

Jenny too realizes this, but she succumbs to the social pressures that surround her. Again, freedom requires responsibility, and sometimes if one is unwilling to take that responsibility, they often times will substitute their lives with other forms of living. Jenny wishes to be her self in life, but in order to be so, she must fight against stereotypes, racism, and cultural conformity—this is her burden. But to fight against these things is often times difficult, so she conforms. This is seen where she dyes her hair, begins to wear makeup, and finds a Korean boyfriend. Like so many of us who are unwilling to accept our realities in life because living is so difficult, we flee into fantasy and Hollywood, just as Jenny fled into lies of happiness being with her Korean kinsfolk.

There is also another very important scene between Jenny and Irene that further investigates this notion of freedom and fear. In this discussion, Jenny tells Irene that she married Tom because she was afraid. She states straightforwardly that she was afraid because she was free, and in being free, she had no one telling her what to do. She could have fought for her individuality, but to do so would be to fight an endless battle against society, bigotry, ignorance, and Hollywood. So, she gave up her identity to be with Tom. It was so much easier to give up her identity and just let Tom live for her, she states; while the beatings hurt, they were, at least, not as painful as being free.

FQ: I wanted to hate the character of Irene, Daniel’s wife, but you made her very likeable. Authors frequently make the ‘other woman’ a very unsympathetic character but I’m glad you didn’t. Why make her such an understanding and likeable person?

In my view, there are no evil or good persons in life, but simply individuals with different perspectives. To assume an absolute evil or an absolute good would be to assume an Absolute in language—or what is often called a transcendental signified, coming from my field of study in post-structuralism and theory. That is, we know already that there is no such thing as a universal definition of ‘Korean-American’ or ‘woman,’ so it would be silly to think that there can be anything universally ‘good’ or ‘evil’ in life pertaining to individuals in general.

With that being said, I want to be the type of author that gives realistic and emotional depths to his characters that surpasses these cliché notions of ‘good’ and ‘bad.’ Irene is kind and likeable because she is ‘real’: that is, she has all the natural flaws that are inherent within a single human being. She has her virtuous traits, and then she has her vices. Yet an abundant of either virtues or vices wouldn’t necessarily make her a bad or good character; it simply would make her a character with specific habits. I want to love Irene not because she is ideal, but because she is real. I moreover want my readers to love my characters because of these realistic faults/virtues.

FQ: There’s another line from Daniel on page 138 that really sums up the book beautifully, “A place without friends to love is Hell.” Would you explain to our readers a little about this quote and how it changed the lives of Daniel and Jenny?

This quote indeed is the heart of the novel, and I hope you’ll allow me a brief chance to explain the heart of the author in order to answer this question.

I wrote Courage as a way to investigate themes relating to love, friendship, life, and regret. Let me explain: I am only 24-years-old at the time of this interview, and Courage was published right when I graduated from the University of Washington, class of 2012. At that time, I began to notice how fragile friendships were, as all of my friends—the ones that I once loved, the ones that I cherished, and ones that I adored—slowly began changing and removing themselves away from me. In noticing this trend, I became forlorn, and realized that love and friendships were not idyllic ideals, but rather, indifferent themes. “Friends are nothing more than environmental consequences” Daniel states in his journal under the Interlude Reflections on Friendship—and they are words that were poignantly written from the heart. In observing the abandonment of friends and lovers, I went and looked at culture, and analyzed the possible reasons for why friends would part from one another at this time in life. I’ve concluded that friends abandon each other in life because life demands an elimination of love in order to exist. As Daniel states for me: “How can speaking about love with friends pay off the mortgage?” Moreover, Hollywood, clichés, materialism, the culture-industry, and etc. all grant the weary individual temporary relief from the labors of life in capitalism, and offer solutions that friends in reality cannot. Friends and lovers, despite their attempt, cannot end fully the turmoil in their friends’ hearts—but, when watching Superman save the world, this turmoil at the very least can be temporarily forgotten, where our friends’ presence in reality no longer matters. Thus we conform to culture, await the latest social trends, the latest media buzz, the latest viral videos, the next celebrity gossip, the next award shows on the Red Carpet…and simply forget the friends that once loved us when we were younger.

In analyzing why friends conform to culture and thus change, I ask myself: will there be a point in the lives of my friends where they regret something about their past? Will they regret for having thrown away the individuals that once loved them? Will they regret not doing something in their youth because they conformed to the ways of society? My Interludes are a way to investigate this theme of regret, for I have, already at the time of this interview, received praise from my friends for my accomplishments; and in their praises and veneration, I hear already in their voice the brief sighs of regret that comes from labor and life. And I, like Daniel of course, hate myself for having to pity them.

“A place without friends to love is Hell” was a phrased expressed with words during my time as a university student. I say ‘expressed with words’ because any other expression other than with words would have been an inadequate way of describing the remorseful feeling I had of losing my friends at that time in life. The Interlude, Final Thoughts, expresses my deepest and truest thoughts on this subject.

Jenny lives her life in hell because she has no friends, or, at least, no longer has Daniel. She surrenders her identity to life because life is too unbearable; she thus enters Hell and marries Tom. Daniel, however, in preserving his identity and by becoming a writer, obtains love in the form of Irene, and is in a blissful heaven. It goes to say that one should never abandon their friends or ever give up their identity in life: Friends are worth holding onto and loving at all stages of life, no matter how miserable life may become.

FQ: Are you working on another novel now? If so, would you share a little with us about the story?

I’m currently working on three, in fact. I am currently working on a novel with a tentative title called The Silhouette of Shadows that explores the body of women. That is, how can a woman become free socially, sexually, and culturally, if in each of these realms she must conform to certain standards of society? The novel explores sex as a symbolic concept and deals with a straightforward dilemma: what does a woman do knowing that her husband is cheating on her?

My second novel, Chopin in the Library, is an avant-grade novel where I utilize theories borrowed from Barthes’ The Pleasure of the Text. I try to explode all literary codes within this novel, and exaggerate this notion of plaisir versus joussiance to a new theoretical height. I also invoke a bit of Vladimir Nabokov in the style of Lolita as well. The premise—on the surface—is simple: a young, intelligent, and bright young man encounters a piano prodigy in the library. He falls in love with her; the story thus unfolds.

And thirdly, I am hoping to finish a manuscript that satirizes Stephanie Meyer’s Twilight saga, and expose all the unintentional racist, ethnocentric, and sexist themes inherent in her writing.

Once again, thank you so much for your time and this interview. I hope that we can meet each other in future and again continue our discussion about literature.

To learn more about Courage: A Story of Love and Friendship please read the review at: Feathered Quill Book Reviews.

Friday, August 9, 2013

Book Review - The Serpent and the Pearl: A Novel of the Borgias

The Serpent and the Pearl: A Novel of the Borgias

By: Kate Quinn
Publisher: Berkley Books
Publishing Date: August 6, 2013
ISBN: 978-0-425-25946-7
Reviewed by: Mary Lignor
Review Date: August 9, 2013

This great historical read is set in 1400’s Rome. The family Borgia was in complete charge at that time in Rome; they made sure that all knew it and followed their rules to the letter. The Borgia clan was not a group that you could mess with because corruption and murder were part of their family history.

As the story opens, there is a wedding about to start; the bride is Giulia Farnese and the groom, Orsino Orsini, whose mother is a cousin of Cardinal Borgia. After the wedding festivities the bride goes to her room to wait for her groom who never shows up. It seems that Orsino had made a deal with the Cardinal that he would give up his bride to the Cardinal and Giulia had to live in the house of her mother-in-law. The very next day Giulia was introduced to the Cardinal and became aware that she was going to be the Cardinal’s concubine because he wished it. The Cardinal wanted her for himself and he would hide his indiscretions with women by paying off and sending away the groom and keeping the bride for himself.

Obviously, back in that time, it was a fact that Rome was full of evil, corrupt people and each chapter in this book was devoted to another character. Guilia Farnese was the main character, followed by Carmelina who was the cook in the home of Madonna Adriana, Guilia’s mother-in-law. Of course, the Cardinal Borgia along with his various children were also jumping in and out of the story. There was a very likable character, Leonello, a dwarf, who worked as Guilia’s body guard. But, most of all, the story concentrated on the love story or lovemaking of the Cardinal and Guilia. When the present Pope, Pope Innocent, died, the most evil of all, Cardinal Borgia, became Pope Alexander VI, and was not a very nice person; evil, selfish and very cunning, he kept everyone in line.

This reader liked the book for the historical facts and did learn something but at times the book dragged a bit. The book was very well written and the descriptions of the castles, the horses, and all the pomp and circumstance of historical fact were detailed and accurate. It seemed to me that the activities were hard to believe and sometimes a bit humorous.

Quill says: The author definitely did thorough research but, on the other hand, it was slow reading at times. Certainly a ‘gem’ for history buffs.

Book Review - Death, Dickinson, and the Demented Life of Frenchie Garcia

Death, Dickinson, and the Demented Life of Frenchie Garcia

By: Jenny Torres Sanchez
Publisher: Running Press Teens
Publication Date: 2013
ISBN: 978-0-7624-4680-3
Reviewed by: Diane Lunsford
Review Date: August 2013

Jenny Torres Sanchez has served up a healthy portion of good read in her current novel Death, Dickinson, and the Demented Life of Frenchie Garcia.

Seventeen year-old Frenchie Garcia has too much weight on her shoulders. Her quest this summer is to figure out why death surrounds her. For starters, there’s the obvious because she lives down the street from a cemetery. Then there’s the notion that her crush since ninth grade, Andy Cooper, up and committed suicide shortly before school let out. As she sat on her front porch, she wondered why the old man who lived across the street had to up and die too. She watches the County Coroner wheel the old guy’s body away and reflects upon the rejection notice she received from the art school of her dreams in Chicago. No matter, she and Joel still had plans they’d made forever to get a place in Chicago and live the artisans’ life come summer’s end. Wait until she learns those plans are destined for a back burner somewhere in the file labeled 'next day after never.' It’s not easy being a teenager, but when all that death is added to the equation, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out it was going to take a little more than summertime and sunshine to snap Frenchie out of her despondently blue state of mind.

Fortunately, there was a fragment of silver to Frenchie’s black cloud lining when her gal pal, Robyn, introduces her to Colin. Even though things may be looking up, Frenchie isn’t so sure she is ready to accept Colin’s proverbial extended hand upon first meeting. Besides, she still needs to sort out the why to Andy Cooper’s death. When Frenchie and Colin have the opportunity to break away from their group one particular night, they embark upon a journey. Perhaps this was destiny and the needed answers to Frenchie’s questions would be found. She takes Colin on a tour of the last day of Andy Cooper’s life and how she was the last person to spend it with him. As they revisit each of the places she and Andy had experienced, things start falling into place for Frenchie. The question, however, is whether Colin will be the one who is able to help Frenchie realize the time has come for her to break the protective barrier she carefully constructed around her wounded inner person.

Jenny Torres Sanchez has done a superb job of depicting teenage angst. In Death, Dickinson, and the Demented Life of Frenchie Garcia, she has nailed the persona of her main character, Frenchie Garcia. This character is an extremely believable teenaged girl complete with all the drama and
“insurmountable problems” she must endure daily. Ms. Sanchez masterfully moves the story along from the very beginning to its final page and does so effortlessly. The writing is fluid and the plot is engaging and captivating. Sanchez knows her audience well and zeroes right in on her YA target with Death, Dickinson, and the Demented Life of Frenchie Garcia. Well done Ms. Garcia… a most enjoyable read.

Quill says: Even with a sublime plot of death throughout this book, Death, Dickenson, and the Demented Life of Frenchie Garcia truly does have a silver lining as the end comes into sight.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Book Review - Not the Killing Type

Not the Killing Type: A Booktown Mystery

By: Lorna Barrett
Publisher: Berkley
Publication Date: July 2013
ISBN: 978-0425252222
Reviewed by: Deb Fowler
Review Date: August 9, 2013

Stoneham, New Hampshire's wedding bells would be ringing away, not once but twice on the same day. Tricia Miles's former assistant, Ginny Wilson, and Antonio Barbero were tying the knot. Tricia's one-time boyfriend, Russ Smith was getting hitched as well, but she was as concerned about that as much as she cared for a stubbed toe ... not one whit. Tricia would be Ginny's maid of honor, but there were a few items on the agenda that needed tending to. The Stoneham Chamber of Commerce would be electing a new president and Tricia's sister, Angelica, would surely oust Bob Kelly from the seat. Tricia's "I nominate Angelica Miles" would have done the trick until Stan Berry decided to be a butinski and nominate his own weasely self. The nerve!

The decisive and divisive Chamber meeting was being held at the Brookview Inn, an inn Antonio managed. A little break in the action was necessary and everyone rushed to the restrooms as if their lives depended on it. Tricia was slightly overwhelmed by the ladies line and decided to head to the one by the receptionist's desk where Eleanor McCorvey was hard at work. She was also fretting over her missing letter opener. Where had the darn thing gone? Someone probably decided to swipe it to add to their soap and shampoo collection. "What kind of a sick joke is this, Tricia?" Bob growled at her. Well, she'd found the handicapped bathroom and coincidentally found Stan sitting on the loo. Stan had found Eleanor's letter opener which was conveniently stuck in his chest. No, Bob, there would be no vote after the hurried intermission.

Captain Grant Baker needed to speak to her again and it looked like their on again, off again relationship would cool during the investigation. Tricia, after all, had to live up to her reputation as Stoneham's Jinx of Death. "Lady," Pixie spouted out, "you have got the worst luck in the whole friggin' world." Pixie Poe, her assistant at Haven't Got a Clue, had a point. To add to the mess, Tricia's ex, Christopher Benson, wanted to "rekindle" a flame that had gone out with fur coats. Angelica had some campaigning to do, but Tricia had to do a little snooping because as everyone knew she was a "frustrated investigator." There was a little something she'd spotted in Stan's garbage and she had to make a trash run. "What is wrong with you?" a voice screamed at her, "why couldn't you just mind you own damned business?" Had Tricia gone too far this time?

Tricia Miles, a real "stand-up" chick, is a top-notched sleuth in my book. It seems like this series has been around for a long time and indeed it has. This is the lucky seven in the series and I've enjoyed them all. There are a few little subplots that make this one interesting, including the fact that Stan's nephew, Will, has a thing for her. Will Tricia become a cougar? There were enough things in this book from bribery, blackmail, an unusual fetish, and murder (of course!) to make this one into a page turner. Pixie Poe is really starting to become a character and a fun one at that. There are the "regulars" I've come to recognize and enjoy, but am anxious to see new ones develop. What about Grant Baker? I'm hoping that unlucky in love Tricia Miles solves her own problems and dumps him. Just sayin'. If you've met the Booktown crowd you'll definitely love this one. If you haven't, you just might like to add Stoneham, New Hampshire to your armchair destination!

Quill says: Lorna Barrett's Tricia Miles is definitely one of the most appealing sleuths in the cozy mystery world!

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Book Review - Courage: A Story of Love and Friendship

Courage: A Story of Love and Friendship

By: Disko Praphanchith
Publisher: CreateSpace
Publication Date: May 2013
ISBN: 978-1484169476
Reviewed by: Ellen Feld
Review Date: August 7, 2013

Courage is a story about two friends, Jenny Park and Daniel Fischer, that follows the pair from high school through many years fraught with joy and tears. The debut novel of author Disko Praphanchith, the story will leave you speechless as you read the last page, and the characters will stay in your heart long after you’ve put the book on the shelf.

In the Prologue, we meet Jenny, a battered woman. She wants a cigarette, but knows that being caught smoking by her husband Tom might set him off. The frightened woman has already received one beating and is fearful that another may be coming. What kind of life was she living?

Jenny works the night shift at the Red Moon Diner, a place where the customers are a bit seedy, the tips are almost non-existent, and the powerful smell from the restaurant follows the young woman home each morning. If she doesn’t shower right away, Tom will come after her for the offending odor. When a new customer starts to regularly come in and sit at one of Jenny’s tables, leaving huge tips for her, the other staff starts referring to the man as Jenny’s boyfriend. Jenny shrugs it off but the reader is left to wonder if this man might be somebody from Jenny’s past. As this third chapter ends, Jenny is fearful of getting yet another beating from Tom. Then as the next chapter begins, the reader is suddenly thrust back to Jenny’s high school career and will soon learn what brought the young woman to such a horrific place.

Jenny was sitting in an IB (International Baccalaureate) course, one of many IB courses taken by only the smartest kids at school. Jenny didn't like her IB class, and the pressures it put on her, but as a Korean-American, she had been stereotyped as “one of those smart kids.” The truth was, however, that Jenny didn’t fit the stereotyped image at all. Bright, yes, but she had problems with her church and questioned its motives in depth. She also didn’t see the merits of her family’s accepted cultural norms, fought with her parents, and wasn’t liked by many of her Korean-American peers. In short, Jenny felt very alone. That all changed one day when she met Daniel Fischer, a brilliant student who, like Jenny, felt utterly alone. “It hurts,” he confided to her during one of their many long walks, "because being intelligent means you have to always contrast yourself with others around you."

Jenny and Daniel become good friends and help each other get through the tumultuous high school years. We follow them next to college, where Daniel’s desire to help those less fortunate really takes hold. Many philosophical discussions with others, such as his new girlfriend Emma, unfold. Some, such as his talks with Bill Bukowski, a former writing partner, will have life altering outcomes. It is through these talks, as well as Jenny’s inner struggles, that the two are brought together, as well as torn apart.

By the time Daniel has become a successful writer, Jenny has found herself in a loveless marriage with a wife beater. She has long since lost her true identity and is merely going through the motions of a meaningless life. Are Daniel and Jenny truly meant for each other or has their inability to express their love driven them apart permanently? Will they ever re-connect or is it too late? These are questions that will keep the reader going through this rather voluminous novel.

Courage frequently switches between different times in the characters lives, with early chapters going between Jenny’s dismal married life and her and Daniel’s teen years, while later chapters swap between the college years and 2019, which is where the story ends. Unlike many novels where these changes add little more than confusion, Praphanchith handles these time changes quite well. In addition, rather than wondering why or how a character acted the way they did, we can see quickly just what in that person’s past precipitated the action. The author’s style is clear, succinct, and engaging, keeping the story flowing at a satisfactory pace. While the novel could have been edited down a bit, the time commitment to read Courage will be well rewarded.

Many people, reading that Jenny is in an abusive marriage, may fear that this book is about an abused woman. While it’s true that there are several scenes of Tom’s cruelty to Jenny, this is instead a tale about two extremely close friends and their inner struggles to find peace. While Jenny realizes that she "...was just fading away from the world," this is a story about the triumphant of the human spirit and the need to have one very special friend in the world who will do anything to help you.

Quill says: A story of love and friendship that will haunt you long after you’ve closed the book for the last time.

For more information on Courage: A Story of Love and Friendship, please visit the author's website at: