Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Books In For Review

Check out the latest books to arrive for review!

The Wild West of Louis L'Amour: An Illustrated Companion to the Frontier Fiction of an American Icon by Tim Champlin At the time of his death in 1988, all of Louis L'Amour's 100 novels and short-story collections remained in print, a testament to the popularity of a prolific writer best known for his fast-paced tales of the American West. The Wild West of Louis L'Amour is a richly illustrated, sumptuous book commemorating one of America's most beloved and successful authors and the landscapes, characters, and violent times he portrayed. Author Tim Champlin (himself a writer of Western historical fiction) uncovers all of the secrets of L'Amour's themes and characters - geography of the West, lone heroes, gunfighters, mining and ranching, women, Native Americans, food, and transportation. The frontier regions, towns, and events that featured in L'Amour's writing, as well as the real folks on whom his characters were based, come to life through thoroughly researched illustrations. The collection of more than 200 images includes maps, period photos and daguerreotypes, period illustrations, paintings of the regions discussed, modern photography of towns and countryside, and cover art from L'Amour's books and the pulp magazines in which he was published before he became a best-selling author.

Succession by Livi Michael Margaret of Anjou, French, beautiful, unpopular; her marriage in 1444 to a young Henry VI causes national uproar. As English rule in France collapses, Henry goes insane, civil war erupts, and families are pitted against each other. With Henry VI incapacitated, Margaret Anjou is left to fight alone for her son's position as rightful heir. Meanwhile Margaret Beaufort, nobly born but far more distant from the throne, becomes a great heiress while only an infant. Her childhood is lived in echoing remote castles and she is lonely and vulnerable: everyone at Henry's court competes to be her guardian and to engineer an advantageous alliance through marriage to her. By the age of thirteen, she has married twice and given birth to her only son - the future King of England. But then she is separated from him . . . and her fight really begins.

Dragonbane (Dark-Hunter series) by Sherrilyn Kenyon Out of all the mysterious boarders who call Sanctuary home, no one is more antisocial or withdrawn than Maxis Drago. But then, it's hard to blend in with the modern world when you have a fifty foot wingspan. Centuries ago, he was cursed by an enemy who swore to see him fall. An enemy who took everything from him and left him forever secluded. But Fate is a bitch, with a wicked sense of humor. And when she throws old enemies together and threatens the wife he thought had died centuries ago, he comes back with a vengeance. Modern day New Orleans has become a battleground for the oldest of evils. And two dragons will hold the line, or go down in flames.

The Gilded Hour by Sara Donati The year is 1883, and in New York City, it’s a time of dizzying splendor, crushing poverty, and tremendous change. With the gravity-defying Brooklyn Bridge nearly complete and New York in the grips of anti-vice crusader Anthony Comstock, Anna Savard and her cousin Sophie—both graduates of the Woman’s Medical School—treat the city’s most vulnerable, even if doing so may put everything they’ve strived for in jeopardy. Anna's work has placed her in the path of four children who have lost everything, just as she herself once had. Faced with their helplessness, Anna must make an unexpected choice between holding on to the pain of her past and letting love into her life. For Sophie, an obstetrician and the orphaned daughter of free people of color, helping a desperate young mother forces her to grapple with the oath she took as a doctor—and thrusts her and Anna into the orbit of Anthony Comstock, a dangerous man who considers himself the enemy of everything indecent and of anyone who dares to defy him.  

The Summer at Hideaway Key by Barbara Davis Pragmatic, independent Lily St. Claire has never been a beachgoer. But when her late father leaves her a small house on Hideaway Key—one neither her mother nor she knew he owned—she’s determined to visit the sleepy spit of land along Florida’s Gulf Coast. Expecting a quaint cottage, Lily instead finds a bungalow with peeling shutters and mountains of memorabilia. She also catches a glimpse of the architect who lives down the beach. But it’s the carton of old journals in the front room that she finds most intriguing. The journals were written by her mother’s sister, an infamous beauty whose name has long been banned from the St. Claire home. The journals tell a family tale Lily has never heard, of her mother and her aunt as young girls in Tennessee and the secrets that followed them into adulthood. As she reads, Lily gains a new understanding: about her family and about herself. And she begins to open her heart—to this place, these people, and the man next door. But can she ever truly learn to trust, to believe that love is not a trap but a harbor? And is it true that hearts, even broken ones, can be forged anew? The Last Midwife by Sandra Dallas It is 1880 and Gracy Brookens is the only midwife in a small Colorado mining town where she has delivered hundreds, maybe thousands, of babies in her lifetime. The women of Swandyke trust and depend on Gracy, and most couldn't imagine getting through pregnancy and labor without her by their sides. But everything changes when a baby is found dead...and the evidence points to Gracy as the murderer. She didn't commit the crime, but clearing her name isn't so easy when her innocence is not quite as simple, either. She knows things, and that's dangerous. Invited into her neighbors' homes during their most intimate and vulnerable times, she can't help what she sees and hears. A woman sometimes says things in the birthing bed, when life and death seem suspended within the same moment. Gracy has always tucked those revelations away, even the confessions that have cast shadows on her heart. With her friends taking sides and a trial looming, Gracy must decide whether it's worth risking everything to prove her innocence. And she knows that her years of discretion may simply demand too high a price now...especially since she's been keeping more than a few dark secrets of her own.

Book Review - Unleashed

Unleashed: A Kate Turner, DVM Mystery

By: Eileen Brady
Illustrated By: Mike Hagelberg
Publisher: Poisoned Pen Press
Publication Date: August 2015
ISBN: 9781464203947
Reviewed By: Kristi Benedict
Review Date: August 27, 2015

Dr. Kate Turner has settled into her routine in the small town of Oak Falls, New York working as a relief vet for old Doc Anderson who is jet setting around the world. Each morning starts with a cup of coffee, a quick review of the day’s appointments and then she is off to make house calls. Of course the routine cannot stay normal for long...

In this newest offering in the Kate Turner, DVM mystery series, it seems that after the last murder Kate accidently solved, she finds herself in the midst of another crime when a client of hers named Claire Birnham is found dead in her car. The police are claiming it was a suicide but just a couple days before, Claire’s dog Toto had gotten sick and was taken to the clinic where Kate worked and the morning of the apparent suicide was the day Claire was supposed to pick Toto up. Kate knows this thought is a long shot but she can’t help but think that Claire would never leave Toto without someone to take care of him, as she loved that dog with all her heart. Claire also had exciting new plans starting in her life, a new job in Manhattan, and a new apartment, so why would she commit suicide when everything seemed to be going her way? Kate can’t shake the feeling that this was not a suicide but a murder.

Against the wishes of her Gramps and local police officer friend Luke Gianetti, Kate decides to start asking questions as of course in a small town gossip runs rampant so she is bound to come across some piece of useful information. It turns out Kate gets much more information than she bargained for, unfortunately, however, she finds no real concrete clues to help her solve this mystery. She does discover Claire’s former rock singer boyfriend held quite a grudge when they broke up and that this singer’s current girlfriend was jealous of the fondness he still held for Claire. Then there is Claire’s alcoholic mother and dead-beat boyfriend Buzz whom Claire never got along with and apparently Claire had quite a life insurance policy that these two might have been trying to get their hands on. Now, suddenly Kate has a whole slew of possible suspects who could have a motive for murder but the police only want hard evidence not just speculation so in reality Kate really has nothing to go on. However, when young Eugene, an employee of Kate’s, becomes a suspect in Claire’s murder Kate knows that she must do everything in her power to clear his name for she can’t let someone innocent go to jail for this crime.

After absolutely loving the first book by Eileen Brady, Muzzled, I was excited to see that she had written another one and I was not disappointed. Working as a veterinary technician I enjoy all of the veterinary aspects that are included in these books and laugh at all the humorous and unexpected things that can happen in a clinic. Brady does an amazing job of combining a page turning mystery and the humor involved in working with animals and always has me guessing until the climatic end.

Quill says: Brady delivers again with another wonderfully humorous and intriguing mystery.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Book Review - A Curious Beginning

A Curious Beginning: A Veronica Speedwell Mystery

By: Deanna Raybourn
Publisher: Penguin Random House
Publication Date: September 2015
ISBN #: 978-0-451-47601-2
Reviewed by: Diane Lunsford
Review Date: August 25, 2015

Bestselling author Deanna Raybourn introduces Veronica Speedwell, a woman extraordinaire, in the first of a new series: A Curious Beginning.

Veronica Speedwell is a woman of substance well before her time. She travels the world in her quest of scientific inquiry. Her specific interest? Butterflies. After burying her spinster aunt, Nell Harbottle, Veronica is now an orphan. She is free to reignite her lust for travel to parts unknown in search of the discovery of unique and coveted butterflies. Of course, the necessity of adding a bit of romantic dalliance along the way is a must. However, she is unprepared for the danger that lurks on her horizon—a danger that targets her and her true identity. Upon returning from her aunt’s funeral to Wren Cottage, Veronica is unprepared for the disarray she happens upon once entering the cottage. Furniture is turned on its side and cupboards are toppled inside out. Unfortunate for her, the interloper is still close by. It would seem, she is the last item he intends to collect before departing...

Perhaps not by coincidence, German baron Maximilian von Stauffenbach arrives on the scene at the ready to her rescue. With no time to waste and little to flee into the night, Veronica finds herself at the mercy of the Baron and on their way to London. Upon arriving in London, Veronica is deposited for safe-keeping with an old (and quite eclectic) compadre of the Baron’s: Stoker. With little explanation and a fair amount of resistance, Miss Speedwell acquiesces for the time being to stay with this character Stoker of whom the Baron assures her is a trustworthy sort. Sadly, the best laid plans of the Baron are foiled when his anticipated return to collect her is thwarted. It would seem he has been murdered and as time will tell, Stoker will be the prime suspect...

Deanna Raybourn has a great touch of her pen in knowing how to spin a mystery. The period is 1887 London and the characters are well suited and properly defined to match the era. The dialect is the King’s English and Raybourn owns her nuance as she develops main character Veronica Speedwell. The author also accurately portrays women back in the day who were equally matched to their male counterparts. The pace is vibrant and the twists and turns happen consistently throughout this read. Ms. Raybourn accomplishes what every great mystery writer must do: she delivers the body and does so early on. Raybourn’s intended audience is taken on a fantastic journey across this 337 page read. The reader is easily coaxed to interact and participate with the plot as he or she seeks the answer of: ‘Who Done It’? Set up to dialogue provides a sense of familiarity for the reader to feel as it prepares that same reader to hear the conversation. Coming off of her Lady Julia Grey mysteries and launching into the adventures of Veronica Speedwell is a win/win. I look forward to reading the next installment of this new series. Well done Ms. Raybourn.

Quill says: Veronica Speedwell is a proper English lady who is unafraid to soil her hands if that’s what it takes to be a heroine as well.

Book Review - Main Squeeze

Main Squeeze: Juicing Recipes for Your Healthiest Self

By: Iris McCarthy
Publisher: Front Table Books, an imprint of Cedar Fort, Inc.
Publication Date: July 2015
ISBN: 978-1-4621-1560-0
Reviewed by: Diane Lunsford
Review Date: August 25, 2015

Iris McCarthy shares her theory with her audience that by using the right combination of fruits and vegetables one can achieve the end result of a healthier lifestyle in her book on ‘juicing’ titled Main Squeeze.

Ms. McCarthy sets the record straight at the onset. She is not a nutritional expert, but she sure knows her way around a juicer and how to concoct tasty juice recipes for a healthy end result. The book is broken down into extremely simple recipes to follow—recipes that do not warrant traveling the globe to procure the ingredients. As with any book of instruction, it is helpful to devote the opening to an introduction of not only what inspired the author to write the book, but the answers to frequently asked questions before diving into the preparation. Ms. McCarthy accomplishes this quite well.

There are five distinct sections titled: ‘Detox and Wellness,’ ‘Energy Boosters,’ ‘Soothers,’ ‘Skin Refreshers,’ and ‘Mocktails’—the latter a play on the word ‘cocktails’ sans the alcohol. Ms. McCarthy has compiled a series of recipes that are extremely easy to follow and prepare. The fear factor is removed early on in that the reader does not have to run out to their local store and plunk down hundreds of dollars in order to secure the quintessential juicing machine to get started. Rather, McCarthy takes the time to explain the basics in her chapter titled: ‘Juicing 101: The Basics’ and defines the differences between a ‘juicer’ to that of a ‘blender.’ She further explains the value in utilizing both in certain recipes given the components used (i.e., it is a messy experience at best to ‘juice’ a banana).

For quite some time, our society has had a propensity toward healthier eating. Again, Ms. McCarthy does not profess to be a nutrition expert, but she walks the walk and talks the talk toward seeking healthier alternatives to living a more robust and satisfying life. In order for me to endorse the value of this book, I thought it imperative to personally sample some recipes. I may not be the poster child of perfect fitness, but I do consistently seek healthy choices through a balanced diet and regular exercise. Some of my personal favorites are: ‘Get Up and Go-Go.’ It is the perfect answer to Monday Mornings! The ingredients are basic and the end result is not only delicious, but the feeling: exhilarant! There is a nice balance on the palate between citrus and sweet and once ingested, the after effects are a feeling of pep in one’s step to face the day. I’m also a big supporter of the importance of properly fueling the muscles that work so very hard for our being. 'The Elvis Parsley' is a winner in flushing ‘sludge.’ Again, through a handful of ingredients and a nominal amount of prep time, the end result will have one saying: ‘Bring on those burpees!’ This book is not cluttered with type too small to read or endless pontification of too many steps to follow. Rather, it is basic and extremely user friendly for the novice juicer as much as the ‘juice bar’ entrepreneur.

Quill says: Main Squeeze is a great starter kit for the person looking to blend juicing into his or her healthy eating lifestyle.

Monday, August 24, 2015

Book Review - Eye-Popping Oddities

Ripley's Believe It Or Not! Eye-Popping Oddities (ANNUAL)

By: Editors/Ripley's Believe It Or Not!
Publication Date: September 2015
ISBN: 978-1609911362
Reviewed by: Ellen Feld
Review Date: August 21, 2015

It’s that time of the year again – time for Ripley’s Believe It Or Not! to release their annual compendium of odd, weird, creepy, funny and downright bizarre people, places, and things from around the world.

This newest edition has ten chapters that include World, Body, Animals, Pop Culture, Feats, Art and Beyond Belief. The animal section is always one of my favorites and upon checking it, I read about a goldfish that had brain surgery and then my first ‘eye-popping yuck’ moment when I saw the picture of a five foot long earthworm. Noteworthy items from other chapters include 'cheek holes,' an amazing photo of an ice cave in eastern Russia that is 0.6 miles long, and a very cool tree illusion. Honestly, there are so many remarkable photos and topics in this book that I can’t begin to cover them all.

Eye-Popping Oddities also offers a lot of photos of fascinating things that readers of the series submitted in the hopes of making it into the next edition. It was nice to read about these folks and their submissions and I appreciate the fact that the editors pointed them out to us. They also point out the likely medical condition(s) behind so many of the unusual photos of people around the world such as the boy with a ‘tail’ who is worshipped in Punjab, India because they believe he is a reincarnated Hindu Monkey god. What is the condition? You’ll have to read the book to find out...

This is the 12th book in Ripley’s annual ‘Believe It Or Not!’ series of books and the sixth one that I have reviewed. While I don’t tend to review that many books in any series, I so enjoy these books that I keep accepting them for review. While reading through this book on my lunch break, I actually let out a few ‘ewww’ murmurs that were heard at the next table. I kept reading beyond my allotted time and was late returning to work because I wanted to see what was on the next page, and the next and the next...f you have a reluctant reader in your household, Eye-Popping Oddities is a great way for him/her to experience the joy of being sucked into a book. Or, if you’re simply curious yourself, this book is definitely good for both teens and adults as there is plenty here for all to enjoy.

Quill says: Another annual from Ripley’s Believe It Or Not! that delivers what it promises – a great time reading all about, well, all about all sorts of things that will make you say ‘wow!’

Book Review - Troika


By: Adam Pelzman
Publisher: G. P. Putnam’s Sons
Publication Date: April 2015
ISBN: 978-0425275368
Reviewed by: Charline Ratcliff
Date: August 21, 2015

I’ve recently finished reading Troika, by Adam Pelzman and I found it to be a fast-paced and interesting read. Troika was certainly not your conventional, fictional, romance novel; instead the tale was filled with power and intrigue – while parts of it read like a dark and gritty Cinderella based love story with a third person thrown into the mix for dramatic effect.

Right off the bat, readers will meet Perla – one of the book’s three main protagonists. She’s twenty-three, attractive, Cuban, and she supports herself by dancing at night in a rather sleazy southern Florida strip club. She’s also desirous to make her life more meaningful – although she’s still struggling to figure out how to do so. There has to be more to life than dancing, right? Besides, it can be a dangerous profession, and what’s a girl to do when her looks eventually fade?

Next, enter Julian – the Russian orphan who was shipped over to the States; the determined boy grew up to become something other than just a statistic. He pulled himself up by his bootstraps and has made something extraordinary out of his life. He clearly doesn’t belong in the establishment he’s just wandered into, and yet for some reason he’s decided to stick around. Maybe it was his chance meeting with Perla this night – maybe she intrigued him more than she (or he) realized.

From here, Pelzman will take his readers on a literary journey through each character’s distant past, the near past, as well as the present. Pelzman seamlessly weaves his words from past to present and then back again; creating a kaleidoscope of experiences for each; etching out the footprints of who each has become, and the why behind it.

The reader will confront the characters’ childhood horrors and, like a fly on the proverbial wall, the reader will watch as each one learns how to overcome his, or her, past in order to learn the strength they will each need to deal with the challenges of their present, and future, lives. These three players come from completely different worlds, and yet, at the end of the day, it is their sheer strength of will that will ultimately bind them to one another.

Of course there is that mystery third character, but I will leave that one alone because the reader needs to discover that life, its hardships, and its journey for him/herself.

Quill says: Troika was an intriguing read. It offers a brutally honest look at a fictional world, and yet, how fictional is it really? A seamless read and one that is difficult to set down. Kudos to Pelzman for crafting such a riveting read to be his debut novel.

Book Review - Just You Wait

Just You Wait: A Grace Street Mystery

By: Jane Tesh
Publisher: Poisoned Pen Press
Publication Date: February 2015
ISBN: 978-1-4642-0367-1
Reviewed by: Charline Ratcliff
Date: August 21, 2015

Just You Wait is the fourth book in the Grace Street Mystery series, and – it was yet another fun read by mystery writer Jane Tesh.

In this episode, Randall (one of the series’ main protagonists) still resides at 302 Grace Street, as does the complete cast of the previous Grace Street Mystery books. With regard to Randall, being a private investigator means that life is never boring, however there are times when it can be considered ‘slow.’ This barely active period is where the reader, upon starting Just You Wait, will locate Randall.

However, due to the fact that private investigator work is generally feast or famine, Randall isn't idle for very long... A well-known and much-loved actress with the local theater has been missing for several days; there have been a slew of oddly strange, shoplifted items at the neighborhood drug store, and last, but not least, BeautiQueen Cosmetics business owner, Mrs. Folly Harper’s business partner, George Mark McMillan, has run off with a sizeable chunk of money. Mrs. Harper desperately needs Randall to locate him for her.

Camden, the Grace Street house owner (and one of Randall's housemates) is also having significant troubles... His psychic abilities are on the fritz; he has now added telekinesis to his repertoire of unusual talents; and he's trying to stay true to his personal values while still attempting to marry his fiancé.

And, like always, much is not what it seems to be in the small town of Parkland... Viola, the missing actress, has at last been located, but, sadly for her, she was found dead and buried in her home's basement. The mysterious drug store thief has unfortunately, or fortunately, disappeared without so much as a trace, and George McMillan (Mrs. Harper’s business partner), for reasons unbeknownst, has apparently run away to Florida.

With that said, I’m not going to ruin the plot of an intriguing mystery, or three, but I will tell you that Tesh has once again penned a wonderful and riveting suspense which will assuredly keep the reader guessing until the very end.

Quill says: Anyone who loves a good mystery will enjoy Just You Wait and, due to Tesh's tasteful writing style, Just You Wait can be enjoyed by readers of all ages. In summary, another great read by a mystery writer who is certainly qualified to rub shoulders with Agatha Christie.

Book Review - The Fifth House of the Heart

The Fifth House of the Heart

By: Ben Tripp
Publisher: Gallery Books
Publication Date: July 2015
ISBN: 978-1-4767-8263-8
Reviewed By: Kristi Benedict
Review Date: August 21, 2015

On the outside Asmodeus Saxon-Tang, more commonly known as “Sax,” was a fine wealthy gentleman who seemed to consistently have his life together. For years Sax had made a well known name for himself as the best and most exclusive antique dealer around, seeming to acquire some of the most rare and amazing pieces in the world. However, Sax has a secret that has been the key to his long years of success - he steals from vampires. With eternity to find just the right pieces for their hoard, Sax knows that there is no other way to come upon exactly what he wants.

The first time Sax came upon a vampire it was completely by accident and with a stroke of luck and the right weapon he was able to kill that first vampire and make millions selling off every bit of unique furniture he found. Now, after killing two vampires and reaping the benefits, the tables have turned and a certain vampire is hunting him. With old age creeping up on him the idea of going after another vampire is not quite as appealing to Sax as it once was, for he is not sure if the reward will outweigh the cost. However, this vampire knows who he is which means everyone Sax knows and loves could be in danger. The main person on Sax’s mind is his niece Emily and he wants to do everything in his power to make sure she is protected, so instead of waiting for this vampire to find him, he decides to put together a team to find it first.

After traveling to Germany Sax starts to assemble a rag tag group of vampire hunters, ones that he describes as a band of sociopaths not psychopaths as with the danger of the situation he needs people who are a little crazy but will stay focused on the task at hand. For of course this was not a normal job but one that could cost all of their lives and as they get closer to this particular vampire Sax begins to wonder if this will be his last job as well.

Whenever there is a particular subject that becomes popular in the book world it is always interesting to me to see different authors present a different take on that subject. Recently vampires have definitely been a popular choice of authors to write about and Ben Tripp gives another intriguing take on this subject. Tripp’s novel allows the reader a glimpse into the history of vampires, the legends surrounding them, and intimate secrets of their dark lives. Instead of writing about all of the past and then moving into the present, Tripp intermingles the two in this novel in a way I absolutely enjoyed, as the pieces of the past were able to coincide easily with the present story and bring everything to light and make for an even better reading experience.

Quill says: A breathtaking and heart pounding glimpse into the dark side of vampires!

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Time is Running Out!

Time is running out for 'Early Bird' nominations. Our judges have a huge task coming up - reading/judging all the books that are nominated for the Feathered Quill Book Awards. To encourage early nominations (so our judges can start reading some of the books now), we offer an early bird reduced nomination fee. Just $65 for the first category, $35 for each additional. Learn more and nominate YOUR book at:

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Interview with Author Christopher Madsen

Today, Feathered Quill reviewer Charline Ratcliff is talking with Christopher Madsen, author of Rowdy

FQ: So, I’ve just finished reading your book Rowdy and let me first congratulate you on writing such an accurate, impressive and exceptionally inspiring accounting of the history associated with this 1916 sailing vessel. I know you originally purchased this derelict yacht in 1998 – could you ever have imagined the (obviously) profound impact it was going to have in your life? (Or the lives of others)?

MADSEN: Not in my wildest dreams. As indication of what I “imagined” I had planned on a 6 month renovation and then off to the high seas. What transpired was five years hard labor in a boatyard followed by another year fine tuning in the water. The thought of a history or of writing a book was the farthest thing from my mind. But once that first bit of historical information came in I was hooked, and it seemed not a day went by that I didn’t discover something new about Rowdy’s past. It felt as if I were reading a wonderful book in slow motion – it was abundantly enjoyable. Rowdy is the common thread that allowed me to meet dozens of people, all over the world, that I never would have met otherwise (including the mother of my twin daughters) - none of which was expected.

FQ: What was your most inspirational moment and/or happening during Rowdy’s renovation?

MADSEN: After 5 spending years in a boatyard it was such a rush to finally launch Rowdy and have her in the water that I couldn’t wait for her new sails to arrive. I gathered some tattered sails from a throw away pile and jury-rigged them in the crudest fashion imaginable. I actually turned a small main sail upside down and used it as a jib. That first sail was inspirational. Despite being powered by what looked to be torn bed sheets, Rowdy moved quickly and gracefully. In contrast to bouncy, modern fiberglass boats, her 22 ton, 59’ hull laid on its side, solid as a rock, and simply pushed the ocean out of the way. To say they don’t make them like that anymore is a vast understatement!!

FQ: On the flip side of my previous question – was there ever a time when you felt you had bitten off more than you could chew? If so, what motivated you to persevere through what was obviously (based on the photographic evidence) an extensive renovation?

MADSEN: I was challenged more times than imaginable. I commuted from Santa Barbara to Oxnard every day – about 45 minutes. I was always in a hurry to get to the boat in the mornings and, as a consequence, kept picking up speeding tickets. At the time I had fallen hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt, had mortgaged my house to the hilt, and was worried about how I was going to raise enough money to finish the job. That’s when I got my fourth ticket – the cutoff point where they usually pull your license. The prospect of losing transportation would have been devastating. I actually sat in my car and wept when the officer drove away. That was the absolute low point of the project. By some divine fate, that fourth ticket never entered the system and I was able to keep my license – but I was thoroughly whipped into submission and have obeyed the speed limit ever since. Despite all, I never considered failure or walking away from the project. The importance and value was just too great.

FQ: At what point did working on Rowdy (the yacht) become a labor of love more than anything else?

MADSEN: From the beginning it was a love/hate relationship. From day one I was in love with the graceful lines of the boat and the old world atmosphere, and I wondered about her history. But the first phase in a renovation is to remove more and more and more rotten wood until finally there is a foundation of sound wood from which to begin the rebuilding process. The unpleasantness of seeing the scope of the project grow on a daily basis as dumpsters were filled with old wood, could only be surpassed by the physical pain of contorting my body to complete work in the most inaccessible musty, moldy confines of the boat. This went on for about a year, and then, with the corner turned, every day brought back to life a little bit more of the hull and a little more of the history.

FQ: What was it that prompted you to write Rowdy (the book)? Was it your various conversations with Hanny? Was it the fateful day she provided you with her father’s hand-written journal? Or was it something else entirely?

MADSEN: I sold Rowdy shortly after my twin daughters were born, and assumed the project was done. The next six years were fully devoted to fatherhood – yet somewhere, in the back of my mind, I think I knew that I still had more to do. When the girls entered 1st grade I had time to revisit the many historical leads that I had filed away. They, in turn, led to dozens more leads, and things just snowballed. I went so far as making an appeal to the Supreme Court to gain access to old court files from 1925, accessed innumerable vintage documents including a seemingly overlooked document from 1895 that finally answers the question of “Who fired the opening shot that started the American Revolution”, I placed ads requesting, from the public, any useful information, had many old files pulled from boxed collections in musty storage vaults at various facilities. The extent of my research was progressively inspired by the fabulous material that I was finding. The emerging story - an adventure of a world at war, power and politics at the highest levels, the birth of Hollywood, fortunes and mansions, love and romance, scandalous affairs and, of course, an adventure of the sea turned out to be so fabulous that I knew it had to be shared.

FQ: Christopher, you invested a lot of your time and life in the renovation of Rowdy (the yacht), followed up by even more in the writing of Rowdy (the book). If you could, is there anything you would go back and change – or simply not do at all?

MADSEN: "If I had known then what I know now" I probably would have run as fast as my legs could carry me. I AM SO GLAD I DIDN’T KNOW what I was getting into because, despite what has certainly turned out a monumental test of personal endurance, this has also turned out to be the most worthy event in my life – without which, my twin daughters would never have been so much as a twinkle in my eye.

FQ: What’s next for you in the nautical and/or the writing world?

MADSEN: Through researching the book, I stumbled across a cat burglar who, in the dead of night, entered the second story window of Ardenwold (the main character’s estate). I found his story so engrossing that, for several months, the sole focus of my research became his life story – WWI service, life of crime, arrest, prison escape and underlying love story. A remarkable life that would certainly make for an interesting story set in the 20’s.

As for my ocean adventures, I have a 27’ SeaRay power boat that I regularly take out to the Santa Barbara Channel Islands, 21 miles offshore. When I need to sail, I can’t think of anything more fun than bareboat charters in the Caribbean.

FQ: And lastly, with the amount of time spent returning Rowdy to the state of its past glory days, I’m certain that there must be humorous stories about the experience. Would you care to share one of them with us in closing?

MADSEN: It goes without saying that the boatyard loved me. On top of five years of monthly storage fees that I paid to them, I also bought all of my brushes, buckets, paint, sandpaper, screws etc., etc. from their store. On the day that I launched the boat, I was pleasantly surprised to see the boatyard owners had gathered a group of people inclusive of a large table with drinks and a beautiful cake. When I thanked them for turning the event into a launching party, they corrected me and explained that it was a wake to mourn the loss of one of their best benefactors.

To learn more about Rowdy please read the review at: Feathered Quill Book Reviews.

Book Review - Rowdy


By: Christopher Madsen
Publisher: CMP Publishing
Publication Date: August 2015
ISBN: 978-0-9960260-0-0
Reviewed by: Charline Ratcliff
Date: August 16, 2015

When I was first asked if I would be interested in reviewing Rowdy, a non-fictional story about the renovation of a 1916 yacht, I don't think I realized what I was getting myself into. I do love books featuring historical ‘look-backs’ which is why I had readily agreed to read this book. However, upon its arrival, I was understandably stunned by the book’s massiveness and the words ''it's like a museum in a box'' flitted through my head. (Rowdy was so large that it arrived in a box – hence the reference).

Viewing this book for the first time, I imagine I felt a teeny tiny sense of the same ''what have I gotten myself into" that Christopher Madsen, the book's author and Rowdy's renovator, undoubtedly felt upon realizing he now had ownership of this rather derelict 1916 yacht – a sailing vessel (that unbeknownst to him then) had an amazing story to share.

Rowdy (the book) is divided into several accountings – and each one is engrossingly interesting. To say that I struggled to set this book down is an understatement. So, after Madsen's initial ‘about me’ (and his newest project) introduction, the reader will then be privy to his first phone call with Harriet Anne Duell. Harriet, who prefers to be called Hanny, is the last living child of Holland Duell – Rowdy’s original owner. Almost two years after that initial phone call, Hanny decided to pay a visit to the now renovated yacht that she hasn’t set foot on in 83 years. “Wow” is also an understatement.
After meeting Madsen in person, and after scampering around the yacht as if she were once again 10, Hanny gifts Madsen with the ‘Pandora's Box’ (or the holy grail as the case may be) of previously unknown-to-him information from Rowdy's original owner – Holland’s writings during World War One (which he later published as The History of the 306th Field Artillery). This is where the next section of Rowdy begins, and is labeled “The Journal.”

“The Journal” allows the reader to experience a first-hand accounting of the events that transpired from May 11, 1917 through May 10, 1919. Madsen also did a remarkable job of searching out and supplementing additional facts for these two years; making this section read as if it was Holland’s personal diary/journal. It was certainly an eye-opening and riveting look at a small time period within World War I; complete with drawings, diagrams, photographs and other remembrances from these years.

After the reader completes “The Journal” section, he/she will then learn about the Duell’s family history, including career choices (political and/or otherwise). Looking back almost one hundred years through time, I must say that familial ‘drama’ existed even then – it just seems we were a bit more ‘refined’ in how we dealt with it then… I really don’t want to provide any further information about this book – I don’t want to take anything away from the reader’s journey of discovery. Rowdy is certainly a wonderful read. It’s interesting, well-written and provides a consistent stream of historical facts.

Quill says: If you’re a lover of reading anything nautical and/or historical then Rowdy will simply suck you in – not spitting you back out until you reach its conclusion.


For more information on Rowdy, please visit the book's website at:

Interview with Author Helena P. Schrader

Today, Feathered Quill reviewer Diane Lunsford is talking with Helena P. Schrader, author of Defender of Jerusalem: A Biographical Novel of Balian D'Ibelin

FQ: This is such an amazing biographical saga. Can you tell readers a bit about how and when the idea of placing Balian’s life and times on paper first came to you?

SCHRADER: First let me thank you for this opportunity — and, yes, it is an amazing biographical saga! Historically, I mean, I am only telling a tale that is intrinsically exciting and inspiring.

I became intrigued by Balian when I saw the Hollywood film A Kingdom of Heaven staring Orlando Bloom in the role of Balian. It was a great film, but as a historian I was skeptical about how factual it was. So I did a little basic research and discovered to my amazement that Balian was indeed a historical figure. Furthermore, some of the more apparently incredible parts of the film were actually based on fact. But I also discovered that the story of the historical Balian was far more interesting than that of the Hollywood Balian. The more I learned about the real Balian, the more fascinated and the determined I became to tell his true story. What started out as a single novel rapidly mutated into a two-part biography and then a trilogy as I learned more not only about Balian but also the age in which he played such a dramatic role and his contemporaries such as Baldwin the Leper King, the “rogue baron” Reynald de Châtillon, the manipulative Agnes de Courtenay and the love-sick Sibylla.

FQ: You have a Ph.D. in History, so was the past always something you were interested in? Were you a born researcher at heart?

SCHRADER: I don’t know if I was born that way, but at the age of two my father was sent to Japan as an exchange professor, and on the way back we travelled by way of Hong Kong, Bangkok, Karachi, New Delhi and then Rome, where we rented a car and drove across the Alps, up the Rhine, and eventually to Paris, Brussels and Copenhagen. Naturally we visited the important historical sites along the way, and I can vividly remember the Colosseum in Rome where my father, knowing the official guides would bore a four-year-old, told me simply “This is where they fed the Christians to the lions.” Now that got a four-year-old’s attention! I spent the rest of the day trying to figure out where they had kept the Christians, the lions, and what means there might have been for escape! I think it was that early first-hand contact with history that made me so interested in it. By the time I was in Second Grade I had written my first “historical novel” and I never stopped. The PhD in History was as much to help me research for my writing as for professional credibility.

FQ: Your books have spanned various eras from Ancient Sparta to WWII, and others. Is there a personal favorite time period for you? If so, why would that be?

SCHRADER: That’s a difficult question. Fundamentally, any author has to be fascinated by the period they are currently writing about, so at the moment it is the late 12th century and the crusader kingdoms. But when I was writing my Battle of Britain novel, for example, I lived and breathed WWII — listening to the popular music of the time, watching the films, and, of course, reading every single memoir/diary written by an RAF fighter pilot from the Second World War that I could get my hands on. One has to be focused.

FQ: Is there a particular time period or person of note that you would like one day to write about?

SCHRADER: Glad you asked that! Yes! Some years ago I started a biographical novel of Edward the Black Prince and the love of his life Joan, the Fair Maid of Kent. They are both wonderful, complex and powerful personalities. I firmly intend to write a detailed, four-part biographical novel about Edward and Joan — or Jeannette, as he called her in his letters — before I die. It will be after I finish the Balian trilogy, of course, but whether it will be right after or only in three to four years’ time, I’m can’t yet say.

FQ: I’m sure you are working on Book 3 in this series; can you tell readers a bit about the finale, so to speak?

SCHRADER: Absolutely. As I mentioned earlier, I was inspired by the Hollywood film The Kingdom of Heaven which basically ends with the surrender of Jerusalem to Saladin in 1187 and then had the Hollywood Balian “return” to France and resume life as a blacksmith.

Now one of the things Hollywood got very wrong was making Balian a bastard and a blacksmith; he neither, but rather the legitimate (but younger) son of a baron — and he was born in the Holy Land. When I was doing my research, I discovered that far from disappearing from history after the surrender of Jerusalem, he continued to play a very influential role in the crusader kingdoms — so much so that Arab chroniclers refer to him as “like a king.”

For example, he was instrumental in engineering the marriage of Princess Isabella of Jerusalem (the sister of both King Baldwin IV and Queen Sibylla) to Conrad de Montferrat and setting Conrad up as a counter-weight and rival to the horribly incompetent Guy de Lusignan. Even more striking, when Richard the Lionheart realized he had to return to England and was going to have to negotiate a truce with Saladin, he used Balian as one of his go-betweens. Perhaps most astonishing, Balian effectively founded a dynasty that was to dominate politics in the crusader kingdoms for the next three hundred years. Both his sons served as regents at different times, John in the Kingdom of Jerusalem, and Philip in the Kingdom of Cyprus. His grandson John d’Ibelin was a famous constitutional scholar, and one of the most powerful and wealthy barons in the 7th crusade and it goes on and on.
So the third book in my Balian trilogy covers the period after the fall of Jerusalem, including the Third Crusade and the establishment of the crusader Kingdom of Cyprus. Remember, when Book II ends Balian is — as he says himself — “Baron of nothing in a kingdom that no longer exists.” So in Book III he has to claw his way back up out of total ruin. In this book Maria and his sons, particularly John, play a key role as they support him, but Isabella comes of age and into her own, while the oft neglected and underestimated Aimery de Lusignan — so very different from his ineffectual brother Guy — also plays an important role. He is married to Balian’s niece, remember. And last but not least the vibrant and brilliant Richard the Lionheart arrives and forces Saladin to surrender much of what he conquered in 1187/1188. So there is a lot of history, drama and strong characters to make “Envoy of Jerusalem” a great read — assuming I do my job as a novelist.

FQ: As a researcher, do you travel a great deal for your projects? Have you “walked” in Balian’s world?

SCHRADER: Travelling to the key venues of my novels is critical to understanding my characters and their world. I cannot say how important it is to have visited Sparta (for my books set in Ancient Sparta) and Jerusalem and Cyprus for the Balian series.

A trip to Sparta, for example, completely changed my understanding of Sparta because it is not a harsh and barren place as Steven Pressfield and other modern writers would have you believe. It is absolutely beautiful, fertile and verdant, with spectacular views of jagged, snow-capped mountains.
My travel to Jerusalem, Hattin, Ascalon, Jaffa and Cyrus likewise opened new insights even if the overall impact was less dramatic. No amount of book knowledge can replace climbing up a winding, rocky path to a medieval castle perched on a mountain top and seeing with your own eyes how much they could see from up there! Nor can a book replace walking in Romanesque cloisters and hearing plain song from the adjacent church. That experience brings you closer to the spiritualism of the medieval world as no modern church can — at least that has been my experience.

Travel often teaches you the unexpected — the local foods, the taste of the local wine, the color of the vegetation or the traditional patterns used on the pottery. These are things that can be used to add color and authenticity to a novel.

Remember, it’s not about boring the reader with facts but adding details that help them visualize a world that is strange to them because it was in the past.

FQ: Being a U.S. diplomat, can you tell us about your current post? And perhaps a little of what your focus is in regards to that country?

SCHRADER: I’m currently the Economic Officer at the U.S. Embassy in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. You may have seen in the news that President Obama recently visited us. My job is principally about fostering trade, economic growth and development by encouraging policies and institutions that enable free private enterprise, fostering entrepreneurship through workshops and exchange programs, and supporting U.S. businesses considering investment here by providing them with information and analysis.

FQ: (Readers love this particular question, so I make sure it’s in every interview): If you could have lunch with one writer, alive or passed, who would that be, and why?

SCHRADER: Joseph Conrad because he inspired me so much when I was a young writer. He was also a sea captain. I would love to sit and talk to him about travelling the world, sailing in square-riggers (I crewed on topmast schooners in the past), and writing books that are both “literary” and good reads!

FQ: As an addendum in your case (LOL): Is there a specific historical figure you would like to have lunch with?

SCHRADER: That’s tricky because I suspect most of the people I’d like to have lunch with wouldn’t give me the time of day — much less a lunch date!

Of course, I’d like to talk with all the people I’ve written (or will write) books about: General Friedrich Olbricht (whose the only one, who would be delighted to talk to me and with whom I have common language as I speak fluent German), Leonidas of Sparta (who probably wouldn’t know what to do with a modern human), Balian d’Ibelin, the Black Prince, and their women, Gorgo, Maria Comnena and Joan of Kent. I’d like to meet them so I could get to know the better and so portray them more accurately. So I guess, it would only really make sense to meet with Edward and Joan because I still have a chance to revise my writing about them based on an encounter while with the others I could only get frustrated with myself for getting things so wrong.

Beyond that, I would love to meet and talk with Eleanor of Aquitaine simply because she was an exceptionally intelligent woman, who had a significant impact on her age as well as experiencing an unusually complex and long life. She was Queen of both France and England, had two very different husbands, two very different sons who became kings of England, and she travelled all the way to Jerusalem as well as across England, France, Spain, Italy and to Sicily. She divorced one husband, rebelled against the other, and yet had 10 children by the two of them. She was very much a woman of her times, but I think — if we could find a common language — she would find it easier than most to communicate with and share feelings and ideas with a modern woman.

FQ: Thank you for your time. I have been honored to read these incredible books. (In addition, my Mom is a huge fan of your WWII works. “Codename Valkyrie” was one of her favorites.)

SCHRADER: It has been my pleasure, and I hope your mother can be convinced to give my Balian books a try. I think they are some of my best.

To learn more about Defender of Jerusalem: A Biographical Novel of Balian D'Ibelin please read the review at: Feathered Quill Book Reviews.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Book Review - Defender of Jerusalem

Defender of Jerusalem: A Biographical Novel of Balian D'Ibelin

By: Helena P. Schrader
Publisher: Wheatmark Inc.
Publication Date: August 2015
ISBN: 978-1-62787-273-7
Reviewed by: Amy Lignor
Review Date: August 14, 2015

Most readers will agree that to create a biographical/historical tome that will entrance, excite and lure them in to the point where they literally do not want to stop reading until the six hundred or so pages are over, is a feat next to impossible. However, this is the second book in a series of three – the first being Knight of Jerusalem – that owns the power to do everything just stated above. The story is incredible. The locations are brought to life by this author with perfect clarity during a time in history that was more than confusing. This was a time where everyone seemed to work night and day to gain power – whether it was individuals with personal plans set in place, or entire religious sects that refused to step away.

In this second novel, Jerusalem (the Christian kingdom of Jerusalem) is under massive siege. Salah ad-Din is the Kurdish leader who is so vibrant that he can basically sell any idea to anyone (think the old adage of selling ice to the Eskimos). He was able to bring together two units to form one, Shiite Egypt and Sunnite Syria. Now that these two powerful forces are one team, so to speak, they declare jihad against the Christians. King Baldwin IV is already dealing with a horrific issue: leprosy. The disease is attacking him, and has been since he was a boy. But now he must rise up in the face of this monumental battle coming straight at him and find a way to stop Salah ad-Din from coming in and taking over the kingdom.

The one man who has already proven himself beyond a shadow of a doubt to King Baldwin is Balian. Balian d’Ibelin (for those who did not read the first in this amazing three-part series), was a man who had no land and no title. All he has this day is his background with the king. When the king was just a prince, Balian was placed in the kingdom by then monarch Amalric I, to take care of the boy with leprosy who was isolated from nearly everyone. Balian is still there beside him and has worked with the courage, strength, and bravery that outranks any knight or loyal follower. Balian is in this struggle for the long haul, and he is the one fence that this jihad will have to knock down in order to take out the people of Jerusalem, bury the king, and rip to shreds the basis of Christianity.

Watching Balian grow with the Prince was beyond memorable in the first book. He was involved in the inner core of this kingdom and made friends with the right ones, as well as some of the wrong who were sent away. Now, in the year 1178, his mission in life is anything but complete.

This is a book that is biographical, yes. But the real meat and bones of this story are the emotions. Everything from war to suspense; romance to kindness; good to absolute evil – and even the presence of the well-known and well-read Templar crusaders – everything is offered by this writer in order to bring Balian’s life, as well as the fight for Jerusalem, into full-blown Technicolor. (Note to Hollywood: This should be done on-screen in Technicolor, as well.) In addition, the author has included maps of the Holy Land during this period, genealogical family charts, as well as historical notes for readers to understand every crack and crevice of this kingdom and its legendary battles.

Quill says: This is a do-not-miss series that you will keep on your shelves in order to read again and again, with each time awakening more emotion and bringing Balian’s valiant history to life.

For more information on Defender of Jerusalem: A Biographical Novel of Balian D'Ibelin, please visit the book's website at:

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Book Review - Wabanaki Blues

Wabanaki Blues: Book 1 of The Wabanaki Trilogy

By: Melissa Tantaquidgeon Zobel
Publisher: Poisoned Pen Press
Publication Date: June 2015
ISBN: 978-1-9293-4512-0
Reviewed by: Diane Lunsford
Review Date: August 12, 2015

In the first of her trilogy series, Wabanaki Blues, Melissa Tantaquidgeon Zobel introduces gifted blues guitarist character Mona Lisa LaPierre, a musician who rarely smiles.

Mona LaPierre is a high school senior. She is on her countdown to graduation and it cannot come fast enough. Mona's best friend is unlike most girl's best friends. Her name is Rosalita and she has six strings and is capable of belting out some of the grittiest blues at the command of Mona's adept fingers. Rosalita is her saving grace in many respects given her parents are 'out there.' Her mother pines daily for any life other than the one she has. Her father, on the other hand, studies bears. He doesn't just study them, he educates ad nauseum at the University on the subject and spans the globe in search of further knowledge of these creatures in order to impose his intellect onto the captive audience of his students.

Mona talks with dead people. Her strongest connection and the one who provides constant guidance and insight is 'Bilki' her recently deceased grandmother. Bilki was Mona's mom, Lila's, mother. Raised traditionally among her people, the Mohegan Indians, Bilki and Grumps brought Lila into the world and, in turn, Lila delivered Mona to the universe. Of course, Lila had no intentions of raising her child in Indian Stream, New Hampshire. She beat feet as fast as she could convince them to move and established roots with Mona's dad in Connecticut. As far as Lila was concerned, the 'traditional' life she knew growing up was a memory she would gladly forget once she left. However, there are doors that continue to remain open. Unbeknownst to Mona, she is about to be the chosen one to travel back to New Hampshire and, hopefully, close the ephemeral doors once and for all.

Ms. Zobel weaves intriguing and interesting information into the storyline of Wabanaki Blues throughout the telling of the story. She is a Medicine Woman of the Mohegan Indian Tribe and because of her personal knowledge and experience, there is instant credibility to this work of fiction. Mona LaPierre's character dons the all-too-familiar characteristics of a not-quite-adult, but certainly beyond temper tantrum young lady struggling with the complexities of growing up versus remaining a child. Zobel adds to Mona's conflict by introducing not one, but two young men whose characters are polar opposites, yet Mona has interest in both. Zoble infuses detailed prose toward a traditional 'pow wow' that takes place and is quite generous with her descriptions of how young and old blend and unite as they deliver their culture and deeply-seeded traditions through dance to the summer tourists. I applaud Ms. Zobel for delivering a body of work that passes muster in that it will capture the interest of her target YA audience immediately and maintain attention throughout the read.

Quill says: Wabanaki Blues is a clean and wholesome YA read worthy of finding its place upon many school bookshelves.

Book Review - The Last Word

The Last Word: A Treasury of Women's Quotes

By: Carolyn Warner
Publisher: Five Star Publications
Publication Date: February 2015
ISBN #: 978-1-58985-273-0
Reviewed by: Diane Lunsford
Review Date: August 12, 2015

As her cover touts, Carolyn Warner does deliver a ‘treasury of women’s quotes’ in her book The Last Word.

Opening with not one, but two forwards by Sandra Day O’Connor (and the original by Erma Bombeck), the reader is able to anticipate the diversity of sentiments about to unfold in the multitude of chapters ahead. Ms. Warner cleverly breaks the book down into multiple chapters with headings such as: Ability, Action, Age, and Arts to name a few. The essence captured beyond each title segues into a series of famous quotes relevant to the chapter’s title. Statements range from those that have been uttered by dignitaries such as Margaret Meade before the theme continues to showcase quintessential funny men holding court in the same arena as Mel Brooks.

I am a writer and embrace the importance of the written word as much as how the written word can resonate once uttered. When I read Bette Davis’ quote: ‘If you want a thing well done, get a couple of broads to do it,’ I found myself reflecting, then smiling and finally uttering to myself: ‘Now there was a ‘broad’ who thumbed her nose at ‘political correctness’...refreshing at best! Stepping into another category, I savored the moments in the chapter titled: ‘Courage.’ Ms. Warner summarizes the chapter with eloquence in her opening statement: ‘Courage is more than simply a physical action. It is a state of mind as much as it is a state of body—and it’s in this context that I have included it.’ I admire a person who drives a premise as succinctly as Ms. Warner has done in her introduction of this particular chapter.

This book is a useful tool on many levels in that all walks of life have a propensity to seek out a resource that provides meaning and affirmation to the information he or she wishes to disseminate. The Last Word is such a resource. In my work, we have a community blackboard in our kitchen. I begin each day by going to the internet and searching for a quote to share in hopes of inspiring not only myself, but my fellow workers. I am thrilled to have had the pleasure to read Ms. Warner’s book and thoroughly enjoyed the wealth of wonderfully inspirational sentiments across its pages. I now have my ‘go to’ resource. I plan to keep it at my fingertips and refer to it often in the days ahead when I am in search of that one particular statement sure to inspire. This is a terrific book filled with a bounty of positive inspiration.

Quill says: The Last Word is a well-rounded compilation of inspirational quotes that has a little something for all walks of life.

Book Review - The Bourbon Kings

The Bourbon Kings

By: J.R. Ward
Publisher: New American Library
Publication Date: July 2015
ISBN: 978-0-45147-526-8
Reviewed by: Diane Lunsford
Review Date: August 12, 2015

Scandal, glamour and gold-digging debauchery is the over-arching premise in J.R. Ward’s first of her new series, The Bourbon Kings.

The grandiose Easterly estate in Charlemont, Kentucky has boasted its opulence and flaunted the endless and impeccably groomed grounds and gardens for as long as bluegrass has been associated with Kentucky. When one hears the name Baldwine, it’s hard to determine if money or bourbon comes to mind first. After a two year absence, prodigal and black sheep son of the family, Jonathan Tulane Baldwine (‘Lane’) receives the only calling card that will guarantee his return to Easterly. Miss Aurora, the only ‘mother’ Lane believed should have been his mother has been rushed to the emergency room and this may be her last trip. His own mother has been prone in her suite of rooms in a drug induced state of being for too long and father William had no time for his children—at least not for most of their lives. His oldest brother Edward divorced himself from the family long before Lane fled to New York. As for Brother Max? Last Lane heard, he was still in California...somewhere. And then there was his sister Gin. She stayed. Why wouldn’t she? She had everything a girl could ever want: Harry Winston jewels that made Hollywood’s Red Carpet stompers look like they were wearing costume jewelry. Her wardrobe could easily hold court with British royalty and the word ‘need’ never passed her lips. However, there was one thing she would never have; the only man she ever loved: Samuel T. Lodge III...

Trouble is brewing at Easterly when Lane arrives. Fortunately, Miss Aurora will live to see another day. With less than two days to the crowing event that put Kentucky on the map Lane has no intentions of sticking around for the Baldwine’s annual Derby Brunch. The staff is in a frenzy of preparation between floral arrangements, caterers, deliveries and bourbon selection; let alone perfection to be perfected. The last person Lane wanted to see was his estranged and over-privileged gold-digger of a wife, Chantal. If only she were a distant memory. It was time to clean up that mess before heading back to New York. When the one true love of his life, resident horticulturist, Lizzie King, appears, Lane takes pause. Perhaps a rapid departure from Charlemont was going to take longer than anticipated.

J.R.Ward has taken scandalous behavior to a new level in her first in the series with The Bourbon Kings. She has confidently created a cast of characters that tout a winning formula: the villain: William Baldwine, her hero: Edwin Baldwine, her over-privileged debutante: Gin Baldwine—all supported and the entire entourage balanced with dashing Lane and the ‘girl’ who got away: Lizzie. Ward has razor sharp vision in setting up scenes that achieve the one-two punch of hold-your-breath anticipation until the last word is devoured. The plot is rich and rife with savory scandal and vapid nonsense that creates an insatiable craving to keep turning pages. It is clear Ms. Ward knows her way around the ‘nouveau, rich and famous’ and refuses to candy coat the delivery with mealy-mouthed politeness. The Bourbon Kings is a terrific opener to the next chapter in the Baldwine family legacy and I look forward to its delivery. Well done Ms. Ward!

Quill Says: The Bourbon Kings is poured ‘neat’ and guaranteed to leave a lingering taste of satisfaction well beyond the final ‘sip’!

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Interview with Author Suanne Laqueur

Today, Feathered Quill reviewer Diane Lunsford is talking with Suanne Laqueur, author of Give Me Your Answer True

FQ: First off, let me give you a heartfelt thank you for the privilege of reading Give Me Your Answer True! In the aftermath of the parting of ways between Daisy and Fish, did it feel as though you were navigating open wounds with the telling of Daisy’s story?

LAQUEUR: I am so glad you read me again, Diane, it’s a privilege for me too!
I had no intention of writing this alternate-POV story at all. I was forging ahead with a true sequel, writing Daisy and Erik in their new reunited life together. My method of writing is to sloppily blitz for a few months, flinging down as much material as possible in any order and in any way it comes to mind. We call this “vomiting on the page” in the writing world. Write now, clean up later. (Ernest Hemingway said, “Write drunk, edit sober,” which also works well.)

So I was filling up the funnel with scenes. Most of which were conversations because I love dialogue, it’s my home base. And a lot of conversations were Erik listening to Daisy talk about the years apart. Everything that had happened to her. He wanted to know everything. “What happened, Dais?” and she’d tell a story. These scenes kept getting more and more involved and I was writing more and more backstory instead of writing into the future. Every time I tried to move forward, it seemed Daisy was tapping my shoulder and pointing back. She had so much to say. She had been in such agony those years. And I realized in order to go forward, I had to explore her past and get to know her as intimately as I knew Erik. Otherwise they would only be half a couple.

FQ: Your characters are so very rich and believable. Now that Daisy’s story has been told and it is in the hands of your audience, how difficult was it for you to let go?

LAQUEUR: Not difficult at all. Just the opposite in fact. In contrast to the launch of The Man I Love when I was a nervous wreck and clinging to the work, I couldn’t wait to get Give Me Your Answer True out there. I think partly because I was really proud of the book, and also because it had been keeping me from writing the sequel. Now it was done and both Daisy and I were relieved. It didn’t feel like the end of something, rather the beginning to a whole new life and a whole new story.

FQ: In line with question 2, is that it? Will there be more to tell?

LAQUEUR: Oh yes, there is much more to tell and I am writing it as we speak. Like I said, the end is only the beginning. Erik can’t just resign by phone and tell his landlord to have a garage sale and boom, he’s living in Canada. There’s a thousand details around the decision. Getting them back together is easy but getting them back together in one place is going to be...a story.

FQ: Daisy is the conduit for an extremely harmful self-infliction of cutting. As she struggled through her darkness, I could feel her pain thanks to your superb word placement. To write with such passion and emotion, did you seek out subjects and glean some of their inner turmoil?

LAQUEUR: I also have a teenage daughter who has watched several friends deal with issues of self-harm and her perspective was invaluable and helped me make Daisy’s voice authentic through the ordeal. Her rituals around cutting came from real-life experiences, as did her conflicted feelings toward the scars fading. I took some poetic license because self-harm awareness simply wasn’t present at the time Daisy was going through it. In the mid-nineties she most likely would have been treated as any other suicidal patient, rather than be classified with self-injurious behaviors indicating a “suicidal ideation with no defined plan.” I’m fortunate to have a good friend, Dr. Jennifer Powell-Lunder, who is an adolescent psychologist. She was incredibly generous with her time and when I asked for pointers on getting Daisy admitted, she said, “I’ll do it. I’ll write her up. No problem.” And in the book, Daisy’s statement of admission to the psychiatric hospital is Jennifer’s doing.

FQ: You used a beautiful metaphor of wolves mating for life and equate this to the insistence of Daisy and Fish doing the same. What inspired you to use this?

LAQUEUR: Well, at first, wolves were the enemy. I went to a support group for anxiety many, many years ago, I think I was in my mid-twenties. It was all women, all much older than me and I felt slightly out of place and awkward. Then one of the women started talking about when her anxieties would come in the early morning hours. And she said, “I call it four AM when the wolves come, do you know what I mean?” And I burst into tears because I knew exactly what she meant. It’s such a vulnerable hour and the anxiety can feel like a hunting beast coming to tear you apart.

The notion of this predator wolf actually being a lifetime companion and helpmate came when I read Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials and fell in love with the concept of a daemon: a manifestation of one’s soul as an animal companion. And I looked at wolves and realized they were vicious and brutal hunters…yet they mated for life. And maybe my “anxiety wolf” wasn’t coming in the dawn because it wanted to hurt me. But rather because it needed me. It needed my attention. It was such a revelation and so important to me personally, I had to give it to Daisy. Actually I gave it to Lucky to give to Daisy, because Lucky often comes out of left field with beautiful truths.

FQ: I’ve seen your style develop further from The Man I Love to Give Me Your Answer True. Where do you think you experienced the most maturity in laying down your story from the first book to its sequel, and why?

LAQUEUR: I think the writing started in a much higher place, no question. I was so fortunate that my editor, Becky Dickson, is also a superb (and tough) writing coach. So I began with a whole lot of bad habits kicked. And I also think as a writer, I pleasure-read with a different eye, aware of beautiful prose and always collecting unique metaphors and turns of phrase. It’s tempting to flat-out copy, but really the idea is to say, “That. I want to write like that. But as me.”

Also I noticed the skeleton of the book was constructed much more quickly than with The Man I Love. I go back to early drafts of TMIL and it’s nothing like the final version. With GMYAT, the skeleton was built and pretty much stayed the same as I polished it down to the final draft.

FQ: I enjoy the sublime covers you depict in both books. In The Man I Love Fish is the dark silhouette ‘on top’ and in Give Me Your Answer True, the imagery is inverted. Could you tell us a little about the process of designing your covers?

LAQUEUR: My cover designer Tracy Kopsachilis is my treasure. I really lucked out finding her when I crowdsourced the cover of The Man I Love on Right away she pulled to the front with her designs and we developed a rapport that was so easy. She just seemed to know what I want. She put those two silhouettes on red at first, with the woman’s profile at the top. I said, “Well, it’s written from the man’s point of view. What if you turned them over?” She did and said, “How about blue instead of red, I feel like the red is trying too hard.” She made it blue, we fiddled the text around a little, and that was it. Done. I had no doubt I’d work with her again and we made the cover for Give Me Your Answer True in literally six hours and ten emails. It was done before I even had the first draft finished.

FQ: Titles are vital in supporting the story that lies within. With both of your titles, they relate to theatre tunes. Given your own dance background, how much of an ‘inspirational fuel’ were the titles in breathing more zest into the story?

LAQUEUR: I didn’t choose the title for The Man I Love until well into the second draft. My editor said the title was somewhere in the manuscript and not to stress. It would show itself. And with very little thought one day, I added a cover page to the front of the manuscript and my fingers just typed, The Man I Love. So many layers within it—not just the song, which is playing when the shooting occurs. But also Erik being the man Daisy loves, and the man Will and David and Kees love, too. It has an echo of his missing father and the metaphor of him going from boy to man within the arc of the novel.

For the second book, the idea of using the lyric from Daisy Bell came pretty quickly. Like the cover, it was in place before a draft was finished. Daisy’s father sang it to her when she was little. It was always her song. I put the twist of mishearing the lyric “answer, do” as “answer true” which suited the purpose of the story: to give Daisy the chance to truthfully answer all the questions both Erik and a reader might have at the end of the first book.

FQ: Your bio tells me you have two children. Do either of your children show signs of the ‘writer within’? How do you encourage the process?

LAQUEUR: My daughter has an incredible voice but is a much better verbal storyteller. She’s an artist and she journals quite a bit. My son definitely likes to write and possesses the same kind of “ear” that I have. In other words, he’s learning how to write the kinds of things he likes to read.

FQ: Once again, I cannot express what a pleasure it was to read Give Me Your Answer True. Please tell me you are working on your next novel and if so, are you able to give a tease or two?

LAQUEUR: My next book will be a novella called Here To Stay. It’s Daisy and Erik in the first five years of their life together. In the midst of their joy in reconciling, they will have challenges to face such as the bureaucratic hassle and stress of Erik moving to Canada and trying to find work. Erik also has to mend a lot of hurt with Will and there’s twelve years of emotion he and Daisy have to catch up on and allow themselves to feel. Not everything goes with fairytale smoothness, but little by little he and Daisy build on the foundations already laid and create a new life together. They’re a very loving, connected couple and extremely bonded with Will and Lucky. “The four of us need each other,” Will says. “Don’t tell me in the fifty-thousand year history of the human race, this has never happened before. We’re not weird. In the statistical scheme of things, we’re probably typical.”

At the same time, Erik begins to make contact with some cousins on his father’s side. He slowly begins to build relationships and learn a little family history. His father gains dimension when relatives tell Erik stories. He learns more about the charms on his necklace. Being a “Fish” takes on new significance. And these new relationships will be of tremendous importance to him when he faces one of the greatest challenges of his life as a son, a husband and a father.

To learn more about Give Me Your Answer True please read the review at: Feathered Quill Book Reviews.

Sunday, August 9, 2015

Book Review - Rome in Love

Rome in Love

By: Anita Hughes
Publisher: St. Martin’s Griffin
Publication Date: August 2015
ISBN: 978-1-250-06413-4
Reviewed by: Amy Lignor
Review Date: August 10, 2015

This is a tale that is funny, warm-hearted, captivating, and has all the exuberance that you would expect from an author who has repeatedly published mesmerizing stories.

With this tale, Audrey Hepburn comes alive (not literally, of course, but it’s just as fun). It is present day and Amelia Tate has taken over the ‘must-see’ chick category when it comes to the entertainment industry. In fact, she is cast to step into the hard-to-fill shoes of Audrey Hepburn for a remake of the classic and beloved, Roman Holiday. Now, this is even more awe-inspiring for Amelia, as Hepburn is her absolute idol. (And, let’s face it, having a vacation in Rome with your hot boyfriend while filming is a definite plus, as well.)

So Tate heads to Rome with basically the perfect life. Once there, she meets up with a girl named Sophie. As a team, increasing their friendship day by day, they take in the sights and sounds that Rome has to offer (which is a long list). Yes, all is well, until...the girl who was madly in love starts to see that being in love AND having a career that is off the charts is not something the love of her life can deal with. So, he checks out, leaving Amelia to struggle over what she wants most out of life. Who can she turn to for help? Audrey Hepburn, of course. The young actress just happens to stumble over some old letters written by Audrey while she was in Rome, as well as stumbling over a new man - a journalist by the name of Philip. Amelia finds herself falling for the guy (and taking some of Hepburn’s advice along the way). Only trouble is, Philip thinks she’s someone else and Amelia can’t seem to figure out when to tell him the truth...or even if she should.

Love, fun, romance, this one’s got it all. And, quite frankly, readers will get lost in the beauty of Rome, and their stomachs will growl while sitting in their living rooms imagining the luscious food and wine they could be enjoying in The Eternal City.

Quill says: An enchanting tale that will make one and all want to run out and get their passports so they can somehow flee to Rome immediately!

Book Review - Dream a Little Scream

Dream a Little Scream: A Dream Club Mystery

By: Mary Kennedy
Publisher: Berkley
Publication Date: August 2015
ISBN: 978-0425268063
Reviewed by: Deb Fowler
Review Date: August 10, 2015

Taylor Blake had moved to Savannah to help her sister turn her business around. Ali was one of those gals who had a “checkered career and a series of failed ventures.” In other words, Ali Blake was a lousy business person and unless she wanted to be living in the streets, she needed some help. All was well and soon Oldies But Goodies, their vintage candy store, was doing quite well. Taylor’s “on-again, off-again” relationship with former FBI agent, Noah Chandler, was beginning to look as modern as Bit-O-Honey twists, but whatever. The Dream Club, however, was a raging success. Exploring and analyzing their collective dreams was fun and New Age cool.

The Dream Club had just added a couple new members, Etta Mae Bosley and Edward Giles. Rose began discussing her dream, a foreboding and sinister one about a kitchen. “I felt an evil presence in the kitchen,” she explained and then went on to talk about a mysterious book on the kitchen counter. It was rather prophetic because the famous chef, Sonia Scott, was soon heading to Savannah to promote her latest cookbook...the very one Etta Mae claimed was hers. As luck would have it, Sonia was going to make a stop at Oldies But Goodies. Taylor and Ali had recently added a café to the store and the publicity would be awesome!

Taylor spotted Jeremy Watts and Olivia Hudson, Sonia’s personal assistant, practically canoodling in the parking lot outside the studio where they were filming. Jeremy was a very married man, but eyes needed to be averted because there were arrangements to be made for Sonia’s visit to Oldies But Goodies. Jeremy’s wife, Leslie, was a former student at the Academy where Dream Club member, Lucinda, was the head mistress so it was best to keep quiet. Some people like Etta Mae would never have the ability to clam up. It seemed like she was never going to stop talking about her family “recipes [that] turned up in Sonia’s new cookbook.” Ugh!

Finally the big day arrived and Sonia Scott was going to cross the threshold of Oldies But Goodies. Taylor and Ali had made several of the dishes from her cookbook to serve up to the crowd. “Darn,” Sonia asked, “do you have cats in here? I can feel my allergies kicking in.” Olivia practically began tearing up the store looking for an EpiPen while Etta Mae Beasley smiled and smirked. “Don’t worry, folks. Everything’s fine,” Ali shouted out, trying to calm the crowd. Things really weren’t fine and soon Detective Sam Stiles, Savannah PD and fellow Dream Club member was bagging up evidence. Had Etta Mae really decided to exact revenge on the thieving cookbook Dixie diva?

This was an amazingly well-crafted, collective detective tale. I didn’t read the first in the series, but it’s definitely one I’m going to have to read. I adored the Dream Club and as soon as I started to read, my disbelief in any New Age concepts went out the window. I loved listening to the prophetic dreams, learning about dream-hopping, and enjoying the members. This was one of those whodunits that was so tightly woven, anyone could have been the one who did in Sonia. Each time I thought I’d figured out the culprit, right along with Taylor, new evidence cropped up to eliminate that person. I do enjoy cozy mysteries, but I haven’t met one as tightly knit since watching Jessica Fletcher in action.

Quill says: This was a sweet, amazingly well-crafted collective detective tale with Taylor and the Dream Club!