Wednesday, July 26, 2017

#AuthorInterview with Aruna Gurumurthy

Today, Feathered Quill reviewer Anita Lock is talking with Aruna Gurumurthy, author of A Beginning to the End: A Poetic Journey.

FQ: You are a pre-med student turned poet. A few of your poems give a glimpse to this sudden change you made, particularly in “Wow-Wow World.” Would you mind sharing with your audience details into your powerful transformation?

GURUMURTHY: Well, I was a pre-med but my transition into writing was not sudden. I have worked in several medical labs and volunteered with the underprivileged world. These experiences served as the “meat and potatoes” of my writing. Over the course of time, I wrote short essays on social media, that were basically observations and reflections of my work and the world around us and how it must change for the better. The jump to poetry was certainly sudden, as one morning I woke up from a dream and started penning poems. It was a moment of epiphany. In 21 days I had the manuscript for my first book of poems, Spark.

FQ: How does A Beginning to the End differ from your previous books, DIYA and Spark? How are they similar?

GURUMURTHY: Well they are all books about change. Peaceful change. They are all written in an intense, albeit humorous and expressive fashion.

DIYA is my first publication. It is the light, a dream about bringing change, first to our minds and then in the world. It is prose articulated with bits and pieces of poetry.

Spark is my first poetry book about dreaming to dare and daring to dream and how we can transform the world with our “dreams” and “dares.”

A Beginning to the End, also a full-length poetry collection, some of the poems being autobiographical. It is a derivative of my inspirations and/or personal struggles, “how I view the world” and victories towards social justice and peace.

Author Aruna Gurumurthy
FQ: Please tell our readers the inspiration behind “To Sir, with Love” from section one, New Day, New Hope.

GURUMURTHY: Well, this is a poem that reflects the need for us as individuals and nations to grow, mature and move on. I am reaching out to all of us to give clarity and grace to our actions, to love and let live/ love, to undo discord and embrace unity within diversity.

FQ: In Love and Whatnots you created a bittersweet poem titled “It’s a Girl.” Explain what inspired you to write this.

GURUMURTHY: “It’s A Girl” is the ironical journey of a woman. What starts as a precious, beautiful birth sometimes progresses into the arms of discrimination and cruelty. I got inspired to write this poem because I want to see such huge waves, dunes and ripples gone from women’s lives. I have worked with women from impoverished backgrounds and the kind of life they succumb to is sad. Furthermore, there are consequences to physical aspects like women wearing short skirts, or long scarfs or whatnots. I want women to come out of their “covers” and men, some men to change their perceptions. Every child is born the same way, through the fusion of an egg and a sperm, then WHY this disparity, why this dysfunction?

FQ: I love your alliterated title, Discrimination, Dogma, Dirt. Which one of these poems in section three stands out the most in your mind? Explain why.

GURUMURTHY: I value all my poems. They are all my babies! In Discrimination, Dogma and Dirt, they vary in severity ranging from political upheavals, to moments and people in life that have made me cringe and cry. The maljudgments, the jealousy, the injustice, the you-know-whats. Here, I muse over some tough struggles and how I have been tenacious in making instrumental transformations, including the influence on people’s minds.

FQ: In My Inspiration, My Love you include a poem titled “Monday Morning” based on an encounter you had with your young daughter. Please tell your readers the significance of that encounter.

GURUMURTHY: It was just another Monday morning and I was driving my daughter through the back roads. I was not particularly in a great mood and the poem talks about how my little, shiny girl elevated my mood, my spirits. It’s simple.

FQ: Here’s a unique title: “Solving the World’s Problems with My Hair Conditioner.” Explain the significance behind this poem.

GURUMURTHY: Ha-ha! I swim quite a bit, and while swimming I weave my mind through people’s minds and think about bigger issues such as discrimination, dogma, and world peace. Transforming individuals can change the world. After years of the best concoction of hair conditioner, I am finally nailing down the best product for my hair (and you may say, for the world)!!

FQ: What poem would you like to discuss from Abstractions, Precisions, and Solutions — one that would round out your themes and bring a perfect close to your work?


A New Day 
 In this day of darkness and world of demagoguery
Where wolves bark and demons lurk
Anxious minds feed negative human tendencies...
When ribbons of wind twirl and turn and
Calm minds to Whip...
The mindless despair
Today becomes forgiven and
Tomorrow becomes doable

FQ: If there is one message from A Beginning to the End that you hope to convey to your readers, what would that be?

GURUMURTHY: Everything is a message! Put some thought into the way you treat people. Stigma happens because an ill child, or an elderly individual, or a shy woman, or even someone from another part of the globe are viewed that way. Everyone one needs care, empathy and an equal status. This is a beginning to the end. Let us make this a better place.

FQ: Do you have a new project in the works, and if so what do you think the thematic overtones will be?

GURUMURTHY: Yes! I am always thinking about something. ‘What’ that something will become, is a surprise to you and to me!

FQ: I noticed that you self-published A Beginning to the End. What made you choose the self-publishing route rather than go the more traditional route of finding a publisher?

GURUMURTHY: I chose a self-publishing platform that aided me in making my manuscript into a book. Self-publishing is fast and easy. I get it my way 100%. The book turns out professional because I have control over the interior, cover and everything in-between. The editors are great. I don’t want to be slowed down by traditional publishing if they take a couple of years to get my book out. Prestige is my work and my work is prestige. There is no shame in self-publishing. It is a matter of pride to create and publish your own book.

To learn more about A Beginning to the End: A Poetic Journey please read the review at: Feathered Quill Book Reviews.

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

#BookReview - A Beginning to the End: A Poetic Journey

A Beginning to the End: A Poetic Journey

By: Aruna Gurumurthy
Publisher: CreateSpace
Publication Date: May 2017
ISBN: 978-1544742571
Reviewed by: Anita Lock
Date: July 21, 2017

Poet Aruna Gurumurthy weaves enlightening and inspiring themes in her latest work, A Beginning to the End: A Poetic Journey.

A pre-med student turned poet, Gurumurthy has found her calling in rhyme and verse. Speaking from the depth of her soul, Gurumurthy leaves no stone unturned in expressing how she feels about various aspects of life, deftly weaving this common theme over the course of six sections that include forty plus poems.

Each poem, set in first person POV, alternates between “I” and “we.” This subjective shifting creates a sense of unity, of oneness, providing her audience with the opportunity not only to engage in the reading process but also encourage individual contemplation. Two literary tools that Gurumurthy heavily uses to emphasize this sense of unity and oneness are repetition and restatement. Her writing style is lilting—at times, resembling raps. Gurumurthy always speaks from the heart, speaking truth into existence.

In part one titled New Day, New Hope, Gurumurthy opens with a warm and welcoming invitation to readers before delving into her lyrical poetry. The last stanza of “New Book in the Cards” aptly closes with these words: “With soft palms, come life my new book. / With sparkling eyes, a gentle smile, and / Kind fingers, / Come sift through my new book.”

Replete with current political overtones, the six poems in New Day, New Hope reflects Gurumurthy’s choices made after introspection. Certainly, what she embraces—love and well-being for all—are themes that do not stand alone but ring true to all who have chosen to create a new and positive page turn in their lives. In “We Are the Homo sapiens,” Gurumurthy offers a profound statement and word of encouragement to people throughout the world who are fighting for justice and equality: “We are the Homo sapiens / We are the Champions / Don’t tether our voice. / Don’t shackle our vision. / Don’t extinguish our spark.”

Epiphanic and sagacious moments grace the next set of poems in part two, Love and Whatnots. At the end of “A Writers’ Confluence,” Gurumurthy writes: “Because, as writers, / We are responsible for the humor, drama, and / Awareness in people’s live / We as responsible for people’s lives.”

Parts three and four, Discrimination, Dogma, Dirt and My Inspiration, My Love, give glimpses of the racial profiling and cultural stigmas that Gurumurthy has had to face, as well as her persistence to overcome all those barriers. “There is no doubt in my mind, not even slight / Keep on going-- / You may have lost today, but I promise! Tomorrow looks bright.” (My Inspiration, My Love, “Quit Not!”)

Lastly, Gurumurthy emerges from her painful situations, determined to make a difference in her life and the world in sections five and six, Clarity in the Fog and Abstractions, Precisions, and Solutions.
“Freedom in No Fickle” (Abstractions, Precisions, and Solutions says it all: “I am free / I love to be free / There is freedom in no fear / Freedom in no fickle / Freedom in the infinite / Freedom in everlasting... / Freedom in / Never lasting torment / Freedom in the eternal / In eternity.”

Quill says: A Beginning to the End is a “feel good” book, offering encouragement and empowerment to those who desire meaning and purpose in life.

For more information on A Beginning to the End: A Poetic Journey, please visit the publisher's website at:

#AuthorInterview with M.J. Evans @mjevansauthor

Today, Feathered Quill reviewer Kristi Benedict is talking with M.J. Evans, author of The Stone of Courage: Book 2 of the Centaur Chronicles

FQ: Was it always your plan to create four books for this series or did that develop after the writing of the first book?

EVANS: From the moment I first conceived of this storyline, it was four books…one for each of the stones that would give Carling the traits of a wonderful queen. The traits of Mercy, Courage, Integrity and Wisdom are characteristics that I wish all leaders possessed.

FQ: If you had to pick a favorite character, which would it be from this book and why?

EVANS: My heart continues to be first and foremost with Carling. She is the type of character that I can relate to. She is humble and filled with doubts and insecurity yet is committed to her assignment and willing to push herself beyond her perceived limits. She’ll take that step into the darkness and bring her own light with her. That said, I also have fun creating the bad guys! Shim, the Tommy Knocker, (note my spelling is different than the miner’s tommyknockers because I was creating an entirely new creature) is a nasty little fellow but he makes me chuckle when I write about him.

FQ: What was the inspiration for the Ice Horses?

EVANS: The idea to add the Ice Horses came from a photograph that a friend sent to me of a snow sculpture contest. The sculpture in the picture was of beautiful horses carved out of snow. They were so spectacular; my imagination went crazy and I had to add them to the book as inhabitants of the Northern Reaches.

FQ: Are movies ever an influence when designing the look of the different races such as the centaurs, ogres etc.?

EVANS: The images of the creatures such as the Centaurs, Ogres and Cyclops that influence me the most are early paintings of mythological characters rather than movie characters. I take all the literary license I want, however, and make them look like I imagine them in the story. For example, the Ogres are far different than any ogre you would have read about…kind of a stone “transformer” if we are looking for a movie connection. Carling is a Duende. The Duende are creatures that I created. They are half human, half fairy. So, she and her friends just came out of my imagination.

FQ: What is your favorite part of writing a book - developing the plot, writing particular types of action scenes or ...?

EVANS: I love, love, love creating the plot. I’m a story-teller at heart and I love to let my imagination go wherever it wants when developing the storyline. Next are the action scenes, especially scenes filled with tension where the reader gets a little bit nervous wondering what the outcome will be.

FQ: What has been the easiest part of working on this series?

EVANS: The easiest part of this series is keeping it organized. With each book telling the story of Carling acquiring a new stone, it is easy to keep the plot organized. I did something a little atypical, however. Instead of writing the story so that Carling finds each stone at the end of a book, she finds it in the middle. Then I get to show how the stone changed and influenced her while she developed each quality.

FQ: How do you keep each book unique from the one before it but cohesive at the same time?

EVANS: The cohesiveness is achieved by repeating the pattern: 1) Carling is sent on a Quest to find the next stone, 2) Carling finds the stone, 3) Let the stone influence Carling as she faces those who oppose her.

Each story is unique in that each quest takes Carling to a different part of the land of Crystonia where she meets different challenges and opponents.

FQ: What would you say is the most difficult part of writing?

EVANS: The most difficult part of writing a series like this is keeping the protagonist consistent while helping her learn and grow. Even as she gains mercy (the first book) and courage (the second book,) she must remain Carling, a young, naïve, and insecure girl who never desired to be the queen.
The most difficult part about writing in general is how lonely it is! I am a very social person. I love to be around people. However, writing is a solitary job. I sit by myself, surrounded by my imaginary friends and type, type, type! Then I hope someone will like my work. However, there are no guarantees!

FQ: Since I'm so eager for book 3, would you tell us how far along you are in the writing of it? Can you give our readers a little tease on the storyline?

EVANS: I am so glad that you are eager for book 3. I think it is the best so far. I have completed the first draft of the manuscript and am now doing revisions…so I’m getting there. Carling is sent on a new quest to find the third stone: The Stone of Integrity. It has been hidden on a mysterious island populated by Fairies who hide their faces behind masks. They don’t want anyone to know what they are thinking or feeling. They must learn to develop integrity even more than Carling does.

To learn more about The Stone of Courage: Book 2 of the Centaur Chronicles please read the review at: Feathered Quill Book Reviews.

#BookReview - The Stone of Courage @mjevansauthor

The Stone of Courage: Book 2 of the Centaur Chronicles

By: M.J. Evans
Publisher: Dancing Horse Press
Publication Date: April 2017
ISBN: 978-0-9966617-6-8
Reviewed By: Kristi Benedict
Review Date: July 24, 2017

In book 2 of the Centaur Chronicles, the fate of the land of Crystonia rests in the hands of a girl named Carling.

Carling has been given the silver breastplate, a sign that she is the next destined ruler of the kingdom. However, before she can sit on the throne she must find four stones, The Stone of Mercy, The Stone of Courage, The Stone of Integrity, and The Stone of Wisdom. Carling has already acquired The Stone of Mercy, which she had to battle through an angry group of centaurs from the Heilodius herd to get, but with the help of her friends Higson, Tibbals, and Tandum she made it through unharmed. Unfortunately, her and Higson’s families were killed in a raid by the evil Heilodius herd that will stop at nothing to make sure that Carling is not able to claim her rightful throne. With the support of each other, Carling and Higson pull together and begin to train with different weapons for they know that the fighting is far from over and that they have many more dangers to face in the upcoming months.

Now, the wizard of Crystonia who has been suddenly appearing and disappearing in Carling’s life ever since she received the silver breastplate, informs her that it is time to find the second stone, The Stone of Courage. It was such a dangerous quest finding the first stone that Carling is initially apprehensive about this next adventure but she does know that this is now her destiny and she must be ready to confront whatever challenges come her way. The wizard then tells her that the stone is hidden in the mountains of the Northern Reaches and protected by a creature named Shim. Just the mention of the Northern Reaches sends a chill up Carling’s spine for no one she knows has ever dared to venture into those lands - they are just too treacherous for anyone to travel through. Of course, this is where her journey is taking her so with all the courage she can muster she gathers her friends and they set off for the Northern Reaches, hoping that their combined strength will be enough to find The Stone of Courage and return home safely. Unfortunately, the guardian of the Stone of Courage is not a friendly creature and may give Carling more trouble than she ever thought.

Before this journey is over Carling will face ogres and angry centaurs and also find that a treacherous plan is unfolding to keep her from ever taking her rightful place as ruler of Crystonia. As each new challenge hits her Carling begins to question if she is strong enough for this task, for how could such a small being be chosen to rule all of Crystonia?

When I saw that the second book had come out in this series I could not wait to read it, for the last book left on such a cliffhanger that I was excited to see what would happen next. Through the first book, author M.J. Evans introduces her characters beautifully and that really helped to get me into the story. In book 2, The Stone of Courage, Evans expands on the characters' personalities in such a way that it had me relating to them even more. The camaraderie that is created through these adventures is wonderful and had me hanging on every page.

Quill says: Another wonderful addition to the Centaur Chronicles that I could not put down!

For more information on The Stone of Courage: Book 2 of the Centaur Chronicles, please visit the publisher's website at:

#BookReview - A Beautiful Here: Emerging From The Overwhelming Darkness Of My Son's Suicide

A Beautiful Here: Emerging From The Overwhelming Darkness Of My Son's Suicide

By: Linda Phillips
Publisher: CreateSpace
Publication Date: August 2016
ISBN: 978-1537413678
Reviewed by: Anita Lock
Date: July 24, 2017

Award-winning author Linda Phillips shares her journey from darkness into joy amid unspeakable grief in her poignant memoir, A Beautiful Here.

“Suicide remains a silent neglected epidemic.”

While this terrifying fact is something mental health professionals have to contend with every day, the quote has a different impact upon those who have lost loved ones to this muted disease. One such person is Linda Phillips, who lost her youngest son, Nuçi, on Thanksgiving Day in 1996. Nuçi was twenty-two at the time that he decided to end his life. There are no appropriate words to describe the mental and emotional anguish a parent goes through when they lose their child. Nonetheless, Phillips finds a way not only to turn her darkness into joy amid unspeakable grief but also to capture her emotional upheaval after Nuçi's death.

Opening on her wedding day, Phillips gives a glimpse of married life during the first few years. Marrying the man of her dreams is truly a freeing experience from her scarred and traumatic childhood. Surrounded by family riddled with mental illness of one form or other, Phillips determines early on not to follow in their footsteps. Pushing her troubled past deep in the recesses of her brain, Phillips is confident that her tainted childhood history will never rise and haunt her ever again, especially when her two beautiful boys, KP and Nuçi, enter the scene. Little does she know that genetics will come back to bite her, affecting her life in more ways than she could ever imagine.

Phillips is not one for mincing words. Her straightforward two-part narrative carries readers from a happy tight-knit family to one that suddenly gets thrown into the turbulence of Nuçi’s teen years and the first sign of mental illness, even though Phillips doesn’t recognize it until his later teens. Helplessness seems to be her trademark as she fails to reach out to him during a flurry of moody interludes. While her story leads up to that fateful 1996 day in part one, Phillips walks readers through the ordeal of figuring out a way to process Nuçi’s demise. After a two-year period of mourning, Phillips begins to look into mental health issues. Her words are profound:

“If the medication is the right one, energy levels may increase before the mood lightens. This is a period when the depressed person may regain the energy to take his/her own life. Therein lies—in my opinion—the Achilles Heel of treatment. Those waiting gaps, they need to be addressed.”

Phillips’ reasoning leads to the establishment of Nuçi’s Space, an adjunct to the treatment process.

With an overarching focus on suicide prevention, Nuçi’s Space’s emphasis is on musicians. Nuçi was a musician. Beyond that, the community of Athens, Georgia—where he was attending college and eventually ended his life—is heavily based on music. As Phillips states, “Many musicians consider themselves somewhat disenfranchised from society. They struggle to make a living and more often than not have no medical or dental insurance. Society tends to look at what they do as fun rather than work. Many times, rather than receiving a paycheck, they’re paid with alcohol or drugs.”

Phillip’s story is nothing less than a gut-wrenching yet highly encouraging read. It is fitting to close with Phillip’s goal for writing A Beautiful Here: “I sincerely hope that anyone who reads this will never know intimately the horror and heartbreak of losing a loved one to suicide. But for those who do, I hope to offer a bit of solace and hope. There is a way to survive and even to flourish.”

To learn more about Nuçi’s Space, go to

Quill says: A Beautiful Here is one story that needs to be told and shared widely!

To learn more about A Beautiful Here: Emerging From The Overwhelming Darkness Of My Son's Suicide, please visit the author's website at:

BookReview - The Bookshop at Water's End

The Bookshop at Water’s End

By: Patti Callahan Henry
Publisher: Berkley
Publication Date: July 2017
ISBN: 978-0-399-58311-7
Reviewed by: Diane Lunsford
Review Date: July 25, 2017

Patti Callahan Henry delivers a perfect blend of family secrets, tragedy and true friendship in her latest novel, The Bookshop at Water’s End.

It’s been decades since Bonny Blankenship visited Water’s End. She built a life of rewarding success as a doctor. She is married to an equally successful attorney. However, all great things have their moments of a downward spiral. Bonnie is at the headwaters of her unraveling. Her daughter, Piper, has miserably tanked her first year of college. To compound the situation, when her best friend’s brother Owen winds up in the ER (and she is the attending physician), little did Bonnie know the ‘reunion’ would be the catalyst to the possibility of her losing her license to practice medicine. The trifecta to her drama is the imminent implosion of her marriage of thirty years. All signs were pointing to a trip back to Water’s End.

Bonnie and Lainey were known as the Summer Sisters. Lainey McKay got as far away from Water’s End as possible. Petaluma, California was her home—a home where she married a great guy and had two beautiful children. When she received the call from her ‘summer sister’ with the request to meet her in Water’s End for ‘one last summer before she sold the place,’ she wasn’t sure she could accommodate. She was thirteen years old that last summer. It was also the last time she and her brother Owen would ever see their mother—a mother who left them and was never to be seen again.

I am blessed to have had the opportunity to review a variety of wonderfully entertaining bodies of work. As an author, I consistently (and typically) approach fellow writers’ stories with the question: ‘what makes this one special?’ In Ms. Callahan’s case, it began for me with her dedication. She pays tribute to one of the most iconic authors of our time: Pat Conroy; ‘In honor of Pat Conroy October 26, 1945-March 4, 2016. Your life and work taught me both the power of story and of truth, and your death the same. You are and will be achingly missed for all time.’ In my opinion, truer words have rarely been written. I took pause after reading such a powerful dedication and knew I was in for a treat. With each word Ms. Henry had placed upon every page, there is purpose and intention. She beckons the attention of her audience and refuses to let go. She artfully builds plot from one scene to the next and infuses rich dialogue throughout. Her characters have depth; enabling her reader to engage and know these fictitious beings as one of their own in their respective circle of friends. Just like a Pat Conroy novel, as the pages dwindle in number, melancholy takes over - the end of the story is near. Ms. Henry nails the art of writing in The Bookshop at Water’s End. Outstanding read and I look forward to her next.

Quill says: The Bookshop at Water’s End takes a stronghold on its audience and vows to entertain from beginning, to middle, to end.

#BookReview - Walter and the Wallet

Walter and the Wallet

By: Billy Bloom
Illustrated By: Tanya Leonello
Publisher: Eifrig Publishing, LLC
Publication Date: June 2017
ISBN: 978-1-63233-116-8
Reviewed by: Amy Lignor
Review Date: July 25, 2017

Okay, kids, did you ever have a bad day? Well, if you have not, you are either very lucky or living in a world created by Disney (which, believe me, is a place I would love to live.) However, since I know that everyone in life has witnessed a bad day (unfortunately), where it seemed like nothing at school seemed to go at all well, then each and every one of you will do what I did after reading this book: You will become friends with Walter Whippingdale.

Walter is from Connecticut (as am I), and he has had a bad day. What else could you call a day when everything bad happens, from the girl you have a crush on in school liking someone else to slipping on some mustard just as you are about to enjoy a hot dog? Not to mention, being mortified that on this day that pimple grew to the size of a volcano right on the end of your nose. Yes, this is a bad day for Walter, but...the day isn’t over.

Earlier that day, in Walter’s hometown, a wallet had been dropped in the street. The wallet was old, brown, yet brimming over with money. Walter, leaving school with his head hanging down is the one who finds this wallet, and with this find, he realizes he can purchase everything he wants at the local stores and turn this horrible day into a super one. But when he meets up with a somewhat frightened, definitely worried man talking to a policeman and begging the officer of the law to find his lost item – an item that without it he won’t be able to pay the bills, or feed his child – Walter has a decision to make.

To every parent out there, BUY this story. Not only because you are talking about a great tale that speaks of morals and values through a super-fun character, but also because the author has written this in rhyming verse (which I always praise because how difficult that is to do and keep doing throughout the book in order to hold the child’s interest). And don’t forget to take a look at the cool website ( to learn more about Walter.

Quill says: From awesome words to fun illustrations, the day you ‘find’ Walter will always be on your list as being one of the best days you’ve ever had.

#BookReview - Bring Her Home

Bring Her Home

By: David Bell
Publisher: Berkley
Publication Date: July 2017
ISBN: 978-0399584442
Reviewed by: Ellen Feld
Review Date: July 25, 2017

Author David Bell does not disappoint in his latest thriller, Bring Her Home.

Bill Price and his fifteen-year-old daughter Summer don't exactly get along. Since Bill's wife died in a tragic accident almost two years ago, he and his teenage daughter have been doing more fighting than getting along. Still, life must go on, and it does, until the day Summer goes missing. When Summer and her best friend Haley disappear, Bill goes into full panic mode. The story opens as Bill arrives at the local hospital, relieved that the girls have been found. Sadly, Summer is in a coma and Haley is dead, both girls having been brutally beaten. Even though Summer can't speak, Bill refuses to leave his daughter's side.

With Summer's face swollen and bandaged due to the severe beating she was given, Bill is hard-pressed to recognize his daughter. And when he and his sister, who rushed to Bill's side when Summer was found, learn the truth about Summer and Haley, their world goes into a tailspin. The police have been digging into the girls' past and what they find doesn't please Bill. Has he been that out of touch with his teenage daughter? Bill goes from doting, somewhat calm father to panicked and almost out of control father in a snap. Things change quickly in the case and Bill doesn't like what he's finding...

I brought Bring Her Home with me on a recent vacation in the hopes that I'd find some time to read. Typically I get very little reading done while traveling but I gobbled up this book in just two days. The story took off in the first chapter and had me asking questions before I began chapter two. There were plenty of twists and turns that I'd expect from a David Bell novel, and just enough new questions kept popping up that I couldn't stop reading. While I did figure out "who dunnit" well before the end, it didn't diminish my enjoyment of Bring Her Home.

Quill says: Bring Her Home is a fast-moving story that will keep mystery fans satisfied.

#BookReview - Freefall


By: Joshua David Bellin
Publisher: Margaret K. McElderry Books
Publication Date: September 2017
ISBN: 978-1-4814-9165-5
Reviewed by: Amy Lignor
Review Date: July 25, 2017

This fantastic new sci-fi/fantasy YA book most definitely sounds like the 'real' world right off the bat. From the very beginning, readers learn that the upper 1% of Earth - the privileged, if you will - are going to abandon planet Earth. Yes, Earth has been absolutely devastated and the only ones who will have to stay on Earth (now called: the Lowerworld) are the lesser beings who are most definitely rejects and certainly not good enough to colonize the pristine new planet with the 'upper crust' citizens. But love...can change everything.

In the Lowerworld, a video is created that crosses paths with the main character of this book, Cam Newell, and his two best friends, Adrian and Griff. These guys are spending their days in Colonization Preparation - doing things that are getting them trained and ready to make the new planet their home - when one of them hacks into a server and comes across this video. The Lowerworlders are basically protesting. They say "Otherworld Colonization," which is what only the top 1% of the populace gets to do, "is a right NOT a privilege." (Sound familiar?)

But it's not so much the words that call out to Cam; he becomes entranced by a girl on the video who he believes is talking directly to him. This is a girl "with golden eyes" who pierces his heart and buries herself in his soul. Her words, her beliefs - they open Cam's eyes to the unfairness of what's happening all around him.

But even understanding won't stop the battles that are coming. One thousand years in the future, Cam wakes up in his pod (that was supposed to 'shoot' him to the new planet) to find that he is all alone. He is trapped on a completely unknown planet that has its own hostilities and may just point their anger directly at him. Will he find Sofie again? Did he do something one thousand years ago that brought about this complete failure? Did his love for Sofie somehow sabotage humanity? You will have to read to find out.

The sci-fi/fantasy aspects of this tale are awesome. But most readers will also note that a great deal of the foundation of this tale is still very much happening in our own world in 2017. This author has managed to address social and cultural issues that we, as Earth's citizens, have been dealing with and fighting about since the beginning of time. And even though we have changed in some areas and grown in others, with each new decade bringing about more understanding of other cultures, there are still too many out there who will never fully accept the fact that there should never be a 'Lowerworld' and an 'Upperworld:' there should just be one world where everyone is offered the same chances at happiness and success.

Quill says: A great story that offers fun and fantasy, while teaching a moral path.

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Interview with Author Wanda E. Brunstetter @WBrunstetter

Today, Feathered Quill reviewer Diane Lunsford is talking with Wanda E. Brunstetter, author of Amish Cooking Class: The Blessing

FQ: I was happy to have the opportunity to review The Blessing. The writing is fluid and I found it effortless to turn the pages. Given your background, have you ever thought of writing a memoir about your family history?

BRUNSTETTER: I have never considered writing a memoir about my family history, but it might be fun to do it sometime.

FQ: You have captured the essence of the beauty and simplicity of the Amish lifestyle and faith. I enjoy the positive and non-judgmental way you deliver your stories. Have you ever been challenged with a less than positive critique? If so, what was the occurrence and how did you address it?

BRUNSTETTER: I once had someone ask me why I always include God in my Amish stories. My answer was that God is the center of the Anabaptist faith, which the Amish belong to, and therefore He cannot be left out. The Amish are devout Christians and God comes first in their lives.

FQ: How difficult is it for the Amish community to adhere to their practices and beliefs in the world in which we live today? Are there any moments when you’ve pondered this concept with your Amish friends (and if so), how did he or she respond?

BRUNSTETTER: It’s not that difficult for most Amish I know to adhere to their practices and beliefs. Their belief in God and their plain lifestyle is deeply rooted and passed down from generation to generation. That being said, when an Amish young person who has not yet joined the church, goes through their running around years, they might veer from their traditional ways, but most (around 90 percent) end up setting modern things aside and joining the Amish church.

FQ: I enjoy the bonus of recipes at the end of each of your stories. Do you have a favorite? If so, which one (and why)?

BRUNSTETTER: One of my favorite recipes is Haystack, which we have eaten in many of our Amish friends' homes. The dish is a layering of several ingredients that may include cooked ground beef, lettuce, tomatoes, rice, onions, broken saltine crackers or corn chips, melted cheese, and sour cream. It’s not only tasty, but quite filling.

FQ: With the immersion of our younger generation in the world of technology, how does this impact the younger generations within the Amish communities? Is there a situation that stands out in your mind (and if so), would you care to share the experience and outcome?

BRUNSTETTER: Many Amish young people who have not yet joined the church have cell phones, drive cars, and may partake in some things English people do. I also know several Amish young people who are on Facebook.

FQ: It is clear you have a love of putting pen to paper and placing your words along the way with intent. In reading your biography, I must say you have an interesting array of interests. I am particularly interested in your ventriloquism. Do you have your very own ‘Charlie McCarthy’ side-kick? How often do you practice this art? When did this come about?

BRUNSTETTER: I have several ventriloquist puppets I like to use. While I don’t spend much time practicing, my skill as a ventriloquist is never lost. I use it sometimes at speaking engagements, and especially enjoy sharing how to throw my voice when I’m speaking to Amish school children.

FQ: In line with question 6 and your interests - what is the rarest bird you have ever happened upon and where was it sighted?

BRUNSTETTER: I’m not sure how rare the bird is, but I’ve always been fascinated with the little zebra doves that are found in Hawaii. They are much smaller than the turtle or mourning doves we have here on the mainland. They also make a distinctive sound like no other dove I’ve heard here on the mainland.

FQ: I thank you for the pleasure of reading your work. Is the next in the series in the works? Are you able to share some highlights?

BRUNSTETTER: I just finished writing book 3 in my Amish Cooking Class series. The first book, The Seekers came out in Feb. 2017. The Blessing is the second book and will be out the first of August 2017. Book 3, The Celebration, will be out in Feb. 2018. In this series a young Amish woman who is an excellent cook, opens her home to several English people who want to learn how to cook. They all come from different walks of life, and each has some sort of problem that needs a bit of mentoring. I’m also working on a sequel to my co-authored novel, The Hawaiian Quilt. When my daughter-in-law, Jean, and I wrote the first book we thought it would be a stand-alone, but an idea came to us for a sequel, so that book (The Hawaiian Discovery) will be out in June 2018.

To learn more about Amish Cooking Class: The Blessing please read the review at: Feathered Quill Book Reviews.

Friday, July 21, 2017

#AuthorInterview with Rich Zahradnik @rzahradnik

Today, Feathered Quill reviewer amy Lignor is talking with Rich Zahradnik, author of Lights Out Summer (A Coleridge Taylor Mystery)

FQ: Being a ‘visual’ writer is a talent that not many possess. In other words, some tell the tale but you have the ability to speak to the reader of NYC, the 70’s, and even the ‘Son of Sam’ hunt with such clarity and emotion that it all comes alive, almost as if the reader is there in The Big Apple. Can you tell readers a bit about where that passion and emotion come from in regards to your subject and location?

ZAHRADNIK: That passion and emotion comes not from the specific material, but from how I fell in love with stories when I was in fifth or sixth grade. I became fascinated not with just reading, but with what the writer was doing. I called it putting movies into my head. When I sit down to write, that’s what I want to do. Put my movie in your head. Everything I do when I write has the goal of creating what John Gardner called “the fictive dream,” which sounds more writerly than movies in your head. But it’s the same. I cut if material is getting in the way. I add if it’s needed. I do a fair amount of research, yet am very selective about which details I include. I want to carry you along. I want you turning pages.

FQ: You have a background as a journalist (working in the industry for 30 years), so the question to be asked, is Coleridge Taylor a muse? Such as, do you come up with the stories, characters, etc., from your own real life and what you personally covered?

Author Rich Zahradnik
ZAHRADNIK: Short answer: no. I covered cops early in my career, but not as long or in as much depth as Taylor. My career experience means I don’t have to research the mechanics of reporting. At the same time, I strive to put in just enough so it’s interesting—not a journalism lesson (see my answer above). People I’ve met have certainly informed characters, or parts of characters, in the stories, but that comes as much from observing everyday life as my former work life. The main plot of each book, that comes from my imagination.

FQ: If you had to say, is there one magazine and/or newspaper that is truly missed by the journalists out there? One that perhaps gave it their all to tell the facts and deliver the stories of the basic ‘unknowns’ out there and is no longer around?

ZAHRADNIK: I’d say the problem is the many newspapers we’ve lost. Competition better insured all the facts came out. Bloggers in basements don’t do the same job.

FQ: For all the dog people out there, of which there are many, is Mason ‘the dumbest Lab in New York’ a real pooch?

ZAHRADNIK: Jake, a chocolate lab, was our dog for ten years until he died a year ago January. We adopted him at three-ish (Pet Rescue wasn’t sure of his age). Mason and Jake have a lot in common, including not-the-highest dog IQ and a tail that never stops—so there’s one character from real life that made it into my books.

FQ: Considering your educational and career background, can you tell us your feelings towards the online news world? Is having all this online news more efficient for the world out there than it was when it came via only print? What, to you, are the drawbacks of the online world?

ZAHRADNIK: I started one online news site—— and worked on others. Online news is more efficient; it’s faster. It’s not great for long-form stories. It’s not great for investigative journalism. Those are two areas where we’re losing out. I worry most about local news in towns and villages and counties outside the big markets. The mayor of New York City will always be quoted. Bloggers in basements won’t cover your local village’s planning board. You’ve never needed a degree—Taylor doesn’t have one—or a license to be a journalist. Thank you, First Amendment. Online opens reporting up to many more people. That’s great. But agreed standards of professionalism have been chucked overboard by many websites. Facts are important, as Taylor would tell you. Too many ‘news’ websites wouldn’t know a fact if it ran them over in the street.

FQ: Coleridge Taylor is one of those characters that deserve a TV spot. Because others are saying ‘so long’ to the screen (i.e., Temperance “Bones” Brennan), is it possible in the future to see Coleridge Taylor in his own series? Are you looking in that direction eventually? If so, have you ever thought about the actor who would be perfect for the job?

ZAHRADNIK: Sure, I’d love a TV series. Getting Hollywood’s attention is tough. I always say that A&E or Amazon would make a good home, because they work hard to get the look of a place and time right. I like a younger Mark Ruffalo for the job--which isn’t really possibly, given we can’t make Mark younger and he doesn’t do TV. He’s rumpled enough for Taylor. The Taylor books would make a better TV series than a movie.

FQ: Do you have thoughts in regards to delving into any other genre in the future?

ZAHRADNIK: I’ve completed a thriller set in the present day called The Causeway and a middle grade science fiction novel Samuel Tripp and the Timer's Watch. I’m working on a present-day mystery set among the Russian immigrants in Brooklyn. I will soon set that aside to work on book five in the Coleridge Taylor series.

FQ: If you could have dinner with one author or character, who would it be and what question would be at the top of your list to ask them?

ZAHRADNIK: I had a great, long dinner with Ray Bradbury many years ago, so while he might have been first, I’d now choose Dickens. Charles, tell me which is your best novel and why.

To learn more about Lights Out Summer (A Coleridge Taylor Mystery) please read the review at: Feathered Quill Book Reviews.

Monday, July 10, 2017

#BookReview - Amish Cooking Class: The Blessing

Amish Cooking Class: The Blessing

By: Wanda E. Brunstetter
Publisher: Shiloh Run Press
Publication Date: 2017
ISBN: 978-1-62416-745-4
Reviewed by: Diane Lunsford
Review Date: July 8, 2017

Wanda Brunstetter delivers heartfelt flair in her latest Amish Cooking Class novel, The Blessing.

Heidi Troyer gazes out her window at the September vista. She watches a leaf flutter to the ground and reflects on the notion of Fall. She thinks about Kendra; one of her former cooking students. Soon, her baby girl will be born. Heidi counts her blessings each day when she thinks about the eight long years she and her husband have longed for a child. Indeed, a blessing had happened the day Kendra decided to give her unborn child up for adoption to the Troyers. What Heidi and Troy couldn’t possibly know is the Lord had another plan for them.

Bill Mason loves the outdoors and lives for his hunting excursions with his best buddies. Given he is the resident chef on their weekend getaways, his culinary skills could use a leg up. When his friends goad him into taking some cooking classes, it just so happens Heidi’s classes were about to start. Nicole Smith used to be a bubbly high-schooler. She was popular, had lots of friends and was never at a loss for things to do after school and on weekends. All that changed when her mother, Tonya, bailed on their family. Ever since she left, Nicole became the surrogate mom to her younger siblings, Tony and Heather. She was tired of hearing her sister and brother complain about her cooking. When her Dad offers to do the research on cooking classes and suggests it might be fun, little did Nicole know she would soon be enrolled in Heidi Troyer’s next series of classes. Todd Collins loves his life. Who knew being a food critic could be so rewarding? When he found out about the Amish cooking classes, it was a no-brainer to enroll and hone his culinary critiquing abilities further. Allie Garrett loves her family; especially her precious children Nola and Derek. Her husband Steve is a great provider, but being a police officer meant long stretches of lonely nights and days when Steve was on duty. Allie needed to do something for herself. Heidi’s cooking class was the perfect answer. Lisa Brooks was just starting out in her catering business. She delivered great service and product, but her menus were limited. Learning about Heidi’s class was more than a sign. It was a destiny. With five new students in place, Heidi was ready to begin her next series of classes. The Lord truly does work in mysterious ways and many ‘blessings’ would occur over the weeks ahead.

I had the pleasure of reading Wanda Brunstetter’s previous novel, Amish Cooking Class: The Seekers.  In this latest work, Ms. Brunstetter captures a beautiful flow of words and complements them with balanced tone and rhythm. Her voice is audible from the onset and there is a sublime tenderness in the narrative. Her characters are believable with every day challenges and grit. Ms. Brunstetter has divine ability to weave Amish lifestyle and faith throughout the storyline in confident fashion. The reader isn’t getting an ad nauseum dose of religious pontification and judgment toward those who are not of the Amish faith. To the contrary, Ms. Brunstetter treats her audience to great nuggets of information about their practices and commitment to their faith in a delicious delivery of non-preachy writing. I look forward to Ms. Brunstetter’s next novel in this entertaining series.

Quill says: The Blessing has the perfect blend of miracles and mishaps from beginning to end.

Friday, July 7, 2017

#BookReview - Lights Out Summer (A Coleridge Taylor Mystery) @rzahradnik

Lights Out Summer (A Coleridge Taylor Mystery)

By: Rich Zahradnik
Publisher: Camel Press
Publication Date: October 2017
ISBN: 978-1-60381-213-9
Reviewed by: Amy Lignor
Review Date: July 6, 2017

This is Book 4 in the fantastic Coleridge Taylor Mystery series, and for those who have not yet added this particular character to their at-home library, you need to ASAP.

It is the 1970’s. Coleridge Taylor (AKA: “Taylor”) is a die-hard journalist who still has his pride (i.e., does not believe in tabloid magazines), and is still dedicated to real news that everyone else overlooks. The story opens as a serial killer arrives on scene that the news agencies can use to scare everyone living in NYC, while also using the story to climb the ladder of success. Taylor works for the City News Bureau, a much smaller organization than, say...The Post or The Times. He begins by sitting in with a ton of reporters/bottom-feeders at a city conference where they are talking about a killer who is hunting women with a .44. It takes only a short time to grant a title to the killer: “Son of Sam.” But Taylor stumbles over another young woman who was taken out – not with a .44, so it doesn’t rate nationwide news. But he wants to solve the crime and tell the victim’s story. Martha Gibson, a young Black woman, was gunned down in her own apartment building the same night “Son of Sam” struck elsewhere. Therefore, all the reporters go after the "Son of Sam" victim, leaving Taylor with the less visible victim.

But Taylor really has no idea what the heck he’s getting into. As he begins to delve into the crime, he meets the sister of the victim who has given her own surroundings to drugs and a boyfriend who boasts a career as a contract killer. Certainly she and her rotten love could be behind the murder, but...there’s more.

Taylor soon gets into the facts and realizes that Martha was working as a maid for a highly wealthy/in-the-news family named DeVries who live on Park Avenue. This is one of those families who like to fight amongst themselves. But there is also another worker in the house who tells Taylor of a call made from inside the walls that poor Martha heard that preceded her murder. Apparently the call mentioned everything from ‘money being gone’ to someone who ‘had to be stopped.’
Taylor and his detective girlfriend Samantha, end up ingratiating themselves during a family dinner party where all the players of this family are open for review. From a wife who seems to know nothing to a mean young man who seems to hate everyone, the family is ‘rich’ with suspects. Now, add to that a blackout that sends NYC into a 24-hour-long period that’s filled with the vilest of sins being committed, and you are glued to the story as Taylor attempts to track down his own killer before disappearing himself.

Readers will absolutely love Taylor, if they don’t already. This is a character with many layers. A man who has just lost a father who was not exactly a nice, pleasant guy, and missing a loving brother who was listed as MIA in Vietnam, but who Taylor truly believes is gone. Deep down, that’s why he goes after these ‘smaller’ crimes. He wants all victims to have a voice and someone to fight for them, not to be forgotten because some sicko rates more front pages. This author has, quite literally, “Nailed it!” when it comes to creating the perfect visual and suspenseful mystery led by a believable and easy-to-like character.

Quill says: All are standalone books in this series; however, by reading just one, ‘Coleridge Taylor’ and his creator will have you running to buy the rest.

For more information on Lights Out Summer (Coleridge Taylor Mystery), please visit the author's website at:

#BookReview - Cork Dork

Cork Dork: A Wine-Fueled Adventure Among the Obsessive Sommeliers, Big Bottle Hunters, and Rogue Scientists Who Taught Me to Live for Taste

By: Bianca Bosker
Publisher: Penguin Books
Publication Date: March 2017
ISBN: 978-0143128090
Reviewed by: Diane Lunsford
Review Date: July 7, 2017

Bianca Bosker takes a year and a half sabbatical from journalism and embarks upon her personal quest and journey to become a sommelier.

Ms. Bosker begins her story by sharing the first leg of her journey: a deprivation routine. Gone were her days of scented detergents and dryer sheets. While raw onions and hot sauce weren’t much of a sacrifice, there was a bit of a struggle with adding salt and her ‘dark phase’ when coffee was eliminated from her list of delectable common creature comforts. All this came at the behest of sourcing more than two dozen sommeliers and the inherent importance of cleansing the palate to virgin status. Ms. Bosker hangs up her journalism career to dive into the world of sommeliers with the notion most were nothing more than a ‘...bunch of pinstripe-wearing bottle pushers...’ Her feat had more than arms and legs and the challenge of perfecting the quintessential observation of the most coveted bottle of spirits was perhaps a higher mountain to climb than Ms. Bosker could have ever fathomed to have achieved.

The book guides the reader through the evolution of what is necessary to become an accomplished sommelier. It begins logically with an overview of ‘The Blind Tasting’; transitions to ‘Secret Societies’ and ultimately completes its full circle. ‘The Blind Tasting’ is the end of the road of relentless palate training and brain demanding knowledge coupled with chiseled and fine-tuned olfactory perfection.

I embarked upon this read because, as a writer, my personal draw to most books is the title and cover. Cork Dork is the perfect title for Ms. Bosker’s book because it is certainly a body of work that can appeal to the many ‘wine aficionados’ among us today. Ms. Bosker’s journalistic talents speak volumes throughout this book as she has methodically laid the story out in logical and progressive fashion. She blends personal experience through her education of the ‘how to become’ nicely with historical and clinical facts toward the different regions of wine and the history of how they became what they are today. She sprinkles anecdotal humor toward her naivete as much as she stands her ground when it comes to her opinion. However, there is a theme throughout her book that was somewhat tedious for me. There is a bit too much pontification in certain chapters that could have been shortened somewhat (and still could have delivered a solid point, i.e., the chapter titled “The Orgy” was a bit over the top). Overall, I found this book to be entertaining and a solid personal affirmation that I have much to learn about the art of tasting that transcends far beyond the cute label and the color of the liquid inside the bottle. Thank you for such an informative read, Ms. Bosker.

Quill says: Cork Dork is an in-depth account of a former award-winning journalist’s adventure into the world of the art of adventuring down the road of becoming a sommelier.

Thursday, July 6, 2017

#BookReview - The Same Old Story

The Same Old Story

By: William LeRoy
Publisher: Mossik Press
Publication Date: October 2013
ISBN: 978-0615901084
Reviewed by: Anita Lock
Date: July 5, 2017

Author William LeRoy pens a twisted online-chat-room murder mystery debut.
“Johnny was dead; there was no doubt about that.”

The first sentence in LeRoy’s romance mystery may resemble Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. But this story is far from the likes of a Christmas tale. Johnny D’Agostino’s demise at the historic Boston Public Garden on a foggy Halloween night provides enough evidence to rule his death a homicide. Detective Peter Angelo, Johnny’s childhood friend and police colleague, is assigned to the case. The first thing Peter notices when he investigates Johnny’s place is his computer and a set of email exchanges between him (JohnnyD) and a woman named Frankie (Frankie007). One email in particular gives a clue to a regular meeting place, the Ritz-Carlton Cafe. Peter goes there and ends up connecting with a Frankie Fitzgerald, who in turn believes Peter to be Johnny.

Peter decides to play along in the hope of finding Johnny’s murderer, and—as far as Peter is concerned—gathers enough evidence that leads him to believe that Matt Finley, Frankie’s jealous boyfriend who apparently gets wind of the email romance, killed Johnny. Matt has his version about Frankie, including who JohnnyD may be. Frankie sets up a meeting time at the Ritz-Carlton when Matt will finally meet the infamous JohnnyD. But things get twisted once again, and before Peter knows it, he is in Frankie’s apartment. Once she passes out on the sofa, Peter investigates Frankie’s computer. What he discovers is not quite what he expected. Matt does his investigations and learns a thing or two about Peter. The real problem is that both Matt and Peter have fallen for Frankie. Now what?

There are plenty of histrionics to be found in Leroy’s riveting debut! Leroy adds a fresh take to the clichéd lover’s triangle theme that tells the same old story of “all’s fair in love and war,” — love, jealously, and obsession. What makes The Same Old Story so unique is the way Leroy tightly weaves a flurry of elements that will not only keep readers in a tizzy but also make it difficult for them to put the book down. To begin with, his third person narrative, which alternates specifically between two of a small handful of characters: Peter and Matt.

Peter’s and Matt’s sides to the story between Johnny and Frankie as well as Johnny’s demise provide clues — more or less. Because both character’s personal and emotional thoughts get thrown into the mix, everything in the narrative suddenly becomes convoluted, including clues. Leroy adds more to the confusion by numbering chapters according to where each alternative story left off. (Doing a little math, one could easily figure out the real number. But who wants to do math in the middle of a good story? Seriously!)

If that isn’t enough, Leroy makes sure to include copious amounts of nostalgia befitting the melodramatic love theme. Highlighting feminine and masculine characters, Leroy pulls from all the classics — opera, books, and (except for You’ve Got Mail) old movies. To name a few, Tristan and Isolde, Alice in Wonderland, Othello, Wuthering Heights, An Affair to Remember, Casablanca, and Gone With the Wind.

Those are just a few elements. There's more. The Same Old Story closes on an interesting note — one that begs a sequel.

Quill says: While The Same Old Story gives plenty for mystery enthusiasts to ruminate on, it is nothing less than a melodrama buff’s dream come true!


#AuthorInterview with William LeRoy

Today, Feathered Quill reviewer Anita Lock is talking with William LeRoy, author of The Same Old Story

FQ: What inspired you to write a murder mystery based on the internet and in particular to a precursor to emailing: instant messaging?

LEROY: At about the same time Nora and Delia Efron were writing the script for You've Got Mail based on the "new" phenomenon of virtual romance, I too got to thinking about the fundamental nature of romantic love, and settled on a notion that for a man it is essentially a psychic experience: An innate yearning to regain a sense of lost wholeness through reunification of body and soul, ultimately achievable only in death. Virtually all the classic love stories struck me as metaphorical expressions of this inner drama, including the death part, i.e. "each man kills the thing he loves," which led me to putting down my thoughts in the form of a "murder mystery."

FQ: You designed your story by alternating between two characters, Peter and Matt. Explain why you limited your narratives to them and didn't include others, like Frankie and minor characters.

LEROY: It's their story, based largely on their mirrored misperceptions of common facts, and "the same old story." One could say "Peter" and "Matt" are two aspects of the same person.

FQ: Alternating between Peter's and Matt's stories, you chose to number chapters according to where their stories leave off. Very clever! Explain how you came up with this method.

LEROY: It struck me as consistent with it being two separate stories that are nevertheless "the same old story." And for the stories that track, I used this method and separate "sub-title" pages to help the reader keep in mind whose story he was reading at any given time.

FQ: Your debut is laced with nostalgic romance stories, operas, and movies. Explain why you incorporate these older elements in a story set just at the cusp of the 21st Century.

LEROY: As expressly stated in both Peter's and Matt's stories, Johnny is revealed to have been a kind of Jungian mystic who believed, and convinced Frankie that she "like everyone else, was composed of multiple 'inner selfs', corresponding in nature and identity to the classic characters brought to consciousness (from a collective unconscious) in fairy tales, poems, songs, myths, books and movies. Supposedly, such 'classic characters' resided in hers and and everyone's unconscious, from where they compelled her and everyone one else, knowingly or not, to act out their stories. 'We are who we pretend to be, Johnny said, except we're not pretending'." The nostalgic stories that appear in the text ---- from Adam and Eve to Psyche and Eros to Tristan and Isolde to Romeo and Juliet etcetera ---- attempt to prove or at least illustrate this theory, and explain how Frankie rationalized her actions.

FQ: You use a couple of rather interesting writing tools: word play and interrupted sentences. Explain the importance of incorporating these aspects within a mystery such as this.

LEROY: Some of the word play is just that: word play. But some is intended to provide clues. As for interrupted sentences, the tale is told in the "close third person," and this technique represents my sense of how people think and talk, which hopefully engages the reader.

FQ: What do you hope readers will take away at the close of your story?

LEROY: One reader, a somewhat older middle-aged man, said the tale had caused him to re-examine certain things in his life, in particular his relationships with wives and other women. I would hope for a simple, "Aha!"

FQ: Speaking of closure, The Same Old Story ends on an interesting note - one that begs a sequel. Do you have a sequel in the works?

LEROY: It is difficult to "explain" this book without "spoiling" the ending for future readers. But your comment, not unlike others I have received, suggests that for some reason you do not accept (or skipped over) Matt's conclusions when he discovers who Johnny was (beginning on page 412). Though not specifically for this reason, I have written a sequel, titled The Inside Story, that mainly deals with the somewhat mysterious actions of the wily old Police Chief, Patrick Riley.

FQ: Do you foresee more sequels?

LEROY: Another would be the death of me.

FQ: Would you consider mystery to be your writing forte, or are there other genres that you're interested in?

LEROY: I don't think of myself as having a forte, but yes, I would like to write topical satirical novels.

FQ: Do you have any future mystery writing projects (such as a new series) in the works?

LEROY: No, but thanks for asking.

To learn more about The Same Old Story please read the review at: Feathered Quill Book Reviews.

#AuthorInterview with Michael Pronko @pronkomichael

Today, Feathered Quill reviewer Lynette Latzko is talking with Michael Pronko, author of The Last Train

FQ: I enjoyed all of the characters in this story, especially the interactions between the detectives. Are any of these compelling characters based on real life people?

PRONKO: Mostly they are composites of people I’ve observed and spoken with over the years. As for Michiko, she’s based on hostesses who work in the night world pouring drinks and talking with men that I’ve seen when out and about. There’s no single person that I was thinking of with her, but rather she exhibits the traits and characteristics—good and bad—that most impress me. Night life in Tokyo is very powerful, seductive, compelling, so the people who spend more time in that world are the same. The detectives work as a group, which seems very Japanese to me, rather than as a lone individual, which feels more American, or European to me. Their dialogue is more how I think of character being expressed, through dialogue and action but also through relationships. Each of the detectives has their own way of working and thinking and living, even though Hiroshi is the central character. Talking over drinks and small dishes is one of the ways business is conducted in Tokyo. It’s how things are done.

Author Michael Pronko

FQ: How did a man who is from Kansas City become attracted to and end up living and teaching for two decades in Japan, a culture that is so different from what you came from?

PRONKO: I came out of curiosity, stayed out of fascination, but also practicality. I got a job teaching at a university. A steady paycheck and interesting work makes it a lot easier to adapt. Being in Tokyo is like going on an overseas trip every day. Even twenty years later, there’s always something bewildering and intriguing. Even the predictable things remain surprising in their predictability. There are things that I fail to adapt to, some customs and ways of interacting that wear me out, like Japanese hiding their feelings and the excessive vagueness of communication. Tokyo is maybe different than the rest of Japan, I suppose, too. I don’t think I could live outside Tokyo, though I know plenty of foreigners who do, and love it. The city can be very cosmopolitan, but also shockingly traditional, welcoming and rejecting in equal measures. But, it feels comfortable now. I don’t feel I need to give up my American-ness to live here. I teach American literature, film, art, and music, so in that role, I remain very American. In some ways, I’m more American than I was living in the States, see it more clearly from outside, or at least feel parts of the culture more objectively.

FQ: Your descriptions of urban Japan are quite fascinating, especially the parts about Japanese business practices that we Westerners don’t have. Can you explain to readers the importance of the Meishi for a Japanese business person?

PRONKO: Meishi are central to Tokyo life and culture. You hand your name card to anyone you meet that you want to keep in touch with. But it’s also a way of knowing who you are talking to. Because protocol and levels of politeness can be tricky, it’s good to know if you’re talking to the head of a company or the custodian, both of whom might say, “I work at XXX company,” when you meet them. For stores and restaurants, it’s a form of advertising. You take a meishi so you can go back again. That’s important because some places are hard to find, and the meishi often have a small map. You can track someone’s life, see their contacts and meetings, through their meishi, which is what the detectives start with in the novel. I have hundreds and hundreds of them, several file boxes full. I bought a special scanner to digitize them. Nowadays, with Facebook, Linkedin and online sites, maybe they’re less important than before, but I still have a big handful of new meishi just since the last time I scanned them. If I meet my students after they have graduated, it’s a moment of genuine pride for them to give me their meishi with their name, position and company. It’s your identity, where you fit in the world, who you are connected to.

FQ: Throughout this story, one of the characters, Michiko, visits a few Japanese shrines and writes on Ema. Can you elaborate more on the meaning of Ema, and their significance in Japanese culture?

PRONKO: Ema are part of the ancient system of offering at a Shinto shrine. The word combines the characters for ‘painting’ and ‘horse,’ and often there is a small horse painted on the board. In ancient times, the ultimate offering would be a horse, but since that’s a bit impractical these days, the picture substitutes. Nowadays, they are used as prayers to grant wishes from the gods. If someone is taking the college entrance exam, they would write one asking to pass. Other common requests are for pregnancy, smooth childbirth, curing an illness, business success, basically whatever you want but aren’t sure about getting. Some shrines specialize in specific requests. Michiko writes the ema to ask for help in her ventures, but also to wash away her guilt. The sacred space inside the shrine is marked as clean and pure by washing one’s hands at the gate, so she needs that. Michiko goes to those shrines to cleanse herself, dispel guilt, and recover. Towards the end, she also goes with her best friend to a temple where they buy small bibs for a stone “Jizo” statue, which is a cute, small, man-like statue, often hundreds of them lined up side by side. If women have an abortion, they will sometimes buy a bib and hat and tie it on one of the statues to atone for the lost child.

FQ: What were your motivations behind writing a mystery-thriller involving trains, and your decision to make the villain a female?

PRONKO: Trains were an easy decision. They are central to Tokyo life. It is how people move around. It’s where people meet, how they conceive the city: “I’ll meet you at Shinjuku station, south exit.” A car chase is possible (and my third book will have one, though with a twist), but I wanted to think about the terror of the train crowds and the speed of trains. Day to day, no one thinks about it much, but if you stand on a platform, there’s this mass of metal speeding past just a couple of steps away. And because there are often, sadly, tragically, suicides of people jumping in front of trains, it seemed like one way a murderer might cover her crimes. As for the villain being a female, she’s empowering herself and turning the tables on men. But, the main things she does are not evil. She’s just making a living. The killing shows some disconnect inside her, but that disconnect comes from the way women are considered and treated in Japan. Michiko is doing these terrible villainous things, but at the same time, she’s also doing some heroic things by not conforming and succeeding by society’s standards.

FQ: Is this book also being published in Japan, and if so, what have been the reactions you have received from readers?

PRONKO: I will publish it in Japanese later, but I haven’t finalized that yet. I’m curious what the reactions will be. Japanese are usually curious to hear what non-Japanese think and read how they react to Japan. The Japanese readers who have read it in English so far have been very positive, and said they saw a new view of Tokyo. I think as a foreigner here, I see some things and miss a lot of other things. But that’s interesting, and no different for Japanese here, too. With my other collections of writing about Tokyo, the ways of observing and responding are not what most Japanese would see or say, so I guess that will be the case with this novel, too. Back to you on that question next year!

FQ: I’m impressed with your writing ability in The Last Train. However, I am sad to say that I often come across independent writers who do not take their writing seriously, failing to invest in solid writing and editing services. What type of proofreading and editing do you go through when writing?

PRONKO: I think a book is a precious, complex entity, so spending a lot of time on it is just respectful of the audience and it’s also interesting for myself. As for services, a professional, well-paid editor is essential. Whenever I read what an editor sends me, it’s torture, all those comments on the side of the file! As I read those comments, it’s always a series of Homer Simpson moments, “Doh!” How could I have missed that? It’s very humbling. For this novel three professional editors gave detailed line-by-line input, as well as comments on character and story. I rewrote the novel countless times, each time focusing on something different: for overall story, for organization, for drama, for scene, for character, for sentence quality, and again for impact and flow. In addition, I built writing skill by writing for magazines, newspapers and online sites for 20 years. There’s nothing better than the pressure of a close deadline and a crabby editor to get you to put your ego aside and produce. I read and teach literature as my day job, so that’s a constant source of input and insight about writing. Going over novels, stories and films with students, especially outlining everything, deepens my attention to writing and story-telling. As a writer, I want to write better, so I work on finding ways to deeply experience stories, to understand what a story is and what stories do, to stay open to input, and to be comfortable applying my craft to the work. I want to keep developing all that.

FQ: I read that you will be releasing books two (Japan Hand) and three (Thai Girl in Toky) of this series in the next year or so. Do you have any other stories possibly brewing that your fans can look forward to in the future?

PRONKO: A lot of other stories brewing, too many maybe. After these next two, which I’m rewriting now, I will do two stand-alone novels, one about English teaching and another about foreigners in Tokyo. Those are both mystery-thrillers, too, but not detective-based. I like the detectives, and each of them deserves their own starring role, so I have a couple in mind for them as well. I also like satire, so I have a couple of ideas about cross-cultural satire, but that will come after these planned ones.

FQ: What are some of your favorite Japanese authors that you would recommend to readers from Western cultures?

PRONKO: As for mysteries, I like Seicho Matsumoto, Keigo Higashino, Miyuki Miyabe, Natsuo Kirino, and many more these days are getting translated into English. As for non-mystery writers, I love Kobo Abe, Junichiro Tanizaki, Kenzaburo Oe, Yasunari Kawabata, Yukio Mishima, Osamu Dazai, Iharu Saikaku and I could go on, but these are the writers that knocked me out at first reading when I first came to Japan. These writers are deeply Japanese, but also universal enough to grab non-Japanese readers.

FQ: I see that you’ve been interviewed by several other review websites. Is there anything that interviewers have failed to ask you and you’ve been dying to let readers know about you personally, and about your novel, The Last Train?

PRONKO: One thing that I hope readers will find is the idea of mysteries as a balance of fantasy and reality, escape and observation, pleasure and criticism. I think mysteries help to chart out the limits and edges of acceptable behavior and explore the reasons for unacceptable behavior. Morality is a tricky thing in every culture, and highly variable from place to place, while murder is one of the few universal taboos. Mysteries explore the fissures and confusions among those issues. I find that really fascinating. The value and importance of mysteries and thrillers is they can turn our thinking inside out and, hopefully, in some way restore our interest and trust in the world.

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

Sunday, July 2, 2017

#BookReview - The Last Train @pronkomichael

The Last Train (Detective Hiroshi series, Book 1)

By: Michael Pronko
Publisher: Raked Gravel Press
Publication Date: May 2017
ISBN: 978-1942410126
Reviewed by: Lynette Latzko
Review Date: July 2, 2017

Professor and award-winning essayist, Michael Pronko, takes readers on a fast-paced ride through the streets of Japan in his debut mystery novel, The Last Train.

Detective Hiroshi Shimizu, a little bit emotionally banged up from a recent relationship breakup, is contacted by his mentor and fellow coworker, detective Takamatsu, concerning a gruesome incident involving an American businessman, Steve Deveaux. The American was discovered dead on the train tracks of the Tamachi station in Tokyo. Not really wanting to get involved, Hiroshi originally believes it’s a simple case of suicide, but Takamatsu quickly points out several key points why it has to be murder, one of which is that he believes that foreigners just don’t commit suicide in Tokyo. The only sketchy information they have that points in the direction of murder is a security camera that was outside briefly showing a woman walking behind the man who would be dead in a matter of minutes.

Armed with this knowledge, detectives Hiroshi and Takamatsu along with ex-sumo wrestler, Sakaguchi, embark on a twisting and turning investigative journey that takes them, and readers, into the underbelly of Tokyo in the Roppongi district, famous for its nightlife and Japanese hostess clubs. The author expertly educates readers on both the business and nighttime leisure culture of Japan throughout this story with such well-crafted proficiency that only an individual as uniquely qualified, who has spent time exploring, admiring, and living in Japan, can do.

The most compelling aspect of this thriller is not the typical whodunit that lingers on the minds of readers throughout the story (in fact the murderer is revealed early on), but the motivation behind the decision to murder, and who will be the next target. What also makes this an unusual and compelling novel is that readers will find it hard not to feel a little sympathy for the murderess the detectives are desperately searching for, Michiko Suzuki, who is an alluring former hostess with a complex and harrowing past including being kidnapped. It becomes easily understandable why she seeks the ultimate revenge against a society that has turned her and her family’s world upside down as early as her childhood. But, sympathy or not, she must be stopped before more men die, whether they deserve it or not, but will the detectives find her before she strikes again, or will one of them become her latest victim?

Quill says: The Last Train is a fast-paced thriller that skillfully exposes readers to the seedy urban side of Japan and leaves readers anxiously waiting for the next novel in the detective Hiroshi series.

For more information on The Last Train, please visit the author's website at: