Tuesday, September 26, 2017

#BookReview - A Cherry Blossom in Winter

A Cherry Blossom in Winter

By: Ron Singerton
Publisher: Penmore Press
Publication Date: June 2017
ISBN: 978-1-942-756-92-7
Reviewed by: Amy Lignor
Review Date: September 24, 2017

There are many tales when it comes to war; some memorable, some a regurgitation of information that has come before. Chances are, with all the titles you have read over time, there are only a sparse number you’ve liked so much that they reached the hallowed bookshelves—finding their niche among those other few that were so good you read them again and again. This is one of those books.

Told with a passion that speaks as if the writer was actually a character in this time period, readers are introduced to Alexei. He is competing in St. Petersburg, Russia, at the Invitational Fencing Competition. It is 1897, and Alexei has already eliminated some of the best there, and is now competing against a man who is older than he but is also the one responsible for teaching him this skill. Alexei is seventeen years of age, which makes him one year shy of being able to attend the prestigious Naval Academy where this competition is taking place. Upside is, that the superintendent of the Academy, Admiral Kochenkov, knows Alexei’s ambassador father and can perhaps get him enrolled a tad bit sooner.

Following in the footsteps of his father, Alexei sees his future as a military one, full of heroic scenes and a wealth of honor that is well-earned. There is a huge part of him that wants to make his father proud, although good old Dad is not exactly the nicest of all men. Life, of course, is never an easy one, especially during an age where war is constantly being spoken about and two cultures are scrambling to be the first to fall into the future “super-power” category.

There is a great deal of anguish at home for Alexei, in his beloved Russia. However, Alexei finds an even greater wall to climb in the country of Japan. When he travels with his father (who hates all things Japanese) to this rich and vibrant country, he meets the girl of his dreams, beginning a journey where love will be his greatest test of courage. Her name is Kimi-san and she has the distinction of being the daughter of a Japanese war hero. She and Alexei find themselves falling head over heels with one another, even though the threats are more than real when it comes to these two particular nations joining together.

As the talk of war grows, Alexei returns to his homeland in order to become the naval officer he has always dreamed of being. What Alexei is not ready for is the family secret that could destroy him, an angry comrade who becomes a rival, as well as a best friend who leans toward revolution, joining with Marxist rebels who want nothing more than to overthrow the regime.

Alexei will find himself fighting for a country that is basically exhausted, attempting to stand up against his true love’s homeland that is far more eager, young, and much more modern when it comes to its weaponry. The end result will be a battle of monumental proportions, and two hearts that will work diligently to find a way to be together even if the world around them is falling apart.
Everything focused on in this book is done with such exhilaration that all of the romances – and, yes, there are more than just Alexei and Kimi-san – as well as the family battles, the battles on land, at sea, and in the minds of these young people who are hoping to be seen as the honorable ones when the smoke clears, are vibrant and emotional to the nth degree.

Quill says: This historical wizard has once again penned a tale that speaks to readers on every level, inspiring both the heart and mind.

For more information on A Cherry Blossom in Winter, please visit the author's website at: ronsingerton.com

#BookReview - Colors of Christmas

Colors of Christmas: Two Contemporary Stories Celebrate the Hope of Christmas

By: Olivia Newport
Publisher: Shiloh Run Press
Publication Date: October 2017
ISBN: 978-1-68322-335-1
Reviewed by: Diane Lunsford
Review Date: September 24, 2017

Olivia Newport delivers two stories that invoke the celebration and hope of Christmas between the covers of Colors of Christmas.

"Christmas in Gold" begins with Astrid facing life’s next chapter. The home where she and her departed husband raised their two children, Alex and Ingrid, is more than she can manage alone. When Astrid fell and fractured her leg, her son Alex put his foot down. It was time to sell the house and move mom to an assisted living facility. With the demands of his job and extensive travel, he wasn’t around much and it was only a matter of time before something would go seriously wrong—or so Alex believed. And he wasn't the only one who felt this way - his sister Ingrid agreed. Besides, she had her own family and two young children to worry about without having the constant fear of something happening to her mother. When Astrid arrives at her new home, reality hits hard. Gone were the many rooms and years of character in the home she and her husband made together. Astrid’s new home had been reduced to the equivalent of a loft with a bedroom, with a kitchenette that transitioned into a small family area with little to no storage throughout. Now the holidays are around the corner and it’s the first year her home will be absent of the strapping Christmas tree adorned with the special gold ornaments—treasures that had survived Nazi Germany and many feats beyond. Astrid’s gravest concern is the whereabouts of her ornaments. In the move, the box is nowhere to be found and her fear is that they are lost forever.

"Christmas in Blue" takes the reader on a journey of loss and new beginnings. Angela is a piano teacher and while her bevy of adolescent students would much prefer the great outdoors to the confines of a piano bench and foreign keys, their respective parents continue to send their children to her for the infusion of culture. In the small town of Spruce Valley, the holidays are looming. With the passing of her dear friend, Carole, Angela is looking forward to skipping the fanfare of the holidays and jumping into the new year. However, the annual tradition of A Christmas to Remember is upon her—a painful and bittersweet reminder of her dear friend Carole’s passing. The planning committee for the event assembles in their first meeting. Chairwoman Rowena Pickwell thinks it is a brilliant idea to nominate Angela to take the lead this year. Recognizing the nomination is more of a mandate than option, Angela processes the tall order and has more than a few mental expletives before graciously accepting the appointment. Angela faces resistance, challenges and downright obstacles along the way. While past events are reminders for the people of Spruce Valley to have something to look forward to thanks to Carole; this year could be the first year it is remembered as the event nobody will ever forget.

Olivia Newport pens the realities of life experiences and how their melancholia is personified during the holidays in both stories. In "Christmas in Gold," even though Astrid’s mind is sharp, her body is not as strong as it once was. Through thoughtful dialogue, Ms. Newport addresses aging with a realistic, positive approach and does not paint her character as a victim and paint her into a corner of utter and complete dependency. Rather, she uses her savvy wordsmithing to develop a character who is strong and willing to accept the new path in her journey of life. In "Christmas in Blue," Ms. Newport continues to stay true to her pen and audience and delivers another faith-based tale. This time, she focuses on the acceptance of loss and the importance of carrying on. Both stories are not preachy diatribes of hellfire and brimstone fraught with religious pontification. To the contrary, they are two light-hearted, feel-good renditions of looking beyond the unfair moments in life and embracing the joy and gift of the present through faith. I applaud Ms. Newport for delivering two charming and warm stories.

Quill says: Colors of Christmas is a great read for that someone special on your holiday list this year.

Sunday, September 24, 2017

#BookReview - A Strange Scottish Shore

A Strange Scottish Shore (Book 2 of the Emmeline Truelove Series)

By: Juliana Gray
Publisher: Berkley
Publication Date: September 2017
ISBN: 978-0425277089
Reviewed by: Diana Buss
Review Date: September 24, 2017

A mystery, time-travel and interesting characters combine to make for an intriguing read in book number two of the Emmeline Truelove series.

In August of 1906 at King’s Cross Station in London, we find researcher Emmeline Truelove preparing to board a train to north Scotland. Truelove, after being summoned for an urgent matter by Max, the Duke of Olympia (one of her closest friends and a fellow researcher), sets off straight away with her leather portfolio in hand. In the Orkney Islands, Truelove is not exactly sure what mysterious objects and artifacts she is going to find, but one thing is for certain, the train hasn’t even left the station and she’s already faced with some strange events and familiar people - including someone from a past expedition in Naxos, which leaves her with an ominous feeling. As the train embarks to their destination, Truelove is met with a ghost from the past warning her of danger, as well as Lord Silverton, sent by the duke to ensure her safety and well-being. As night arrives, they settle in at a hotel. After sharing dinner together and settling in for the night - Truelove taking the bed and Lord Silverton at watch on the couch - Truelove awakes with a distinct feeling something is very wrong. She is, of course, correct. Lord Silverton is gone, and so is her portfolio.

The Duke of Olympia is waiting for Truelove the next day at the Thurso terminus and immediately senses trouble. Lord Silverton’s disappearance and the theft of Truelove's portfolio only seems to heighten the mystery of what is going on. It’s clear that they have an awful lot of work to do. After finally getting to see what brought her to Scotland - a mysterious trunk with a hidden pocket holding a Selkie suit - it’s time to find the connection and get to work. Before they can dig too deeply, however, a man from Naxos, named Hunter, appears, clearly with a mission to get something or hurt someone. Hunter can’t harm the duke, because the duke has what Hunter needs - the ability to travel through time - so right now Truelove is his way of getting what he wants from the duke. After a battle that leads to Hunter falling out a window into the rocks and water below, they believe they are safe and carry on with the mission. After much contemplation, they come to the strange discovery that perhaps Silverton has travelled back in time and that the Selkie suit, just maybe, might have to do with an ancient legend. Truelove, deciding to travel back in time to find Silverton and explore the mystery at hand, may have found a bit more than she had bargained for. Fortunately, Silverton’s skills and Truelove’s mind help to guide them around every mysterious and dangerous turn their travels take.

This book was slow to start, mainly because it was a little confusing. The story is very clearly a part of a series, and frequently references events from the first book, A Most Extraordinary Pursuit. For this reason, I recommend reading that book before diving into A Strange Scottish Shore, as I believe a good deal of character development is in book one - although you can generally figure out what must have happened between characters before. As the story progresses, it becomes clear what is going on and pieces begin to fall into place. The connections between people, places and time are not exactly obvious, but it is possible to put the pieces together as more information is presented. A Strange Scottish Shore is full of action, excitement and love, all while not being overly romantic or cliche. In fact, very little about this book is cliche. I look forward to the next in the series - I hope there is one after what appears to be a cliffhanger in this story. Stick with this book, if you are thinking of putting it down, you’ll be oh so glad you didn't stop reading.

Quill says: A Strange Scottish Shore is a captivating mystery that will leave you guessing at every turn.

Friday, September 22, 2017

#BookReview - Pretty Powerful

Pretty Powerful: Appearance, Substance, and Success

By: Eboni K. Williams
Publisher: Viva Editions
Publication Date: September 2017
ISBN: 978-1635966626
Reviewed by: Ellen Feld
Review Date: September 23, 2017

As an attorney and now a media legal analyst, Eboni K. Williams has strong opinions on how a woman's appearance can help, or hinder, her professional career. In Pretty Powerful, she presents her case using examples from her own life mixed with experiences from other successful women.

Having worked as an actress and model before turning to the world of law and politics, Ms. Williams well understands how women struggle to play up their looks to help move along the corporate ladder. She too, struggled, particularly after having that modeling career. But she uses her legal background to make a strong argument for using "Pretty Powerful" to one's advantage and will have you re-thinking how you want to present yourself to the world.

Ms. Williams starts her book with an introduction that recalls her interviewing at Fox News to become a legal and political analyst. This was a position she'd been working toward for a long time and she was going to do all she could to secure that job. In addition to knowing what she wanted to tell the executives who would be interviewing her, Williams also paid careful attention to how she dressed. The way her hair was styled, the dress she wore, and her makeup, would, she believed, convey to those executives that she was a serious contender for the coveted job. While many of us don't want to think that how we dress/look affects our professional career, Williams argues that the first impression we make is still based on physical appearance. But, she argues, beauty and a perfect appearance alone are not enough to succeed, and to make her point, she delves into the 2008 presidential campaign and the woes of vice-presidential nominee Sarah Palin. A well-dressed, attractive woman, Palin initially seemed to be a welcome addition to the Republican ticket. But once her lack of substance became apparent, she was torn apart in the press.

Williams tackles numerous aspects of "Pretty Powerful" from "Fat-shaming" to "The Bimbo Effect," giving her opinions on each as well as including interviews with well-known and successful women to get their views on the topics. From Meghan McCain, to Marcia Clark and Judge Jeanine Pirro, these ladies have some strong views and they're not afraid to share them. The interviewees give great insight into how using their appearance/dress (or not using it) helped or hindered their careers. For example, when Judge Pirro was beginning her career in law, she was one of only a few women lawyers and felt strong pressure to downplay her feminine side. Today, she argues, it's a different world, and by the time she had risen to being a judge, she felt comfortable about dressing up her wardrobe a little. Marcia Clark too, remembers when she was thrown into the limelight during the O.J. Simpson trail. She was too busy to worry about her looks and the media had a feeding frenzy because of it. In contrast, Desiree Rogers, who was the White House social secretary for President Obama, was criticized for being too flashy and that played a pivotal role in her job. Williams analyzes these various experiences to show how looks and brains must be used together, and that one over the other can have negative effects on a career. The author concludes her book with a look at sexual harassment and "The Bimbo Effect," where women who are very attractive can be stigmatized as being less capable.

In today's world, women are taught that we should advance in the work world (and indeed, in all aspects of our lives) by using our brains and not our beauty. But Ms. Williams makes a strong argument for using both to help us achieve our goals. Whether you have natural beauty or not, how you present yourself (your hair, your dress, your makeup), will say a lot about who you are and how serious you are about your job. Williams cautions, however, that too much of one over the other will likely have a negative effect. How to achieve that perfect balance is something Williams addresses throughout the book. Women, she argues, will be empowered once they realize that it's okay to use both their substance and appearance to fast-forward their careers. Pretty Powerful is an easy and interesting read, well researched, and it may well start some interesting discussions around the water cooler.

Quill says: In Pretty Powerful, Eboni K. Williams makes a strong argument for how and why to use one's appearance to help succeed in the work world.

Monday, September 18, 2017

#AuthorInterview with Helena P. Schrader @HelenaPSchrader

Today, Feathered Quill reviewer Amy Lignor is talking with Helena P. Schrader, author of The Last Crusader Kingdom: Dawn of a Dynasty in Twelfth-Century Cyprus

FQ: You speak about one day putting together a history of the Iberlins. Can you tell us a bit about this particular project?

SCHRADER: I’m an historian by education and the first books I published were non-fiction: a biography of a leading member of the German Resistance to Hitler, a comparative study of women pilots in WWII, and a book on the Berlin Airlift. However, I have not published a non-fiction book on the crusades or medieval history. I started playing with the idea both as a means to keep my brain active and to lend credibility to my historical fiction set in the crusades.

When researching for my current novel, I was amazed by just how powerful Balian’s descendants were in the 13th century. His sons were regents of Jerusalem and Cyprus. Other descendants were constables and seneschals of both kingdoms at various times, baillies for the Holy Roman Emperor, barons of Beirut, Sidon, Caesarea, Arsur, and Counts of Jaffa and Ascalon. Daughters of the House of Ibelin married Kings of Cyprus six times! The Ibelins were scholars, whose legal opinion dominated the highly sophisticated courts of Outremer, and they were patrons of the arts. John d’Ibelin, Balian’s eldest son and the hero of The Last Crusader Kingdom, built a palace that stunned visitors from the west for its polychrome marble, realistic mosaics, fountains, windows and extensive gardens — and that in the early 13th century. In fact, no book about the history of the Holy Land can avoid reference to the Ibelins, yet no one has pulled all the fragments together to write an account of the rise of the House of Ibelin. That is a challenge I have set myself. It should keep me busy and intellectually challenged in retirement! The working title is: The Uncrowned Kings of Outremer.

FQ: Cyprus, for a small island, has always played such a major role throughout history. Can you tell readers what drew you to this particular locale? Have you visited Cyprus in person?

SCHRADER: One accidental trip to Cyprus literally changed my life. My husband and I had planned a holiday in Egypt when a terrorist attack made us cancel our plans. On short notice, we had to find an alternative destination — far from the cold and gloom of a German winter. We found a cheap package-deal to Cyprus and arrived without knowing anything about the island. I fell in love almost instantly — we landed in balmy temperatures just as a large copper sun slipped into the sea behind the palm trees. In the following week, I was astonished to discover that Cyprus had been ruled by Egyptians, Greeks, Romans, Byzantines, Muslims, Crusaders, Venetians, and Turks. The layers of history fascinated me (I’m a historian remember), and the relics of these various periods are enticingly set in some of the most entrancing landscapes imaginable.

Because of this one trip, my life changed in two ways: First, my husband and I decided to retire to a Mediterranean island and spent the next fifteen years choosing the right one for us. Second, I became fascinated with crusader Cyprus and did extensive research leading to a series of novels set in crusader Cyprus of which The Last Crusader Kingdom is the second to be published. St. Louis’ Knight was the first of my Cypriot books to be published.

FQ: As an expert in this area, when you look at history – from Roman rule to others attempting to take over lands for their own treasure chests – how is it that the people of Cyprus have such extreme loyalty to their land? Do you find it unique that they constantly stood up against far bigger enemies? Is there another particular kingdom you would compare them to?

SCHRADER: I don’t think their love of their country is unique. It is quite natural. However, large islands have two natural advantages: 1) clearly defined borders (that foster identity), and 2) natural defenses (which deter many would-be conquerors). Palestine has been over-run by every civilization in recorded history because it has no defenses. The mixture of so many different invaders and settlers, undermines identity and unity. Cyprus, Sicily and England, on the other hand, evolved strong and unique identity as a result of having immutable borders and the ability to resist many attempts at conquest. Despite which, they have all been invaded from time to time.

FQ: As a diplomat currently serving in Africa, can you tell readers a bit about your current post? Is it a good place to be a writer?

SCHRADER: I’m currently serving in Ethiopia, which is an amazing country with a history that stretches back to Biblical times. Ancient Ethiopia maintained trading ties from Ancient Greece to India. Ethiopians claim that Balthzar was Ethiopian, and Ethiopia was the second country to make Christianity the state religion. Ethiopians were in Jerusalem in the 12th century, took part in the defense against Saladin, and to this day maintain a chapel in the Church of Calvary in Jerusalem, a gift of Saladin after he gained control of the Holy City. Today, although roughly 40% of the population is Muslim, Christians and Muslims live together in admirable harmony. Ethiopia has its own script dating to ancient times, a rich, written history and literary, artistic and musical traditions hundreds, if not thousands, of years old.

My experiences here have enriched my understanding of human nature, which is critical to writing good fiction set in any period. Indeed, my descriptions of refugees, insurrection, the impact of female genital mutilation, and much more are based on my personal experiences here.

Ethiopia has also been evocative of the Middle Ages in a number of ways. Just living in a profoundly religious society, for example, helps me understand the mentality of medieval men and women better. Likewise, being extremely rich and privileged in a country dominated by subsistence agriculture and poverty provides insight into the roles and responsibilities of as well as the responses to royalty in medieval Europe. Encountering donkeys, camels, and livestock on the streets or watching plowing and threshing with oxen makes it easier to visualize daily life in the Middle Ages too. I think rural Ethiopia is closer to medieval Europe than anywhere in the entire United States.

FQ: Jumping to the industry, itself, can you share a “day of writing for Helena Schrader?” Such as, do you need to work in a specific area, have it completely quiet, work better in the morning than the afternoon, etc.?

SCHRADER: I like to work at a large desk with a pleasant view to the outside world and lots of natural light. I need to be surrounded by book cases filled with my research books. Immediately to my right are the books I refer to most frequently on my current project, including a dictionary and thesaurus. These books include primary and secondary sources, biographies of key figures, art books, books on the architecture, diet, fashion, and atlases and tour guides of Cyprus and the Holy Land.
I also need blocks of time to work, because I always reread the previous 2 chapters/sections before starting work. It generally takes me a while to get back in the mindset necessary for stepping into the shoes of my characters and telling their story. This means that as long as I have a full-time day job, I can only write on weekends and holidays. Because I need time to “prepare” to write, I do my best writing late afternoon and early evening.

FQ: As an author, is there one industry issue you feel should be addressed? What are your personal views on digital publishing?

SCHRADER: Digital publishing has been liberating for both authors and readers. It is wonderful to be able to have books to read loaded on an e-reader and be able to keep that in a purse and read them anywhere/anytime. That said, I hate the inability to rapidly flip back and forth between text and end-notes, maps or other supplementary material in an academic work. I no-longer buy non-fiction books in ebook format. In fact, I prefer reading paperbacks, but for travel I still download some books to avoid carrying heavy paper around.

In terms of industry “issues,” I’m inclined to think that the flooding of the market with 4,000 (or is it more?) books per day is, like a real flood, damaging. There’s way too much worthless trash out there and it’s almost impossible for quality books to find their way to readers’ attention. There is a need for a filter of some sort — but not a return to the system of agents and publishers preserving their individual, arrogant and narrow-minded vision of what is “literature” or should be “popular.” I believe that there must be some way to filter out patently sub-standard books without interfering with freedom of expression or effectively imposing censorship.

FQ: Along those same lines, your books are so well put together – substance, as well as editorially – could you share your views, if any, on how the editing “arm” has dwindled over time? What would be a piece of advice you would give to the new author out there who is also a fan of history, research and learning?

SCHRADER: First, thank you for the compliment. Editing is critical to quality, and finding affordable editing is a huge challenge for the independent novelist.

As for advice: With respect to research, when writing historical fiction it is not enough to get all the “facts” right. Fiction requires more research than non-fiction. You need to know about the architecture, art, cuisine, clothing, social structure, legal norms, religious practices (not theology or theory!), and more. I recently read a book set in the late 12th century in which the writer talks about lace garments and capes, neither of which were features of 12th century fashion. I’ve read other books set in the Middle Ages that feature carriages. Nonsense. That kind of stupid mistake jars your reader out of the story, and detracts from what might otherwise be a brilliant work of art. Worst of all, of course, are “medieval” characters with modern ideology and behavior. Superwomen riding around in armor and besting men in combat, priests questioning the divinity of Christ, kings suggesting democracy would be more fair and the like. That kind of thing completely discredits you as a novelist and guts the novel itself of any value.

Good historical fiction addresses universal themes (like the suffering of displaced humans, greed, passion, ambition, compassion etc.) without introducing anachronisms. In good historical fiction, anachronisms are unnecessary precisely because human behavior has hardly changed in 5,000 years, and so many of the challenges we face today were challenges to people in the past too. My motto is: understanding ourselves by understanding the past. The emphasis is on understanding — not trying to retroactively impose modern ideas on the past, much less altering the past to suit our current concepts of “correct” behavior.

With respect to writing: plan to re-write your book at least three times and, if at all possible, leave the book alone (don’t even look at it) for a month or two — or better six! — between each re-write. You’ll see many more flaws and be able to make more valuable corrections.

With respect to editing: if possible, have two different editors look at your manuscript. They will see different problems and correct different weaknesses.

FQ: Could you tell readers about the current works you have in progress?

SCHRADER: In the second quarter of the 13th Century, Friedrich II Hohenstaufen, the Holy Roman Emperor, attempted to impose authoritarian government upon Outremer based on his vision of himself as a “Roman Emperor.” He attempted to remove vassals from their fiefs by royal decree without due process, for example. His ambitions were opposed by the majority of the barons of Outremer — led by the hero of The Last Crusader Kingdom, namely John d’Ibelin, more commonly known as the “old Lord of Beirut.” The conflict is recorded in detail in a history written in the mid-13th century by a participant (and partisan of the Ibelins): Philip of Novare. The events described are dramatic and exciting with sieges, battles, negotiations, hostages taken, and dramatic escapes in small boats, amphibious landings, daring rescues and more — perfect material for a novel, or two.
The novel I’m currently working on will cover the events of the 6th Crusade (Friedrich Hohenstaufen’s crusade 1228-1229) largely through the eyes of John d’Ibelin’s eldest son and the latter’s future wife, Eschiva de Montbéliard. I’m a little nervous about it, because the principals are young, a little hot-headed, and not as heroic historically as Balian, Maria, and John d’Ibelin, but I wanted a change of pace and hope my readers will enjoy a new cast of characters.

FQ: Thank you for your time.

SCHRADER: Thank you for this opportunity to talk directly to readers! I hope readers will feel free to send me their personal questions either via my Goodreads questions page or by writing me directly at: hps_books@yahoo.com

To learn more about The Last Crusader Kingdom: Dawn of a Dynasty in Twelfth-Century Cyprus please read the review at: Feathered Quill Book Reviews.

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

#BookReview - The Last Crusader Kingdom @HelenaPSchrader

The Last Crusader Kingdom: Dawn of a Dynasty in Twelfth-Century Cyprus

By: Helena P. Schrader
Publisher: Wheatmark
Publication Date: August 2017
ISBN: 978-1-62787-517-2
Reviewed by: Amy Lignor
Review Date: September 13, 2017

Reviewers have stated this before: This author knows more history than anyone out there. In addition, she also knows exactly how to put on paper a historical book that excites, offers suspense, sparks adventure, and brings together a cast of characters that are literally impossible to forget once the last page has been read.
In this newest tale, readers join up with John d’Ibelin, who is the son of the legendary Balian who readers met and became loyal to in previous tales written by Helena Schrader.

We begin at a monastery on the island of Cyprus in the year 1193. Dozens of villagers have reached the monastery’s doors, and look like they have met with men of war, which they most definitely have. The villagers have had to defend their homes (yet again) and fight for their very lives against an enemy they cannot beat. However, this is nothing new for these people on the island of Cyprus.
The English King first sold the island to the Templars, whose rule was not exactly popular with the natives. The Templars were forced out and now the island has been placed in the hands of one who has a mighty pack of supporters desperate to gain Cyprus as compensation for their own lands lost. If something is not done soon, the name of Richard the Lionheart – the ultimate crusader – will no longer have a legacy that includes Cyprus. There has to be hope somewhere; a man who could stand up to the battle and win the ultimate war.

Enter...John d’Ibelin. As the son of a true hero, John has a legacy of his own he will one day have to live up to. At this moment, he is away from his own father and family, apprenticing for a Constable. A pounding comes on the door of the home owned by the Constable of Jerusalem. He is arrested for treason, sending John on horseback to alert his father of this horrible news. After all, if anyone would know what to do, it would be Balian. He is the man who enabled 3,000-plus to escape the Saracen and negotiated the surrender of Jerusalem which saved tens of thousands of more lives.
When John arrives before his father, they are both confused as to how on earth the ‘paragon of chivalry’ who is Lord Aimery would possibly have committed treason. Something is truly wrong with this picture, and another war is about to commence.

From a faltering dynasty to meeting up with pirates sailing the Mediterranean, this intricate and exciting book offers up the early history of the Kingdom of Cyprus. As the author states at the beginning, this is one kingdom that has largely been lost over time. There are very few facts left in regards to the founding of Cyprus, so this fictional work focuses on ways that these things could have happened.

Quill says: Historical fiction fans, adventure fans – there is something in The Last Crusader Kingdom for everyone. Yet again, Helena Schrader has hit the ball out of the “proverbial park” with her intelligence and creativity.

For more information on The Last Crusader Kingdom: Dawn of a Dynasty in Twelfth-Century Cyprus, please visit the website: crusaderkingdoms.com

#BookReview - The Beloved Christmas Quilt

The Beloved Christmas Quilt: Three Stories of Family, Romance, and Amish Faith

By: Wanda E. Brunstetter
Publisher: Shiloh Run Press
Publication Date: September 2017
ISBN: 978-1-68322-225-5
Reviewed by: Diane Lunsford
Review Date: September 13, 2017

Wanda, Jean and Richelle Brunstetter deliver three heart-warming short stories in The Beloved Christmas Quilt.

In the first short story, Luella’s Promise, Luella Ebersol doesn’t shy away from hard work. Her job is to provide comfort to Atlee Zook’s dying wife at the same time she nurtures their young son, Daryl. When Dena’s health began to decline, Luella was offered the job of caregiver while Atlee worked in his shop. Often, Atlee would take time to attend biweekly church services on Sundays while Luella sat with Dena. Dena’s health was failing and there would come a time when Atlee and Daryl would have to say goodbye. Little did Luella realize the time would be soon. As she sat in quiet conversation with Dena one afternoon, she couldn’t help but comment on the beautiful quilt. ‘...It is a lovely quilt. Your mamm was a talented quilter. Dena got a faraway look in her eyes. Jah, she certainly was. I miss my mamm and wish she was still alive to take care of Daryl when I’m gone...’ In her next breath, Dena extracted a promise from Luella. Little did Luella realize how that promise would change her life forever.

The next story, Karen’s Gift, opens with young mother Karen Allgyer. She is the grown daughter of Atlee and Luella Zook. She is blessed with a loving husband, Seth and three beautiful daughters. The newest addition to their family was precious Nancy Anne. Karen worried about Nancy Anne’s health. Karen was barely four months pregnant when she was infected with the German measles. Her parents hadn’t considered vaccinations for Karen when she was a child because she went to a private Amish school. So far, all signs pointed to Nancy Anne thriving. Seth was a good provider and had a good job in Lykens, Pennsylvania. Both of their families still lived in their childhood hometown, Bird-in-Hand. Karen often lamented to Seth how wonderful it would be to move closer, but Seth would hear nothing of it. Their life was in Lykens and there was plenty of opportunity for family visits. As time goes on, Karen and Seth face challenges to their marriage that would put their faith to the test.

In the last of The Beloved Christmas Quilt stories, the reader is treated to Rosanna’s Groom. Rosanna Allgyer is the oldest daughter of Karen and Seth. She is about to be married to the man of her dreams, John. She is a talented young lady and enjoys sewing lovely dresses for many of the town’s women. John is a stand-up young man and the Allgyer’s couldn’t hope for a finer person to take care of their daughter. On the eve of her wedding, Rosanna has the pre-wedding jitters and best friend Katie convinces her it is nothing more than nerves getting the better of her. However, on the day of her wedding, the last thing Rosanna expected was the turn of events that unfolded.

Wanda Brunstetter has teamed up with her daughter-in-law Jean and granddaughter Richelle and among the three women, they have delivered three warm and spirited tales. The overarching connection between the three stories steps from generation to generation and the beloved Christmas Quilt is at the center of each story. While each author has a unique tone and style to their writing, the beauty in all three stories is that they flow well together. The dialogue is light and believable. All three women have done an admirable job in delivering warm and insightful tales. Well done ladies. I look forward to your next collaboration.

Quill says: The Beloved Christmas Quilt is a series of three short stories with a bond of the overarching theme of hope and new beginnings.

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

#BookReview - Antitheus @horrornovelist


By G.A. Minton
Publisher: World Castle Publishing
Publication Date: July 2017
ISBN: 978-1-6298-9762-2
Reviewed by: Amy Lignor
Review Date: September 5, 2017

Harken back to Stephen King’s now-famous characters who were trapped in a huge hotel with a blizzard raging outside (while the demons raged within), and throw in some of the debates regarding right vs. wrong that Dan Brown focused upon in his now-famous tale, and you will create a mixture from where this incredible book could have been born.

Now, we’re not talking the Overlook Hotel here. We are talking about an isolated place set high up in the Sierra Nevada Mountains, where a hotel was built by a mining company back in the early 1900’s. A mine sits nearby where coal was being excavated when a vein of gold was unearthed. Once the gold was gone, the mining company closed up shop and abandoned the place. A man named Zeke Reinhart, along with his now deceased wife, purchased the inn, took out a huge loan to remodel the place, and renamed it The Goldmine Lodge. They even re-opened the mine and offered free tours. Zeke and Greta turned their venture into a success, but once Greta passed on, Zeke noticed that everything else was dying off as well.

When the tale begins, the only visitors at the Lodge are a group of religious leaders calling themselves "The Shepherds of God." From various faiths, these people are holding their annual conference; setting their differences aside, they’re working to find ways to get more young people involved in religion. Unfortunately for this group, there is a true evil at play that wants to stop their good works.

As Zeke sees the thunderheads amass and knows that a blizzard is taking shape, he doesn’t expect to also go into one of the hotel’s rooms to find a virtual massacre of one of the Shepherds, with a note left on the wall over the corpse reading: They All Lose Heart. Zeke immediately calls the Sheriff who is a ways away and lets him know what has happened. The Sheriff says to lock the dead man’s room; he will be starting towards the location immediately, hoping to beat incoming snow.

Trying not to scare the other Shepherds, Zeke does his best to break the news calmly and not tell them what the room looks like and the horrific act that took place there. He tells them that the law is on the way and then suggests they take a tour of the mine, perhaps to get their thoughts off the tragedy that has just occurred. It doesn’t take long, however, before another horror occurs, another note is found, and another step on a journey that will bring fear to the reader, as well as the cast of characters, is taken. From the priest to the rabbi to even a nun who just happens to have some frightening reading material with her on the trip, readers will be amazed at the twists and turns this story takes before it comes to a thrilling conclusion.

To say this is simply one of those good vs. evil battles would really not do this tale justice; it’s too well-written. The author has made sure that every character has that touch of evil. Even Zeke’s own dog, Rip, is descended from Nazi killer guard dogs. Minton has made sure no stone was left unturned.

Quill says: If you want that great horror story that’s intelligent and frightens you to death, this is the book for you!

BookReview - The One That Got Away

The One That Got Away

By: Melissa Pimentel
Publisher: St. Martin’s Press
Publication Date: August 2017
ISBN: 978-1-250-13037-2
Reviewed by: Diana Buss
Review Date: September 6, 2017

Then. Now. No matter what time frame, one thing remains the same - Ruby has never gotten over Ethan, no matter how she tries to tell herself she has. As a successful New York City businesswoman, avid coffee drinker and workaholic, Ruby thinks she has it all. In her eyes she’s living her dream life, but in truth, it’s a life without love. With one best friend living in New Jersey, her father and stepmother, Candace, who live in Florida, her little sister, Piper, getting married, and no love interest in sight, she hardly realizes her life is lacking. She lives a calm, routine life of work and exercise, but her sister’s upcoming wedding is about to change all that.

Ruby's sister’s wedding is about to put her face-to-face with her ex-boyfriend Ethan. It’s been 10 years since she’s last seen him, after leaving him with simply a letter saying goodbye, and he’s turned into much more than she could have imagined. Bartender turned successful tech millionaire, Ethan’s made a name for himself and a life he loves, one he wishes Ruby was still a part of.

Upon arrival in England, where Piper is getting married, Ruby begins to question and doubt the life she designed for herself and realizes her feelings for Ethan are still strong and alive as ever. It appears, however, that he does not feel the same. Desperate to make things as normal as possible, she tries to show how much his presence doesn’t bother her, which only serves to make multiple situations much more awkward than they need to be. From pushing him to date one of the bridesmaids to making a grand show of not caring that he’s there, it’s clear there is something between the both of them, even ten years later. With her sister getting married to Ethan’s best friend, and being required to spend the entire week with him, Ruby has to try to keep her cool, but as unforeseen events occur, they begin to wonder if life really is too short to hold a grudge.

I absolutely loved this book. As an avid fan of Jane Austen and a lover of Persuasion, I couldn’t help but fall equally in love with this modern retelling. Not only was The One That Got Away able to keep my attention and drag me in at the end of every chapter, but it was also a love story without being overwhelmingly romantic. Many books that go between the past and the present can be confusing, but this was expertly told and clear at every point. Receiving the backstory along with the present not only served to deepen the plot, but it provided such a deep view of the characters that it’s impossible to not become highly attached. I look forward to new works by Pimentel - and I just might have to go back to enjoy her previous books.

Quill says: The One That Got Away is a light-hearted, read-in-one-day kind of a book. Absolutely delightful and enthralling.

#BookReview - When the Wind Blew

When the Wind Blew

Written/Illustrated by: Petra Brown
Publisher: Sleeping Bear Press
Publication Date: August 2017
ISBN: 978-1585369690
Reviewed by: Ellen Feld
Review Date: September 2017

Moving to a new home can be a very stressful time, especially for little ones. Author Petra Brown has addressed the issue in a gently and reassuring way in her new book When the Wind Blew.

Little Bear is snuggled up against Big Bear's warm, furry side for a good night's nap. During the night, there's a loud rumble outside the bears' cave that wakes up Little Bear. He growls and wakes up Big Bear, afraid that there may be something dangerous outside. Big Bear knows that it's just the wind and tells the young one to go back to sleep.

The next morning, when the bears wake up and exit the cave, they're surprised to find that all the trees have been blown over. Big Bear explains that it must have been the wind, and again reassures Little Bear that all will be well. They wander around, visit the nearby lake, but then notice that the birds are flying away. Big Bear quickly realizes that they, too, will have to move away if they are to find food. Little Bear is worried and doesn't want to leave his home. What will happen?

When the Wind Blew is a sweet book that cleverly uses the story of a little bear to teach young readers about what happens when a family moves to a new home. Little Bear is understandably upset, as many youngsters are, at the thought of having to move. All ends well for Little Bear, happy in his new home, and this reassurance will definitely be a source of comfort for children. The author is also the illustrator and her love of drawing animals shines through on each and every picture. As Big Bear tells his young companion, "Don't worry...things will be fine..."

Quill says: Planning a move? Have little ones? Then you need to get them a copy of this book to help show them that all will be well.

#BookReview - Blue Corn Soup

Blue Corn Soup

By: Caroline Stutson
Illustrated by: Teri Weidner
Publisher: Sleeping Bear Press
Publication Date: August 2017
ISBN: 978-1585369676
Reviewed by: Ellen Feld
Review Date: September 2017

What's better than sharing a bowl of homemade soup with friends on a cold winter day? In this adorable new book, the message of sharing your bounty with others comes across loud and clear while also telling a fun story.

It's cold, the wind is blowing, and Mouse decides to make "Blue Corn Soup" to help warm her tummy. She'll grind some corn and make just enough "sopa..." for "...one small mouse." Mouse tastes the soup and decides something is missing.

Mouse adds pepper, chop, chop, chop,
into the sopa with a plop.
Just enough for one small mouse
staying warm inside her house.

Mouse works hard, adding various ingredients to make her sopa extra tasty. As the meal cooks, the aroma drifts through the woods and other animals pick up the scent. Soon, Chipmunk, Rabbit, and Old Bear show up at her doorstep, hoping for a bit of the tasty sopa. But there is only enough sopa for one little mouse. What will they do?

The author of Blue Corn Soup, the late Caroline Stutson, was a talented author with a great gift for rhyming. She displayed that gift in telling this story, and the gently flowing words add a soft and welcoming feel to the story. It has a slight repetitive nature, with Mouse going "chop, chop, chop" every time she adds a new ingredient, and the aromatic smoke drifting through the woods each time a new ingredient is added. This repetition will be enjoyed by young children as they follow along with Mouse and her friends. The illustrations, in soft, subdued winter colors, add the perfect feel to the story. As a bonus, the recipe for "Blue Corn Soup" is included in the back of the book.

Quill says: An adorable and delightful tale of sharing that should be in every child's book collection.

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

#AuthorInterview with Diana Raab @dianaraab

Today, Feathered Quill reviewer Anita Lock is talking with Diana Raab, author of Writing for Bliss: A Seven-Step Plan for Telling Your Story and Transforming Your Life

FQ: How did you develop your seven-step plan?

RAAB: I developed my seven-step plan as a result of my forty-year writing career and my experience teaching workshops. For years, my students had asked me to write this book, as they wanted a companion guide to their writing. Basically, they wanted the structure that a book such as this one provides.

FQ: In the section on “preparing to write,” one of the topics listed is “rituals for writing.” Explain.

RAAB: I believe that to master any task—whether it’s professional, personal, or a hobby—we need to have some rituals. Ask any writers who have given readings or workshops and they will tell you that there’s always someone who asks them what their process is and/or what their writing rituals are. As such, I thought I’d create a chapter on that subject. The chapter includes guidelines that have worked in my own writing practice, and in that of my colleagues. Establishing rituals is a very personal endeavor, so it’s best to come up with your own. The rituals I included in this chapter are: creating a sacred space, grounding yourself, and expressing gratitude.

Author Diana Raab

FQ: You devote a whole chapter to transpersonal psychology. What aspect of this form of psychology meant the most to you on your personal journey?

RAAB: The reason why there’s an entire chapter devoted to transpersonal psychology is because that is the area where I did my PhD research when studying the healing and transformative powers of memoir writing. Transpersonal psychology is the newest and fifth branch of psychology and includes the psychoanalytic, Jungian, behavioristic, and humanistic approaches. There is a great deal about this branch of psychology that resonates with me, including a focus on positive experiences, fostering and developing self-awareness, and the way it draws from both Eastern and Western paradigms.

FQ: What would you say is the most powerful aspect of journaling one’s story?

RAAB: That’s a tough question because I believe there are many advantages to journaling, and it depends on the individual. In Writing for Bliss, I list numerous reasons to journal. From my experience in working with others, I would say that these are the most important reasons: to increase self-awareness; to create a container for sentiments, hopes, and dreams; and to capture special moments or experiences.

FQ: You speak of muses, people who inspire others. Name some of those you earmark as muses and why.

RAAB: Muses are people or places that inspire our creativity. Muses can change from time to time depending upon our state of mind or what project we’re working on. For years, writer and diarist Anaïs Nin has been my muse because her writing and sensibilities really resonate with me. When I was stuck and my words weren’t flowing, I would turn to her work for inspiration.

FQ: In the section on “examining your life,” one of the topics listed is “mortality is a great teacher.” Explain.

RAAB: There is no life without death. When you’ve come face-to-face with your own mortality, as I did when dealing with cancer, you’re forced to identify your priorities and why you are here. Mortality also inspires you to tap into your authentic self, and most important, being faced with our mortality or the mortality of a loved one makes the meaning of life become very clear. It reminds us not to sweat the small stuff. In addition to my own cancer experience, in the past few years I’ve been at the deathbeds of two loved ones, and mortality issues obviously became magnified.

FQ: In your own personal journey, could you single out one part of the seven-step plan that became a poignant turning point in your life?

RAAB: I think that each step was important at various stages in my life. In terms of a turning point, I would say that Step Three: Speaking Your Truth was particularly meaningful. When I stopped nursing due to a difficult pregnancy, I turned to writing because I could do it in bed. I became a medical journalist and reported on innovations in the field. It was a very detached way of writing. Years later, I decided to begin personal writing by penning essays, memoir, and poetry. For me, that was a poignant turning point because my writing was not about sharing new medical innovations from which I was detached, but rather, my emotions and feelings became the focus of my writing. That is, my writing mission was to dig down into my own emotional truth. In order for my writing to be compelling, I had to expose my inner thoughts and sentiments. This also meant being much more vulnerable than when I was a journalist.

FQ: One of the first writing formats you encourage your readers to delve into is journaling. What would you say to a reader who wants to go there but is reticent, possibly fearful that a family member might discover his/her secret thoughts?

RAAB: This is a common question. It’s normal to be concerned about others being exposed to our innermost thoughts. In general, more seasoned writers are less fearful. I have to often remind emerging writers to “have no fear.” If you write while editing thoughts because you’re afraid someone will see them, chances are you won’t be writing from your heart or from the voice of your soul.

For protection, there are creative ways to hide your writing from others. When I was teaching high-risk teenagers, I suggested that instead of choosing a nicely designed journal to write in, they use a composition notebook so that it would look like a boring schoolbook rather than a diary or journal. Although I’m not a huge advocate of computer journaling, some people find that it works for them because they can put a password on their files. Unless your loved ones are suspicious of your activities, chances are they won’t be searching for or opening your journal, and if you’re deceased and they find your journal, so be it. You’re gone, and they may have discovered a true treasure.

FQ: Another writing format you encourage is poetry. What is so powerful about this form of expression?

RAAB: Poetry is the voice of the soul. Poets help us see a slice of the world in a way that we might not have observed it before. Poetry also helps offer insight into both the human psyche and human behavior, and it is a place where the imagination can roam free. Writing and reading poetry can be a springboard to growth, healing, and transformation. Writing poetry is also a mindful practice, because to create it, you need to be in the present moment. It also allows you to tap into your authentic voice, which can lead to self-actualization.

FQ: What is one thing you hope your audience will take away after going through your book?

RAAB: That’s a tough one, as I’ve shared many lessons and pieces of wisdom in the book, which I’ve compiled from more than five decades of writing. My overarching message to my readers is to give them permission to tell their stories as a way to attain self-discovery. Another crucial message is the importance of finding one’s life passion as a path to happiness by asking the question: Why am I here, and what is the meaning of my life?

Being in touch with your heart center is also at the core of any well-being practice. When writing, it’s essential to be in touch with your heart because it is usually a truth holder. Speaking from the heart helps it open up and expand. This expansion can lead to a greater sense of freedom and bliss.

To learn more about Writing for Bliss: A Seven-Step Plan for Telling Your Story and Transforming Your Life please read the review at: Feathered Quill Book Reviews.

#BookReview - Writing for Bliss @dianaraab

Writing for Bliss: A Seven-Step Plan for Telling Your Story and Transforming Your Life

By: Diana Raab
Publisher: Loving Healing Press
Publication Date: September 2017
ISBN: 978-61599-323-9
Reviewed by: Anita Lock
Date: September 4, 2017

There are many reasons why people become writers, and their reasons are all valid. In Diana Raab’s case, she began journaling as a source of healing—a way to express her feelings after the only grandmother who she knew (as well as her long-time caretaker) committed suicide. That was just the beginning. There were many more trials to come, and with each situation, Raab turned her pain into writing. Her proactive attitude back then and now is this: “direct your rage to the page.” While journaling is not a new concept, what Raab offers in her latest work, Writing for Bliss, goes way beyond journaling. Precisely capturing the purpose of her latest book, she states:

“My intention in creating this present book, Writing for Bliss, is to share my passion for writing and how it has helped me heal over the course of six decades. I hope it will help you transcend what immediately meets your eyes by digging deeper into your psyche and hearing the voice of your true authentic self, while listening to the messages of your heart rather than suppressing them.”

Writing goes hand-in-hand with reading, so if you think you’re not much of a reader or writer but have a desire to go there, then you’ve come to the right place. Maybe you’re at the other end of the spectrum—a seasoned reader and writer. Raab has plenty to steer you into an eye-opening “trajectory,” as Raab puts it. In a nutshell, Raab’s “seven-step plan for telling your story and transforming your life,” as her subtitle indicates, is all about introspection—a topic that is as old as scriptures in the Bible. Unfortunately, for many, choosing to “examine oneself” fits into the category of “the road less traveled” since it requires facing one’s fears—an action that is as frightening as the fears themselves.

“Self-reflection,” Raab states, “encourages you to examine your thoughts, feelings, attitudes, and beliefs.” Her proactive approach to self-examination may be methodical as well as user-friendly, but on a larger scale, it is laced with a huge heart of compassion. Life can be tough, and everyone goes through trials on various levels. People may be on different journeys, but their paths lead to the same place of desiring to achieve the highest of dreams possible. That said, she encourages her audience to read her book the first time through to get a basic overview, and then zero in on the areas that speak loudly and clearly during the second round.

The first four steps concentrate on engaging in the introspection process. Topics range from “rituals to writing” and transpersonal psychology (“the newest and fifth branch of psychology”) to “the art of power of storytelling” and “the meaning of experiences.” The last three steps provide tools to help readers find their voice, such as journaling, poetry, as well as publishing for those who love the challenge of going the extra mile and sharing their memoirs to others who could use a helping hand. Barely over 200-pages in length, Writing for Bliss is jammed with examples (personal and from other authors), tips, a plethora of writing prompts, and a chock full list of books for further reading. Raab’s ability to reach out and tenderly touch her audience is nothing less than awe-inspiring.
Closing on Raab’s words, she leaves her audience with these thoughts:

“My hope is that readers will become inspired to write during their joyous and difficult times, while also experimenting with different genres and ways of writing and being.”

Quill says: An absolute must read for those seeking real breakthroughs in their lives.


For more information on Writing for Bliss: A Seven-Step Plan for Telling Your Story and Transforming Your Life, please visit the author's website at: www.dianaraab.com