Friday, March 29, 2019

#BookReview - Noodles' & Albie's Mermaid Parade

Noodles' & Albie's Mermaid Parade

By: Eric S. Bennett
Illustrated by: Paige Monte
Publisher: Penguin Gift Shop
Publication Date: 2018
ISBN: 978-0578208381
Reviewed by: Holly Connors
Review Date: March 2019
In the latest adventure in the "Noodles and Albie" series by Eric Bennett, the adorable pair are off on their biggest adventure yet as they set sail for Coney Island to participate in a mermaid parade.
Noodles, an Emperor penguin, and his fish friend Albie, live on the Antarctic ice. While there are lots of penguins around, the friends don't normally run into many humans. But one day, while they're introducing Noodles' little sister Paige to the sea, they meet Jon and Ken, researchers who have been working in the Antarctic. The humans are getting ready to leave their research project and head to the warmth of Brooklyn where they'll be attending a Mermaid Parade and the opening of an amusement park. Now that gets Noodles' attention! He confidently walks up to the researchers and asks about the parade and amusement park. Learning that the parade is one where everyone has to dress in aquatic costumes, Noodles and Albie realize it's the perfect parade for them! Getting permission to travel to Coney Island for the parade with the humans, the aquatic pair are about to have one heck of an adventure.
Along the way to Brooklyn, the travelers stop at the Falklands where Jon and Ken have some instruments that they have to check. While there, Noodles and Albie meet a King penguin named Henry. They also meets some rather funny Rockhopper penguins and then, continuing their journey, come upon a tanker in distress. And this is all before their adventure at the parade!
Noodles' & Albie's Mermaid Parade is a delightful story about two very charming characters. Kids can't help but fall in love with Noodles and his blue baseball cap, and Albie who always wears a smile. There's some drama thrown into the story (rescuing the tanker) and humor (who is more important, a King penguin or an Emperor penguin?) to keep children engaged. There is a bit more text in this book than many early readers, which makes it perfect for those who aren't quite ready for chapter books but need something more challenging than a one or two sentence per page story. Add in the educational element (facts about penguins, etc.) and the delightful illustrations, and you have a book that should be on your child's bookshelf.
Quill says: Noodles' & Albie's Mermaid Parade is a fun tale that not only entertains but also cleverly sneaks in plenty of educational tidbits along the way.
For more information on Noodles' & Albie's Mermaid Parade, please visit the website:

#BookReview - Blind Walls

Blind Walls

By: Conrad Bishop and Elizabeth Fuller
Publisher: WordWorkers Press
Publication Date: June 2019
ISBN: 978-0-9997287-2-7
Reviewed by: Barbara Bamberger Scott
Review Date: March 2019
A mystery hidden within a house of a hundred and sixty rooms and the interlocking lives of its inhabitants, builders and explorers, dead and alive, this fascinating character study is the work of an author/playwright duo who are as drawn to its themes as its readers will be.
Raymond Smollet is a bitter man, with reason. He never found real love, either of the passionate kind he sought with other men or the etheric caring sort he longed for in the women in his life. But furthermore, he went blind while still in his prime. His only consolation is that even without sight, he can still do his job – leading tours through a California mansion known as Weatherlee House. The legend is that Sophia Weatherlee, a widow who had lost her only child, was told by a psychic advisor that she could only stay alive and sane if she were constantly within the sound of hammering. So she transformed a modest mansion into a giant, incomprehensibly complex labyrinth. Smollet doesn’t need sight to navigate through the house; from memory “I could see the woodwork, the turrets, the exquisite dadoes, the iridescent glow of the Tiffany windows.” Until one day, the day he realizes will be the last one of his life, leading a tour that marks his retirement, he sees Sophia Weatherlee, staring at him “with her deep, ancient, knowing eyes.”
As he continues the tour, convinced he is hallucinating or worse, a drama unfolds. Smollet “meets” Chuck, Sophia’s young workman who reminds him of his first love, and Chuck’s girlfriend Dee, a stand-in perhaps for all of Smollet’s female companions. Chuck was the master builder of Weatherlee for nearly four decades, reluctant to give up his role after her demise, but long since estranged from Dee, who became a faithful secretary to the decrepit old woman. As Smollet pushes onward, the tentacles of their lives entwine with his failed hopes and dreams. But the end of the tour will be nothing like he imagines.
The pairing of Bishop and Fuller is a magical one. They have written pieces of the same story before, in their intriguing drama, Hammers, which features the house’s ghosts and its modern visitors, but not the tour guide. In this iteration, they allow us to see this incredible saga through the eyes of a blind man who has his own ghosts to deal with. It’s a brilliant opus, melding the past, present, and future with intimate, individual viewpoints from a tightly arrayed cast of believable characters in as eerie a setting as might be dredged out of everyman’s subconscious searching. Yet it is based in fact: Sarah Winchester built just such a jumbled maze in San Jose, California, after the deaths of her husband and child, for reasons only guessed at. Yet it is a construction both outer and inner that has its grip on Bishop and Fuller, and the reader can only be grateful. 
Quill says: Blind Walls offers a weird alternative world, featuring a blind man with second sight and an acerbic wit as its charming, empathic hero. 
To learn more about Blind Walls, please visit the website

#AuthorInterview with Jennifer Skiff

Today, Feathered Quill reviewer Diane Lunsford is talking with Jennifer Skiff, the author of Rescuing Ladybugs: Inspirational Encounters with Animals That Changed the World.
FQ: First and foremost, congratulations on your Feathered Quill award. After reading your book, I can see how you were a recipient. In your introduction, you share the memory of the importance of ladybugs and the symbolism of happiness and good luck that resonated with you as a child. Was this your anchor to infuse the positive (versus negative) throughout the accounts you wrote about?  
SKIFF: It’s an honor.  Thank you.  Yes, the ladybug is the anchor.  When we were young we were taught that when a ladybug landed on us, we were to blow her away to the safety of her family and in return, we’d receive good luck.  That story, known worldwide taught us to have compassion for all animals, even the tiniest.  It evokes happy memories for most people.  For me, it was important this book be experienced as a positive awakening.
FQ: In line with question 1, why the title Rescuing Ladybugs? The deeper I got into your book, the more I found myself trying to connect the correlation between the title and the actual accounts you experienced.
SKIFF: You’re not alone.  My editor loved the title but said I’d have to find a way to continue the thread throughout the book.  I did this by asking each of the global heroes if they’d ever rescued a ladybug.  I loved their answers.
FQ: With your journalistic prowess and credentials, do you find yourself migrating more toward writing books (or do you still have a hunger toward media reporting)?
SKIFF: I remain a news junky and find time throughout the day to see what’s happening globally, and of course in Washington.  I write non-fiction, so I still consider myself a journalist.  In truth, spending days in my office with my dogs by my side is a lot more pleasant at this stage than chasing stories and working under a daily deadline.
FQ: Following on with question 3 (and certainly not trying to get political), how would you sum up the art of journalistic reporting today in comparison to a decade ago?
SKIFF: I witnessed the change start 25 years ago.  At that time, most journalists presented two sides of a story, letting the reader or viewer form their opinion. Today, I see news as mostly entertainment and opinion with the hard-core journalists hanging on for life.
FQ: Since writing Ladybugs, are you compelled to do a continuing series of experiences?
SKIFF: Yes! It’s the life I lead and that work, thankfully, inspires others.  I look forward to documenting the youth who are compelled to create change.
FQ: Of the many encounters and rescue missions, what experience provided the greatest sense of accomplishment?
SKIFF: Looking back, working to build the first bear sanctuary in a communist country gave me a great sense of accomplishment.  Having said that, rescuing a dog I found in a pile of garbage in Puerto Rico while I was on a shoot for CNN defined me.  My crew told me to leave the dog behind. I didn’t.  That moment gave me a divine strength that has never left me. Since then, I’ve always followed my own instincts to choose right over wrong no matter what other people think.
FQ: What left you feeling like you could have done more?
SKIFF: That’s a good question.  I’m continuously working on legislative issues that are emotionally debilitating.  It makes me physically ill when I see some legislators fighting to keep farm animals and the people who eat them sick because they don’t have the vision or incentive to create change that benefits everyone.  Change takes time and during that time, there is suffering.  I will add that negotiating is difficult when you want to scream.  Why in both scenarios?
FQ: As for writing, what is your process when you feel the urge to begin a new project? Is there a deep sense that keeps mentally challenging you to write the story (or is it a process that trickles in a steady flow)?
SKIFF: My contemplation comes when I create the proposal for a book that is used to sell it to a publisher in advance of writing.  That’s the hard part.  I want my books to inspire, enlighten, educate, and to take readers for an exciting ride.  Once I have the structure of the book in proposal form, it flows quickly.
FQ: How do you overcome the road block, I would venture to say all writers encounter: ‘The proverbial writer’s block’?  
SKIFF: So far, so good.  I’m lucky not to have experienced it.  I think that comes from being trained as a news reporter, where I often worked against daily deadlines for 25 years.
FQ: When do you know it is time to set the project aside and come back to it? Or, set the project aside because it wasn’t meant to be?
SKIFF: I’m extremely fortunate to have a wonderful literary agent who’s been with me through the publication of three books.  She proofs my proposals and if something isn’t singing to her, she lets me know.  I’ve also pitched ideas to her that she hasn’t felt she could sell.  I respect her immensely and take her direction.
FQ: What was your motivation to submit your work for consideration of an award with Feathered Quill?
SKIFF: Rescuing Ladybugs was submitted for consideration under the advice of several of my closest friends who felt it was my best work.  I was interested to see if people who weren’t my friends felt the same way.  It has truly warmed my heart to have received not one, but two 1st place awards with Feathered Quill - a dream come true.
FQ: Are you working on your next project? If so, are you able to share any nuggets at this time?
SKIFF: I was hoping to take 2019 to enjoy friends and family while promoting Rescuing Ladybugs.  Instead, I’ve just accepted an international role with a Washington-based animal welfare organization and am excited to work to make life better for billions of animals a year.  I’ll be keeping a diary and as you know, diaries are a great starting point for books!

Wednesday, March 27, 2019

#BookReview - Rescuing Ladybugs

Rescuing Ladybugs: Inspirational Encounters with Animals That Changed the World

By: Jennifer Skiff
Publisher: New World Library
Publication Date: 2018
ISBN: 978-1-60868-502-8
Reviewed by: Diane Lunsford
Review Date: March 25, 2019
Jennifer Skiff takes the reader on an epic journey and delivers a series of accounts that address the connection between humans and animals. Through a multitude of case studies, she focuses on the importance of recognizing how the reciprocation of kindness between the two kingdoms is essential.
Ms. Skiff’s inspiration to write this book begins with her visit to Vientiane, Laos. Landlocked by China, Vietnam, Myanmar, Thailand, and Cambodia, she and her Australian boyfriend, Jon, were deposited in the lush jungles of a world quite different with its warm and humid air. On one particular day, they venture into the National Ethnic Cultural Park; located twelve miles south of the Vientiane. Ms. Skiff’s agenda was to learn about the history of the country - little did she know her history lesson was about to present an eye-opening encounter.
As they made their way further into the park, the two came upon a ten-foot-high statue of a Buddha surrounded by a circular pathway. To its side was a six-foot-high, bell-shaped cage encased by iron bars. Its tenant was a black Asiatic bear. He’d clearly outgrown the cage some time ago. He was covered in blisters and as Ms. Skiff scanned the cage further for signs of waste, there was none—an indicator this bear wasn’t being properly nourished. When the park tender approached Ms. Skiff and her boyfriend, their exchange began with: 'You like bear?' Jon responded, ‘This is an unacceptable situation for any animal.’ To which the park tender insisted the bear was happy. The deeper the two delved into their exchange, the more Ms. Skiff’s mind came up with ways to make a difference not only for this bear, but perhaps the lives of those to come. So began her journey of chronicling and traveling the world to document many infractions against animals and their loss of freedom, disallowing them to be what they were meant to be.
I enjoyed Ms. Skiff’s book immensely. There are a variety of places and accounts that range from the exotic and remote to the picturesque and quaint locales she visited and documented. She displayed a tangible ability throughout this read to draw her audience in and share her experiences through descriptive scenes and narratives as well as succinct dialogue. There are times when I’ve read accounts of mistreatment of animals and the stories written by their respective saviors. At the end of the read, I was left with a sublime sense of ‘pulpit pounding’ by the author. This was not the case with Ms. Skiff’s Rescuing Ladybugs. Rather, with her journalistic background, she managed to deliver a story-line as much as a fact-telling mission. Well done.
Quill says: The world is full of Ladybugs to be rescued. Rescuing Ladybugs is a great resource toward the positive outcomes of taking action.

#AuthorInterview with the Author & Illustrator of "Smeagull the Seagull"

Today, Feathered Quill reviewer Holly Connors is talking with Mark Seth Lender (Author) and Valerie Elaine Pettis (Illustrator) of Smeagull the Seagull - A True Story.
FQ: I LOVE the video on your website of Smeagull coming up to your door and knocking! (readers, be sure to check it out at Would you tell us a little about the first time Smeagull came to visit? Any idea how/why he started to visit?
MARK : We first encountered Smeagull sharing birdseed we put out for the migratory mallards who pass through Long Island Sound in early winter. But Smeagull was only eating the corn and only the whole kernels. The next time I saw him he was only eating the sunflower seeds – but only the ones still in their shells. Obviously, a character. I started bringing back scraps from Star Market, our local fish store which of course, Smeagull much preferred to birdseed. He very quickly figured us out – when we woke in the morning, what room we were in, the sound of my pickup, Valerie’s car – and that we could be trained not only to feed him but to feed him the food he prefers. Namely, what’s low down on the food chain - scraps of sardines, mackerel because this food is safe to eat, and because it has a lot of fat and oil content. You see, seagulls eat like polar bears, they crave calories and for the same reasons. Mostly to maintain body temperature.  Now, you may wonder how I knew I was feeding the same bird who first captured my attention. The answer is that herring gulls are as different in personality, their voices, the way they carry themselves and yes, their faces, as we are. It required paying attention, but after a while it wasn’t that hard to recognize Smeagull.
FQ: What first inspired you to write a book about Smeagull?
VALERIE: We both felt that Smeagull was such a good story that we really had no choice but to share it. Here is a wild animal – and seagulls absolutely are wild animals – who chose to adopt us. More than that, he trained us. Any idea that he is our pet is completely mistaken. He fully expects us to understand him, to pay attention to his needs, to be on call when he knocks. And we are. As the book says, he is family. Both Mark and I have spent our lives and our professional careers concerned about the welfare and wellbeing of others. People matter to us, regardless of where they come from or how they dress. My father was a Greek immigrant from a small town on the north Aegean Sea near Pergamon called Dikili. He was a small child when he fled the massacres of Greeks that immediately preceded the Armenian Genocide. It scarred him for life. Mark’s family was decimated in the Holocaust. We both knew our grandparents, but all the others perished. We have an understanding that is bred into us of suffering and loss. All people matter to us. All people, and by an easy extension, all life including animals – wild and domestic, mammals to insects - because both of us see our emotions in their emotions, our suffering in their suffering.
FQ: A bit of a silly question, but what happens when you go on vacation? Do you have to have somebody house-sit so Smeagull can get his food?
VALERIE: We’ve lost at least 70% of seabirds in the last 30 or 40 years as a direct result of humans vacuuming the seas of fish, and so the help we provide to Smeagull is important. Smeagull is after all a wild bird and he can forage for himself up to a point. However, if we are planning to be gone more than a few days we have someone housesit so they feed Smeagull when he knocks. We have a written checklist and we make sure anyone who takes over for us has met Smeagull in person more than once.
FQ: For Mark – you say in your bio that “…seagulls are the best, and the smartest” of birds.” Would you care to expand on that? What endears them to you?
MARK: Gulls in general, herring gulls in particular look you in the eye, attempt to communicate, and are particularly intelligent, on a par in my experience with crows and parrots and in many ways smarter than the smartest dog you will ever own. And Smeagull is a particularly bright herring gull. Consequently when it comes to communication with us, his abilities are amazing. We mentioned that Smeagull has food preferences. Would you like to hear how we found that out? Early in the relationship I remember feeding him this small, fresh, gorgeous little scrap of some kind of white fish. Now by this time he knew he had us. So he took training the humans to the next level. He walked to the edge of the deck and spit the scrap off the edge and then he turned to look at me over his shoulder as if to say, “should eat that?” And proceeded to indicated what he did and did not like in that same manner, until we got it straight. And that’s not the half of what he knows or how he’s cemented the relationship. One of my favorites was his discovery that, “Mark and Valerie don’t have feathers.” In the summer he often comes very early, just before or just after sunrise. He knocks, I jump out of bed and initially he kept right on knocking while I got dressed. Then he absorbed the “getting dressed” part. The continuous knocking ceased and instead – I figured this out by noticing where he looked – he studied how I got dressed. “Shirt, yup, Ok, got that done. Now the pants. Right, that’s done. Now the socks…” Once he understood the process he just waited till I was fully dressed, and did not start to knock again until I went to the refrigerator. As if to say, “GET A MOVE ON THERE, I HAVEN’T GOT ALL DAY!”
FQ: For Valerie - your illustrations are fabulous! My favorite is the full-page spread where Smeagull is looking straight out at the reader with his beak wide open. How hard was it to capture Smeagull’s essence in your drawings? I imagine he didn’t exactly stand still for you.
VALERIE: Smeagull has been knocking on our sliding glass door for 12 years now. I’ve learned to know him and through him what gulls look like. So I had real familiarity with my subject. I also took photographs to study his movements and proportions and I spent time on the beach just watching, gulls in flight, gulls feeding, and gulls on the water. The drawings took 6 years, mostly because I am a working graphic designer and I was not drawing full time. That said, it was a lot of work and research.
FQ: Without giving the story away, I must ask about “Me-gull.” Have his parents taught him to visit your house, asking for food?
VALERIE: Well, like most animals herring gull young disperse once they are no longer dependent on their parents. They go off and find their own territory. Otherwise they would deplete all the food in one place and they have evolved not to do that. But we did see Me-gull being fed by Smeagull until he was ready.
FQ: Mark - Would you tell our readers a bit about your other book, Salt Marsh Diary? 
MARK: I’m afraid I’m the kind of writer who will be revising his work from the mausoleum. To be sure there is some good material in Salt Marsh Diary, things I still like, but that book was published 10 years ago, which makes the stories even older. And I’d much rather tell you about my forthcoming collection, Cardinal Points, True Stories of Life on Earth. It’s another collection of my wildlife stories, based now on fieldwork from all 7 continents. My style has evolved, and the work is virtually prose poetry, written for content of course, but also with great concern for language, and meter, and sonority. I’m the Explorer in Residence at Living on Earth, which is broadcast nationally on Public Radio. About half of these stories have been broadcast on the program, the rest have yet to air so there is a lot of previously unheard and unpublished work. Also, I think I understand wildlife on a deeper level than I did and I have both more experience, and more material to draw from. Perhaps the thing I most want to convey is not the difference between us and animals but the similarities. The commonalities. All life, or rather all life with a face which is in reality a vanishingly small part of life on earth, is more similar than different. From literally hundreds of encounters in the field with everything from insects to elephants, I have found that other creatures presume that we are like them. Just like Smeagull, they expect us to understand them, to pay attention, to realize that they too have a life to live out. And they are right.
FQ: As an author/illustrator team, the two of you make a great pair. Are there any plans for another children’s book?
VALERIE: Mark and I have been married for 30 years. We love each other, more I think as time passes. And we have a true creative partnership.
MARK: We are very lucky.
VALERIE: So in a way, Smeagull is a love story, and a family story, as much about us as it is about Smeagull.
MARK: As to other books, it shouldn’t be a surprise that we have things in the works.
VALERIE: Mark and I have a concept for another Smeagull book. Mark is writing it now.
MARK: And Valerie has three new book ideas.
VALERIE: These books will depend more on illustration than text in conveying the story. One of them which focuses on the plight of refugees, will have no words at all, just images, so that it can be understood by anyone regardless of which language they speak. I think it’s going to be a beautiful book.
MARK: So do I.
Valerie’s Website:
Mark’s Website:
Living on Earth:

#BookReview - Smeagull the Seagull

Smeagull the Seagull - A True Story

By: Mark Seth Lender
Illustrated by: Valerie Elaine Pettis
Publisher: Seahouse Press
Publication Date: October 2018
ISBN: 978-1732192904
Reviewed by: Holly Connors
Review Date: March 23, 2019
A delightful story awaits readers who open the pages of Smeagull the Seagull, the true story of a wild herring gull and the humans who welcome him into their hearts.
Mark and Valerie live in a lovely house near the beach, with a big sliding door that overlooks the ocean. As the story opens, we learn that they have a very special daily visitor - Smeagull the Seagull.
He comes in the rain,
He comes in the snow,
He comes in the summer,
I'm telling the truth,
He comes when icicles hang from the roof!
Why does Smeagull come to Mark and Valerie's house every day? Because Smeagull has learned that if he uses his beak to knock on their door, his human friends will feed him! Mark and Valerie love feeding Smeagull but it's a lot of work keeping enough food for Smeagull at their house - they even bought a new freezer - although they do enjoy the company of their daily visitor.
As Smeagull continues his daily visits, Mark and Valerie grow a bit weary of the demands the hungry seagull puts on their time. But when he suddenly stops coming to their door, they realize just how much they love the beautiful bird and how he has become a part of their family. Will Smeagull ever return?
Smeagull the Seagull is a true story about a seagull that invited himself into the lives of Mark Seth Lender and Valerie Elaine Pettis. Thankfully, they decided to share the seagull's adventures with others by writing this book. Readers learn that Smeagull's huge appetite is matched by his beauty and the joy that he brings into the lives of his human friends. A bit of drama is added when Smeagull goes missing that will have youngsters grabbing at the pages to see what happens. Add in the absolutely stunning illustrations and you have a book that can be enjoyed by every emerging reader. Don't miss this book!
Quill says: Smeagull the Seagull is the "total package" - a lovely story, with a great message and fantastic illustrations. It should be on every child's nightstand.
For more information on Smeagull the Seagull, please visit the website:

Thursday, March 21, 2019

#BookReview - Gathering the Self: Poems of the Heart @skyboyphotos

Gathering the Self: Poems of the Heart

By: David Bayard
Publisher: Skyboy Press
Publication Date: October 2018
ISBN: 978-0996738037
Reviewed by: Anita Lock
Date: March 2019
Wordsmith David Bayard provides an enlightening window into nature and self in his baker-dozen collection of poems, Gathering the Self.
Some people are weirded out by the number 13 for a variety of reasons that go beyond its prime classification; others could care less. To David Bayard, the odd number is nothing less than “spiritually irreducible and emotionally magical.”
A compilation of thirteen writings that span thirty-nine years, Gathering the Selfencompasses Bayard’s “poems of the heart,” or as he would put it—Pommes de Coeur: Apples of the Heart. “Tools of self-discovery and healing medicine,” which were initially used to help him “reclaim” himself, are woven into each poem.
Bayard utilizes his sharp eye and fine-tuned analytical skills for woodworking and photography to look beyond self to understand self through the power of nature. His writings presented either from his viewpoint or an item of nature include an assortment of free verse, prose, rhyme scheme, (extended) limerick, cinquain, and one poem that has a haiku-ish feel to it.
While each piece of work has the ability to stand on its own, permitting readers to meditate on Bayard’s words and embrace them in a way to raise self-awareness and enlightenment, what makes his work unique are the accompanying stories behind the poems. The stories not only add depth to the “who, what, why, where, when, and how,” but also gives readers a glimpse into the author and his personal life journey.
Bayard opens with two of his older writings before entertaining his recent poems. His vulgarity-free lingo largely speaks to relatable issues while at the same time exploring.
While some themes focus on personal struggles and the ability to overcome them through the healing power of the natural world, like in his opening works, “To Cherish” and “Drink Me,” others are reflections on death (“Chrysalis”) and suppressed feelings (“Who Died to Make This?”).
The poems that stand out the most are the ones that are written from the point of view of items of nature since they not only capture possible thought processes, but also provide perspectives of how very small and insignificant humans are to the rest of the world.
In “Katydids,” an ant has difficulty working with carrying dead katydids back to the queen. Bayard likens the ant’s struggle to a wood worker manipulating dead wood:
“Struggle bump, breathe
I carry dead katydids back to the Queen
They yet misbehave in my mandibles
Juices flow as if alive
They will not comply
Inertia! Gravity! They cry. It’s the law!”
Stones offer words of encouragement to persevere through the trials of life in “Runes”:
“We could do more, they say, but all that can be pulled away is at the bottom of the sea
Think not, thou ephemeral brief skins, that they are lost, for nothing that exists is without our memory
Sing and dance upon the deck and challenge just this once supremacy, for all is hope and all is pain mixing endlessly in rhythms great and small.”
Quill says: Enlightening and thought-provoking, Gathering the Self provides poetry lovers with a fresh perspective on life.
For more information on Gathering the Self: Poems of the Heart, please visit the website:

#AuthorInterview with Norman Whaler

Today, Feathered Quill reviewer Holly Connors is talking with Norman Whaler, the author of Tiny Tim and the Ghost of Ebenezer Scrooge: The Sequel to a Christmas Carol.
FQ: Writing a sequel to A Christmas Carol is something I believe few authors would dare to undertake.  What made you decide to tackle the story?
WHALER: It was always one of my families Christmas traditions to make some popcorn, turn the lights down, and watch A Christmas Carol movie! And it was always fun to speculate about what happened to Tiny Tim Cratchit after he didn't die! It had to be answered!
FQ: Becky was an interesting character with a full backstory.  How did she develop?
WHALER: Becky is the true hero of the story. Not Tiny Tim. While she is in poverty, he is in comfort. While she fights the good fight, he crumbles and gives up. While she is faithful, he is faithless. A true counterbalance to Tim's character.
FQ: Speaking of Becky, a line that stayed with me was from a section where you were discussing Becky’s background – “It was the habit of despair that ultimately condemned a soul.” Would you share your thoughts on this with our readers? 
WHALER: I feel that any emotion repeated over and over becomes who you are eventually, whether it's pessimism or optimism, love or hate, joy or anger. Therefore, I believe we should try not to be the person we are, but be the person we want to be.
FQ: You’re obviously a big fan of Dickens' A Christmas Carol.  Any plans to tackle a sequel to any of his other novels, or a classic by another author?
WHALER: I have been focusing on children's picture books right now, so no plans at this time. But you never know!
FQ: Tim asks Scrooge an age-old question that many people have asked of God – “...why does God allow such misery in the world, such hatred, and evil, and indifference?”  It’s such an important question and plays a major role in your story.  Without giving too much away, how would you answer somebody searching for an answer?
WHALER: For me, the answer is simple. WE CHOOSE every day how we behave towards each other. We can, therefore CHOOSE decency and respect and reject anger and violence.  Every day we all help create the world in which we live. The choice is ours.
FQ: Tiny Tim and the Ghost of Ebenezer Scrooge is a very different book/style from your other books, which are all children’s books. What are the challenges of writing in a different genre/style? 
WHALER: I have always been taught that with words, less is more. In Tiny Tim, every word had to earn its place on the page, using one word instead of 10. Children's picture books are mostly 550 to 1000 words. Writing a picture book is more challenging on many levels, to be sure!
FQ: Your stories all have strong Christian themes of love, acceptance, faith, etc. How important is it for you to pass along this important message to today’s young readers?
WHALER: In a world that has been polarized by racism, bigotry, anger, and hatred, I believe it is more important than ever to have messages that show that there is another way, and that we are not alone.
FQ: I noticed that book one in your new children’s series – Oink and Gobble – has recently been published.  Would you tell us a bit about this series and what future books in the series might be about?
WHALER: Oink is an adventurous young pig who gets in some trouble from time to time because of his overactive imagination. His best friend is Gobble, a cautious turkey, who tries her best to keep Oink grounded, but gets caught up in his adventures. Book 2 is now out and is called Oink and Gobble and the Men in Black!
FQ: Are there any other future projects that you wish to share with our readers?
WHALER: Yes! A third Oink and Gobble Book 3 is on the way, and a PB with an ecological focus!
FQ: You’re a member of SCBWI (Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators), and CIPA (Christian Indie Publishers Association) as well as several other writer groups.  Would you recommend new authors look into joining these or similar organizations?
WHALER: Oh, yes! The resources available to writers are vast and everyone should take advantage of them! I definitely recommend!

#BookReview - God Squad Mission Him-Possible II: The Giant Slayers

God Squad Mission Him-Possible II: The Giant Slayers

By: Darlene Laney
Publisher: Halo Publishing International
Publication Date: January 2019
ISBN: 978-1-61244-721-6
Reviewed by: Amy Lignor
Review Date: March 2019
You know them. Whether they met you in the hallways of the school and issued the term “nerd,” or made a fat joke at your expense, they were there. “They” were deemed bullies. Most liked to make as much fun of you as possible in order to get others to point and laugh. Maybe you were one of the strong ones who held your head high and made sure to only show your pain to the people you trusted—those parents at home who were there for you and wanted to do anything they could to help. Yet, no matter what they did, the bullies just seemed to get worse.
For those lucky enough to read the first book in this series, The God Squad Mission Him-Possible: The Distorted Mirror, you were lucky enough to meet up with a group of kids who work together in order to help others. In the newest book, God Squad Mission Him-Possible II: The Giant Slayers, the kids are back, and the mission they are about to take on is a truly tough one. Angel is a member of The God Squad and the narrator of this tale. She brings readers along, telling them the story of a girl named Taylor Williams. Taylor is currently being bullied by Marcie. It wasn’t so long ago that Taylor was Marcie’s BFF. In fact, when Taylor first got to Carver Preparatory School, she became part of Marcie’s not-so-nice group and is guilty of doing the same type of bullying she’s receiving now. Let us just say that she and Marcie had a falling out, so Taylor is now the target of Marcie’s wrath.
Taylor’s mom has tried to help. She has phoned the principal, she’s spoken with her pastor…everything. But the principal chalks it up to “girls being girls” and does not see the need to intervene. She believes that the girls will work it out. But as time moves forward, the bullying gets worse, even to the point where Taylor states that she would rather die than go back to school the next day.
Ms. Foster is the head of The God Squad that includes Angel, Chris, Eve, Sadie, Mia, and Jade. She meets with the girls and shows them a picture of Taylor. The sad, doe-like eyes of the girl affect Angel in a hard way. You see, Angel has been bullied. She’s sickened by what’s happening to this poor girl because she still holds a bit of pain inside from when the teasing happened to her. She knows that if she hadn’t met the Squad when she did, she would’ve been in the exact same place Taylor is now…too scared and upset to talk to anybody about her predicament. Angel is assigned to be the team leader of this mission. By doing this, by helping Taylor, perhaps it will give Angel time to work through her own remaining demons and battle the giants that show up in her dreams; giants that make her feel small and alone.
This book is fantastic, just like the first one in this series, The God Squad Mission Him-Possible: The Distorted Mirror. The God Squad is something I wish every school had. This teaches one and all that the Lord is there and is helping. You even meet some older women when you’re with Angel. Women who appear during times of great need (and disappear just as fast). The one thing I hope will stick with readers is a line that states: “God didn’t make junk when He made you.” I hope victims of bullies never forget those words, and I hope the bullies (“the giants”) who make people feel bad, come away knowing that there’s a mighty Giant Slayer in each one of us. These are not only fun reads with memorable characters, but these books also show how much easier life can be when you have faith in your heart, and true friends by your side.
Quill says: This is perfect for many ages and is definitely a much-needed “must-read” for all.
For more information on God Squad Mission Him-Possible II: The Giant Slayers,please visit the author's website at:

Thursday, March 14, 2019

#BookReview - Writing A Memoir from Stuck to Finished! @Clairitage

Writing A Memoir from Stuck to Finished!: Helpful Step-by-Step Guide to Writing Family History and Putting Life Stories on Paper

By: Karen Dustman
Publisher: Clairitage Press
Publication Date: January 2019
ISBN: 978-1-731536341
Reviewed by: Amy Lignor
Review Date: March 12, 2019
“Everyone has great stories to tell.” This is one phrase I completely agree with and is something that this book professes profusely. Writers who tackle this specific genre, whether it be in the form of biography, autobiography, family history, and so on, look back at past times and people and usually have regrets. They wonder why they didn’t get their grandparents to tell them more stories about themselves: where their family came from; what they did as careers; and, basically, what life was like “back then.” We also run across people in our lives and wonder why we didn’t sit down with them, have coffee, and get their stories on tape in order to learn more about history. In fact, after reading this great book, I remembered a time when I was lucky enough to work in an office with a client who was born and raised in Roswell, NM. He worked at the military base here during that “extraterrestrial” time period, which meant he was in “the thick of things” back in 1947. We were going to talk. Yet, unfortunately, he passed away before it could be done. That is a personal regret, but millions of authors have at least one of their very own.
Author Karen Dustman touches upon those regrets in her book Writing A Memoir from Stuck to Finished! and talks about all areas of memoir writing. However, she has done such a spectacular job in a variety of arenas that this is a book that will help writers in all genres. She dives into the difficult issue of writer’s block. But instead of using “Yale-speak,” she uses good old common sense to explain what the “block” is and how, exactly, to get over it in order to move on and bring to life your creation. She addresses three different reasons as to why writer’s block occurs; she offers up the cause and effect for each, as well as the solutions to use in order to stop things like negative self-talking and attempting to find a way to “begin at the beginning.”
But there is so much more. As a woman who has preserved life histories for 20+ years, teaches in-person Life Story writing classes, has authored over a dozen books, and is currently working on an e-course for Memoir writers, this is most definitely a voice you should listen to when it comes to creating your manuscript. Ms. Dustman goes through the very important steps of organization. She addresses how to put together interviews so that your subject will answer questions that make you better understand what time period you’re writing about. She also tells you the importance of how to manage your manuscript by offering up tips on everything from finding information on clothing styles, news and events by year, cultural histories by decade; to photo and scanning tips so that your end product will look its absolute best.
Life is a learning experience, as is writing. With Karen Dustman’s information, whether you are an established writer or a wannabe just starting out, each chapter is a learning experience that is necessary in order to become that “great writer.” There are even bonus resources and tip sheets given in the back of the book that will make it easier for you to sit down and begin putting that “life story” down on paper. And if you have already begun the process and have just set it aside because you told yourself you were no good at writing, then this is the book you need in order to take that half-written manuscript out of the drawer and get back at it immediately.
Quill says: This is a resource book that should be sitting next to your computer at all times!
For more information on Writing A Memoir from Stuck to Finished!: Helpful Step-by-Step Guide to Writing Family History and Putting Life Stories on Paper, please visit the publisher's website at

Monday, March 11, 2019

#AuthorInterview with Steve Zell @stevezelltales

Today, Feathered Quill reviewer Barbara Bamberger Scott is talking with Steve Zell, the author of True Creature.
FQ: You have several powerful female characters in True Creature – is it easy for you to get inside their heads and their thinking processes?
ZELL: Boys like myself growing up Catholic in the 60s knew absolutely nothing useful about females except that it was a sin to let your mind wander about them... As warping as growing up that way was, it gave me a very strong desire to listen and learn and find some common ground there. I think you learn how connected we all are when you find yourself consoling someone you’ve fallen head-over-heels in love with whose heart has just been broken by an idiot – and you suddenly realize your heart is now being broken by an idiot too...and you’re the biggest idiot of all for putting yourself in that position. I guess it comes down to the fact we’re all idiots in one way or another. At times we’re all heroic too. That partly answers one of your later questions – if there’s any character in True Creature I see myself in – and the truth is, good, evil, male or female, brave or cowardly, I really have something in common with all of them.
FQ: You feature some funny scenes with adolescent love (and lust) gone wrong. How much humor do you think can safely be mixed with horror?
ZELL: Hah! Adolescent love can be a horror story on its own. As far as the mixture of horror and humor goes in my writing, there was a glut on the bully market when I was a kid. I eventually developed two survival techniques – one was a fast straight punch, the other was humor. I think, in some of the most horrific situations – having a sense of humor is the one thing that will keep you sane – it’s also a very powerful weapon. I think humor gives the reader a chance to recover, it can also make the characters more human and even underscore their terror. But you do have to be careful where and when you use it, otherwise you can diffuse the situation, which isn’t something you want to do. If the truly “horrific” element you’ve just written evokes a truly funny may need to rethink it and rewrite it.
Sara uses humor to shield herself from the very real horror of her job as a medical examiner. And, without giving too much away, I think one of the most horrific scenes in True Creature is one you don’t actually see. Deanne knows what’s going on, she hears it, smells it, there’s even a very detached running commentary by the killer throughout it. There is some very dark humor in all of that, and I think the little bit Deanne pulls from her seemingly hopeless situation keeps her sane.
FQ: You mention Wallace and Ladmo, the TV characters, numerous times in this book. Can you comment on their place in your childhood and in Arizona culture?
ZELL: Oh man. Did I EVER look forward to that show after school! We all did. We probably give folks credit for being “ahead of their time” too often, but Wallace and Ladmo really were. It was a “cartoon show” but the cartoons weren’t the draw – the reason for watching were the skits between the cartoons, and the humor was funnier the more you thought about it. Sure, they had slapstick elements, but they were a little more like Fractured Fairy Tales from Rocky and His Friends (The Rocky and Bullwinkle Show) – they challenged your ideas about the world (their bizarre version of The Civil War which I believe they filmed mostly at Papago Park, comes to mind). Pat McMahon, a local newsman, appeared as various characters – his spoiled rich kid, Gerald, was one of the staples of the show, but he also played a clown who hated kids and smoked – and THAT was hilarious, and this was the 60s! Wallace and Ladmo often appeared live around town – notably at our frighteningly old-west-themed park, Legend City, which I mention in True Creature, but they could be anywhere. They appeared at a Der Wienerschnitzel (remember those? Yes – Phoenix was a testing ground for the finest of fast-foods) near our house and I went to see them. I’ll never forget how thrilled I was to win a giant, foot-long, Baby Ruth bar and have Ladmo himself call me by name and congratulate me. They were rock stars.
FQ: Is there a particular political model for Todd Worwick?
ZELL: As a Catholic boy, John F. Kennedy was a god. I was so affected by his assassination that I wrote that date on all my school papers for several years. But I was a little kid and back then they kept the sexual “exploits” secret. It was a big disappointment for me finding out just how “human” he was. As it became more obvious that sexual attraction had as much to do with power and fame in all aspects of life whether it was the high-school athlete, the popular cheerleader, teachers, priests, the bad-boy in the movies, politicians, etc., I came to realize it’s part of the fabric of things. The fact Congress has a fund set up specifically to protect its members from sex-abuse scandals and it’s widely used should be front page news but it isn’t. Male or female, power games are a sometimes evil but often simply intoxicating part of many human relationships. Todd borrows from a lot of folks I’ve known or know of. On the surface, he’s one of those affable jerks we all know who take advantage of their power and good looks when they can – but he’s caused, and suffered, real tragedy because of it.
FQ: Do you ever “see” yourself as one of your characters, major or minor? If so, who would that be in True Creature?
ZELL: I mentioned earlier there’s some part of me in everyone in True Creature. Donovan probably has the most – but, hey, there’s a nerdy part of me in Sara too – and quite a bit of my own regret and need for vengeance carried by Barney and Tahoma.
FQ: Can you say a bit about your central theme – water – and its meaning for the state of Arizona? Does it still loom large as an issue there as it clearly did in the 1960s in True Creature?
ZELL: Phoenix, and southern Arizona in general, is as much a manufactured environment now as it was in the 60s or as the first outpost on Mars will be. That doesn’t mean I don’t love it, or Tucson – where I went to college and is a place I really, really love. Arizonans will always need to redirect water to survive. But that isn’t such an unusual situation, California, where I lived for twenty-odd years, is technically a desert too. Mono Lake has been drained to the point where it’s practically gone. I think Phoenicians are less aware of the tenuous situation they live in now than they once were precisely because of the construction of the Central Arizona Water Project which is the backdrop of True Creature. Many waterways are “permanently” in place now or as permanently in place as anything can be in the desert. You still hear arguments about how much water passing through or around the state belongs to Arizona. Living in Oregon now (and it’s raining as I write this) I still worry about water reserves. Forest fires are a huge problem here...we also have volcanoes. Man...scary stuff everywhere...
FQ: You’ve found a comfortable niche by following the old rule, “write about what you know.” Could you envision leaving that literary comfort zone for another locale entirely?
ZELL: I’ve been lucky enough to be many different things in my life and I want to be more. I owe a lot to the University of Arizona for putting me on the Interdisciplinary Studies path, or recognizing that was where I needed to be! True Creature is a detective novel at its heart which is a little bit of a departure for me, and I love doing research. The LA Crime Lab has Forensic Pathology classes for the “not-so-faint-of-heart” which I’ve taken advantage of. But...I know that isn’t what you mean :). I likely will go in a completely different direction at some point, I really love exploring people – their minds and their hearts. The great thing about supernatural suspense is that I can place people somewhere they’re forced to think of something bigger than themselves – and really explore their minds and hearts. We’ll see...
FQ: Your first book, WiZrD, originally published in the 90s, and then re-released as an ebook several years ago, is enjoying a renewed life, having recently won the “Best of Backlist” award in the Feathered Quill Book Awards. So many large publishers set aside books older than a year, but as a small, independent publisher, you’re able to bring the book back to the reading public. Do you think it’s time for large publishers to re-visit how they handle backlist titles?
ZELL: That is a really great question and I think it’s part of a broader problem. Like every other entertainment form, the landscape and business model is changing for publishing and traditional houses haven’t embraced that. They need to be working with the indies to find a way to get those backlists, and publishing in general, to work better for everyone involved – including the reader. When e-books began becoming popular St. Martin’s Press had already become part of Macmillan and I couldn’t even find a phone number there. Everyone I knew from the WiZrD days was gone – including my editor, Reagan Arthur, whom I love, who had moved on to Little Brown. So...I published WiZrD on the Kindle myself. I can’t say I recommend that, but you have to be bold and that did get Macmillan’s attention; we signed a new contract, and they re-published it for the Kindle and other e-books.
Good books are good books – even if they didn’t receive mass attention when they first came out because they didn’t have the name-recognition and budgets to be mass-marketed back then.
I thank Feathered Quill for the Best of Backlist category in their book awards for the renewed interest in WiZrD! The fact that WiZrD ties into True Creature and to Running Cold makes it all the better!

#BookReview - True Creature @stevezelltales

True Creature

By: Steve Zell
Publisher: Tales from Zell, Inc.
Publication Date: March 2019
ISBN: 978-0-9847468-6-6
Reviewed by: Barbara Bamberger Scott
Review Date: February 18, 2019
Author Steve Zell has created a twisted tale that centers on vengeance, memory and the mystical powers of water in his newest book, True Creature.
Set in and around Phoenix, Arizona, Zell’s book intertwines a number of stories flashing forward and back in time. In 1968, Todd Worwick is running for senator. His campaign manager, Sondra, is getting more involved with Todd than she probably should. Todd’s beautiful, almost-teenaged daughter Cassandra is conflicted and confused since her mom, Susan, has inexplicably retreated to a desert hideout. Deanne is an investigative reporter who, recognizing that Todd and Susan’s estrangement could be a big scoop, is trying to wangle an interview with Susan, but in the meantime, she’s contacted by a woman named Sara, a medical official who’s just performed a couple of weird autopsies. Sara feels sure the two deaths are related: two men have drowned in places miles from any source of water. 
And water, it seems, is the focus of everyone’s lives, since they live in a dry region. Todd is campaigning on his promise to open up a new water source for the state. But when Deanne questions Susan, she learns that Todd is trying to dam up the very lake where his brother drowned in the 1950s—and that may not be all the supposedly squeaky-clean candidate is covering up. Deanne determines to find out Todd’s connection to the monstrously huge, superhumanly strong man known as Red Hawk. A rogue Native American, Red Hawk is so powerful that, as Deanne will discover to her horror, he has no hesitation in ripping a human head off its neck in a few short twists. 
Steve Zell is no stranger to suspense with a fantasy spin. Horror thrillers Running Coldand Urban Limit have established him as a talent in that genre. He is also a keen observer of his environment, the dry dusty southwest US where he grew up and where he still loves to seek out strange, sacred or profane places and delve into their ghostly past. In this book he contrasts the bright lights of an urban political campaign with secrets trapped deep in a disused mine shaft or under the surface of a deceptively placid lake. His characters are full-blown and believable: attractive but macho-tough Sara; lonely, career-driven Deanne; fatherly but possibly manipulative senatorial hopeful Todd; Donovan, a lovelorn teen who is a lot older than he thinks; and Barney, who keeps a shrine in the wilderness to a long-lost love, swearing revenge. Zell is at home with lively dialog, whether among kids at an amusement park or grown-ups in the throes of building passions. He also keeps a tight grip on scene and time changes, so there is no doubt where and when we are as we follow along in this fast-paced tale, enthralled.
Quill says: Zell’s fans will want to grab this one, and new readers of his work will be entranced by his settings, people, and most of all his eerie, unchained true creature.
For more information on True Creature, please visit the author's website at:

#BookReview - Your Light

Your Light: A Musical Storybook

By: Jillian Aversa
Publication Date: January 2019
ISBN: 978-1793498854
Reviewed by: Gina Montanha
Review Date: March 2019 
Beautifully simple and soothing...Your Light is the story of a baby bunny’s sweet dream that will have your little one drifting off in no time. 
The author of Your Light, Jillian Aversa, an American vocalist and composer has written this whimsical tale of a mama bunny encouraging her baby to sleep with promises of adventurous dreaming. As baby bunny dreams of a falling star, he sets out to find it and encounters a fork in the road, where he is reminded of his mother’s precious love, encouraging him forward.
Making this book extra special is Aversa’s accompanying lullaby – free for download on the site She originally wrote the lullaby for her daughter, and to make it more interactive, she turned the lyrics into this charming storybook. The unadorned text has simple rhymes on its own pages or set apart from the pictures by appearing to float in white boxes of light. The night skies are full of stars, set in enchanting purple hues. As for Aversa’s voice, it is soft, harmonious and perfectly in sync with the wonderfully illustrated book.
Quill says: Your Light will delight and comfort your little one. It’s a winner of a bedtime story that can be enjoyed with or without the accompanying music. Try singing it yourself!