Thursday, April 30, 2020

#BookReview - Life in the Chastity Zone

Life in the Chastity Zone (Chastity Series, Book 1)
By: Holly Brandon
Publisher: Independent Publisher
Publication Date: April 2020
ISBN: 979-8-6337-8268-4
Reviewed by: Amy Lignor
Review Date: April 29, 2020
Chastity Morgan (AKA: Chase) is one of those women who readers will really want to hang out with. She has an ironic life filled with sarcastic days, but the best thing is that she surrounds herself with some truly unique people. Chase has also had to deal with quite a bit, from an accident in her past to having her dissertation turned down as she’s trying to become the best structural engineer in Southern California. She’s also a woman who has been in love with Grant Stevens and has been “saving” herself for that ultimate day when she walks down the aisle and says “I do” to him...even though she’s thirty years old. 
We begin by Chase’s side as she’s driving to her Aunt Kate’s Christmas party in the Idaho ski town where her aunt lives in a dark green Victorian-style mansion. The weather is horrible, and things become worse when Chase believes she sees her Prince Charming in his red Jeep, with a female in the passenger seat. Hitting the brakes because she’s paying more attention to Grant than the ice on the road, she almost kills a pedestrian, and ends up throwing a tray of lovely Christmas cupcakes all over the pristine interior of the rental she’s driving. She gets a worse blow when she finds out that there is no girl by Grant’s side. Instead, he’s driving to Aunt Kate’s with a stunning guy who goes by the name of Brody. Brody, apparently, is the guy Grant recently married in Vegas after Grant texted Chase that he needed to take a break from their relationship.
Upon learning Grant's news, Chase watches her fairytale life of living in a “glass-and-steel” dream house with Grant, the perfect architect, fall apart. She also has to worry about telling her mother that the money spent on the upcoming nuptials was just flushed down the toilet, as well as tell her father about the damage she’s done to the rental he paid for.
This Christmas party introduces some of the greatest characters imaginable. Roxie, for one, is a bad girl that Chase calls her “partner-in-crime cousin.” Roxie wants more than anything to bury Grant for what he’s done to Chase, and will also be instrumental in getting Chase back on the market and attempting to get her out of the pain and depression that follows after being dumped. 
The humor in this tale comes from all different scenes. Popular girls from school who Chase still can’t stand; a new next-door neighbor and her daughter named Daphne, who had to move from their last location because Daphne just happens to have a “gift” when it comes to using a Ouija board (is she a witch, or will her ‘psychic visions’ help Chase find just the right man?); to a plethora of men who each have their own interesting attributes. For example, a hunky flight attendant who lives in Massachusetts named Vincent; Jacques-Pierre, who she meets while traveling; and Grant, who we find out more about that most readers (like me) won’t see coming. These are just some who come together and explore relationships, emotions, and so much more. 
The author has made sure that the conversations – whether they are between people or inside Chase’s head – are extremely witty. And it’s an understatement to say that being a part of Roxie and Chase’s journey together was a total blast. Even though you may want to roll your eyes at some of Chase’s decisions, you’ll end up cheering for her instead. Because, in the end, she is a woman who stands for her beliefs and proves that she will not settle for anything less than perfection—a lesson all of us should learn. 
Quill says: Life in the Chastity Zone is absolutely hilarious, yet I have a feeling this book will be overshadowed by the entertainment that’s still sure to come in future books in this series.
For more information on Life in the Chastity Zone (Chastity Series, Book 1), please visit the author's website at:

#AuthorInterview with Gary McGugan @GaryDMcGugan

Today, Feathered Quill reviewer Barbara Bamberger Scott is talking with Gary D. McGugan, author of Pernicious Pursuit: A Howard Knight Escapade.
FQ: How much of Howard Knight is really Gary McGugan?
McGUGAN: Wow! A great question to start our interview. I hope the answer is “very little.” Naturally, some of me must permeate the character, but I view Howard as an excellent example of human beings generally. He is bright and has experienced success like few others. But he also has flaws and weaknesses like everyone else. I choose to give him qualities like an insurmountable will to survive, but temper those qualities with judgment that is questionable at best. I think readers will find Howard a complex paradox, and that’s my intention.
FQ: You seem quite knowledgeable about corporate structure and wheeling and dealing – in your own business career did you see or suspect the kind of corruption you depict in your book?

McGUGAN: Yes. One of the most stringent requirements of my employers was to know our customers well. In turn, that requirement made it necessary to visit customers and prospective customers frequently. As a result, I’ve encountered businesses that were unquestionably controlled by characters as nasty as any in my story and seen evidence of subtle sophistication that camouflages ownership or influence by nefarious actors. The business-world reflects our society in companies large and small around the globe. But I highlight those characteristics in my stories not to aggrandize them, but to inform. When we realize such forces exist, we can look for signals and take action to minimize the influence of bad companies.
FQ: Do you have a favorite female character among the ones you depict here?
McGUGAN: Good question! But the answer is no. I don’t have a favorite. Each of the women in Pernicious Pursuit has character qualities and flaws. I try to explain where those imperfections may originate and try to balance weaknesses with positive elements. To me, this is the essence of life and I like my stories to be not only entertaining but a reflection of our collective experiences.
Author Gary D. McGugan
FQ: Has your own world travel and transplantation given you insight into the seemingly habitual peregrinations of your characters?
McGUGAN: Peregrinations is a very long word that means a journey—especially a long or meandering one—and I think a very appropriate word to describe Howard Knight’s escapades in Pernicious Pursuit. My story depicts a man who is pursued desperately for reasons few may understand, with an intensity most can’t imagine. I hope the final pages will help readers bridge the gulf between justice and reality.
FQ: Did you ever, or do you plan to, visit any of the locales used as settings for Pernicious Pursuit?
McGUGAN: I’ve had the pleasure of visiting 649 cities and towns in 42 countries around the globe over the past 50 years. I’ve either visited or lived in most of the locales in Pernicious Pursuit. That includes Isla Canela, Spain— where my wife and I stayed a delightful month putting the finishing touches on Unrelenting Peril, the third novel in my trilogy about the goings-on at Multima Corporation.
FQ: What modern (not necessarily contemporary) authors/novels would you compare yourself to?
McGUGAN: I think only readers can answer that question. I never try to emulate another writer, nor do I presume the acumen of any author we might all recognize. I try to tell entertaining stories from my perspective and trust readers will decide if my work is worthy of comparison with another.
FQ: Of course, readers will want to know if they’ll see Howard Knight again, and with which remarkable woman or women. Any plans for that?
McGUGAN: Howard Knight will surface again. I think it would be a shame if such a complex character didn’t have an opportunity to fail once more! I’ve started to work on my fifth novel, and Howard will surely be a central character. And it may be the chance for his brilliance to shine through. I also think readers of Pernicious Pursuit will discern who the next story’s main women characters will be.
FQ: Have you considered writing a novel purely from a female viewpoint, with a female lead? 
McGUGAN: Yes! To me, it seems a daunting task, but I’ll move in that direction with my next novel. I can reveal two of the three main characters in my next story will be very strong women. I look forward to honing skills in that book to write with the voices of exceptional women. Maybe novel number 6 or 7 will be the time to take that plunge and utilize every expertise of wordsmithing I can muster to explore life purely from a female perspective. In the meantime, I hope your audience will enjoy Pernicious Pursuit, and I thank you again for the opportunity to chat about stories I love to write.

#AuthorInterview with Charlie Suisman @charliesuisman

Today, Feathered Quill reviewer Amy Lignor is talking with Charlie Suisman, author of Arnold Falls.
FQ: When it comes to Arnold Falls, what was your original motivation to bring this fictional town to life?
SUISMAN: It was January of 2017 and I was living in a small town in the Hudson Valley. The country seemed to have taken a terrible risk in the election and I was feeling blue about the world. I wasn't finding a sense of community in that small town or a place full of humor. So I started getting up every morning at 5am, which my dog did not enjoy, and started writing about a hapless little town -- just to make myself laugh. And occasionally I did make myself laugh, which was an odd sensation but a satisfying one. So I kept going.

FQ: Considering your publishing background, as a writer of guides and non-fiction works dedicated to NYC, how did the process of writing a full-length novel compare? Do you have a preference between the two?
SUISMAN: I never considered the work I did for Manhattan User’s Guide to be writing. It was about love for New York, taking notes, and doing the research, plus a bit of taste and judgment, i.e. opinion. Writing is never going to be easy but once the characters in Arnold Falls emerged, I couldn’t wait to find out what they would say or do next, so writing became as close to pleasurable as it's ever likely to be.
FQ: When it comes to your supporting cast of characters, you’ve quite literally written people who would be great to see on the silver screen. Are these characters based on any from your daily life or encounters? If so, can you share with us a story about one in particular that you absolutely loved putting on the page? (I, personally, loved Sofia)
SUISMAN: I love Sofia, too. I love when empathic people tell you what they think. A few of the characters were inspired by the small town where I was living, though they all evolved quite a bit. The most fun to write was Bridget because she’s so odd, and sometimes annoying, definitely shameless, though I find her strangely lovable. Bridget began hinting that she wanted to be in every scene, but I had to put my foot down.
FQ: Tell us about your narrator, Jeebie. What of his character is drawn from your own personality, how do the two of you most differ, and what was the one thing that surprised you most as he developed on the page?
SUISMAN: Jeebie and I share some traits (we both love Motown) but I think we’re more different than alike. He’s big-hearted but flummoxed by matters of the heart. I’m not as big-hearted as he is. On the other hand, he’s a bit of a snob and I don’t think I am. What surprised me is what surprises him: that for all his talents, charm and so on, his friends consider him a mess.
FQ: As you were penning the novel, did you stick to some kind of outline/plan, or did the plot ever veer off in a direction that took you by surprise? In addition, was it fun to write about the lovely American political environment in your own humorous way?
SUISMAN: The politics question was one I thought about a lot. There’s no mention of national politics at all in the book and that’s on purpose. The characters conclude that the world is not in good shape, so the best course is just to tend your own garden. I don't believe that, at least I don't think that should be the end of the matter. Tend your own garden, absolutely. But in the real world, it’s dangerous to ignore what’s happening. The local politics in the book are the story of many towns: entrenched interests, the old ways versus new ways, tradition versus change.
I didn’t have an outline, just tentpoles. I knew it was about friendships, about Jeebie finding home, I had the election (that was based on real-life events), there had to be a serious threat to the town (which became the proposed tire factory), I had Doozy and Chaplin, and I knew it ended in a big Thanksgiving party. Everything else was a surprise.
FQ: As a fan of all the characters in your book, I would love to know which one you could see moving away from the small town and into the hubbub of Manhattan in order to take on a new career? 
SUISMAN: A number of characters have ties to the city: Jeebie does his work there, Nelle lived there, Bridget has an office there and so on. So I could see, under certain circumstances, these characters moving out of Arnold Falls. I don’t think any of them could do it easily, however. The sense of community in the town is a strong pull.
FQ: Other authors have their own way of dealing with things, but how do you endeavor to balance your own creative instincts with constructive feedback from others? In addition, have you ever experienced writer’s block that you had to somehow get past?
SUISMAN: I worked in the theater when I was younger and it was clear to me that the best directors were open to feedback from anyone. Take every comment for what it’s worth, whatever the source. And that lesson has always stayed with me. The people who read early versions of the book were very helpful in shaping the book. I hired an editor after I had a first draft and she was invaluable. Were there times I cursed her notes? Of course! But I always considered them carefully and took most of them. As for writer’s block, I experience it every day. I remind myself to trust the material and characters so that I can find a way through. Solutions, ideas, lines come to me in the shower, in the middle of the night, when I’m walking my dog. I don’t understand how that happens but it’s a gift when it does.
FQ: Is it difficult to say “so long” to Arnold Falls, or can we be hoping or looking forward to characters coming back for a series? If not, is there a foreseeable future plan in the works for your next fiction project?
SUISMAN: I had always hoped there would be further adventures in Arnold Falls if people enjoyed the first book and I left some breadcrumbs in the novel for possible later use. I’d been missing the characters, so I was happy to begin work on the next Arnold Fallsbook last month. I’ve made it clear to Bridget that she can’t be in every scene.

Wednesday, April 29, 2020

#BookReview - Pernicious Pursuit @GaryDMcGugan

Pernicious Pursuit: A Howard Knight Escapade

By: Gary D. McGugan
Publisher: Gary D. McGugan
Publication Date: April 2020
ISBN: 978-1-9995656-4-0
Reviewed by: Barbara Bamberger Scott
Date: April 2020
The action spans continents while real emotions grip the characters chasing each other for love and profit in this latest offering from thriller creator Gary D. McGugan. 
When Howard Knight wakes up, he senses danger, and within a few minutes he’s in the middle of it, beaten, tied and tossed in the back of a vehicle moving to who knows where. Janet Weissel, his lover, “a keeper” he calls her, wakes up just in time to save herself from the same fate. Following advice given by Knight for just such an emergency, she flees their home and goes on the run. Not long afterward, although she has no way of knowing it, Knight, transported from the Netherlands to Spain, has also escaped his captors and moves from scooter to stolen scooter, changing outfits off clotheslines and subsisting at one point on nothing but oranges. Weissel is unsure what the pursuers want, but Knight is all too aware: he’s being hunted by one of the most powerful men on earth, a man with far more money than morals, the infamous Giancarlo Mareno, head of The Organization. There’d been a time when Mareno and he had been on the same team, but now Knight is not only hoping to save his own skin and protect his lover, but also to uphold and sustain a more rational, less destructive life plan. 
In Pernicious Pursuit, McGugan has drawn from an earlier trilogy (Three Weeks Less a Day, The Multima Scheme, Unrelenting Peril ) involving Knight and many colorfully nasty underworld associates locked into corporate greed at its worst. Now he puts his protagonist in a different light, still tough, even brutal when the situation calls for it, but also capable of remorse and tender, uplifting feelings. McGugan displays an especial sensitivity for the women in the story: Katherine, a smart but nurturing woman with a big dog and the means to control it; Klaudia, one of Janet’s protectors who is battling Giancarlo own her on battlefront - the trafficking of women for prostitution; and even Nadine, a beautiful madam who enjoys her role until she begins to realize that the “love” her bosses profess is entirely superficial. The chapters in this fast-paced plot jump from character to character, all interlinked by the hand of fate - some scheming, some grieving, and some learning valuable lessons about how stuff really works in the world beyond the headlines. The author will bring them all together in a series of crossing paths until, in the final pages, murder finally finds a suitable mark.
Quill says: McGugan’s title says it all: a man and a woman try to save themselves and each other, searching the globe for some sense of safety, not only from a cold-hearted murdering mogul but from a scarred society that undervalues half its assets – the female half. 
For more information on Pernicious Pursuit: A Howard Knight Escapade, please visit the author's website at:

#BookReview - The Discovery

The Discovery
By: Patrick M. Garry
Publisher: Kenric Books
Publication Date: April 2020
ISBN: 978-0-9833703-7-6
Reviewed by: Skyler Boudreau
Review Date: April 2020
The Discovery is a character-driven legal drama about a lawyer by the name of Frank Horgan. Readers follow Frank as he represents the patriarch of the McCorkle family in a legal dispute against the McCorkle children. While working on this case, he must do battle against a team of lawyers from a large New York law firm who aren’t above using blackmail to win.
Frank’s character is sometimes confusing, particularly in the first quarter of the novel. Readers are first introduced to him in his office. The narration paints him as “a man of the people.” (pg. 7) The audience is told from the beginning that Frank is someone who fights for other people. He undercharges those who can’t pay and takes a lot of cases that seem hopeless. He is fearless when going up against lawyers with better connections or more experience than him. After all of that is stated to the reader, Frank hurries to court where he is representing a young mother accused of abandoning her child in her car. This scene takes place only a few pages after the audience is told what a phenomenal person he is, but Frank does not demonstrate any of the claims in the prose. He’s rude and dismissive to his client and, while he does succeed in winning her case, he does not act like the “man of the people.” 
Frank remains unlikable throughout most of the novel. He is equally dismissive to his father and several of his friends. As The Discovery focuses heavily on its characters, readers spend a lot of time in Frank’s head. Listening to him complain constantly about various people in his life becomes tedious after a while. He doesn’t have any redeeming qualities and reading from his point of view was frustrating.
His character eventually begins to turn around during the final quarter of the novel. Readers get to watch as he becomes more introspective and aware of how his actions affect those around him. Seeing his attitude finally begin to change for the better is a refreshing change of pace.
The writing itself was a little dense and difficult to engage with at points. The dialogue in particular could be a challenge to follow. There were often long conversations between characters without any clear indication of who was saying what. Vital pieces of information are often conveyed between characters during these conversations, and it doesn’t always come across in a concise, easy-to-follow manner. There are also several typos and grammatical errors in the second half of the book.
The strongest part of this novel by far is the on-going legal case between a father and his children. The McCorkle family, already estranged from each other, is being further torn apart when Clayton McCorkle decides to try and take back the family business, which he passed onto his children many years before the story takes place. Frank represents Clayton in the case. As he tries to piece together their side of the argument, Frank becomes wrapped up in a mystery that goes far deeper than a petty family dispute. Following along as he pieces everything together is a fun experience!
Author Patrick M. Garry also paints a vivid small town setting. Readers get to stroll alongside the characters as they walk through the courthouse, Frank’s office, or local diner Pull Up a Chair.
The Discovery is a book for people interested in intricate financial scandals and the court system. Potential readers should also not mind spending a lot of time in a very unlikable character’s headspace. The story is interesting and will draw its target audience in without a problem. That being said, this isn’t a great option for a reader looking to get into the legal drama genre. The intricacies of the case could be difficult to follow for someone without prior interest in law and financial crimes.
Quill says: The Discovery offers an interesting legal case wrapped in a mystery while also capturing the essence of a small-town scandal.
For more information on The Discovery, please visit the author's website at:

Sunday, April 26, 2020

#BookReview - Arnold Falls @charliesuisman

Arnold Falls

By: Charlie Suisman
Publisher: Independent Publisher
Publication Date: February 2020
ISBN: 978-1-7923-3215-9
Reviewed by: Amy Lignor
Review Date: April 24, 2020
In the ‘odd’ time we’re all living in at the moment, this is one book that brings back fun and enjoyment into the world. The ensemble cast of characters living in Arnold Falls is made up of individuals the reader will literally never forget. The town, itself, is a character all its own; and throughout the entire book you can feel the absolute love this author has for the fictional location he’s created.
Right off the bat, we find ourselves in Arnold Falls never wanting to leave. With the roads practically vacant in this small town, we first get to meet Dubsack Polatino as he jumps off his silver Rascal scooter in order to rip a sign from a lawn – a sign heralding all of the town’s citizens to vote “Jenny Jagoda for Mayor.” After his stops and starts are done and Dubsack has succeeded in pulling up all election signs except the ones supporting the incumbent Rufus for Mayor, he stops behind the courthouse and tosses the rest of the signs into a dumpster. 
Dubsack Polatino is only one of many fascinating characters in this town on the Hudson River that is, for lack of a better word, confused. Although the town was founded long ago by a settler named Hezekiah Hesper, the citizens don’t understand why their main street, cemetery, and town, itself, is named after the notorious Benedict Arnold. (This is only one quirk that will be unveiled.) 
Jeebie Walker, life-long resident with a fantastic sense of humor, is our narrator. He explains his neighbors as being ones who basically want to avoid anything that could possibly upset their own lives. But, as with most small towns, Arnold Falls has those local battles that continue to happen. From the “haves” versus the “have-nots” that can’t stand each other; to those up to no good living side by side with those who are usually drinking in order to make the days go by faster. 
When it comes to Jeebie, he now lives in a house north of town. It was supposed to be a dream house because he was going to move in with the love of his life and be more stable. Unfortunately, Jeebie now has an ex-boyfriend and stability is still nowhere to be found. Recently, he has thrown himself into situations that are becoming even bigger battles. Not only is he helping his friend Jenny try to become the first female Mayor and defeat the incumbent, Rufus, in order to stop the building of a horrific smelling and looking tire factory by the river, but he’s also going to bat for a turkey. Yes, a turkey named Chaplin whose future may include being served up on a platter at Thanksgiving. Add in the fact that a handsome man who has a list of career paths that include orchard worker and cartoon artist is trying to land Jeebie as his boyfriend, well...then you can see how tough Jeebie’s life has become. 
When the ‘dark’ world of American politics opens up in this small town, the media descends, and Arnold Falls turns into a fantastical world that rivals that of a fantasy novel. Characters come out of the woodwork, like Duncan who grows vegetables and is the man who Jeebie still has a crush on; Sofia who works behind the bar and gives her opinion even when she’s not asked for it; town gossip, Bridget, who used to hold the title of pickpocket; and the entitled snoot Rufus who believes having a female running the town is more than a dumb idea – and the list goes on. 
Following Jeebie, the election, the fights, and getting to know all of these quirky characters who truly care will make you want to re-visit Arnold Falls again and again. So, my advice is to keep this book close at hand. The author should get a standing ovation for his excellent work at combining in-depth characters and their personal emotions, with inane humorous scenarios that include everything from Wiccan parties to real estate developers who are more than a little evil. In a time where we have much more time on our hands than ever before, this is the book that’s needed to make you smile.
Quill says: Miss this one, ladies and gentlemen, and you’ll miss out on something really special!
For more information on Arnold Falls, please visit the author's website:

Tuesday, April 21, 2020

#AuthorInterview with Joyce Major

Today, Feathered Quill reviewer Ellen Feld is talking with Joyce Major, author of The Orangutan Rescue Gang.
FQ: Your author biography notes that you “stopped everything” you were doing to get involved in volunteering. Would you tell our readers what you were doing in your “previous life” and what happened to cause you to stop everything?
MAJOR: I was successfully selling real estate in Seattle, playing squash, living on my houseboat and generally doing okay. However, when I was taking a hike up a steep trail, a vision came to me. I could travel the world not as a tourist but as a volunteer. I’ll never know where that insight came from. Was the air too thin? Was I getting so tired that I was having a vision? Or was this hike of methodical steps reaching me in a way that living a busy life didn’t make time for? I realized when I came down off that mountain that both of my sons would graduate from college in two years, and I would have time to take this trip of a lifetime. The idea of stopping everything and heading out into the world became a dream that I could make come true. After my yearlong trip, I continued to travel each year for a month at a time until Bali, when I stayed 6 months.
FQ: Your first book, Smiling at the World, is about your yearlong “quest for adventure and love.” Would you tell us a few of the highlights from that year of travel?
MAJOR: Can you imagine living a month in eleven different countries and never coming home for a year? Can you picture living someplace where you don’t know the language or the culture or the other people? It was a challenge for certain to adjust and be open to change. I volunteered for a month at a time in ten countries and two months in an eleventh.
I volunteered in Ireland with a weekly newspaper though I had never written an article in my life. The first article that got published took my breath away because it seemed impossible and yet, it was true. I wrote about the Green Party convention, and I was lucky enough to interview various people. A combination of nerves and insecurities attacked me, but I managed to write it. The rest of my two months there became a wonderful experience learning about their culture and writing articles.
In China teaching English at a high school, I would write the lyrics to Beatles songs and then have the kids practice saying the lyrics. One class (and these classes had 70 kids each) asked me if I would sing my favorite for them. Imagine. It took all my gumption but for the first time ever, I sang my favorite song to a group of students in China. Yes, it made me tear up.
I also had a moment with a wild baboon as you can see in the photo. He decided after giving me a hug, that he should groom me. He began grooming my back and then used his little fingers to go through my hair. You can’t imagine how surprised I was or how delicate his little fingers were as they went through my hair.
And the last highlight was on an emotional level. Each country, each project that I went to had different rules, a different tone, and yet, they all welcomed my help, my questions, my humor and I felt accepted for who I was. It shocked me to understand that all around the world I could fit in and I could help, and we could all laugh together.
FQ: You have done volunteer work with monkeys, kangaroos, elephants, lions, and baboons. Would you share a few of your most memorable experiences with our readers?
MAJOR: What could be better than helping wildlife recover from abuse? I have fabulous memories from each of the sanctuaries in England, Australia, Thailand, and South Africa. Standouts were with the lion cubs roughing them up, having them chase me, feeding them with a baby bottle and then having them fall asleep in my arms. Sigh...Can you imagine how sweet and soft they are? But if we played too rough, those claws could do some damage. We were cautious but they were irresistible.
The Elephant Nature Park in Thailand gave me one of my scariest experiences when we were walking an elephant to the sanctuary after it had been to the vet to have its wounds treated from abuse. We each fed him a chunk of watermelon or other fruit to encourage him to keep walking up the hill. It was all good, right? Wrong. Suddenly, when I went to hand him the fruit, he got scared, took his trunk and slammed it into my chest. The impact knocked me off my feet and I flew 15’ in the air landing on my bum. Shocked and disoriented, I didn’t know what had happened. Luckily, I wasn’t hurt but that lesson was a good one for all of us. These elephants had been abused and they were wild. It was important for us to know they were not predictable, and they were not pets.
FQ: Did the idea for The Orangutan Rescue Gang develop while you were working with the Sumatran Orangutan Society or had the idea been in your thoughts for a while?
MAJOR: The idea for the book must have been cooking in my imagination for years after I volunteered to save orangutans. Part of my work there was to write conservation articles for different magazines but writing a book never came up. After I left, I carried the issues with me still wishing there was a way to save orangutans from extinction. But it was a couple of years after I had volunteered in Indonesia that I decided to write the book.
FQ: In your story, Jaylynn makes an almost instant connection with Little O, the baby orangutan. I found their way of communicating, via colors, very interesting. Would you tell our readers a bit about how this works? 
MAJOR: I have a friend who can remember number chains and is very good in math. She explained that all numbers are colors to her, and she can remember their patterns because of the color pattern. I found that rather amazing when she told me. I have another friend who has learned how to communicate with dogs, cats and horses. I’m not sure how she does that, but I decided maybe combining the possibility with color would be possible for Jaylynn and Little O. I wanted her to feel what he was feeling, and color became the tool.
FQ: Another vehicle to move the story along was the use of dreams. Jaylynn, and the reader, discovers much about Little O and the plight of orangutans via her dreams. Were the dreams meant as a way for Little O to communicate with Jaylynn?
MAJOR: Adding dreams as a method of communication, meant adding something unexplainable, magical to a book for kids. I love listening to children’s dreams and wanted Jaylynn’s dreams to help her gather her own strength. It felt like using that environment...the land of dreams...would be easy for kids to understand.
FQ: Palm Oil is part of the problem with the deforestation of the rainforests. What should shoppers look for when buying products that contain palm oil? 
MAJOR: The problem with palm oil is that it has many different names besides just palm oil. It is also called “palmitate” amongst about 30 different names. It is in a wide range of products including cookies, Coke, crackers, breads, ice cream, chips, chocolates, Snickers and many more snacks. You’ll want to check shampoo, soaps, makeup and other cosmetic products, too. Palm oil has become a cheaper product for companies to use with no regard to how it is grown or that it involves destroying the rainforest.
FQ: While the trade in baby orangutans is illegal, your book shows that it continues. Are orangutans still sold in public markets, and if so, do the police attempt to shut them down? 
MAJOR: Yes, baby orangutans are still sold illegally in markets. It’s very sad. When the people are caught, police arrest them and apprehend the babies and return them to sanctuaries where hopefully they will be trained and returned to the rainforest.
FQ: Tell us a bit about the Sumatran Orangutan Society and how people in the United States can get involved.
MAJOR: The Sumatran Orangutan Society is going strong in both the U.K. where it was started and on the island of Sumatra, where orangutans live. SOS in the UK fundraise to support their conservation efforts, they buy land to act as a reserve for the orangutans and to prevent palm oil plantations from buying the property, and they educate local kids about orangutan conservation. They’ve been working on this issue a long time with a solid program. If you’d like to help them, you could go to their website that is divided into The Crisis, The Solution, Take Action and also Shop. If you work your way through those sections, I’m sure you’ll find a way to help SOS Take Action. Every little positive thing contributes to the big picture-saving orangutans from extinction. And everyone of us can do something to save the rainforests and save orangutans.

Monday, April 20, 2020

#AuthorInterview with Julia Soplop

Today, Feathered Quill reviewer Ellen Feld is talking with Julia Soplop, author of Equus Rising: How the Horse Shaped U.S. History.

FQ: Tell our readers a little about yourself. Your background, your interests, and how this led to writing a book?

SOPLOP: Throughout my career, my writing has covered everything from the relationship between altitude and low birth weight, to how abandoned mines cause environmental degradation, to how the arrival of the railroad over a high mountain pass transformed an isolated western town. I love delving into just about any subject and figuring out how to bring it to life in words or photographs.

I’m also science minded. Science matters, and I can’t stay quiet about it. I’ve got a master’s in medical journalism and am passionate about translating research into digestible language for non-scientists, especially in the realm of public health. (Yes, I have pangs of regret that I’m not on staff at a newspaper right now covering the COVID-19 pandemic as it unfolds.)

I’ll admit right off the bat I’m an unlikely person to write a book about horses. I wasn’t a “horse person” as a kid. I didn’t read horse books growing up. The extent of my riding experience boils down to a couple weeks of lessons at summer camp in middle school. But I’ve had a lifelong fascination with documenting animal behavior that’s taken me all over the globe. So when my young girls begged to start riding lessons and our lives began to revolve around the barn, it was the horses’ behavior that first drew me in.

My curiosity was piqued, so I dove into the girls’ horse books to learn more. What began innocently as light reading escalated into amassing a collection of horse literature. We’ve been homeschooling for the last three years, and I realized it would be intriguing to create a unit study for my family that used the horse as a way to explore U.S. history. The project spun larger and larger until I knew I’d found a unique take on history that was worth compiling in the form of a book.

FQ: Tell us a little about your book – a brief synopsis and what makes your book unique.

SOPLOP: Equus Rising explains how the horse played crucial and ever-changing roles in the development of the U.S. It also serves as an example of how we can view the past from innumerable lenses, each one enriching our understanding of how this country came to be.

In the book, I use the horse as a narrative thread not only to bind together seemingly disparate historical events, but also to allow for the inclusion of figures often written out of traditional histories: women and people of color. The book offers an approachable, engaging read for adults and teens interested in exploring history through an unconventional lens—no horse knowledge required.

Equus Rising is a unique blend of science, literature, history, and policy. As a photographer and design enthusiast, it was also important to me that it had visual appeal. From the beginning, I had my eye on hiring Montana artist Robert Spannring to illustrate it and am so fortunate that he agreed to take on the project. His pen and ink illustrations add so much power to the narrative. The book also features my own wild horse photography, as well as several maps and charts.
Author Julia Soplop 

FQ: Please give our readers a little insight into your writing process. Do you set aside a certain time each day to write, only write when the desire to write surfaces, or ...?

Author Julia Soplop

SOPLOP: My writing process is this: I write whenever I can steal a moment to do it. Normally, I’m a full-time mom, full-time home educator, part-time photographer, and part-time writer, though I’ve been writing roughly full-time hours for the last year and a half while working on this book. Aside from occasional (pre-pandemic) babysitting, I don’t have child care. Many more of you may be experiencing this lifestyle due to the pandemic, so you understand the chaos of mixing child care, education, and work. But it’s actually my everyday lifestyle! Sometimes it means I sit right down at the computer the moment I wake up. Sometimes I write all afternoon. Other times I write way past bedtime. If I waited for the perfect conditions to write, it would never happen.

FQ: What is your all-time favorite book? Why? And did this book/author have any influence over your decision to become an author?

SOPLOP: I’m an avid reader, so many books have influenced my perspective. But if I had to pick just one, it would be Don’t Let’s Go to the Dogs Tonight by Alexandra Fuller. Her voice and writing are distinctive—nothing like anything else I’ve read. The way she embraces her style has inspired me to think about my own style and to be more secure with what I do and don’t bring to the table as a writer.

FQ: Where do you think you’ve improved the most in your writing process and ability and how do you think you have evolved? 

SOPLOP: The loss of our beloved family dog when I was 6 years old spurred my desire to write. I churned out story after story about good old Trusty, and from then on considered myself a writer. I picked up a camera for the first time the following year and added photography to my interests. Thirty years later, I’m still learning and evolving each day as a writer and photographer. I’ve realized that improvement comes from experience (lots and lots of writing and editing and photographing) and the ability to receive and incorporate feedback. I’d like to think that over the years, my writing had become tighter and clearer, I’ve gotten better at generating creative subjects to tackle, and my writing voice has grown more consistent.

Becoming a parent has exponentially improved my efficiency. I now do a lot of writing and structuring in my head while managing other tasks. When I have a moment to sit down at my computer, I write. It’s been almost a decade since I’ve had the luxury of staring at a blank screen and procrastinating.

FQ: If you were to teach a class on the art of writing, what is the one item you would be sure to share with your students and how would you inspire them to get started?

SOPLOP: I would share advice from an intimidating graduate school professor after she doled out a particularly arduous assignment: if you want to make a living as a writer, you have to write. You can’t wait for the right moment. You can’t wait until you feel like it. You have to sit down and write.

FQ: What makes your book unique within the U.S. history genre? Why should readers pick up your book over others in the field?

SOPLOP: There are many U.S. history books out there. Unfortunately, so much of our traditional history education amounts to a list of dates, battles, and victors—often represented by one point of view. Historical events are also often treated as if they happened in a vacuum instead of as results of the events or cultural attitudes that came before them.

There is a huge number of books about horses out there, too. But what I found once I dug into them was that most are highly specialized. Many are on practical care or skills. Many are fictional. I couldn’t find any books written in an accessible way that explored how the horse influenced the entire development of the U.S.

What I tried to do in writing Equus Rising was to shift the perspective. I moved away from the traditional approach and instead tried to use the horse to connect events across the broad arc of the country’s history—and to give the horse appropriate credit for its influence. This angle also gave me the opportunity to tell the stories of many women and people of color whose historical influence has traditionally gone unrecorded or been purposely censored. My early readers have told me that on just about every page, they learned aspects of history, science, or policy they’ve never encountered before.

FQ: Tell us about your research process? Where did you go, how much time you spent, travel to other parts of the country, world, etc.

SOPLOP: I’m not a historian. My background in journalism and photography has typically placed me squarely in the moment as an observer and documentarian. I’m used to doing some background research and then a lot of interviews and on-the-ground research.

The research for this book was different. It consisted almost entirely of reading. I spent about six months reading and thinking about the subject before I even started to write. Then I kept reading the entire time I was writing.

Exceptions were trips to the Pryor Mountains of Montana and Wyoming and the Outer Banks of North Carolina to observe and photograph wild horses.

I’m not sure I’ll write a book that revolves almost exclusively around historical information again. I love to read, but I also love to observe and report. My next book, which I’ve started to think about but haven’t started to work on yet, will be more of a mix of research and reporting.

FQ: What was the most difficult part of writing this book?

SOPLOP: The most difficult part of writing the book was not the writing itself. It was finding the time to write. As I mentioned, I gladly have full-time responsibilities on the home front, so balancing my family’s needs with my desire to spend a lot of time writing was a major challenge. My family has always supported my writing, but there was a lot of guilt on my part that I could have or should have been giving them more of my attention than I was able to if I was ever going to complete the book. That said, I like to think my work ethic has influenced them. My 8- and 9-year-olds are both writing their own novels as we speak!

FQ: Was there any aspect of your book that was changed because of something you discovered as your researched the topic?

SOPLOP: When I started to research the book, I envisioned writing it for middle-grade readers. As the book grew, though, I realized some of the subjects I wanted to cover were just too advanced for the age group, or at least too unfamiliar. I would either have to greatly reduce the level of detail and avoid some topics I wanted to write about, or I’d have to write the book for an older audience. In the end, I decided to write the book I wanted to write, with a target audience of adults and curious teens.

Friday, April 17, 2020

#BookReview - The Orangutan Rescue Gang

The Orangutan Rescue Gang
By: Joyce Major
Publisher: Alegro Publishing
Publication Date: May 2019
ISBN: 978-0578438313
Reviewed by: Ellen Feld
Review Date: April 16, 2020
Author Joyce Major has taken her passion for orangutan rescue and penned a young adult novel to inform readers about the desperate need for them to get involved in saving these beautiful animals.
Eleven-year-old Jaylynn O’Reilly has traveled all the way from Seattle, WA to Sumatra, Indonesia. Her parents both got new jobs – her mom got a “dream job” in Washington, DC while her dad took a job with an oil company in Sumatra. And bam! Just like that her family is torn apart. She’s now with her dad, and feels abandoned, not just by her mom, but by her dad too, who never seems to pick up on how she’s feeling. And now she’s 8,000 miles from her friends, wandering around a market in a foreign country where she doesn’t understand the language. 
As Jaylynn walks along, a little baby monkey catches her eye (she later learns that it’s actually an orangutan). She pulls her dad along to check out the baby, but he pulls back, telling her that it’s a wild animal and could be dangerous. The orangutan is chained to a wall and looks miserable. When their eyes meet, Jaylynn feels an instant connection. She knows right away that the adorable little baby needs her. How can she help? 
Jaylynn’s dad tells her to stay away, but soon she has snuck back through the crowd to find the orangutan. She quickly finds the baby and they connect again. Jaylynn names her new friend “Little O” and knows she must save the miserable baby. But then total terror erupts in the form of a big, threatening man who comes running toward Jaylynn. He screams at her and tries to grab her but Jaylynn manages to escape his clutches. She names him “Maniac Man” and he’s the owner of Little O, or more accurately, he’s the one who stole the orangutan from its home in the rainforest and is selling the baby to the pet market to make a quick profit. 
Jaylynn is completely distraught at the thought of Little O’s plight. She soon engages the help of her only friend in Sumatra, Zaqi, and his cousin Bima. Initially they hope to buy Little O and return him to the rainforest, but as Jaylynn researches the pet orangutan trade, and learns what the humans do to the mother’s, she looks for other options. Meanwhile, Bima thinks it might be better to just steal Little O from Maniac Man, but Zaqi insists he will not be involved in theft. Their friendship is slowly pulled apart as they consider different options, all the while trying to do what’s best for Little O.
Joyce Major has written a much-needed story for the younger generation on animal conservation. The story is told by Jaylynn, and reads as if she’s telling her best friend what is happening as she tries to rescue Little O. The dialog is believable and young readers will be drawn to the plight of all orangutans through Jaylynn and her friends. Some bad decisions are made, all in an effort to save Little O (sneaking out at night, stealing money from her dad’s wallet, forging his signature on a letter), that some readers may question, especially since Jaylynn is never made to answer those decisions. But the important lesson is what can be done to help the plight of endangered orangutans, and the author has done an excellent job of informing her readers on various options. At the back of the book are several pages of resources so readers can learn what they can do to help save orangutans.
Quill says: An excellent book to engage “tween” readers and get them involved in their own orangutan rescue gangs.
For more information on The Orangutan Rescue Gang, please visit the authors' Facebook page:

#AuthorInterview with Keith Thye

Today, Feathered Quill reviewer Lynette Latzko is talking with Keith Thye, author of The Further Life of Rusty Kenneficke (The Rusty Kenneficke Trilogy Book 2).
FQ: Since this is your second book in a trilogy, how has your writing style changed, and how has it remained the same since writing the first book?
THYE: This second book in the series is quite different from the first. Here I get to explore business, sex and intrigue/violence that was not apparent in the first of the trilogy. This allowed me to expand the dialogue that accompanies these themes.
The writing style is the same in that character development is paramount in both books. Many of the same “players” are in book one but are expanded upon. Rusty’s adversary, Boomer, continues his animosity and it becomes a driving force in the plot.
FQ: Do you have any future writing plans once you complete the last book in this trilogy?
THYE: Yes, although I’m in no hurry. Rusty and Ron and Cindi and Zeke is the story of three fourteen year-olds (and their dog Zeke) that, one moonlit night, notice two couples skinny-dipping in the lake. The next day a naked woman is found floating near the raft they were using. It’s a mystery the kids may help solve.
FQ: Now that you’re a seasoned author, do you have any writing advice to give to aspiring authors?
THYE: Write about what you know. Writing a best seller is tough to come by so don’t get obsessed with this idea. Write for the pleasure it brings you.
FQ: The covers of both of your books have a unique and interesting look, almost as if the picture is a negative image. Can you elaborate on the design? 
THYE: I told my graphic artist that I wanted pencil drawings of photos I provided. She figured this out somehow and wouldn’t divulge her secret! I firmly believe that a book cover should depict a major element of the story - the major theme or a turning point. 
FQ: Has Rusty’s character changed or evolved from when you originally envisioned his story?
THYE: Oh yes. At the end of book one he finds relative happiness and in book two I felt he needed to continue this process. At 37 years of age he learns about business that, as a writer, he had never been involved in. He also learns what true love means. Odd circumstances continue to plague him but they are more important now. He slowly evolves into the person he always wanted to be.
FQ: Why did you decide to make the life of Rusty Kenneficke into a trilogy? 
THYE: Originally I just wanted to cover his ridiculous misadventures in one book. When I completed the book I felt his life was incomplete and I wanted to figure out the rest of his story.
FQ: Since most of your life and career wasn’t in the writing and publishing field, what were some of the things that surprised you the most when you decided to write and publish your stories?
THYE: My writing career started with Moto Raid about my 1963 motorcycle trip to South America. I wrote the book in 1990. It got good reviews and was successful enough to re-publish. That inspired me to continue on. The second travel adventure book, about basically that same trip fifty years later, was also well received. I wanted to continue writing and had always thought about putting some episodes of my life on paper; hence, The Misadventures of Rusty Kenneficke, the first book of the series. I was surprised at how much fun I had writing a novel. Using my imagination to come up with plots and characters has been a delight.
FQ: You expanded this story to include the background life of another character, Boomer, who has quite a wild, deviant past. Have you ever considered continuing to expand upon his character, and writing a spinoff novel?
THYE: No, not with Boomer. But in the back of my mind, swimming around looking for context, is a character that is deviant, although not violent. He’s a few years out, but formulating.