Tuesday, February 28, 2023

#BookReview of Standing Dead: A Timber Creek K-9 Mystery

Standing Dead: A Timber Creek K-9 Mystery

By: Margaret Mizushima
Published by: Crooked Lane Books
Publication Date: March 7, 2023
ISBN: 978-1-63910-244-0
Reviewed by: Kathy Stickles
Review Date: February 28, 2023
In her new book, Standing Dead: A Timber Creek K-9 Mystery, author Margaret Mizushima has given readers the eighth installment of this wonderful series about Deputy Mattie Wray and her adorable canine partner, Robo. In this new book, the author has really outdone herself with her excellent characters. Standing Dead is a fabulous mystery that everyone, those who know the series as well as those who are just discovering it, will enjoy immensely.
This book starts out with Mattie and her sister Julia traveling to a small town in Mexico to find her mother. Unfortunately for them, when they arrive in the town they find out that their mother and her husband left town very quickly and no one knows why or where they have gone. It does not take long for Mattie to figure out that they are in danger and she has no idea how to find them or even if she will find them.
Returning home to Robo and her fiancée Cole, Mattie soon starts to receive threatening letters about her mother. In addition, on her first call after returning to work, she finds the body of her stepfather tied to a tree up in the mountains. After that the action comes through in page after page. Very quickly Cole, a veterinarian, also becomes involved in the case due to the poisoning of horses in the same area where the body is found. Now he has to worry about these animals as well as Mattie as the danger increases and some very serious suspects begin to emerge.
As is always the case with this author, Standing Dead, is extremely well-written and the characters in this small Colorado town are smart, interesting, and so very enjoyable to read. Ms. Mizushima’s skill at writing about police procedures, K-9 search techniques, veterinarian skills, and family relationships is unsurpassed. The main characters in the story are so very human and likeable that they seem real to the reader, which is one of the best things about the story. Robo is one of the standout characters in the book and seeing the solid team that he and Mattie make as well as seeing the love between them is simply wonderful.
There is a lot of family history making up the base of the plot and it is all explained in a way that ties the novel and series together in regards to what is happening and why. While the book can be read as a stand-alone, it would be very helpful to have read the first books in order to completely understand what is going on with all of the different family aspects as well as the relationships presented.
Standing Dead is truly an excellent novel with a great plotline, wonderful characters, perfectly written dialogue, and a gorgeous and very talented K-9. I would highly recommend this story to everyone. I, for one, cannot wait to see what Mattie, Robo, and the others get up to in their next story.
Quill says: Standing Dead is an outstanding book and a fabulous addition to this series. The author is a real treasure because she is able to give the reader wonderful relationships combined with so much actual procedural information and keep them meshed together in a way that is perfect.

#AuthorInterview with Heidi Laird, author of The Frankfurt Kitchen

Today, Feathered Quill reviewer Diane Lunsford is talking with Heidi Laird, author of The Frankfurt Kitchen: Forty-One Stories of Growing Up in Post-World War II West Germany.
FQ: I want to thank you for the pleasure of reading such a beautifully written and heartfelt account of your experiences post-World War II West Germany. There is much to unpack in your prolific body of work. Let’s start with your closing statement in Chapter One: "As I write this seventy years later, in the year 2019, I recognize how distant this idealized vision of America has become, and I wonder if it will be possible to say seventy years from now that the principles and values of America’s founders have survived." This is such a riveting statement and I have to ask how your childhood experiences resonate in comparison from then to now to inspire such a profound statement?
LAIRD: Let’s start with the figure of the jeep driver at the beginning of the book. He is a central figure in my childhood vision of America. His action of stopping his military vehicle in a downpour for a woman and her child hitchhiking by the side of the Autobahn exemplified for me at that moment the essence of kindness and compassion, combined with mechanical skills and the resolve to trust his own judgment, set aside official regulations, and help two human beings in need.
After my arrival in the United States, I found many “jeep drivers.” One person generously helped me find an affordable apartment, and another taught me how to look for a job. One neighbor was a truck driver who made nightly deliveries of baked goods from an industrial bakery to the area’s grocery stores and left loaves of bread and trays of pastries outside my front door every Saturday before dawn. The jeep drivers applauded my English grammar skills and then taught me how to talk like an American.
They enjoyed telling stories about their own immigrant backgrounds, and spoke with pride about how their parents or grandparents had arrived in this country with nothing, and now everybody lived in a home of their own and never missed an election.
I started to notice prejudice and racism at a distance, but my comments seemed unwelcome, since politics was not discussed among my new friends and neighbors. I read the daily newspaper and watched the 15 minute nightly evening news on CBS, and I observed the bewildering spectacle of President Johnson alternately browbeating, charming, coaxing, pressuring and strong arming Congress to pass voting rights and civil rights legislation. After Johnson’s stunning departure, I voted for the first time and cast my ballot for Lyndon Johnson’s vice president, Hubert Humphrey, who lost the election to Richard Nixon, the president who said that he was not a crook, and then turned out to be just that.
Fast forward to the chaotic end of the Vietnam War, the often embittered adjustment in parts of the country to the new civil rights laws, the Reagan years with their trickle-down economics, the ingenious and sloppy Clinton years, 9/11, the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, the Obama era and the subsequent backlash. Through all this history, I have seen a growing division in the population of this country, with the launching of ever more bald-faced and bizarre lies, distortions, outrageous attacks and insults, and the systematic proliferation of deadly hatred. The population has fractured into groups who speak of each other as the enemy, and many carry weapons.
The jeep drivers of my early years in America revered the Constitution and had a biography of George Washington in their bookcase next to a dictionary and an encyclopedia. They took their children to visit Washington D.C. and they wanted them to see the Capitol and the White House, regardless of who worked and lived there at the moment. Today certain people who call themselves patriots storm the Capitol and call the assaults on Capitol Police officers heroic acts. If the country continues on this corrosive trajectory for another seventy years, I fear that free and fair elections and the peaceful transfer of power from one president to the next will become a distant memory. The word ‘democracy’ will be used as an ornamental phrase for festive state occasions, and people will have forgotten what the word once meant.
FQ: I absolutely adored how you described Stefan’s position as the middle child. In my opinion, there is no such thing as the ‘deprived middle child.’ They are not the ‘overlooked victim.’ Rather, I believe they hold the ultimate position amongst their siblings in that they are not blazing the trail toward new horizons and therefore can rise above the mistakes of the oldest in order to perfect. Nor are they held accountable for something one of the younger siblings has done. What is your opinion on this?
LAIRD: Sibling birth order continues to be a very much overlooked factor in the analysis of family dynamics. There is some recognition of the inevitable special status of the first born, probably due to - at least in part - the fact that all the landmarks in the life of a first born are also landmarks for the parents. With the birth of the first child, the man and woman who produced the newborn become parents for the first time, after which they continue becoming parents for the first time of a toddler, a preschooler, and then a first grader, and so on. Subsequent arrivals are greeted by increasingly experienced parents, and even if the parents cherish each of their children equally, the special status of the first born remains fixed. A special status of sorts can also be claimed by the sibling who ends up being the last born, whose development will always be viewed by the parents with a bit of wistful melancholy, because if all goes as planned and Benjamin succeeds in leaving home and becoming independent, the nest will be empty. Because of the special status of the first and last born, the sibling (or siblings) in the middle tend to have less status as a trailblazers and tend to be perceived as less vulnerable than the baby in the family. This freedom from expectations of superior performance placed on the first born, and freedom from the unnecessary extra protection or indulgence often lavished on the baby of the family allows the siblings in the middle more room to explore and experiment with different behaviors, and observe how the world reacts to their behaviors, and how they can meet the world’s demands and responses on their own terms. There are lists of iconic independent thinkers of historic significance who were all middle siblings, but of course caution is advised in generalizing too much. My brother Stefan certainly grew up to become an independent thinker who carved out his life’s path with complete indifference to the choices made by his older sister and younger brother.
FQ: Your astute observations toward the premise of ‘opposites attract’ when referring to Harry and Vera was interesting. If you had to describe your persona, who would you identify with more? Harry or Vera and why?
LAIRD: I used to ask myself that question a lot in earlier times of my life, and usually came to the conclusion that I identified with neither. They were strong personalities, each in their own way, and they caused each other a great deal of pain, which I observed as a child. I think I said to myself as a young child that if I make sure not to resemble either one as I grew up, I would never have the kind of painful relationship that I saw them enmeshed in. Today, after all these years, and both Vera and Harry long gone, I would say that I inherited a pretty even number of character traits from each of them, and their legacy has amounted to a real treasure.
FQ: In describing the characteristics of Harry’s parents, it saddened me to interpret the most solid ‘parental’ connection he had was with his nanny Alla. As you wrote this book, were there times when you would ponder this and perhaps have ‘aha moment’s’ to provide answers to questions that were perhaps too painful to address as a child? If so, are you comfortable to share one of those moments?
LAIRD: The ‘aha moments’ you ask about came in the context of my work with children whose ability to form attachments to their parents, foster parents, or other care givers was impaired by traumatic experiences such as forced separations, abuse, domestic violence, and physical as well as emotional abandon- ment. It occurred to me that my father’s childhood in the home of his divorced mother, an abandoned child herself with probable attachment disorder, exposed him to an emotionally impoverished family environment. Sporadic short visits from his father, who was known to have had attachment issues of his own, were probably not very helpful. I was always grateful that Alla remained a strong presence in my father’s childhood and adolescence; he spoke of her with genuine fondness, as though he felt a bond with her, quite unlike the tone in which he spoke of his mother and father. As I observed the behavior patterns of children with disrupted attachments, it occurred to me fairly quickly that my father exhibited a life long behavior pattern of anxious/avoidant attachment disorder. It helped me understand his strange emotional absences, the inexplicable gaps in his relationships with his wives and children, despite what I often sensed as his best effort to be more engaged. His avoidance was so strong that even if he had lived long enough to have conversations with me about his attachment pattern, he would have found an excuse to avoid such conversations at all cost. It makes me sad, but I understand what caused the avoidance, and I accept it.
FQ: I was fascinated to learn the information behind what ‘Frankfurt Kitchens’ were. "...created in 1926 by the Austrian architect Margarete Schütte-Lihotzky for a massive progressive housing project in Frankfurt…inspired by the streamlined kitchens on board luxury railroad dining cars of the 1920s...the Frankfurt Kitchen design called for a compact room six feet wide by twelve feet long. One entered the kitchen at one end from a small hallway and saw at the other end a 4-foot-wide window, flanked on the right by a wall hung, glass sliding-door cabinets above a sink, a swiveling faucet mounted above the sink on the tiled backsplash, a drainboard to the left of the sink below the window, a hinged dropleaf work surface in front of the window that could be folded away for access to the window, and more cabinets and utensil drawers below the counter..." Describe your dream kitchen.
LAIRD: In contrast to, or perhaps I should say, in protest against the Frankfurt Kitchen of my childhood, I have always furnished my kitchens with a warm, whimsical, and often impractical assembly of antique and recent appliances and vintage furniture pieces discovered in thrift stores and estate sales. Whenever I bring home a new treasure, I feel that I am picking up where someone else has left off, serving dinner on plates that may have graced the dining tables of graduation parties, Christmas festivities, weddings, or 50th anniversaries. How many bread puddings may have been baked in a ceramic casserole that has the feel of the 1920s, in a gas oven that is also a hundred years old by now.
I don’t look for streamlined efficiency in a kitchen. For me, the kitchen is where lived family history takes place, where people pull up chairs to the table and start grating the cheese needed for the pizza, while they talk about their day, or ask about mine. I don’t feel at home in precision “food labs” where recipes are followed rigidly, instead of spontaneously evolving by mixing familiar ingredients in new combinations. I like to cook in a way that a person cooking hundreds and even thousands of years ago would have recognized as the fundamental act of transforming raw food materials into digestible, nutritious, and life-sustaining meals.
FQ: I captured an interesting statement you made on Page 80: "...Looking back over the crucial choices I have made in my life; I see a discernible pattern of feeling most at home where one environment ends and another one begins..." Are you able to elaborate further on this?
LAIRD: When I wrote that sentence, I remember thinking that some day I would have to explain what I meant by that. So that day has now arrived. To start at a very concrete level, I should say that I feel at home in places where several cultures mix and produce interesting hybrid forms in the art, architecture, language, religion, music, and food of that region. This cultural mix is very pronounced in Southern California, where I live. Here in the Los Angeles area, in the course of a single day, one can effortlessly cross half a dozen transition zones in which boundaries melt away; what was the predominant culture in the life observed on the street ten minutes ago has now merged with two or three others, all co-existing, and in their co-existence forming something new and unique.
When I grew up in Frankfurt, I found myself living in a mix of cultures as well. There was the native German population, which, of course, was the product of a blending of Germanic and Gallic tribes going all the way back to the centuries of Roman occupation, in the course of which hundreds of thousands of Roman troops occupied the Western European regions up to the Rhine River, settled in those lands, mingled with the local inhabitants, and were absorbed by the local culture even as they changed it.
The arrival of the massive American military occupation force in West-Germany after WWII brought a new level of cultural diversity to an already culturally diverse border region, with the Rhine as the natural border. What I find so attractive about living in such a border region is that my environment constantly tests my sense of who I am in this mix, where I belong, and where I am merely a visitor. And visitors perceive things differently from locals; I believe that in their necessary vigilance, visitors actually notice and observe more, because their outsider status makes them vulnerable in ways that locals are not. So, inhabiting a border region brings with it a mildly anxious feeling of being on your guard, but also an exhilarating challenge to your sense of who you are, and who you are not. I feel at home in such an environment. Actually, I feel that I thrive in it.
FQ: To expand further on my previous question, you go on to lament on the comparisons between past and present: "History was to be replaced by modernity...the new building aesthetic called for flat roofs, bleak stucco facades, hard edges, and brutishly uninviting windows..." I sense melancholy in this passage. Are you saying if the past is erased right down to the aesthetics, the future looks brighter and better? Please elaborate.
LAIRD: As I read this passage, I can see that it can sound melancholy. However, when I wrote it, I meant to speak in the sarcastic tone of my teenage self, afflicted as I was with an overabundance of opinions and the rash judgment of early adolescence, I thought the Bauhaus aesthetic was hideous, but I also felt no mercy for the pompous architectural styles of 19th and early 20th century commercial and residential construction projects, with their grand boulevards, ornate façades, and opulent townhouses.
Eventually I made peace with the tyrannical strictness of the Bauhaus aesthetic, and I actually applauded the intent of the Bauhaus founders to put an end to the overbearing, moribund colonial societies of the pre WWI era. However, I never could stop pointing out the irony in the spectacle of the survivors of the Nazi catastrophe scrambling to stuff their futuristic Bauhaus dwellings with the detritus of their ruined past.
FQ: There are sublime nuances in some of the stories you share. I sense your eloquent wisdom throughout this read. It’s never a good thing to talk politics, but if you were given free rein to correct something that is blatantly wrong in today’s world, what would be the issue you would tackle and how would you turn it into something with a positive outcome for humanity?
LAIRD: I appreciate your question, and I know the issue I would tackle, but I feel overwhelmed by the magnitude of the task. What is to be done about the breathtaking boldness with which lies are launched in our midst like missiles bearing slow-acting deadly but sweet-tasting poison? What is to be done about the eagerness with which the poison is swallowed by the followers of the prophet who sent them the missiles and told them he loves them. How do we convince them that the sweet tasting stuff is deadly poison when they refuse to believe it? Do we wait until the first few start dying? Do we bring in a supply of antidote for those who begin to feel symptoms of poisoning? Do we teach classes on how to distinguish poisonous from non-poisonous substances? Do we teach the message that everybody has the right to eat what they want, even if it is poisoned, or do we start discussions about the possibility that it may be a civic duty to examine a substance and sound an alarm if it shows some of the markings of poison? Maybe some followers might start to question the motives of the prophet, and get angry at the fact that they came awfully close to dying of the poison?
As you can see, I am very much preoccupied by what I see as the most dangerous challenge facing the world at this time. I am thinking about this, as Isaac Newton said, “without ceasing.”
FQ: It has been such a treat to talk with you today and I want to thank you for your time. I fear there are so many important moments to touch upon in the many stories you’ve shared in this wonderful book, yet it would take quite a few pages for me to ask every one of my questions. Let’s pause here, but not before I ask if you working on a new project and if so, are you able to share a bit?
LAIRD: I am at the moment taking a short break after the publication of my most recent book, Letters From Jenny, which describes how Jenny Schulman, matriarch of a locally prominent Jewish family in the German city of Mainz (and modeled after my great-grandmother) experienced World War I, the Spanish Flu Epidemic, the French occupation of her city, famine, civil unrest, and the spreading of a great lie which claimed that Germany had actually won the war, not lost it, and how that lie contributed to Hitler’s rise to power.
For my next project, my thoughts have turned to the immigrants’ experience seen as a long historical arc, with the subtext that history is essentially the story of immigration and emigration. Just as the tectonic plates migrate over the earth’s subsurface, human and animal populations are constantly engaged in the flow of migrating across the earth. In this project, I explore different forms of migration on the North American continent, and how my own migration has at some points intersected the path of earlier migrants.
Thank you for your questions, and for the opportunity to share my thoughts and concerns with you. - Heidi Laird

Monday, February 27, 2023

#BookReview of Pack of the Lost

Pack of the Lost: The Uninviting Forest

By: Nikita Kapoor
Publisher: Paper Lily Press
Publication Date: October 5, 2022
ISBN: 979-8986811703
Reviewed by: Trix Lee-Rainwater
Review Date: February 23, 2023

After their home is ruined and two young wolves are separated from their pack, what kind of adventures will they encounter as they set out to reunite and rebuild what was broken? We follow Daffodil and Jasper in their journey in Pack of the Lost: The Uninviting Forest by Nikita Kapoor.

When the roof of the mountain cave collapsed, there came chaos. The wolves were scattered and the leader of the wolf pack residing in the cave fell unconscious after casting a magical spell to save his packmates from falling rocks. In the aftermath of the chaos, two wolves, Daffodil and Jasper, found themselves separated from the pack. For some reason, these two wolves ended up trodding inside the Uninviting Forest, a dark and dense woods full of overgrown and prickly undergrowth. After a frightening encounter with tigers, the two wolves got separated and they each had their own set of adventures while trying to get reunited.

As Jasper was trying to figure out a way to find Daffodil, he met two Yorkshire terriers named Cosmo and Nova. The terriers brought the wolf to the human places where they had an incident with a triple-decker bus in which, fortunately, nobody got hurt. Jasper eventually met a mean and aggressive doberman called Fang and a friendly chubby bulldog called Rocky in his efforts to find his missing friend. In the meantime, Daffodil came across one of the other wolves in their pack. While digging in the soil to escape the sweltering heat of the sun, Daffodil came across a shiny amulet which turned out to be an artifact from wolf siblings who were descendants of the wolf god of the sun. It then came to light that Daffodil was a descendant of one of these legendary siblings, a wolf named Felix. The legendary Felix then appeared in front of Daffodil and gave her instructions to rebuild the broken pack.

Pack of the Lost: The Uninviting Forest by Nikita Kapoor is a children’s fantasy novel about rising up to the challenges and responsibilities of being a leader and how personal darkness could turn you into someone malicious and could push allies away from you. There are a few scenes that seemed abrupt and out of character such as the scene when Jasper suddenly decided to invite Daffodil to go into the forbidden Uninviting Forest even though he was sent away from the collapsing cave chaos specifically to take care of Daffodil. Similarly, the subplot about Daffodil’s personal darkness, when she started being aggressive and mean to the other puppies, came out of nowhere and was resolved just as abruptly. It would have been great to see a foreshadowing and a closure for such an important subplot. Nonetheless, considering that the author is just ten years of age, she created an entertaining story for kids. I’m interested to see how the author could grow into her potential as a writer.

Quill says: Although it has some plot holes, Pack of the Lost: The Uninviting Forest is an entertaining fantasy novel for kids about mystical wolves and the journey in finding allies to rebuild a broken pack.

For more information on Pack of the Lost: The Uninviting Forest, please visit the author's website at: www.nikitakapoor.net

#BookReview of Nature Study Buddies

Nature Study Buddies (Leigh's Wheelie Adventures, Book 3)

By: Charlene McIver
Illustrated by: Claudia Gadotti
Publication Date: November 2022
ISBN: 978-0648417897
Reviewed by: Holly Connors
Review Date: February 24, 2023
In book 3 of Leigh's Wheelie Adventures series, Nature Study Buddies, Leigh and his friends are off on another adventure, one that will challenge them in unexpected ways and prove that with friendship, caring, and the ability to work together, anything is possible.
It's Nature Study Week at school and the assignment the students are given is to study an animal, learn about its food, get a recording of the call it makes, a sample of what it eats, and find a biological sample such as a feather or bone. Tara is excited about the project and can't wait to get started while Cosmo isn't quite so sure that it's going to be a fun activity. Tara's mind is buzzing with possibilities, but when she suggests they study a nocturnal animal, maybe one living up in a tree, Leigh is a bit apprehensive. Never one to let his wheelchair slow him down, Leigh is still a bit cautious about how he'll be able to help study an animal that might be hiding up in a tree.
When Leigh tells his friends that, "I can't help with the search in the tree," Cosmo quickly replies that they'll figure out a way. Cosmo and Tara get to work on finding a solution to help Leigh participate in their project. They decide to get their friend onto a swing and hoist him up high into the tree. While he's a bit nervous at first, Leigh quickly realizes that being up in the tree is incredibly freeing. That is until an angry mother magpie starts attacking him because he's too close to her nest. Tara and Cosmo act instantly to get Leigh down to safety, but how will the wheelchair-bound boy now be able to help with the nature project?
Author Charlene McIver has made it her mission to tell positive stories that build self-esteem and confidence while showing what amazing things children can achieve, particularly children in wheelchairs. Nature Study Buddies is the third book in her "Leigh's Wheelie Adventures" series that features a young man who doesn't let his wheelchair slow him down. If you haven't read the first two books in the series, then the opening of this story may be a bit confusing. The story jumps right into the kids trying to decide what animal to study without introducing them. It may also surprise some readers to read about Tara and Cosmo lifting their friend up into a tree via a swing. But the story does have a wonderful message about the amazing things kids can do when they work together, and especially how Leigh is able to get many of the needed things for their project, while safely on the ground. Overall, this is a very positive story about kids working together and showing their kindness while discovering new ways to help each other.
Quill says: Nature Study Buddies continues Leigh's Wheelie Adventures series with another positive message, and fun adventure, with Leigh and his best friends.
For more information on Nature Study Buddies (Leigh's Wheelie Adventures, Book 3), please visit the author's website at: https://www.charlenemciverauthor.com/nature-study-buddies

#Bookreview of Mr. Thatcher's House

Mr. Thatcher's House

Written and Illustrated by: Kristin Wauson
Publisher: Sleeping Bear Press
Publication Date: August 2022
ISBN: 978-1534111578
Reviewed by: Ellen Feld
Review Date: February 24, 2023
Mr. Thatcher wants to build a house, and it must be absolutely, positively perfect. But he's about to learn a lesson about what really makes a house a home in Mr. Thatcher's House.
Mr. Thatcher, a long-eared rabbit, has big plans to build the perfect house. He works hard - measuring and sanding, nailing and gluing - and his house slowly comes together. "But no matter how smoothly he sanded his stair treads, or how precisely he planed his porch planks, it never felt perfect. Something was missing. So he kept building..."
Mr. Thatcher's house grew, and grew, and grew...and still it wasn't perfect. Would he ever complete his home? And then...one morning, he heard a knock at the door. Who could that be? Surely no one would visit his yet-to-be-completed home. Mr. Thatcher opened the door and was surprised to see the witch. Apparently, some children were eating her gingerbread house and she needed a place to stay. "You wouldn't want to stay in this house," Mr. Thatcher protested. "It's far from perfect." But the witch didn't care. She needed a place to stay and once Mr. Thatcher smelled her cooking and his stomach grumbled, he decided one guest was okay in his unfinished house. But no sooner had the witch moved in when there was another knock at the door. It was the three little pigs! And then some bears came knocking, and then more guests... Would Mr. Thatcher ever finish building his house?
Mr. Thatcher's House is a fun, creative tale that takes a fresh look at what really makes a house a home. The author, who also illustrated the book, used many well-known storybook animals as visitors to Mr. Thatcher's house which will no doubt delight young readers who will instantly recognize these characters. There are a few carpentry terms that some readers might struggle with, such as "planed," "chiseled," and "structurally sound," but overall, this is a delightful and creative book that young readers will love.
Quill says: A lighthearted, fun book about what really makes a house a home.

Friday, February 24, 2023

#AuthorInterview with Bruce Smith, author of Legend Keepers: The Partnership

Today, Feathered Quill reviewer Kathy Stickles is talking with Bruce Smith, author of Legend Keepers: The Partnership.

FQ: I really love the concept of Legend Keepers and having the animal characters be such a huge part of the story. Where did the character of Buddy come from? Why a mountain goat and not some other animal?

SMITH: Why not reveal climate change through the eyes and lives of animals who live its consequences every day? Animals serve kids as trusted teachers and the mountain goat is a perfect gateway species to the climate crisis. It lives at higher altitudes than any other large animal in North America. And it’s at those highest altitudes—and the highest latitudes—that the planet is warming fastest. Species living up there must adapt fast, if they can.

Buddy, the heroine kid mountain goat, leapt from the pages of my nonfiction book, Life on the Rocks: A Portrait of the American Mountain Goat. Adapting the book’s chapter that explains how global warming is affecting alpine creatures into a story for young readers—and creating Buddy, this charismatic central character—was an easy choice.

I also chose Buddy as the protagonist because of my fondness for mountain goats. That dates back to the 1970s when I spent 2 years living among and studying them deep in the Selway-Bitterroot Wilderness Area of western Montana.

FQ: What made you decide to include a human character in the second book as such a major part of the story? 

Author Bruce Smith

SMITH: Although Buddy knows that things are changing on her mountain, she doesn’t know why. To explore the climate crisis more deeply, human characters needed to join the story in the series’ second book, The Partnership. They bring more depth and layers to the story.

For Garson’s sixth-grade science project, he climbs to the Shining Mountain Glacier in the wilderness that’s near his home. There, he encounters Buddy and that changes everything as these two kids’ lives become entwined. Their shared alarm over the Great Warming’s threat to the glacier, and to Buddy’s mountaintop home, transforms Garson from an introverted boy into an environmental advocate. Sometimes it takes a partnership to bring out the best in us.

FQ: I love that Garson is such a normal kid and that a part of your storyline was not only his desire to help Buddy and the others, but you also show us how hard his personal life is at times. Was it hard to go off-topic, so to speak, and give the reader the personal as well as the science?

SMITH: I think the most endearing and relatable characters are those who are flawed and face personal challenges. It gives them room to grow. That was common to the lives of both protagonists. Garson just didn’t fit in and was bullied because he was different, not unlike many kids. During the course of the Legend Keepers story, he grows more self-confident. His growth is a product of discovering and acting on what is important to him—his purpose—as is the case for his costar, Buddy. In a sense they live parallel lives. This provides readers both a boy and an animal to root for. Both are great role models. These protagonists also provide readers an opportunity to experience the climate crisis through the eyes and lives of both animals and kids.

FQ: Was there a lot of research involved in this story regarding the science (glaciers, global warming, etc.) and how hard was it to translate all of that information into something that kids could easily understand?

SMITH: Writing about topics an author is familiar with, and in my case subjects I’ve studied and written nonfiction about, does simplify the background research. Yet, it’s important to be current on the subject matter. So I did plenty of reading. I also conducted personal interviews of forest ecologists, glaciologists, and Marine Corps recruiters to ensure the underpinnings of the story were factually accurate. But that alone doesn’t make a good story. I read loads of current middle-grade fiction and studied the craft of writing for this age group. It also helps to live inside the characters while writing.

FQ: I know that I do, but do you have a personal favorite out of the characters you have created?

SMITH: The most fun about creating Legend Keepers was bringing to life this cast of characters. Certainly so for the animal characters. As Buddy interacted with Roark the wizardly raven, Maurice the vociferous, daffy marmot, Whodare the cool, courageous pygmy owl, and the other mountain goats of her band, the characters became believable—at least to me. Perhaps without young readers aware of it, animal characters serve as stand-ins for humans. We can find something relatable in each as they struggle to overcome obstacles and discover the importance of friends and family.

Which one is my favorite? Well, that’s like asking parents which child they like best.

FQ: What made you decide to write the series for kids rather than adults? Do you feel that the books are helping kids to understand the issues that our planet faces?

SMITH: Young people are feeling stressed about the climate crisis. They’re smart. They see, hear, and read what’s happening. And with their whole lives in front of them, they know that the changing climate’s consequences are sure to grow worse for them. Many kids are experiencing what psychologists now call eco-anxiety or climate grief. The good news is that young people are taking action. They’re leading the way because they feel that we adults are failing them. To nourish kids’ aspirations and activism through hopeful stories is why I wrote Legend Keepers for them.

The Legend Keepers books blend fact with fiction to entertain, educate, and empower readers. “The Science Behind Legend Keepers” offers several pages of information at the back of each book about geology, glaciers, climate change, and the animals in the story plus suggested further reading. These are perfect classroom books for STEM learning, and for family discussions. I would like to see Legend Keepers, and books with similar messages, in every school library and part of classroom curricula.

FQ: I must say that I adore the drawing on the cover of the book. Did you design it yourself or did someone else handle the art? If so, did you tell them what you wanted it to look like?

SMITH: I feel the same way about the cover artwork! Of course, I’m biased. My wife Diana created the watercolor art. The general designs for the covers were my idea. She took my simple sketches and created on paper what I could only imagine. Nice that her office is just down the hall from mine so that I could watch the interior illustrations and book covers come to life.

FQ: I know from your biography that you have written non-fiction books as well. Which is easier for you to write? What made you choose to create a fiction series on this topic instead?

SMITH: A big question. I hadn’t planned to switch from writing adult nonfiction books to writing fiction for kids. I had no prior experience doing it. But when I was on a book tour for Life on the Rocks: A Portrait of the American Mountain Goat, I was disappointed that few children came to my events. Their parents and grandparents didn’t bring them, even though event publicity made clear “This is a talk for the whole family, with lots of slides of animals.” It just hit me that I needed to write a story for kids. I’d talk directly to them, or rather the characters in my novel would.

So that the book wouldn’t sound preachy, I chose fiction and wrapped the climate theme in a grand adventure at the roof of the world. Because it was new to me, I can’t say writing fiction was easier than my nonfiction projects, just more fun and creative. I discovered that the interplay of the characters I fashioned, and came to love, had as much to do with the story’s arc as did any preconceived plot. Holding a loose rein on what I thought “would be” was essential to the creative process. Writing nonfiction, even narrative nonfiction, is nothing like that!

FQ: Can you tell us what comes next for Buddy, Garson, and the rest of our new friends?

SMITH: To tie up all the loose ends left dangling in the second book is the challenge for me in the next book. I’m curious just how the characters will do that. Perhaps it’s best for me to answer your question with no more than the teaser at the end of The Partnership: Garson is determined to keep his promise to Buddy, even as Roark chides her, “Maybe there’s nothing goats and ravens can do to change the future. And whatever makes you think that boy can?” But never underestimate a twelve-year-old with a plan. There’s nothing Garson wants more than to protect Shining Mountain. Nothing except to see his dad again, and perhaps Buddy.

Thursday, February 23, 2023

#bookReview of Legend Keepers: The Partnership by Bruce Smith

Legend Keepers: The Partnership
By: Bruce Smith
Publisher: Hidden Shelf Publishing House
Publication Date: August 29, 2022
ISBN: 978-1-955893-07-7
Reviewed By: Kathy Stickles
Review Date: February 20, 2023
In his new book, Legend Keepers: The Partnership, Bruce Smith gives his readers a captivating continuation to the story he started in Legend Keepers: The Chosen One. In this story we find out that sometimes you are just not able to fix a problem on your own...you must have a partner.
In Legend Keepers: The Partnership, the author resumes his tale of Buddy, the young mountain goat introduced in the first book, who is fixed on finding a safe place for her herd to survive what she refers to as “The Great Warming.” This quest of Buddy’s brings her in contact with a new character to the series, Garson Strangewalker. This young boy is a 12-year-old school kid dealing with many problems: He is in a new place, he does not seem to fit in well at school and has not made any friends, he has a very overprotective mom, and his father has disappeared and no one is sure if he is still alive.
While attending a school science fair, Garson asks what seems to be a simple question and it changes his entire life. With the help of his mom and his science teacher Mr. Rock, Garson embarks on his own science project regarding glaciers and what is happening to the environment due to their melting. He sets out to climb to the top of the Shining Mountain Glacier, near his own home, and when he gets to the top he meets Buddy and, after getting over the surprise that this young mountain goat can actually speak to him, he becomes involved in her quest to find a safe place for Buddy and her friends on their mountaintop. This chance meeting sets off a number of events that quickly transform this scared and confused young boy into a very determined young man who wants to do his part to educate others and save the environment.
The characters in this book, both animal and human, are wonderfully written and so engaging. As readers we can easily feel the fear and determination in Buddy to find a safe place on the mountain; we can understand the lack of trust that comes through in Roark as he tries to decide whether or not Garson can really help them; and the happiness and depression that both come through in Mr. Rock as he wants Garson to succeed in continuing the work he started so long ago at the top of the glacier but he also wishes he were still young enough and able to go up there and solve the problems himself.
Bruce Smith, a wildlife biologist himself, is a wonderful writer and this story certainly shows his skill with the pen. His background and knowledge of the environment make for a story that is so very educational to all in terms of environmental issues. In addition to that, he writes such well-rounded and interesting characters (again both human and animal) and the reader can easily care about each and every one and wish for their success. The characters show so many emotions; distress at the situation, enjoyment and lots of humor and fun in their interactions together, as well as fear and confusion. Everything is wrapped together in a perfectly written package that leaves the reader, as with the first book, longing for the next installment in the series to see what the next steps in their searches for the perfect and safe life will be. This is a story that you will not put down until the very end and then, as a reader, wait eagerly for the next one.
Quill says: For those out there who see the cover and think “this book isn’t for adults,” I believe you are wrong. This is a book for children, the adults in their lives, and anyone who has an interest in science, the environment, and climate change. In other words...this is a wonderful book that should be read by all!

Meet Author Melissa Ahonen

Meet Author Melissa Ahonen and learn about her award-winning book, Aspen's Magical Mermaid Necklace in her new author biography page at Feathered Quill Book Reviews:


Wednesday, February 22, 2023

#AuthorInterview with Betsy L. Ross, author of The Bones of the World

Today, Feathered Quill reviewer Diane Lunsford is talking with Betsy L. Ross, author of The Bones of the World.

FQ: Thank you for your time today. I’m looking forward to discussing The Bones of the World with you. Before jumping into the storyline, I would be remiss if I didn’t address your impressive biography. I’m particularly interested in your ‘happily retired attorney’ status. What type of law did you practice and what is your takeaway from being an attorney?

ROSS: I’ve had a varied career as an attorney, but most of my time was spent as an attorney for the State of Utah, the most challenging/rewarding position as lead judge for the State Records Committee, a quasi-judicial entity that resolved disputes over access to government records. Sounds arcane, but there were often sensitive records at issue and the decision to retain or release had conflicting consequences. It taught me how to listen well, how to take into account differing perspectives, and how to live with often imperfect outcomes.

FQ: Moving into The Bones of the World...I enjoyed the mechanics of how you laid out the story in that you continue to anchor the accounts of many of the adult characters through the eyes of the children’s stories. Without too much of a spoiler, what was your motivation in structuring the novel this way?

ROSS: Ultimately, the children’s stories are the core of the novel. All of the action occurs in preparation for those stories to be told. That structure highlights the (damnable) cyclical nature of the events, but also allows the spotlight to be shared with the idea of stories and their purpose.

FQ: I enjoyed the development of the relationships among Inés, Eloise, and Rachel and their connection with the afterlife. I’m a strong believer we humans have the ability to converse with the spirit world. Have you ever encountered an experience when you have done this? If so, can you elaborate?

Author Betsy Ross

ROSS: I am a believer, foremost, in possibilities, aware as I am of my limited perspective on life. In fact, literature is my way of attempting to broaden my perspective, and my own writing is the way I can play with realities I may not live. But it sounds like you may have a much more interesting answer to that excellent question than I gave!

FQ: In line with my previous question, do you believe the stronger one’s faith is anchored, the greater their ability to see and communicate with things/situations others less connected with their faith are not able to do? If so, what’s your theory?

ROSS: You could probably tell from my answer above that anchors frighten me. Rigidity frightens me. Certainty frightens me. But I allow that, as I suggested above, that is just me. I don’t know the answer to your question. In fact, I know the answers to few questions, but revel in questions and in the consideration of answers.

FQ: With all due respect, I’ve not watched your documentary Looking for David yet. However, I would like to understand how incredibly difficult this must have been to produce this tragic story. What was your defining moment to go forward?

ROSS: I hope you’ll watch it, and that many others will continue to watch it as well, as I made it to educate those who believe that addiction strikes only the weak. I made it as a love story to my son, talented, kind, remarkable young man that he was. And I made it, ultimately, because when I found David dead, I had no idea he suffered an addiction to opioids. For me the defining moment was the morning I walked down the stairs at 7 am, looked into the darkened family room, saw him slumped over the coffee table, told him to go to bed and he didn’t answer.

FQ: My personal commitment as a writer consistently relies upon who I am writing the story for before I sit down to actually engage in telling the story. In my opinion, some of the greatest writers who have ever lived (and live) focus on this guiding principle; hence delivering an epic read. What is your view toward this sentiment and if you had to impart one of your guiding principles in writing, what would that be and why?

ROSS: I write to understand, to explore things that currently play an important part in my life. So The Bones of the Worldbegan with my attempt to understand “suffering.” The novel I am currently working on is an attempt to understand “generosity.” I actually don’t think of an audience, but I’m interested in how that works for you.

FQ: In line with my previous question, do you believe in order to be an accomplished writer, one must also be a voracious reader? Please elaborate.

ROSS: Wow, you have wonderful questions. I would have to say that it likely helps to be a voracious reader but is not necessary. I am thinking of oral traditions, the Bible, Homeric poems, the Mesopotamian Epic of Gilgamesh, Native American stories, etc. when I suggest it is not necessary. However, I know The Bones of the World is built on the backs of so much great literature, without which it would not be the same.

FQ: Thank you again for the opportunity to sit and chat with you today. I cannot imagine you aren’t already working on your next novel. If so, are you able to share? If not, what’s next?

ROSS: I am working on three different concepts right now, waiting for one to carry me off by storm and demand that I finish it.

Read the Review 

#BookReview of The Bones of the World by Betsy L. Ross

The Bones of the World

By: Betsy L. Ross
Publisher: Atmosphere Press
Publication Date: February 21, 2023
ISBN: 978-1-639886-94-4
Reviewed by Diane Lunsford
Review Date: December 30, 2022

Filmmaker, poet, book reviewer, and retired attorney Betsy L. Ross adds to her cache of talent with the delivery of her novel, The Bones of the World. She takes her audience on a spiritual journey as told through the voices and souls of her memorable characters.

The story begins with Rachel. She is hiding from the Righteous, a group of militants determined to wipe out the existence of the Jewish population. Her husband Henry has taken her to a safe place; a mansion located next to an enchanted cemetery. This is where Rachel will begin her journey down her spiritual path of uncovering a familial history of pain and suffering and most importantly, the truth. The mansion is owned by sisters Eloise and Inés who have the powers to speak with the dead. Inés has experienced the voices and interacted with the Jewish children murdered long ago by the Righteous. The children wait patiently in the cemetery for their turn to tell Inés their painful tales. It is time for Rachel to hear these horrific accounts as a means to awaken her to her own Jewish heritage.

During the many situations Rachel encounters in her dreams, Rachel meets Sariah. She is a young woman who had two strikes against her. The Inquisition had labeled her not only as a Jew, but a lesbian. In tandem with meeting Sariah, Rachel is introduced to Jakob, a young boy who throughout the Holocaust, spent his youth hidden in a farmhouse where his thoughts were consumed by hours and days of plotting his revenge. Rachel navigates between consciousness and dreams as she mentally tries to sort out what is real and what is a dream. She is terrified for her son David and while she refuses to acknowledge it, the fact is, he is dead. David’s demise happened at a time known as the ‘Night of the Ascent.’ How does her husband Henry fit into this confusing puzzle and why is her mother’s friend Maura a vital key to answering this particular question for Rachel?

I applaud Betsy L. Ross for embarking on her journey of writing a faceted novel that addresses the history of the Holocaust. She sets the tone on the first page with the introduction of character Rachel and how she may appear as a woman and wife of privilege, yet her deeper sense of being is she is a Jewish woman. Ross’ adept driving of her pen makes it clear she has deeper plans in store for her character. Ross layers her tale with precise scenery that lends way to credible dialogue: "...She can’t remember exactly when the room had begun speaking to her. Not in words exactly, but in patterns she found in niches and corners. Three cracks in the plaster of the ceiling above her bed. Some nights, as she lay observing them, they were the branches of a tree; one night, a laurel, and she imagined herself Daphne, metamorphosing just in time to elude Apollo’s lustful advances..." Ross is cautious with her word use in that she doesn’t pen a prolific rant of loathing in listing all that was clearly catastrophic and devastating when one selects the Holocaust as his/her backdrop to the novel. Rather, she is kind and gentle and open-minded, but forceful just the same in anchoring the point that this is a time in history that should have never occurred. Ross adopts a back-and-forth style from chapter to chapter among her characters and plants enough of a seed at the end of each to tie the sum of all together as she approaches the end of her tale. Bravo Ms. Ross. I am a fan and look forward to reading your next body of work.

Quill says: The Bones of the World is a prolific account of why we must ‘never forget’ what history encourages us to learn.

For more information on The Bones of the World, please visit the author's website at: www.betsylross.com/

#BookReview - The Frankfurt Kitchen by Heidi Laird

The Frankfurt Kitchen: Forty-One Stories of Growing Up in Post-World War II West Germany
By: Heidi Laird
Publisher: Fulton Books, Inc.
Publication Date: November 11, 2021
ISBN: 978-1-64952-974-9
Reviewed by Diane Lunsford
Review Date: February 20, 2023
The Frankfurt Kitchen is a bittersweet collection of Heidi Laird’s childhood memories in a book of forty-one stories that recount her experiences of growing up in post-World War II West Germany.
Before comprehending the beautiful memories across the pages, it’s important to note the sentiment of writing this book Ms. Laird shares in the Acknowledgements: "...It took much longer than I ever thought it would, it left me alternately exhilarated and exhausted, and it showed me, as if I didn’t already know, how sharply childhood experiences sculpt our character, and how deeply they carve themselves into our souls..." In the very first chapter, Ms. Laird shares her recollection at the tender age of eight of standing in the pouring rain with her mother. They were standing alongside the on-ramp of the Autobahn between Heidelberg and Frankfurt and they were hitchhiking. The year was 1949 and Heidi and her mother, Vera Shaefer, were on one of their trips to visit Heidi’s father, Harry Saarbach. Vera strategically chose this miserable and quite rainy day in April to make the visit because (without a vehicle of their own), the competition among fellow hitchhikers would be minimal due to the lack of sunshine. As the U.S. Army Jeep pulls along the side of the road to pick them up. Heidi studies the driver and recalls, "...I sensed that the soldier had spontaneously acted in good faith on his impulse to get a woman and her child out of a punishing rainstorm, disregarding the fact that, as a member of the military force occupying the country of a former enemy, he had broken the unwritten but well-understood rule that transporting unauthorized German civilians in U.S. military vehicles was prohibited."
As Ms. Laird commits her recollections to paper, she supplements her work with a wealth of historical information. In the first chapter, she maps out the plan to rehabilitate and rejuvenate Germany post-war and what the U.S. involvement would entail. She provides a brief education on the Marshall Plan "...first rejected by U.S. Congress who wanted to see Germany plowed under and turned into an agrarian society, which would never again start a war. This was the vision of the secretary of the treasury, Henry Morgenthau. Advocates of the Marshall Plan countered that rebuilding the German industry and helping the Germans create a new version of their first, unsuccessful attempt at democracy would enable them to build a strong economy and produce a rich return on the U.S. investment. The goal of this gigantic project was to make the war zones livable again by removing the mountains of rubble and debris in the cities, finding and defusing the thousands of undetonated bombs and live ammunition that lay beneath the ruins and putting people to work under the direction of the U.S. Military government..."
In a see-saw fashion, Ms. Laird reflects on wartime memories as much as she addresses her life after war. There are many occasions that emote outright frustration on one hand as much as there is heartache for anyone (let alone a young child) to have to witness and endure such evil. It’s difficult to site one particular passage among the many poignant, but one that truly resonates with me is: "...As I write this seventy years later, in the year 2019, I recognize how distant this idealized vision of America has become, and I wonder if it will be possible to say seventy years from now that the principles and values of America’s founders have survived..."
Ms. Laird has done what a talented writer knows and is capable of doing. She set out on a journey to tell a story and make sure while telling the story, she kept her audience at the forefront with every passage she committed to paper by maintaining an engagement with them from the onset. As inconceivable as it is to truly understand the emotional scars and unseen wounds that may never heal completely, Ms. Laird commits her memories to words with a soft tone and without cynicism. Rather, there is a strong sentiment of sadness and melancholic idealism that we as humans carry inside of each of us. We lament on how things are and what they could be, but in the proverbial ‘end’ what changed? I applaud Ms. Laird for raising not only awareness for her personal experiences through and post war, but doing it in such a way that she tempers her pen throughout with a sublime tone of: ‘pay attention’ this affected me. I am grateful and honored to have read this book. It is one that sheds insurmountable enlightenment and at the same time, frightening familiarity toward today’s world climate.
Quill says: The Frankfurt Kitchen provides a fair amount of credibility to the nuance of history and its propensity to repeat itself.