Friday, April 28, 2023

#BookReview of Curse: A Novel (Loveletting, Book 2)

Curse: A Novel (Loveletting, Book 2)

By: Christina Maraziotis
Publisher: Existential Publishing
Publication Date: March 17, 2023
ISBN: 978-1-959776-05-5
Reviewed by: Diane Lunsford
Review Date: April 26, 2023

Christina Maraziotis’ second novel, Curse, is a phenomenal continuation and testimony to this author’s superb writing ability to leave no man (or woman) behind in this riveting continuation of her Loveletting Series.

This legendary tale begins with a cryptic (and evil) exchange that one can only assume something bad will unfold as time goes on. Chapter One opens with the introduction of the character Jesse McCoy. He is a ranch hand who works for the ornery rancher Walston in the town of Freelands. Walston is verbally assaulting Jesse because he is caught red-handed due to his random act of kindness of sneaking eggs to the Whietfields. Jesse has been on his own and needs this job if he is ever going to take his beloved Amelia’s hand in marriage. For the most part, he is alone in life. He hasn’t seen his mother Elise McCoy in quite some time and his father is a ghost. Elise is a lady of the evening and fairly accomplished at her profession. Although Jesse never knew his father he was sure of one thing, his mother could never stop resenting him.

Downtrodden Jesse returns to his ramshackle cabin after losing his job and is greeted by Charlotte in her familiar form, clutching the empty bottle of whiskey. She asks how his day was only to learn he was fired. One too many times he gave away the free eggs and all he could think of was the thought of happily ever after with Ameilia was becoming more of a distant memory. Jesse thought about how he met (or actually found) Charlotte virtually knocking on death’s door. He carried her back to his cabin and slowly nursed her back to life. She was a ramshackle of a soul and the notion of taking one step across the cabin’s threshold was more than she could bear. Physically, she was relatively fine. It was her emotional state that Jesse questioned would ever repair. While she never spoke of the particular person who haunted her memories, she couldn’t bring herself to leave the cabin. She earned her keep by maintaining a tidy place, doing the wash, and cooking the meals, and that’s how her days morphed into weeks. All this was about to change and neither Jesse nor Charlotte could remotely fathom what lay ahead for them.

I have had the honor of reading (and reviewing) the first book, Haunt, in the Loveletting Series. Once again, author Christina Maraziotis is like a locomotive train that keeps barreling down the tracks in Curse (Book II)! From the onset, it is abundantly clear these novels are bound to each other given the reintroduction of characters from Book I. Yet, Ms. Maraziotis has a fantastic ability to continue the saga and paint the story to stand on its own merits. As I referenced in my review of Haunt, the book is lengthy but by no means is this a deterrent given the electric flow of the story line. Ms. Maraziotis has an intention with every word she places page upon page that immediately hooks her audience and once she sets her anchor, she refuses to let him/her go until the bitter end. Her ability to paint vibrant details and layer the plot and dialogue and breathe life into her characters is enviable! Maraziotis is the quintessential storyteller and to think there are five more stories yet to be released in this series makes me quiver with anticipation! All I can say is a heart-felt thank you for another incredibly captivating and engaging read!

Quill says: Curse is a legendary novel that challenges its audience to ponder love, experience despair, and question morality.

For more information on Curse: A Novel (Loveletting, Book 2), please visit the author's website at:

#BookReview of Tea Attitudes: A Blend of Tea, Life & Faith

Tea Attitudes: A Blend of Tea, Life & Faith

By: Pamela G. Kennedy
Publication Date: March 14, 2023
ISBN: 979-8385972241
Reviewed By: Barbara Bamberger Scott
Review Date: April 26, 2023

Author Pamela G. Kennedy has made a vibrant connection between tearooms, traditions, and a treasure trove of creative discernment in her debut book, Tea Attitudes: A Blend of Tea, Life & Faith.

Having traveled in many parts of the world, Kennedy was always drawn to each location’s tea-drinking habits, since her childhood had included the custom of daily, afternoon teatime. Her recollections encompass the general tearoom ambience, often quite grand, the delicacies served, and the attitudes of servers and fellow imbibers. Her engaging memoir begins with a visit to one of London, England’s most famous hotel-based tearooms, where she is addressed by her server as “Milady.” This seemingly undeserved title causes her to contemplate what may happen when one is given an unearned gift. She urges readers to note the situations life offers to receive God’s grace and reciprocate by sharing with others. Kennedy, with her mother and daughter, visits a historic venue in Victoria, British Columbia, where the server accidentally knocks over a large plant stand. The incident is handled with appropriate poise, although the author, feeling sympathy for the server, considers how people choose to handle anxieties and misbehaviors in themselves and others. One tearoom is so cozily homelike that Kennedy is moved to explore the question, “How do we create a home?”

Kennedy, who has lived in various parts of the US and has had the opportunity for international journeying, offers readers the chance to share the tearoom atmospheres, often remarkable food accompaniments, and symbolic incidents that she so deftly describes. Each portion of this charming collection leads from tea to larger themes for further contemplation, often with references to other writers in the self-help and spiritual genres. Each segment includes a worksheet for readers, allowing them to answer questions based on the story presented. Thus, reader becomes participant, which is clearly what Kennedy had in mind – to share her perceptions and perhaps evoke others to share their own. The overarching metaphor of the tearoom in its many variations provides rich material for the author’s religious and relevant viewpoints to come to the fore. Hers is a work that could enliven a seminar, inviting lively group discussion and individual reflection.

Quill says: Kennedy’s Tea Attitudes exudes caring, sharing, and enduring wisdom garnered through global travel and a passion for a good cup of the beverage she so warmly extols.

For more information on Tea Attitudes: A Blend of Tea, Life & Faith, please visit the book's website at:

#authorinterview with Michelle Blanche, author of Boo-Boo the Shih Tau

Today, Feathered Quill reviewer Ellen Feld is talking with Michelle Blanshei, author of Boo-Boo the Shih Tzu: Boo-Boo NO!
FQ: Tell our readers a little about yourself. Your background, your interests, and how this led to writing a book?
BLANSHEI: Raised in Northern California, Michelle is a late bloomer to the publishing world, and can still be found working full time for a non-profit, helping rural communities across the Western United States (RCAC) as an Assistant Director of Events.
Michelle has always had a love for dogs, and throughout her life has had many breeds, but the Shih Tzu is her favorite. Boo-Boo the Shih Tzu is a real life not so perfect puppy that makes Michelle smile and laugh every day.
Michelle is a mother of two adult children, and can be found hanging with them, taking long walks, practicing yoga, and visiting the mountains to be with her guy, playing golf, or paddleboarding. (All activities include Boo-Boo)
FQ: Have you always enjoyed writing or is it something you’ve discovered recently?
BLANSHEI: I've always wanted to write a children's book, but needed the inspiration. My dog Boo-Boo was the inspiration I needed. I also had some self doubt too, but I put that aside and discovered how much I loved this process and I already have 3 more books written. At 62 years old, I am learning, growing and developing as a person, writer, and mother, partner and friend.
FQ: Tell us a little about your book – a brief synopsis and what makes your book unique.
BLANSHEI: Boo-Boo the Shih Tzu is a mischievous silly puppy. Boo-Boo wants to explore the world but is constantly getting into trouble and his mom and dad are always saying Boo-Boo NO!!
Boo-Boo will steal your heart with his sweet disposition, big brown eyes, wagging tail, big personality, and sense of adventure. Boo-Boo the Shih Tzu- Boo-Boo No!, is a wonderful, charming story of a not so perfect puppy.
What makes this book fun, is the repetition of saying: BOO-BOO NO! In future books the repetition will continue: GOOD BOY BOO-BOO! HAPPY BIRTHDAY BOO-BOO!
FQ: What was the impetus for writing your book?
BLANSHEI: Boo-Boo is my real life puppy, who is 11 months old, and he is a cartoon character in everything he does. He makes me laugh and smile and gives me so much joy everyday. I had to share Boo-Boo's charm with the world.
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 ?
BLANSHEI: My writing process is simple. I write first thing in the morning. I try to write a few pages at a time. My writing is either done on paper or on the computer. I just dump my thoughts down and them move them around and play with words. Since these books are meant for early readers, and toddlers, its more about bringing the antics to life with illustrations.
FQ: What was the hardest part of writing your book? That first chapter, the last paragraph, or ?
BLANSHEI: For me the hardest part of writing, was fear that no-one would like it or buy it. My age group (60's) are grandparents now. So, I put fear aside and just wrote it. I know the children's book market is very saturated and competitive, but Boo-Boo is pretty special and I couldn't wait to share his craziness.
FQ: The genre of your book is Children's Picture Books. Why this genre?
BLANSHEI: The genre of this book, Boo-Boo the Shih Tzu is children's picture books, ages 1-4. Illustration and pictures tell the story of what a trouble maker my puppy is. I am a reader, and I love fiction, mostly murder mystery and historical fiction. But I read just about anything. I have always been a reader, and had a love for books. I love children's books so much.
FQ: Do you have any plans to try writing a book in a different genre? If so, which genre and why?
BLANSHEI: Ive always wanted to write a book series about Little League, for early readers. I even have a title, but can't seem to get any traction on it: Joey, and the Great Debate. We will see where it goes.
FQ: Who are your favorite authors?
BLANSHEI: I have several: 1. Dr. Suess - pure magic and both my kids loved the rhyming. 2. J.K. Rolling. - The Harry Potter Series was so creative. The imagination was so captivating. 3. Agatha Christie. Others include: Nora Roberts, John Grishman, Sydney Sheldon, and James Patterson.
FQ: Which do you find easier, starting a story, or writing the conclusion?
BLANSHEI: Since my stories are so simple, it really doesn't matter, but I think starting it is easiest.
FQ: As an author/writer, what famous author (living or dead), would you like to have dinner with, and why?
BLANSHEI: Dr. Suess is who I would love to have dinner with. He just knew what kids wanted to hear. His stories were magic. The Cat in the Hat, Green Eggs and Ham and Oh the Places You'll Go. Come on...these were all so fun for toddlers and both my kids learned to read with Dr. Suess book.
FQ: What is your all-time favorite book? Why? And did this book/author have any influence over your decision to become an author?
BLANSHEI: My all time favorite book, hummm that is a hard one. I have so many books that I just loved.
As a child, my favorite books were Nancy Drew.
As a teen, my favorite books were Danielle Steel.
As a young adult my favorite books were Sydney Sheldon
As a young mother my favorite books were Dr. Suess
and as an older woman, I read everything.
FQ: Where do you think you’ve improved the most in your writing process and ability and how do you think you have evolved?
BLANSHEI: Well, I think I know my audience, little kids. Bright colors, pictures tell the story and funny antidotes and make kids laugh and smile. Repetition, rhyming, color, is also important.
FQ: Is this the first book, the second, etc. in the series and how many books do you anticipate writing in this series?
BLANSHEI: This book is the first of a series and I have no idea how many more Boo-Boo books I will write. I currently have Boo-Boo's Birthday and Good Boy Boo-Boo written, and my illustrator has both books and is working on them currently. I also have Boo-Boo's Big Brother, Yogi, Boo-Boo Goes to the Vet, Boo-Boo the Ghost (Halloween), Boo-Boo's First Christmas.
FQ: Tell us a bit about the series. Do you know where the series will take the characters or are you working that out as you go along with each book?
BLANSHEI: Each Boo Boo book with follow the same pattern - a description, a photo and a repetitive saying, such as Boo-Boo No, or Happy Birthday Boo-Boo!. This is great for early readers.
FQ: Do you see your series going longer than originally expected? More stories to write than originally planned?
BLANSHEI: Yes, Boo-Boo the Shih Tzu is ever evolving and he is quite the character. I can foresee many options for growth and additional stories.
FQ: Where did the idea for your story come from?
BLANSHEI: The real Boo-Boo is a cartoon character, 100%. His daily antics are silly, and his face is just so darn adorable. He is a story waiting to happen.
FQ: Did your family & friends encourage you to write your book?
BLANSHEI: My friends and family encourage me every day and totally support me. They encouraged me continue and ask me about my progress. They also offer suggestions. They are my biggest fans.
For more information on Boo-Boo the Shih Tzu: Boo-Boo NO!, please visit the author's website at:

Thursday, April 27, 2023

Learn about "The Power of" Series of books for Children

Have you discovered "The Power of" series of children's books yet? Learn more at

#AuthorInterview with Clint Goodwin, author of A Winter's Coat

Today, Feathered Quill reviewer Katie Specht is talking with Clint Goodwin, author of A Winter's Coat: U.S. Marine Corps Warhorse.

FQ: You have had quite an impressive career traveling the world. Can you share a bit about the various careers you have held while serving your country?

GOODWIN: While serving in the United States Navy, I remember my first Pacific deployment in 1979. The Iranian Hostage crisis began with the unlawful capture of our Embassy in Tehran. We were on liberty in Chin Hai, South Korea at the time. Our ultimate mission was to head down to Australia and spread goodwill. However, that changed on a dime. Instead, we transited to PI (Philippines) for refueling; Kwajalein Atoll and Gaum to load up weapons, then to an unknown location… at the time. Eventually, we ended up spending over 120 days in the Gulf of Oman waiting for orders. Fast forward. The hostage rescue attempt failed. Helicopters were not designed to ingest sand… well, the rest is history. Returning home in 1980, we ported in Singapore where I enjoyed my first Singapore Sling at a British naval base. With this said, the bottom line, wherever there was a crisis, our country’s finest were sent to defend or establish democracy.

After retiring from the navy, I served our country as a federal employee. I continued to work with domestic and foreign law enforcement/intelligence professionals charged with keeping our country safe. I did so until I walked away from the business to take care of myself.

FQ: A Winter’s Coat is the fifth book of what will be a seven-book series. What can you share about the two books you have planned to conclude this series?

Author Clint Goodwin

GOODWIN: I appreciate the question. I am currently researching and writing about a horse in Vietnam. I am dedicating this book to my brother-in-law, USA Captain Walt Bammann. He flew hundreds of sorties over Vietnam. His perspectives will be used to develop authentic character emotions and scene development for my sixth book.

The last book in the series will address my war. I will include fictional characters who were real to me during my combat tour in Iraq. And I will attempt to wrap my mind around tough memories to produce a story without much heartache. For instance, it took me two weeks to write one paragraph in my fourth book, War to War: A Bloodline Continues. The paragraph I wrote detailed how a senior officer presented the United States flag to a widow in Arlington Cemetery. Enough said on that score.

FQ: With such an expansive career, is there any particular event within your career that stands out to you as being exceptionally memorable?

GOODWIN: There were many memories. Some good, many unwanted. However, the VA psychologist told me to get a sense of humor that I lost in Iraq. Therefore, I will try to characterize a funny situation. We were operating off the coast of Iran when a Soviet cruiser appeared on the horizon. Our surveillance guys studied the Russian crew standing topside, foredeck. My friend said, “Check it out. They are wearing cutoffs, t-shirts, beards, and drinking bottles of vodka...just like us.” I replied, “Can you blame them? They are not carving circles in the frigid waters of the North Sea.” That was the first time the enemy became human to me. Many Americans view our enemies with narrow perspectives. Later in my career, I trained fellow patriots how to think critically. Simply put, we need to remove our American eyes’ to accurately analyze a foreign threat.

FQ: You have coined the mantra “Writing is Truly Healing.” Can you explain a bit about what this means for you?

GOODWIN: This question addresses the core of the man I have become. To understand my response, we need to examine the insanity of war. Within my first two weeks with boots on ground, a mortar round hit fifty yards from my position. At the time, I was not in full combat gear. I was simply taking my laundry to the camp cleaners. When one hears one zipping in, the crackling sound sends a shiver up your spine...if you’re not used to it. From that moment on, the adrenaline kicked in 24/7. One week later, I signed a Purple Heart nomination for the junior officer I witnessed getting hit.

Fast forward. Repeated events like this change human beings. No matter how well one is trained, how well the mission succeeded, the violence chews away at one’s belief in humanity. How could I deal with the demons? Upon my return home, I was ordered to a ninety-day medical hold for various physical and mental reasons. The military medical doctor said I could have all the drugs I wanted to help ease things. I refused the offer. I was an older man who thought he could manage through other means. Drinking was an option but not preferred. So, why not consider writing to help keep me focused on the now.

The genesis for my mantra started with how I witnessed Iraq’s civil unrest explode between Sunni and Shite tribes. Those events gave cause to question our own country’s U.S. Civil War. My curiosity led me down a road of research to better understand why men are willing to kill their fellow citizens.

For five years, I read dozens of reputable history books about the war between the north and the south. Along the way, I discovered most Civil War historians had not served on the battlefield. I asked myself, how can these notable authors begin to understand why people are willing to die for their cause and write about it. Where is the authentication?

With internal anxieties mounting, I had to do something. I woke up every morning at three o’clock. I got out of bed and went downstairs to read. One morning the idea of writing a story came to me. I pursued the craft to not only distract my thoughts but tell my war story through the characters I created for each book. I wanted to tell my own story but did not feel judged. Everyone deals with post-war challenges differently. I thought a good use of my time would be to write.

The energy needed to research and write with authentic emotions presented a great challenge to me. Drawing upon personal emotions and imposing them onto fictional characters enabled me to process and transfer unwanted memories between the four corners of a historic fiction. But not without tears. The more I wrote, the more tears would be shed. Over the years, the more I wrote, the easier it became to talk about what should never be experienced by any human being.

FQ: Your series of books focuses on warhorses and the role they play in the fields of battle. Have the horses in your books been purely fictitious or have they been based on any horses that you worked with during your career?

GOODWIN: Most of the warhorses, I weave into my story lines are real historic figures given names and tagged with personalities noted by their owners in few American history books. For example, General Ulysses S. Grant rode Cincinnati into Civil War battles. He talked to his horse when no one else was around to listen. I also developed fictional horses using names drawn from my personal life, as well the horses working for the United States Army.

FQ: Portions of A Winter’s Coat are written from the perspective of the horses, which is rather unique. What inspired you to write the book this way?

GOODWIN: During my research, I concluded that most history books are written from the victor’s point of view. But there are other perspectives to consider. I am trying to bring an unbiased perspective view of our American history. I am mindful that horses have carried humans into battle for centuries. I use them in my stories as a proxy. To tell my story through their actions in my books.

FQ: What has been the biggest surprise to you thus far on your author journey since publishing your first book?

GOODWIN: My first public book reading did not go well. I broke down in tears while reading a paragraph I knew was real. It happened in Iraq to a friend of mine. The emotions associated with his loss came back with a vengeance. Memories of attending memorial services over a secure video session with the colonel’s wife and two sons. Heartbreaking. I had to end the book reading and sit down to collect myself.

FQ: Are any of the human military characters in A Winter’s Coat modeled after anyone you met and/or worked with during your career?

GOODWIN: Well, yes. In all my books, I develop characters from people whom I served or served with. However, my paralleling characters must be kept secret. The people whom I modeled in my book will know who they are. Good for a few laughs at my burial in Arlington...years from now, I pray.

FQ: You possess an unwavering commitment to freedom as evidenced by your dedication to your country over your extensive career. Can you share how you firstly, entered the military and secondly, how you ended up serving for such an extended period of time?

GOODWIN: I wanted to serve like the two men who came before me. My grandfather served as a navy man during WWI and WWII. My father served as a navy man during WWII. Draftees referred to themselves as duration sailors. He was one of them. I wanted to serve like my father and grandfather.

One day, I walked into the navy recruiter’s office in December 1977. Four months later, I graduated from San Diego bootcamp in April 1978. From that point on, I wanted to be known as a lifer. I loved the navy. A lifer is one who serves until they kick him or her out for being too old. I wore enlisted ranks during the first thirteen years of my career. I proudly wore stripes on my uniform sleeve. The navy said I could do better. I attended night school during my first shore-duty rotation. With one goal… get a four-year degree which would qualify me for a naval officer’s commission. I would not waver until those gold bars were adorned on my uniform. I was commissioned in 1990. I retired in 2008 wearing a silver oakleaf on both collars. Everything in between was pure blood, sweat, and determination to serve our great nation. After I retired from the navy, I was asked to continue serving our country as a federal employee. My job was to teach law enforcement and intelligence professionals what we did in Iraq; how to perform personality-based targeting. That unique skillset took me decades to develop.

FQ: After interacting with warhorses over the course of your career, I can assume you have a deep respect for the animal. Do you currently own any horses of your own?

GOODWIN: I respect horses but their respect for me must be earned. Today, my love for horses exists vicariously through our youngest daughter’s equestrian career. For decades she has competed in hunter-jumper events at the state and national level. I can only remind her how the three horses grazing in her pastures can be deadly. I was taught to respect those animals… the hard way. I have been bitten on the side and kicked in the head. Thankfully, my dad had not put steel shoes on the mare. Otherwise, I would not have lived this life. Lord willing, I survived to live another day.

#AuthorInterview with Alexandru Czimbor, author of The Soul Machines

Today, Feathered Quill reviewer Risah Salazar is talking with Alexandru Czimbor, author of The Soul Machines. The Soul Machines
FQ: The Soul Machines is such a wonderful story with many different layers in it. Where did you get the inspiration to write this piece?
CZIMBOR: I wanted The Soul Machines to be a call for people to live in harmony, irrespective of the particular group they think they belong to (be it a village, a race, a religion group, a social circle, a nation, and so on). Throughout the book, I stressed the fact that our tribalism, although an inescapable consequence of our biological evolution, is often harmful. We are irrational beings driven by emotions, and our thought process is constantly subject to cognitive biases. We cling to our identities and values, and are quick to judge people by their tribe instead of assessing their actions and their true value.
My goal was to present this idea in a story inspired by events and places I’m familiar with, with memorable characters and an intriguing plot.
FQ: Among the three friends - Tudor, Roli, and Sami - who do you relate to the most in terms of personality? Or who is your favorite and why?
CZIMBOR: Perhaps Tudor would be the closest to a younger version of me, although I can’t say that I truly relate to him. As I was picturing the characters in my mind, I gradually found my favorite one to be Sami, because of the way he faced hardship and because of his drive to rise above his status. I also wanted Count Richter to be throughout the book a kind of ‘voice of reason’, guiding the youngsters.
FQ: The setting is in Transylvania in the late 19th century. Why write with this backdrop? Is there a particular socio-political landscape that only this setting could provide for your narrative?
CZIMBOR: Transylvania is a good example of people from different social classes, ethnicities, religions, and political preferences getting together just fine. I grew up in such a mixed environment with family and friends of different origins, and I wanted to present some of my experiences.
The end of the 19th century was a tumultuous period because the conditions for the two most devastating wars in our history were brewing. The current tendency to go yet again to extremes in politics and the new wave of intolerance on many levels, are reminiscent of those times. I hope we will manage to avoid a similar catastrophic outcome.
FQ: Have you always liked discussing history and socio-political issues? Based on the past, which lessons do you think are the most important to impart to today’s generation?
CZIMBOR: Growing up in communist Romania, anything that wouldn’t strictly toe the party line could only be discussed behind closed doors and between people who trusted each other with their lives. We were taught in school a distorted version of history, tweaked to always please the leaders and to brainwash the children with a toxic mix of nationalistic and socialist propaganda. Perhaps I was drawn to these issues because I was not allowed to think about them too much.
As for advice, I always caution people, whether young or old, not to rush with their assessment of what they learn or listen to. We should especially be wary of anything that fits what we want to hear. Society is too fragmented nowadays and we all must strive to listen to the other side too. Otherwise, we risk electing despots, going through devastating wars, and repeating our history.
FQ: Without giving away too much...while reading, I wondered why you made "the contraption" so big? Why can’t it be just like a small gem, or a wand or staff that glows? Why does it have to be pear-sized?
CZIMBOR: I wanted the ‘soul machines’ to be perceived as a symbol of all that’s evil in humanity. I intentionally left them vague and wanted the reader to use their own imagination to picture them. A small gem or a wand would have been too obvious.
As for the physical characteristics of the ‘soul machines,’ they vaguely resemble something that me and my friends found when we were young and roaming the wild woods of my hometown, Baia Mare (Nagybánya in the book). We discovered strange concrete structures deep in the forest, and, at some point, I thought I saw some kind of metal boat inside one of them. It turned out those were just mine vent shafts, and the boat was nothing but a rotten tree trunk that fell in. However, that image stuck with me.
FQ: Have you ever always wanted to be a writer? Who are your favorite authors/storytellers?
CZIMBOR: Yes, I have dreamed of writing books since I was very young. I was fascinated by the stories I would discover going through tons of books in the school library, and I always wondered if I could write one myself.
Among authors who left an impression on me, I’d mention Fyodor Dostoevsky, Charles Dickens, Jules Verne, J. R. R. Tolkien, but also Isaac Asimov, Frank Herbert, and many more. I also read quite a lot of contemporary non-fiction, especially books about mind/brain, evolution, and psychology.
FQ: Your bio says you relentlessly listen to podcasts. Can you share a few of your favorites and what they’re about?
CZIMBOR: A nice consequence of a global internet is that it gives all of us access to so many valuable podcasts where we hear raw thoughts directly from the hosts or from the personalities being interviewed. The information gets concentrated in an hour or two, and in the right podcast, it’s less biased. I often learn more from a single insightful podcast episode than from watching the news for hours or reading tens of articles.
To give you a few examples:
I like Sam Harris’ “Making Sense” podcast because it brings a balanced view of many hot topics in the US. I also enjoy the Lex Fridman Podcast, because it covers, among others, topics related to Artificial Intelligence, which fascinated me from the times I was 12 years old, throughout college, and then during my career. Other podcasts I often listen to are “Dan Carlin's Hardcore History,” “Hidden Forces,” “The Intellectual Dark Web Podcast,” “Honestly with Bari Weiss,” “The Brain Science Podcast,” and quite a few more.
FQ: Given the crushing heartache that Tudor experiences, I can’t help but think you like tragic stories. Which do you like reading more, books with happy endings or sad endings? I’ve read that occasionally a movie with a sad ending will screen poorly with preview audiences, and so the studio quickly changes the ending. Would you ever do that to one of your books or do you feel it’s more important to get the story told as you see it should be?
CZIMBOR: I actually enjoy happy endings, of course, although life seldom leads to them.
I agree that movies that don’t end well don’t appeal to the large public. But movies have the potential to reach so many more people than books, so perhaps compromising the end of a story is acceptable in order to convey a message to a larger audience.
FQ: Since you spend your summers in Europe, can you share which travel spot is your favorite and why?
CZIMBOR: Every year my family and I travel through the Carpathians mountains in Romania, all the way to the Black Sea and the Danube Delta. The beauty of wild forests, the charm of old villages and the rich wildlife are truly unique in that part of the world. Romania is in a fortunate position by being part of the modern European Union, yet benefiting from the old traditions and folklore that survived during the communist regime.
FQ: Aside from guitars, what other musical instruments would you like to learn how to play?
CZIMBOR: I would like to play the piano, and perhaps the drums, but there are only 24 hours in a day, and I already feel like I need twice as many!

Tuesday, April 25, 2023

#BookReview of A Winter's Coat: U.S. Marine Corps Warhorse by Clint Goodwin

A Winter's Coat: U.S. Marine Corps Warhorse

By: Clint Goodwin
Publisher: BookLocker
Publication Date: February 1, 2023
ISBN: 978-1-958878-43-9
Reviewed by: Katie Specht
Review Date: April 24, 2023
From award-winning author Clint Goodwin comes the fifth installment in his historical war series, entitled A Winter’s Coat, where the role of horses is just as important as that of humans. A Winter’s Coat is the story of two beloved horses during the Korean War and one committed veterinarian, Dr. Robert Bates, a Major in the Marines.
Throughout the story, the horse known as Ah Chim Hai plays an integral role in the Korean War by bringing the Marines artillery shells and ammunition as they fight on the front lines, carrying injured soldiers to safety, getting injured herself in the process and subsequently nursed back to health by Dr. Bates. Ah Chim Hai is very loyal to the Marines and becomes cherished by many of the men fighting in the war. In sharp contrast, the horse Cassie has a different story to tell. Cassie was born into a family of warhorses. However, her parents were the first in her family’s history to not produce a colt, but instead gave birth to a filly, leaving Cassie with the burden of producing an heir to continue her family’s legacy. Dr. Bates touches the lives of both of these horses during the story, and when the two horses meet, they exchange stories of how both of their paths have crossed with this extraordinary, horse-loving man.
Goodwin brings a unique perspective to his writing, having traveled the world for forty-two years over the course of his career while being a part of the military world. A Winter’s Coat is the perfect blend of history and fiction, coming together to produce an exceptional, entertaining and enlightening tale. This story is perfect for anyone who appreciates history but may not want to read a strictly non-fiction book. Goodwin’s book unites the best of both worlds seamlessly.
A rather unique characteristic of A Winter’s Coat is that at various times throughout the story, Goodwin writes from the perspective of the horses. The horses will “talk” to each other and share their own life stories and feelings with each other. As a reader, I appreciated this deviation from traditional writing. Not only was it fun, but it allowed me to relate to the horses more and understand that while they are animals, they certainly experienced fears and anxieties while at war and when the men were engaging in active combat.
It is also worthy to note a couple of things regarding the way Goodwin arranged his book. He included realistic photos throughout that expertly complement the narrative, which is a nice added touch and undoubtedly adds historical value to the story. Goodwin also incorporated a rather extensive end notes section that provides factual historical information to further supplement the story. Any reader who would like further information regarding the Korean War can easily look up any of the resources that Goodwin cites in this section.
Quill says: With A Winter’s Coat, Goodwin has written another brilliant historical fiction tale. Fans of both United States military history and horses will love seeing both of these join together to create a truly educating and fascinating story.

#BookReview of The Soul Machines by Alexandra Czimbor

The Soul Machines

By: Alexandru Czimbor
Publisher: BookBaby
Publication Date: January 5, 2023
ISBN: 978-1667881256
Reviewed by: Risah Salazar
Review Date: April 24, 2023
The Soul Machines follows the life of Tudor and his two friends in the 19th-century Kingdom of Hungaria. While they are not exactly three peas in a pod, at least that’s what the Hungarian society might say – Tudor is poor, Roli is an elite, and Sami is a gypsy – they do not care and still spend time with each other whenever they can. The three, though only in their late teens, are advanced in their years when it comes to wisdom. They laugh at their irrational society that believes you can only mingle with people of the same class. Even though Tudor comes from a “low” family, that does not make him meek, but he’s also not arrogant. He’s got grit and that sometimes gets him into trouble. No matter how many times his mother, Maria, forbids him to do certain things, he does them anyway because he believes everyone is equal and should be respected regardless of their lineage.
One of the things that his mother forbids is harvesting chestnuts (when they’re in season) from the bishop’s land. That is private property and the bishop is known for the terrible things he does to trespassers. Of course, this does not stop Tudor. He’s smart, yes, but he can be careless too. One day, someone sees him and chases him down. While hiding from his potential captors, Tudor discovers something curious – a contraption of some sort – in a cave below ground. Since he’s already in hot water, and has no time for investigation, he leaves "it" for now, with plans to hopefully return. Being extra cautious on his way home, scared that he might run into someone again who should not see him there, he’s also excited to share the news with his two best friends, Roli and Sami. After sharing his recent discovery with Roli and Sami, they decide that Sami would take a closer look at it the next day and from his examination, they will devise a plan to get it. But that contraption does something horrible to Sami before he can even inspect it completely.
Sami goes home that day out of his mind. But this news does not reach Tudor and Roli right away. While waiting for news, Tudor sells goods in the market as an errand for his mother. As he is luring customers in, Tudor swears he saw the most beautiful lady he’d ever seen. It’s crazy how his heart and mind suddenly dream of marrying this girl right then and there! The mystery girl is Orsolya, an elite young woman whose family is friends with Roli’s. Tudor knows he can never be Orsolya’s intended, given his social standing. It breaks him to be aware of her presence and see her smile, knowing that his desires will never come true. And as if all these things are not enough burden yet, Tudor meets a count who, like the rich kid Roli, does not mind talking to the “other” classes. He gets friendly with Tudor, which surprised the heck out of everyone and raised a lot of eyebrows. Eventually, Tudor finds out that this count is after that thing he found. Can this count be trusted or is he only after Tudor’s discovery? Only time will tell.
With a thrilling start, The Soul Machines captures the attention right from the get go. Details are intricately woven together and make the narrative pop out of the book. Czimbor takes his time in unfolding each and every scene, not leaving any stone unturned. While the suspense and adventure will surely get the readers on the edge of their seats, the details become technical at times, and combined with the slow pace, they can get too monotonously serious. The highlighted socio-political issues, especially amongst the three protagonists, remain a serious topic throughout the book. But what makes their dynamic even more relatable is that all of them envy the others in some way. For instance, even the rich kid expresses his joy in spending time with the poor kid’s family because this isn’t something he can experience in his own home - this still happens among friend groups today and this powerful message is only one of many that Czimbor exposes compellingly.
Quill says: Prepare to be taken into another world in The Soul Machines, a unique narrative where the line between good and evil becomes blurred. With thought-provoking ideas, this tale will keep you in suspense until the very end.

Monday, April 24, 2023

#BookReview - The Whispers by Ashley Audrain

The Whispers

By: Ashley Audrain
Publisher: Viking
Publication Date: June 6, 2023
ISBN: 978-1-9848-8169-4
Reviewed by: Diane Lunsford
Review Date: April 23, 2023
Ashley Audrain has planted a wonderfully suspenseful garden chock full of secrets and intrigue in her latest novel, The Whispers.
All is not what it appears to be on Harlow Street. The neighborhood is upscale, and its residents are exemplary when it comes to flaunting over-the-top fabulousness. Whitney Loverly is married to Jacob, and they have three children. Xavier is ten and he has three-year-old twin siblings (one boy; one girl). If it weren’t for Xavier, the Loverly family would be the epitome of perfection. Whitney is a workaholic. She is a successful executive and if she had her druthers, she would be working versus hosting the ad nauseum end-of-summer barbeque at their home—the most expensive home on the street. Everything is going swimmingly well. "...They are there for a neighborly family afternoon, for the children, who play a parallel kind of game, but the men have chosen nice shoes, and the women wear accessories that don’t make it to the playground, and the tone of everyone’s voice is polished..." And then, the ‘storm’ ruins everything...
Whitney does a panoramic scan of her guests. All the neighborhood wives and their husbands are here. There’s Blair who is married to Aiden. She is a stay-at-home mom and completely obsessed with Whitney’s life. Eventually, Blair will learn that her blissful marriage to Aiden isn’t quite so pure. Mara and Albert are the ‘originals’ on the block. They have lived in the house on Harlow Street for an eternity. They are never invited to these random gatherings, but rest assured, Mara misses nothing of the goings on. Rebecca is a successful doctor married to Ben. The one thing she covets more in life than a successful practice is to experience childbirth and becoming a mother. There is quite the tangled web that has been woven on this pristine street among these cast of characters. When tragedy strikes the Loverly homestead, many of the deep (and somewhat dark) secrets have no other course than to rise to the surface and change the lives of every resident on Harlow Street forever more.
Ashley Audrain is on fire in this fast-paced and quite riveting novel. She has done a superb job of defining her interactive storytelling leaving it up to the reader to determine who to like and who to dislike. There were times when I felt as though I were vicariously experiencing a written version of a Real Housewives series it was so juicy. Whitney Loverly’s main character is beautifully layered. Foundationally, she is the unfeeling woman executive who has found her seat at the head of the table in the ‘corporate world,’ yet when tragedy hits too close to home, there are intermittent occasions where she possibly does have a thought that navigates beyond her self-professed greatness. I also enjoyed the periodic injections of Mara’s character at the most opportune moments. Mara is the original resident to the block and virtually invisible to her neighbors. Yet, Mara is tough as nails and doesn’t care. "...It’s amazing what you can learn about people when you’re more or less invisible. It’s the things they don’t want you to see that tell you the most..." There is no drag to the cadence of this read. Simply put, fasten your seat belts and get ready for the most entertaining ride of your life! Well done Ms. Audrain!
Quill says: The Whispers is a great opportunity to let your imagination run wild and perhaps question what really goes on in your neighborhood behind closed doors.

Thursday, April 20, 2023

#BookReview of Worlds Apart: My Personal Life Journey through Transcultural Poverty, Privilege, and Passion

Worlds Apart: My Personal Life Journey through Transcultural Poverty, Privilege, and Passion

By: Mai Kim Le
Publisher: Waterside Productions
Publication Date: August 12, 2021
ISBN: 978-1954968905
Reviewed by: Barbara Bamberger Scott
Review Date: April 19, 2023

Beginning life in a remote, devastated region of war-ravaged Viet Nam, traveling the world and seeking home and solace at last in America, author Mai Kim Le now shares her experiences and her feelings honestly and non-judgmentally in her memoir, Worlds Apart: My Personal Life Journey through Transcultural Poverty, Privilege, and Passion. It is a task that she takes on bravely, encouraging readers “to be more kind, both to others and to ourselves.”

The first year of Le’s life was spent in a kind of horror story, with her father, who had fought alongside the Americans and was therefore a target for the still-extant Viet Cong, trying desperately to get his family and like-minded neighbors out of the country. His plan for the group was to embark in tiny boats, subject to raids and near total starvation as they traveled. After some failed efforts, they wound up in Thailand where they were systematically mistreated. Luck and pluck brought them to the US, living for a time in California where the young girl blossomed, and then in a Boston slum. But her high intelligence and willingness to do almost anything to succeed gave Le a solid grounding; she gradually learned English and excelled in school, although at times she was the victim of fellow students’ bias and scorn. Making friends on her own, with a number of boys quite interested in her, she made her way through a private school, to Bowdoin College and Princeton University and employment with the Social Security Administration and the World Bank, giving her opportunities for solitary travel, an activity that seemed to imbue her with solace and hope. Meeting Arkady, son of European Jewish immigrants, opened a chance for friendship tinged with romance, pointing to a possible partnership both professional and personal.

Le’s recollections are told in a zestful chronology, with extreme frankness, as she recounts her failures and discouragements along with her inner growth and wider understanding. She deftly paints herself in many aspects: as a child raised in poverty; a teen figuring out how the world of gender excitements might work; as a young woman in like and sometimes love, willing to be charmed yet always looking for personal adventure and a path to economic independence, and sometimes disturbed by thoughts of suicide. She offers a series of thought-provoking questions at the end of the book indicating its possible trajectory as a focus for self-help seminars. Her satisfying conclusive declaration will evoke empathy and perhaps hopefulness in her readership: “Now I’m just me.”

Quill says: Le’s vibrant memoir, with its many recognizable feelings entwined in her deprived childhood and her exotic, global travels as a free-thinking adult can serve as inspiration and motivation for readers across a broad spectrum.

For more information on Worlds Apart: My Personal Life Journey through Transcultural Poverty, Privilege, and Passion please visit the author's website at:

#AuthorInterview with Thomas Smith, author of The Search for King: A Fable

Today, Feathered Quill reviewer Rebecca Jane Johnson is talking with Thomas Smith, author of The Search for King: A Fable.
FQ: Please tell us a bit about the photographs in your book and the process of how the book came together.
SMITH: I wanted the best photos of the 36 species of birds. I curated the 175 photos that appear in the book after reviewing hundreds and hundreds of photos. They were selected not only for their artistic merit but because they fit with the story. Accuracy was important, and the text and photos were reviewed for accuracy by a post-doctoral fellow at the Cornell Institute of Ornithology. The Foreword gives credit to the many photographers who donated their work into the Public Domain on Pixabay. I have a Standard License to use each photograph and trademark not in the Public Domain. This work is licensed under Creative Commons Attributions—ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.
I myself am a photographer, even though none of the photos in the book are mine. I have had photos published on covers of the Texas Medical Journal and I have won awards for my photos in several local contests. I also am a graphic artist. I designed the cover and supervised the interior design. I think taking and publishing photos requires an artist’s eye.
FQ: Would you share a bit with our readers about your experiences communing with nature, so to speak, while out searching for that perfect photograph? I imagine that must be part of the joy of birdwatching/photography. Do you have any interest in photographing other wildlife?
SMITH: I am a photographer who loves to be outdoors. I have a large number of photos of nature: mountain peaks, such as Long’s peak 14,000’ above sea level, and sandscapes of Maspalomas on Gran Canaria at sea level, and the Great Blue Hole, an underwater sinkhole that is 407’ deep. When I went diving there and took photos, we dove down 130’ below sea level (the equivalent of a 13-story building). I have photos of most kinds of North American wildlife: from large mammals, small mammals, and birds, to snakes, lizards, small insects and spiders. I also have underwater photos of cool creatures such as Caribbean reef fish, sharks, sea turtles, Moray eels and Christmas tree worms. I am a Master Scuba Diver, and I enjoy taking photos of underwater wildlife.
FQ: Poetry is your other passion. Would you tell our readers a bit about your background in poetry?
SMITH: I have written poetry since high school for a number of reasons, including encouraging my wife to marry me. I’ve been writing about one new poem per week. I set a goal for myself to have a haiku published, and I now have had haiku (and limericks) published in several literary journals. I have always heard in rhymes; rhymes just appear when I am goofing around. The children in our family urged me to describe birds and it just came out in rhymes. I set as a goal for myself to publish a book of poetry, with The Search for King being the result.
FQ: Now let’s talk about your wonderful book, The Search for King! Looking from the outside in, combining your two loves seems like a natural progression. But was it? Had you toyed with the idea of writing a fable in rhyme, that centered around birds, for a long time?
SMITH: A poem about the first bird just happened one day. Then there was another, then another. I didn’t plan to write a fable. It turned out to be the best way to address some important issues including diversity, acceptance, and personal values. With this fable, the birds are the characters that convey the moral in a less direct way. The birds’ issues are our issues that play out daily in our lives.
To me, The Search for King is a photography book and a poetry book and a fable. The photos catch the eye, luring readers into the poetry, and this in turn walks them into the moral.
FQ: The story flowed so well, and naturally - was it difficult to come up with rhymes, pr did rhyme come naturally to you?
SMITH: The rhymes wrote themselves. I would read a bit about a bird and I would hear the rhymes in my mind. They are like music in my head.
FQ: How did you select which birds to feature in your fable? Did you know which birds would be in the story before you began writing, or did the selections come as the story developed?
SMITH: There were criteria for a bird to be a character in the fable. Each had to have feather colors that fit into the story. Each had to be a bird that someone in North or Central America had seen or read about and that someone in another place might enjoy seeing or reading about. There also had to be four or five interesting facts to say about each bird in the book. For example, the wren is king of birds all over Europe because folklore says he bested the eagle in a race. Then each of the birds in the book had to volunteer. Each bird asked to be included!
FQ: If you had to write another photography book accompanied by a rhyming fable, what topic would you choose?
SMITH: It would be a message that compelled me to write, as this book did. There are myriad life lessons that a 21st century fable could address: cooperation, collaboration, reconciliation, compassion. Nature is an excellent teacher. I could see fish and other underwater creatures as the next characters.