Wednesday, July 17, 2024

 #AuthorInterview with Nora D'Ecclesis

Today, Feathered Quill reviewer Tripti Kandari is talking with Nora D'Ecclesis, author of The Contessa's Legacy.

FQ: You intertwine the history of ancient Pompeii to the contemporary modern world through a family and its legacy. What was your inspiration behind this multigenerational saga?

D'ECCLESIS: My husband introduced me to The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire by Edward Gibbon. I read all volumes during our college and graduate school years and it was inspirational. Gibbon's masterpiece motivated my jump over 98AD to 1590AD because he explored all facets of those years. I certainly don't need to agree with his theories to value his work, but my novella starting in 79AD is exploring a fictional family and generational legacy. Therefore, my one line in The Contessa's Legacy:

"Following Pompeii, Roman history was marked by frequent and brutal wars…numerous nations merged their cultures and took over Naples and eventually, peace was established."

The Contessa's Legacy is a fictional women's saga that begins in Naples, Italy when the survivors of Pompeii were forced to emigrate from the flames and volcanic ash to the next town. The concept of a multi-generational novella from 79 AD to 2019 challenged and inspired my writing skills within the framework of a limited word count for a novella.

Author Nora D'Ecclesis

FQ: Every reader will glean some unique message from The Contessa's Legacy. As its author, what message do you hope for its reader to take away from it?

D'ECCLESIS: Since Common Era (A.D.), the topics and social issues such as the horrific slavery, acceptance and/or abuse of emigrants and immigrants, school bullies, suicidal ideation and suicide, freedom of religion and natural disasters, such as volcanic eruption, have plagued our civilizations. We must be diligent to reform and improve on the way prior generations handled these issues. We can continue the dialog and debate on the impact of these global problems and hopefully improve the quality and quantity of life for all humans.

FQ: What were some of the narrative challenges you faced in the process of writing the novella?

D'ECCLESIS: The theme of generational legacy is woven into every chapter, but it takes a swift turn to surprising events in the story telling with an in depth look at the impact of school bullies.

It was written in third person with a reliable narrator, a tad more difficult than a first-person novel for any author.

FQ: How has the work on this novella influenced your ultimate perspective on legacy and change? Has it transformed or challenged your initial beliefs? 

D'ECCLESIS: Contessa Angelina takes the novella into the modern era as she makes the choice, rightly or wrongly, to immigrate to America. It is her character's passion that produces the theme of generational legacy in her children down to her great grandchildren. However, the vicissitudes of life are endured side by side with joys and sorrows in each chapter. It was my intention to tell a good story with historical accuracy of the events that impacted on their lives.

FQ: Do you relate to any of the characters in the book? 

D'ECCLESIS: Not personally, it is a work of fiction and my characters including the protagonist and antagonist are therefore fictional. Writing the Pompeii character of Aunt Giovanina was inspirational, as she would certainly be the bodhisattva saint like goal all mothers strive to emulate.

I released this novella for pre-order April 21, 2024, which is the day Rome was mythically founded by Romulus and Remus on April 21, 753 BC (CE).

FQ: Do you have any upcoming project in mind on similar themes? Any glimpses into your next work? 

D'ECCLESIS: The women's saga of the contessa's generational legacy concept will continue with a stand-alone novella from 2019-present day, with a strong focus on the early married years of Philip and Sofia, who is the relative who carries the flame as well as the green eyes!

FQ: Have there been authors or literary works that you have taken inspiration from for your narrative style and themes?

D'ECCLESIS: It is a theme driven novella...and as Edward Gibbon implied, a literary work should get the historical facts as accurate as possible while telling a compelling story.

FQ: The writing of a literary work is often a transformative experience for an author. What is the effect that the creation process of The Contessa's Legacy has had on you, personally or professionally?

D'ECCLESIS: Our personal legacies are presented to the next generation with the realization that they will take what resonates with them and craft their own. I respectfully accept the modifications, mindfully and without judgement.

We examine history not to avoid repetition of the same errors, because we inevitably do repeat them, but rather to formulate mindful choices in the present.


Thursday, July 11, 2024

 #Bookreview of Choo! Choo! Choo! The Train at the Zoo

By: Kathleen Welton

Illustrated by: Tamara Joubert

Publisher: Blue Balloon Books

Publication Date: September 3, 2024

ISBN: 978-1962202237

Reviewed by: Anne Hubbard

Review Date: July 10, 2024

Choo! Choo! Choo! The Train at the Zoo, by award-winning author Kathleen Welton, is the delightful story of Peg the Pig and her animal friends as they take an adventurous train ride through the zoo. The charming illustrations in this story are brought to life by Tamara Joubert.

As our story opens, Peg the Pig calls “All aboard!” and begins driving the zoo train down the track, as her animal friends join in for fun along the way. We meet lions, tigers, giraffes, elephants, monkeys, gorillas, penguins, polar bears, owls, zebras, and pigs during the course of the train ride. The enjoyable story also explores the beauty of nature, as Peg the Pig begins driving the train in the morning with the sun shining brightly, and finishes the ride when the stars are twinkling high above in the sky.

Welton has crafted an entertaining tale that expertly mimics the “Wheels on the Bus” song, which is sure to catch the attention of young readers. The zoo characters are not only adorable, but also serve a purpose for Welton’s earliest readers in that they will help the youngsters to learn what sounds various animals make.

The illustrations, crafted by Tamara Joubert, are vibrant and colorful, and will certainly captivate any young reader. Not only does Joubert do an excellent job of bringing the animals to life, she also completes the rest of the scene surrounding the creatures flawlessly, down to the very last detail on the page.

Quill says: With its fun and catchy sing-song story along with its vivid, amusing illustrations, Choo! Choo! Choo! The Train at the Zoo is sure to capture the hearts of young children. Welton has achieved another winner that is sure to find its way onto the bookshelves of beginning readers.

For more information on Choo! Choo! Choo! The Train at the Zoo, please visit the author's website at: www.kathywelton.com

Monday, July 8, 2024

 #AuthorInterview with D.L. Jennings

Today, Feathered Quill reviewer Katie Specht is talking with D.L. Jennings, author of Days of the Dark (Book 3 of the Highglade series).

FQ: You wrote your debut novel, Gift of the Shaper, while on active duty serving on your ninth combat tour. I am curious, as I'm sure your readers are, as to what that looked like. There you were, on active military duty, writing a novel. It doesn't sound like an environment that would be conducive to writing. How did this process go for you?

JENNINGS: I would say it was exactly the environment that was conducive to writing, mostly because of a combination of factors: a remote East African location, no internet, and down time. All of those things put together made for just the right ingredients to spark a creative urge in me to start writing. I had brought a few books with me, but quickly tore through them. I told myself that, since I had grown up reading fantasy, maybe I could try my hand at writing it, too. After settling on a general setting and an idea for the characters, I started writing what would become Gift of the Shaper on my iPad, finishing the whole thing over the course of about a year.

FQ: The entire fantasy world you have created for the Highglade series, including the region, characters, artifacts, even the names, is so comprehensive and creative. You did not miss one single detail. How did you create such an intricate world? Did you derive inspiration from anywhere?

JENNINGS: I have always loved daydreaming, and I did so much of it when I was writing the series. I was raised on Dungeons and Dragons, and my favorite part was always the character creation: what was this one like? Where did he come from, and what shaped him? I poured those kinds of questions into my writing to make sure that each of my characters were believable and fleshed out. I also took a lot of inspiration from various cultures – Irish, Mongolian, Bedouin – when shaping the characters and the regions they’re from.

FQ: Would you say you're a fan of reading fantasy yourself? Any favorite fantasy authors?

JENNINGS: My mom raised me on Tolkien and C.S. Lewis, so it was only natural that I would gravitate towards writing fantasy as well. I would have to say that my favorite author, though, is Robert Jordan, who wrote the Wheel of Time series – not only because he was a great writer, but he was a fellow war veteran and ended up doing something great with his life. It’s very motivating to me.

Author D.L. Jennings

FQ: In your bio, you share that you've been deployed 11 times to six different locations. Can you share a bit about these experiences: where you've been deployed, and what your role was within the Air Force Special Operations Command?

JENNINGS: I was a Career Enlisted Aviator in the Air Force, and my specialty was called Airborne ISR (Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance) Operator, which basically meant I spent a lot of time on a special mission aircraft collecting intelligence. I flew somewhere in the neighborhood of 350 combat missions, and I only know that because they gave me a certificate when I hit 300, as it’s considered a difficult milestone to achieve. What it all boiled down to, though, was I was doing a job that I loved supporting some of the baddest dudes on the entire planet, and considered myself very lucky to be doing it.

FQ: When you were writing the Highglade series, did you have any issues keeping all of your characters and details straight? Did you have an organization system as you progressed with your writing and the details became more complex?

JENNINGS: When I was writing Awaken the Three (Book 2) and Days of the Dark (Book 3), I found myself doing a whole lot of CTRL+F in the manuscript for the first book. I wanted to make sure I got things straight like eye color (a very important trait for the race of people called the Athrani), previous character interactions, and overall story arc. The closest thing I have to organization is a text file on my phone with potential plot points or bits of dialogue that I may or may not end up using. I think it would drive a normal person mad, but then again I spend several hours a day talking to made up people in my head, so I think I’m already past that.

FQ: Days of the Dark is the conclusion of the Highglade series. Since your first series as a published author has been so successful, do you have any plans for future standalone books or perhaps another series?

JENNINGS: I have always loved writing, and consider myself very lucky to have found it. I’ve been rolling around an idea for a new story for a few years now, but I wanted to make sure that I finished my series first; it was very important to me that I told the whole story. Now that I have told the best story I could, I am very excited about my next project, which I try to update on my website, www.dl-jennings.com

FQ: On your website, you share a bit about your journey to becoming a published author, including the rejections you faced along the way. What advice would you give to someone who wants to publish a book, but is intimidated by the process?

JENNINGS: You never know what you are truly capable of until you try. Some of my friends have told me that they’re impressed with my imagination and that they could never write a book, but I was in my 30’s the first time I ever put pen to paper (metaphorically). Writing a book is far and away my proudest achievement and I’m so happy I attempted it – but at the same time I never would have been able to do it without the encouragement of my friends and family, people who told me that what I was writing was something worthwhile. I would say to anyone who is thinking about writing a book: do it. If you have it in you, it will get done.

FQ: You share that you travel a lot, and you even blog about it on your website and Instagram. Can you share with your readers a bit about your favorite trip recently: where you went, what you experienced while there, and why you loved it?

JENNINGS: Travel is one of my favorite things to do, and this past October I did something I almost never do: I visited the same place twice. Two years ago, I stumbled on a castle for rent on Airbnb. It slept 10 people and was situated in a Tuscan town called Poggibonsi. I had always wanted to go to Tuscany, and I knew that some of my friends and family would want to join me, so I reached out and got enough people interested in sleeping in a Tuscan castle that we ended up making it happen. We had such a good time that we ended up going back in 2023, and the owner remembered us. The last night we were there he cooked all of us a traditional Tuscan meal complete with wine made from grapes that he grew in his vineyard right on the property. We spent 5 days there in total, and I think, without exaggeration, it is my favorite place on earth. I have a feeling we will be back again.

 #Bookreview of Days of the Dark

By: D.L. Jennings

Publisher: Indigo River

Publication Date: July 9, 2024

ISBN: 978-1-954676-75-6

Reviewed by: Katie Specht

Review Date: April 20, 2024

From fantasy author D.L. Jennings comes the third book in his Highglade series Days of the Dark, the thrilling conclusion to his award-winning, epic series chronicling the battle between humanity and the ferocious chovathi.

The battles that have played out between good and evil thus far in the Highglade series pale in comparison to what Jennings has in store for readers of Days of the Dark. The chovathi, the subsurface-dwelling, carnivorous creatures, have been restricted to their underground lairs for years, but now, with the help of a new, unexpected power, they rise stronger than ever and threaten even the strongest of gods. As the chovathi become stronger, the Holder of the Dead seeks to use their chaos as a distraction that will allow him to take down the gods that created the universe and usurp the throne for himself. As the battle ensues, seemingly ordinary Highgladers (people who hail from the village of Highglade), along with others, find themselves stepping up and becoming unlikely heroes as they fight in the epic battle for the balance of creation.

Jennings possesses an exceptional talent in his writing in that he can vividly create detailed depictions of fantasy worlds that fully immerse the reader within these worlds. The amazing level of detail that he describes only helps to further engross the reader during the course of the story. Jennings’s style of writing is, without a doubt, the type that will fully transport readers from simply passively reading the story in their living room to feeling like they are in the village of Highglade themselves, witnessing the battles and bloodshed firsthand.

In addition to creating detailed worlds, Jennings is also gifted at developing vibrant characters for his story. It is also necessary to note that he does not simply develop four or five characters, like a typical cast might be for an average book. The number of characters in Jennings’s story is staggering, yet, they are all thoroughly developed and play an important role in the progression of the plot. The plot itself is well-paced and moves along steadily without any stalling, and the action does not cease during the course of the story.

As a reader who had not read books one or two, it was easy to get a bit lost in the beginning, especially with all the unusual characters and region names. However, it was extremely helpful and smart on the author’s part to include maps of the region of the story’s setting, as well as a detailed glossary of terms, including characters, locations, and important artifacts. This allowed me to jump into the story and grasp a better understanding more quickly.

Quill says: Days of the Dark is the epic, sweeping conclusion to the fantasy Highglade series, complete with gods, vicious creatures, battles, suspense, mysteries, and death. If you’re looking for a book that will transport you to another world, Days of the Dark will not disappoint.

For more information on Days of the Dark: Book Three of the Highglade Series, please visit the publisher's website at: www.simonandschuster.com or the author's website at: www.dl-jennings.com

Friday, July 5, 2024

 #Bookreview of Pigs Have Wings

By: Kathleen Welton

Illustrated by: Chau Pham

Publisher: Bookfox Press

Publication Date: June 16, 2024

ISBN: 978-1-960157577

Reviewed by: Anne Hubbard

Review Date: July 3, 2024

Pigs Have Wings, by award-winning author Kathleen Welton, is the inspiring children’s story of a determined little pig who has big dreams.

Our story opens as we meet Miz Peg, a petite pig who is adorable in her own right, but is unhappy for a very specific reason. She desires to dance and sing, but whenever she tries, she finds herself tumbling onto the ground. When she expresses her longing to jump and dance to her friends, they all tell her she is being silly, because “pigs don’t have wings.” Peg notices some birds flying high effortlessly, and thinks that if anyone can help her, it has to be them. So, she tries again to dance, this time in their presence, but still finds herself falling flat on the ground. This is when Peg meets a kind owl, who swoops down to offer her much-needed encouragement, inspiring Peg to do what she never could before.

Welton tells a sweet, simple story of a determined little pig that is written in rhyme, which little ears are sure to love. The sweet story demonstrates a powerful and important message for young readers: that working hard and believing in themselves will help them to achieve their dreams. It is especially important these days when some young people may be told that they cannot do something simply because of the way they look, walk, or talk. This inspiring tale can offer them hope that simply by persevering and accepting themselves for who they are, amazing things can happen.

Welton does a superb job of making this story flow well in rhyme, which little ones often love. The illustrations, done by Chau Pham, are top-notch as well. They are bright and vivid, offering specific details to accurately depict each particular scene and make the story come alive. Kids will especially adore the scene portraying Peg’s friends cheering for her as she achieves her dreams at the end.

Quill says: With the inspiring message of perseverance and believing in yourself along with the vibrant, adorable illustrations, Welton has achieved a definite success with her latest children’s book Pigs Have Wings.

To learn more about Pigs Have Wings, please visit the author’s website at: www.kathywelton.com

Wednesday, July 3, 2024

 #AuthorInterview with Ivan Obolensky

Today, Feathered Quill reviewer Kathy Stickles is talking with Ivan Obolensky, author of Dark of the Earth: Book 3 of the Eye of the Moon series.

FQ: As always, I really adored this new book and I am so grateful to have the opportunity to read it and keep up with what is happening in the characters’ lives. You are simply a master at this type of storytelling I must say. Do you go through a lot of questioning yourself (and your characters) and rewriting things in the books or is this just a knack you have and it comes out on paper easily the first time?

OBOLENSKY: Thank you so much for the compliment. Having a reader really enjoy something one has written, after having put in so much time and effort, is the best reward for having written it.

Nothing is ever easy, and writing novels requires a special kind of skill. In the beginning, one has unlimited possibilities as to what to write and which direction to take. As the story is put down, the pathways available become fewer and fewer, like context. Context provides definition to what one is trying to communicate. The more context there is, the more defined and precise a fact or a situation becomes. It is the same with stories. At the beginning anything is possible. At the end, the choices are few, and the plot gathers its own inevitability from all that went before like a slow-moving avalanche.

Because I wish to convey a sense of realism, the stories I write are built moment by moment into scenes (chapters). I rarely have any idea where a story is going when I start. The only rule I follow is that there must be consistency and continuity once I begin. All the actions, every dialogue, and each description must contribute to forwarding the story and must be rooted in what went on before, so the plot develops organically and is continuous rather than discontinuous. For me, writing is like running a marathon on a road one has never seen. One plugs away step by step and word by word into a distance that is uncertain and undefined.

To begin, I require an interesting situation that has consequences. The middle needs brilliant language and clarity because middles can be confusing, but endings are where the writer really has to shine. A good ending is vital because it makes whatever the reader had to go through to get to it worth the effort they put in. Fail there, and all is lost. For me, a good ending must be surprising, suitably outrageous yet believable, and satisfying—all at the same time. If it is brilliantly executed, then so much the better. I worry a lot about endings. I wonder constantly how I will make what is inevitable a surprise. It’s what I think about most when I’m in the middle.

To answer your question, writing is relatively easy if one’s thoughts are clear. It is the thinking to gain that clarity (before, during, and after) that requires so much energy and effort. In addition, the writing is rarely right the first time. I will read what I have written hundreds of times to make it smoother, better, clearer, and, most of all, memorable.

FQ: Dark of the Earth, even though it includes all of the characters we have come to adore, really pushes Percy to the forefront and we see him transform into a very strong and determined man who is willing to do just about anything to help Johnny and to protect the entire family and business from those who might be trying to cause harm. Was it fun to show us this new “Percy” or was it extremely challenging to make him different and more of the real main character given Johnny’s not being around so much in the beginning of the story?

OBOLENSKY: To me, novels are long stories that ask and answer deep questions. How to prove oneself worthy in one’s own estimation is one of many grand themes that are woven through Dark of the Earth and the earlier books of the series. Accomplishing that task in the real world is difficult for everyone. One can fool others, and even oneself for a time, but in the end, it is one question we all must answer.

In ancient India, a man had to have produced a son who produced a son to be released from the obligations of family. He was then free to go off into the forest by himself in search of wisdom. Having garnered special knowledge, he could return and teach others what he had discovered. He became a guru.

In the West, we have the “hero’s journey”, where an individual leaves all that is known and ventures into the unknown to experience the world and discover who he really is. The hero then returns with that understanding and perhaps some treasure. This hero’s journey is handed down in different ways across a great many cultures, in the form of myths, legends, and ancient tales. It is almost universal as a theme. In modern culture, this yearning for the journey is still present, but given our modernity, how is that to be done?

In Percy, we see him discover who he really is in Eye of the Moon as he confronts and quiets the darkness and terrors that lie hidden within himself. In Shadow of the Son, Percy steps out from beneath the shadow of his father and his heritage to cast his own shadow. In Dark of the Earth, the circle expands, and he must confront the desperation of those who value wealth and winning above all else (the world of the modern corporate economy). Saddled with our natures, how does one live well and in harmony, given the incessant economic pressure, society’s demands for compliance and acquiescence, and the sociopathic tendencies of a few? Percy develops because he is without Johnny to rely on and has no choice. He must step up or be trodden under.

What was challenging about showing this new Percy was portraying his development (the hero’s journey) in a modern context and in a story that does not devolve into the all-too-familiar dystopian drama, where evil is met with greater evil and victory goes to the stronger, the most expedient, and the more mercenary. There are no dragons to slay, or so it seems, but that is hardly true, even today. They have simply assumed different guises, and down deep, we all thirst for adventure, even if we must create it ourselves.

How to illustrate the hero’s journey using a single location was certainly a challenge. Percy surprised me nonetheless, and as in real life and in my novels, surprise is always just around the corner and never to be underestimated. It was Lenin, of all people, who said, “There are decades when nothing happens; and there are weeks where decades happen.” I prefer to have those decades happen in days. My novels would be too long otherwise.

Author Ivan Obolensky

FQ: I liked seeing more of Johnny and Percy’s past through the flashbacks and stories that Percy told to Johnny and to the family. Will we see more of that in the next book or was it more of a tool used just because of the situation in this story?

OBOLENSKY: Oddly, the book I started was originally supposed to be a collection of short stories as a stopgap before I wrote the next in the series. I had written several stories about Johnny’s and Percy’s earlier adventures and thought to myself, “What could be easier?” That didn’t go as planned. I was rereading Boccaccio at the time and thought of using an overarching story—the accident in this case—as a literary device to showcase them. I patted myself on the back and merrily began, only to have that self-satisfied feeling rapidly disappear.

I began to wonder if Johnny’s accident had really been an accident. Suppose it had been deliberate? By the time I had gotten to the middle, I still wasn’t sure. The Cushmans had a plan and were up to something, but what? It was a puzzle. Added to that was the conundrum of how Johnny was to recover. It took two years and a great deal of thought, writing, and rewriting to solve.

In truth, the stories were an idea that spun completely out of control, and there was nothing I could do but follow along. I am certainly glad I did. What I find amusing is that the stories are microcosms of what happens in the big story and add nuances that could not have existed without them.

FQ: I simply adore the way you give readers little bits and pieces of the secondary characters in each book so that we learn more about them as the stories move forward. I loved seeing Angus again and having him be a part of the story and the weekend. In addition, Raymond became more a part of this story and seems to be a very interesting character with quite a past. Will they both be returning the next book?

OBOLENSKY: I’m sure they will. When I write, I feel like one of those jugglers who spin plates on top of canes and other pointy objects. They get twenty going and have to run back to the first one to spin it again before it falls and breaks. Depending on how the plot develops and how each character can forward it determines how much we get to know about them, but each is a story in its own right and worthy of exposition. Both Angus and Raymond have dark histories but then so do all the other characters. Only the elegant environment of Rhinebeck and the civilizing influence of tradition keep them in check and playing nice with everyone else.

FQ: Lord Bromley, who was so much a part of the last book, gone and was only mentioned in passing in this book. He was without a doubt one of those characters that readers just love to hate but he definitely had many layers and I don’t think we touched on them all. Will there be any more about him going forward?

OBOLENSKY: That is difficult to say at this point. I have no idea how the fourth will develop. As an author, I still want to know more about the relationship between him and Alice and what is happening with them now, wherever that is. I rather think I will have to do some digging to find out. The dead are never really dead. They influence us, but what that influence will be, I can’t answer at this time. I suspect I will, so stay tuned.

FQ: I know that you are thinking four books will be it for this series so can you tell us a bit about the final installment? Will we see a baby and a wedding? Is Johnny going to get an “end” to the story like Percy or is there the possibility of more books in the series in the future?

OBOLENSKY: I never say never, but the idea was four—like the acts of a play. At some point, one must draw the curtain and let the audience go home to consider the experience and perhaps revisit it. Len Deighton wrote nine in his spy series, so anything is possible. I suppose if I get lonely for their company, I might add another because I’ve lived with the characters for years, and they are never completely silent. For sure, there is the wedding, and what if Bruni has twins in the middle of the ceremony among the pews and kneelers? One question I have is: How will Percy convince the baron to acquiesce to Johnny’s demand that the wedding take place at Rhinebeck? Dagmar’s cooking may be the deciding factor, but then there is the von Hofmanstal castle, where nannies have dropped like flies, and the dungeon waits underneath. Surely, that will enter in at some point. It’s all a giant swirl. To entangle it starts with a single word—but only when I sit down to write it, and I’m not there yet.

After that, there is a half-finished novel that I started years ago called “Songs of Rebellion”. It is about what it’s like for a mortal to meet a god. That never ends well, by the way. I’ve left it in a drawer on my hard drive until I develop the writing chops necessary to finish it. I’m close. I have improved, but that one will require a great deal of skill—skills I’m still working on and developing.

FQ: Do you have any idea what might be next for you as an author when this series is finished and the pages close on Rhinebeck?

OBOLENSKY: I mentioned “Songs of Rebellion”. There is also a nonfiction project that I plan to complete called “Challenges” likely before number four is completed. It is about success, failure, and their similarities—other than the endings—and has its roots in the many previous articles I wrote between 2011 and 2018. I want to use the skills I developed writing novels to create a nonfiction book that readers will find useful, thought-provoking, as well as entertaining.

FQ: I am guessing that deciding to write novels takes a whole lot of time and very hard work so you must have an excellent support system behind you. How much does your family support you and how does that help in your writing?

OBOLENSKY: I do. It is one of the hallmarks of those who are successful. Successful people, who last, have one thing in common: an emotional infrastructure that supports them when they wobble, dusts them off, and puts them back in play. The number of sports figures who went south after a parent died and were no longer there to fulfill that need is worth noting. Behind most successful men (or women) are partners of extraordinary worth who are blessed with mental and financial acuity. You don’t see them, but they are there if one looks closely.

My wife, Mary Jo, is one, and she is also my first reader. That task and responsibility is not as easy as it might appear. There is the constant waiting between chapters and should the chapter end on the edge of a cliff, I suggest you proceed immediately to the next, and then deliver both. A first reader is important and must be treasured and cared for. I note every expression. I listen to the cadence and the rhythm when she reads a chapter aloud, and that helps me make refinements. She also lets me know when she’s enchanted, and her encouragement helps me continue.

There is also Joanna, my stepdaughter, a stickler for details once the work is done. I may dismiss four out of five things that she suggests, but it is that fifth that makes all the difference. Disagreement is always as important as agreement when building anything.

I have also come to writing late in life. I never had to write to live. I can’t conceive how hard that must be.

I think it is also hard for many to appreciate how strongly our infrastructure (personal, economic, familial, and global) supports us as much as restrains us in our efforts to succeed. Life doesn’t happen in a vacuum, even though we might wish it was up to us to either win or lose. Alone, the chances of success are minimal. Supported, the odds of succeeding are better.

In the end, it is also up to the writer to take advantage of the years of literature that has been written in the past, to be conversant with it all, and to know how the greats succeeded and why. Commercial success is often dependent on embracing social issues, and that has been the case for the last two hundred years. I don’t particularly subscribe to that line, but I know it works. The research says so. I prefer to do something altogether different, and that is a lonely road to travel, but the one I have chosen. I thank the stars for having those in my life who believe in me. If I didn’t, I would be alone, and nothing would come of all my efforts—absolutely nothing.

FQ: What authors and/or types of stories have had a huge influence on you and your writing? Any authors that you are really partial to?

OBOLENSKY: I read everything and anything. I read escapism to escape, textbooks for knowledge, and writers of all types to discover what they did to move me either negatively or positively. I want to know why I felt the way I felt. I want to know how they managed to enchant me or do the opposite. I read because I enjoy reading. I read as often as I can. When I find myself staying up late, I note the reason. What did the author do? Can I do that? Should I do a Faulkner in my next book and put the last chapter first? Not likely, but I could because I’ve seen it done. Could I start in the middle? Absolutely. I also use film and play direction and directing techniques. I try to get into a scene late and get out early à la David Mamet. His insights on directing are gold. I also try to appeal to the reader’s imagination and intelligence to stay with me. I study plays. I study history. I study mathematics. All of it is useful and comes out in my writing.

Jane Austen, Raymond Chandler, Frank Herbert, Edith Wharton, P. G. Wodehouse, Booth Tarkington, O. Henry, Homer, Euripides, Ovid, Roald Dahl, and a thousand others have made their contributions, and I have gladly accepted their examples and been inspired by their brilliance. To me, a really good book is a rare and glorious treasure to be savored, marveled at, and revered. To write one of those is what I strive for.

 #Bookreview of Dark of the Earth: Book 3 of the Eye of the Moon

By: Ivan Obolensky

Publisher: Smith-Obolensky Media

Publication Date: July 4, 2024

ISBN: 978-1-947780-36-1

Reviewed by: Kathy Stickles

Review Date: July 3, 2024

Dark of the Earth, the third book in the “Eye of the Moon” series by Ivan Obolensky, is an amazing (as always) novel and an excellent continuation to this riveting series. The boys are back along with all of our favorite characters and some new ones who, while they are not ones that we will love, definitely make the story more interesting.

As Dark of the Earth opens, one of our favorite boys, Johnny, has had a terrible accident and is in the hospital in a coma. Unsure as to whether or not Johnny will even survive, Percy and his fiancée Bruni rush back to New York to see Johnny and to try to find out what happened. In the case of the accident, the facts do not add up and Percy needs to know what is really going on, not only to help Johnny but also to help their business, which seems to be involved in whatever has happened. As he sets out to unravel this new mystery, with the help of Bruni and Johnny’s parents, some faces from Percy and Johnny’s past end up coming into play, in what now looks to be no simple accident. Did Johnny do something behind Percy’s back to set everyone on this horrible path? Will the business survive? And, most importantly, how can Percy figure things out and bring Johnny back to them? Why, by having a huge weekend party at Rhinebeck as usual, and inviting those he thinks might be responsible for the accident.

In addition to Percy and Bruni, all of our favorites gather at Rhinebeck: Johnny’s parents, Bruni’s parents, Maw, and of course Stanley and Dagmar, who run the whole show. Percy also invites an old friend, Casey Cushman, along with her husband James and James’ parents. It turns out that Casey has been having an affair with Johnny and there is definitely friction from the past involving the boys, Casey and her husband. Did the Cushman’s cause Johnny’s accident and what have they really been doing?

So much is going on in this story, but it is woven together perfectly by the author and the reader is pulled in from the very first page. The spiritual world plays a big part in the story, thanks of course to Dagmar and her wonderful concoctions, and shows the reader a new and stronger side of Percy as he tries to figure things out. The story is well-written and so perfectly put together that I dare anyone out there to not enjoy it immensely. The characters, both old and new, are very well-developed and make for fascinating reading and the storyline is intricate, different and completely mesmerizing. At the very beginning of the book the author includes an excellent synopsis of both of the previous stories so that, if one chooses, they can just pick up book three and start reading. Personally, I would not recommend that course of action, as the stories prior to this one are just as fabulous and detailed.

Ivan Obolensky is a master at creating these dark, mystical, and riveting stories and I cannot say enough about the stories or the man who shares them with us. I do not have the words to tell readers how much I recommend Dark of the Earth. It is simply marvelous and I think that everyone out there should grab it and read it as soon as they possibly can. The best part is that when you get to the end you realize that there is another installment coming our way. I just hope it comes really quickly!

Quill says: Dark of the Earth is the third in this series that just keeps getting better and better. While there are many second and third books in a series that just do not live up to their beginnings, this series is not at all like that: every new book is better than the previous one.

For more information on Dark of the Earth, please visit the author's website at: ivanobolensky.com



Tuesday, July 2, 2024

 #Bookreview of Sarita

By: Natalie Dossett

Publisher: Atmosphere Press

Publication Date: September 10, 2024

ISBN: 979-8891323384

Reviewed by: Lily Andrews

Review Date: July 1, 2024

In an era where everyone believed that a woman could do nothing without a man, one young woman is determined to beat these societal conventions and overcome unsurmountable odds to secure her future and her father's, and avenge the painful death of her brother.

Sarita by Natalie Dossett is a stirring tale that stays on key from the beginning to the end. Set in the 1920s in Texas, against the backdrop of major social-political turmoil, the story follows Sarita, a young woman, who has encountered loss one too many times. Her fiancée has disappeared without a trace, making her the town's gossip. When her mother dies, her plans to graduate also come to a halt, with her father preferring to have her stay at home and attend to household chores. Unlike many girls who prefer kitchen chores, Sarita desires to spend her time helping with the ranch work, saddling the horses, but her father always declines. She has always known that her 13-year-old brother JJ is her father's favorite, an awareness that lingers on even days after JJ is tragically shot dead by tequila smugglers in a robbery incident.

With her brother gone and Texas authorities reluctant to follow up on the case, opting instead to concentrate on more pressing lawbreaking issues, her life is suddenly upended. Grief casts a long shadow on the family with her father uncertain about the future, now that his son, who was of great help on their ranch, La Barroneña Ranch, is gone. Sarita fears her ailing dad will sell the ranch to an unrelenting oil marketer, seeking to take advantage of his helpless situation. Undaunted and daring, Sarita makes up her mind to go after the man behind her brother's death, a sadistic tequila smuggler, a task which, if not successful, will leave her dead. She also feels compelled to salvage what's left of their lives and ranch name, hoping to change her fate and have a better life.

Recalling Maude, a life-hardened widow's words: "Nothing worthwhile lands in your lap dipped in honey, sugar--you got to charge ahead and grab it," Sarita makes the arduous journey across the giant Rio Grande River, stepping into the dangerous world of cutthroats and bandits, a world she knows very little about. The stakes are high for the young girl's life and danger seems to always linger too close.

Coming in at 366 pages, Sarita is a sumptuous delight for the heart and soul and does not wear down with its chapters owing to its brisk and language-melding prose. The impressive additions of dialect richly give readers an illusion of the reality of the fictional characters in the story. This element further provides the geographical and social context of the story, adding a splash of entertainment to it. Sarita's laudable personality steals the show throughout the reading, and her chance encounters with danger make for wonderful plot twists. The writing is smooth and coherent, which elicits admiration for Dossett's storytelling. The author possesses a firm grasp of the landscapes and culture of the Wild West and strikingly demonstrates this through her narration.

Quill says: Natalie Dossett's latest offering is a worthy contender in a variety of genres, and will appeal to a diverse audience. For readers captivated by historical fiction with a touch of mystery and a strong female lead, Sarita will provide many hours of entertainment.

For more information on Sarita, please visit the publisher's website at: www.atmospherepress.com/books/sarita-by-natalie-dossett/

Friday, June 28, 2024

 #AuthorInterview with Helena P. Schrader

Today, Feathered Quill reviewer Douglas C. MacLeod, Jr. is talking with Helena P. Schrader, author of Cold War: A Novel of the Berlin Airlift.

FQ: Cold War is about a very specific time after World War II-the Soviet blockade and the Berlin Airlift. Why choose this specific time period as the setting for these protagonists’ stories?

SCHRADER: I lived roughly 25 years in Berlin and my husband is a Berliner so I feel a strong affinity for Berlin and what it suffered in this period. Then in 2006, a U.K. publisher commissioned me to write a non-fiction work on the Berlin Airlift to mark the 60th anniversary. My research for that book brought me in contact with many survivors of the Blockade and Airlift — Germans, British and Americans, including the famous “Candy Bomber” himself, Gail Halvorsen. The non-fiction book titled The Blockade Breakers could not begin to include all the human stories I discovered, and it was obvious that Berlin Airlift offered the raw material for a thousand novels. In short, I was drawn to the topic then, but was already fully engaged on other projects. I did not return to the Berlin Airlift until the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

FQ: You earned a PhD in history from the University of Hamburg, and you have expertise in both aviation and World War II. What led you into this field of study, and why write novels as opposed to commercial or academic non-fictional works, in this particular instance?

SCHRADER: Does any of us know why we get interested in a particular topic?

I lived in the UK as a girl when memories of the Second World War were still vivid and pervasive. I was there when the film “The Battle of Britain” was released and I lived near to RAF Tangmere. That’s probably what first got me interested in military aviation. I devoured first-hand accounts of the Battle of Britain, along with memoirs and histories. Eventually, I risked writing a novel on the topic, Where Eagles Never Flew, which included a German plotline and highlighted the role of groundcrews and controllers as well. There is nothing in my entire writing career of which I am more proud than that one of the surviving RAF Battle of Britain aces, Wing Commander Bob Doe, called this “the best book” he had ever seen on the Battle of Britain, adding that “it got it smack on the way it was for us RAF pilots.”

While studying at university, however, I encountered the German Resistance. I was fascinated by this moral and ethical struggle so different from the nationalist resistance movements in occupied Europe. So much so, that I went to Germany to continue my studies and eventually earned a PhD with a dissertation on a leading Resistance figure. I met survivors and family members of Resistance leaders. I visited in their homes, held long discussions over ethics, courage, human nature, guilt, greed and more. We became friends, and I became obsessed with telling their story. Yes, I wrote and published my PhD thesis, but how many people read those? I believed a novel would reach more people and spent the next twenty years trying to interest agents and publishers in Germany, the US and the UK in my manuscript on the German Resistance. Nobody wanted a book about “good Germans,” so I self-published under the title Traitors for the Sake of Humanity.

By then, I was working and living in Berlin and spoke fluent German. My interest in military aviation had resulted in not only the novel on the Battle of Britain (Where Eagles Never Flew mentioned above), it had also produced a non-fiction, comparative study on women pilots in WWII. It was this latter book which brought me in contact with the publishing editor who would contract me to write the non-fiction work on the Berlin Airlift referenced above.

Non-fiction books are all very well, but I still think novels have a greater capacity to engage people at an emotional level. Novels can also reach an audience that would never pick up a non-fiction book on a specific topic. In the case of the Berlin Crisis of 1948-1949, the advantage of a novel is that it can go beyond the political chess game and logistical accomplishments to explore the social and psychological impact of this pivotal historical event. With Cold War, I hope to reach readers at an emotional level.

Author Helena P. Schrader

FQ: Cold War is a work with a lot of moving parts to it, and yet the novel is quite linear in its construction. When starting this project, as well as the entire series, was that your intent to ensure focus was maintained? What is your writing and research process like?

SCHRADER: If an author is writing about common events in a familiar setting, then it can be intriguing and beneficial to play with time and space. The author does not risk jeopardizing the readers fundamental understanding of the context and subject. In contrast, in an unfamiliar setting, sophisticated narrative techniques tend to obscure and confuse rather than enhance a story. Given the complexity of the historical situation in Cold War — starting with the division of Germany into four zones of occupation, but with Berlin itself inside the Soviet zone, yet also divided into four — any approach other than a very straight-forward, chronological one would have resulted in chaos and irritation.

As for process, in this case the research had largely be completed when writing The Blockade Breakers, although I consulted a couple of recent releases. I then outlined the key events that I wanted woven into the story and got to work. For Cold Peace, I found it easier to write each storyline separately and then interweave them. By the time I was writing Cold War, the characters were sufficiently established and familiar for me to write the book as it appears, chronologically.

FQ: Cold War has many strong female characters, and a good portion of your canon speaks to women and their affiliation with the military. Do you have the sense that women are fundamentally under-represented in stories about military service and, more specifically, World War II?

SCHRADER: No. Not really. Men did — and still do — dominate the armed forces. It would be perfectly appropriate for most books about the Second World War to focus on them. In fact, however, there seem to be an inordinate number of books about women during the war, mostly as spies and resistance fighters, or on the home front.

FQ: You seem to have a very strong sense of voice; your characters are very distinct and the dialogue in Cold War is very indicative of the time or of how the time is generally represented. Do you think that comes from your knowledge of and research on the subject matter or is there something more personal happening? How did you come up with your characters’ voices?

SCHRADER: For a historical novel to work well, it must be more than accurate, it must also feel authentic. It is the latter which makes it considerably easier to write non-fiction than fiction. A non-fiction book remains a contemporary work looking back at a specific topic in the past. We can use modern language, references, draw parallels to the present, exploit hindsight etc. etc.

A novel should do none of those things. A novel should transport the reader back in time and make them feel as if they are living through the events described. The people who inhabit a novel ought to use the language of the period (to the extent this is still comprehensible to modern readers). They should have the same interests, opportunities, belief-systems, prejudices etc. etc. as the people of the age in which they “live.” I’m pleased to hear that you think I succeeded in doing this!

If I did, it is largely because of my heavy reliance on primary sources for my research. That is interviews, letters, memoirs, autobiographies, oral histories and diaries. If you immerse yourself in enough primary sources, the language of the age starts to become second-nature.

But you are correct that there is something ‘more personal’ at play as well. My major characters are people who have asked me to write about them. I am only the media for those who want their stories told. I try very hard to let them speak for themselves.

FQ: Around the world, we are currently seeing the horrors of war and potential for conflict. Ukraine-Russia. Israel-Palestine. Taiwan-China. Cold War is quite timely in that way. Was this intentional? Or, are stories like this just so common place that it seems like you were being intentional?

SCHRADER: The parallels to the invasion of Ukraine and the increasing threat of a Chinese blockade of Taiwan were a prime factor motivating me to returning the topic of the first battle of the Cold War. As I mentioned, the Berlin Airlift had long intrigued me, but I’d put on a “back burner” for a “later date.” That date seemed to have come.

FQ: What one appreciates about Cold War is its accessibility to the general public; the work is not difficult to follow, even though there are technicalities and complex terminologies associated with the military. Your forward, in particular, is most helpful in keeping your audience on track. Do you find it difficult to suppress the need to get technical for the sake of the story?

SCHRADER: Thank you! I’m very relieved to hear that you, as a reader who had not read Cold Peace, found it easy to get involved in the story and follow it!

As to your question, the problem is not wanting to get lost in technicalities, but rather remembering to include explanations of things that seem absolutely obvious to me. I’m frequently baffled when readers make comments that reveal a fundamental lack of understanding of essential facts, e.g. that Berlin was 100 miles inside the Soviet zone, that the Airlift operated from bases in western Germany (not England or the US), that RAF pilots could have any rank from Sergeant to Air Marshal etc. My editor, who is completely ignorant of all things military, kept forcing me to put in more information than I thought necessary.

FQ: You are quite prolific. You have written close to 30 pieces of fiction and non-fiction. What is it about writing and research that draws you to do it so regularly

SCHRADER: I simply can’t stop. The stories — or voices as you put it — are in me. They want to be heard. I live in fear I have not done justice to my subjects. I’m particularly distressed by feeling I’ve failed to market my books adequately.

All the dead ask of the living is that we remember them. My books are intended as memorials. I wish they were bigger, stronger and more enduring than what I create on my laptop, but I have no other tools.

FQ: This is the second book of a trilogy. Can you tell us a bit about what your plans are for the third and final book in the series?

SCHRADER: Cold Victory picks up where Cold War ended, again taking the reader into the hearts and minds of the familiar British, American and German characters. The first draft of Cold Victory is roughly three-fourths finished, which means it is on track to be released in April or May of next year, 2025.

However, Cold Victory posed significant challenges to me as a novelist because historically the logistical and political challenges to the Airlift had been overcome by the end of January 1949. From then onwards, the volume and diversity of supplies delivered by the Airlift just grew and grew. That makes for a boring plot.

To counter that, I chose to explore the changing nature of the world as it slid deeper into the Cold War by giving two characters greater freedom to operate outside the rigid framework of the historical record. This was risky for me as an author because it entails trespassing into two personally unfamiliar genres: crime and espionage thrillers. In one case, a murder trial shines a light on the incomplete de-nazification of Germany. In the other, a clandestine operation to rescue a civilian from unjust accusations of espionage highlights the degree to which the Cold War was fought “under cover.”

Nevertheless, the framework remains the Airlift. The over-arching theme is turning enemies into allies. Yet the need to confront the new Stalinist threat also resulted in an overhasty and imperfect pasting-over of the Nazi past; collective guilt became collective amnesty. In addition, this first victory of the Cold War left a bitter after-taste by leaving Germany and Europe divided for another forty years.

Thursday, June 27, 2024

 #Bookreview of Knife River

By: Baron Birtcher

Publisher: Open Road Media

Publication Date: April 23, 2024

ISBN: 978-1504086523

Reviewed by: Diana Coyle

Review Date: June 26, 2024

In Knife River by Baron Birtcher, Sheriff Ty Dawson is trying to keep the peace in Meriwether County during the 1970’s when the world is in strife. Sheriff Dawson is trying his best to keep the riff raff out of his county, but trouble just seems to find him no matter how hard he and his deputies try.

One case Ty is currently investigating is trying to discover the identities of two men who shot a young eagle on federal land. He and his deputies will stop at nothing to find these two men and arrest them for committing such a heinous offense. While trying to find out who the two men are, and who owns the helicopter they were using to commit the offense, he decides to travel to the meadow area not too far from his Diamond D ranch. He’s hoping to find some incriminating evidence there to support his case. After finding some evidence, Ty decides to pay a visit to the closest developed property nearest the meadow. This secluded resort contains a record studio built from the remains of existing abandoned buildings. Since so much money was put into this development, he hopes he will cross paths with the owner there knowing they have a helicopter pad on property – something very few people have in this part of town.

He meets Len Kaanan, the owner of the property, and is told that although the property has a helicopter pad, Len doesn’t own a helicopter. It is there for all his music clients when they need to fly in and out of the area when they are recording their songs. One popular client, Ian Swann, is presently recording an album which they know will be a huge success. Len assures Ty that no one has used the helicopter pad in quite some time. But something doesn’t sit well between Ty and Ian, and Ty is determined to do whatever he has to in order to get to the bottom of who shot the eagle and just who this Ian Swann character is that is giving him a bad feeling in his gut. Will Ty and his deputies find the two men who killed the eagle? What does Ty discover about who Ian Swann really is?

Right from the start, this story will grab you and take you on a roller coaster ride of emotions. The reader is first pulled in as to why an eagle, which is a protected species, is senselessly killed. As you turn the pages, you are traveling along with Ty and his deputies wanting to find the truth as to why this crime took place and who the two men are that committed the wrongdoing. As law enforcement is investigating, you will find your heart pounding in your chest because you feel as if you are another deputy on the case needing to find the necessary answers to make an arrest. Birtcher skillfully penned the story to make it feel so real that you personally want to make the two arrests and have these men serve time for the federal crime they committed.

The setting of this story will pull you in as well because of the way the author described the land, the people and the animals as seen through Ty and his deputies’ eyes. It will make you feel as if you are actively investigating the crime and looking for your own evidence to solve this case. As each person is investigated, you will start coming to your own conclusions if the person may be guilty or not of committing this crime and question if they are one of the men that should be put in jail. The author is very gifted at describing scenes to make them authentic and so believable that you will think you are another character in the story watching everything unfold before your eyes.

When Ian Swann entered the story, something didn’t feel right about him at first. Then as his story unfolded, he became an integral part of Ty’s investigation, which later takes a drastic turn in the story. Readers will be riveted, sitting on the edge of their seats while trying to find out who Ian really is and how he fits into the situation as a whole.

Quill says: Knife River is one mystery thriller that will take you on a roller coaster ride until the very last page. It comes highly recommended by this reviewer!


Tuesday, June 25, 2024

 #AuthorInterview with D.L. Jennings

Today, Feathered Quill reviewer Katie Specht is talking with D.L. Jennings, author of Days of the Dark (Book 3 of the Highglade series).

FQ: You wrote your debut novel, Gift of the Shaper, while on active duty serving on your ninth combat tour. I am curious, as I'm sure your readers are, as to what that looked like. There you were, on active military duty, writing a novel. It doesn't sound like an environment that would be conducive to writing. How did this process go for you?

JENNINGS: I would say it was exactly the environment that was conducive to writing, mostly because of a combination of factors: a remote East African location, no internet, and down time. All of those things put together made for just the right ingredients to spark a creative urge in me to start writing. I had brought a few books with me, but quickly tore through them. I told myself that, since I had grown up reading fantasy, maybe I could try my hand at writing it, too. After settling on a general setting and an idea for the characters, I started writing what would become Gift of the Shaper on my iPad, finishing the whole thing over the course of about a year.

FQ: The entire fantasy world you have created for the Highglade series, including the region, characters, artifacts, even the names, is so comprehensive and creative. You did not miss one single detail. How did you create such an intricate world? Did you derive inspiration from anywhere?

JENNINGS: I have always loved daydreaming, and I did so much of it when I was writing the series. I was raised on Dungeons and Dragons, and my favorite part was always the character creation: what was this one like? Where did he come from, and what shaped him? I poured those kinds of questions into my writing to make sure that each of my characters were believable and fleshed out. I also took a lot of inspiration from various cultures – Irish, Mongolian, Bedouin – when shaping the characters and the regions they’re from.

FQ: Would you say you're a fan of reading fantasy yourself? Any favorite fantasy authors?

JENNINGS: My mom raised me on Tolkien and C.S. Lewis, so it was only natural that I would gravitate towards writing fantasy as well. I would have to say that my favorite author, though, is Robert Jordan, who wrote the Wheel of Time series – not only because he was a great writer, but he was a fellow war veteran and ended up doing something great with his life. It’s very motivating to me.

Author D.L. Jennings

FQ: In your bio, you share that you've been deployed 11 times to six different locations. Can you share a bit about these experiences: where you've been deployed, and what your role was within the Air Force Special Operations Command?

JENNINGS: I was a Career Enlisted Aviator in the Air Force, and my specialty was called Airborne ISR (Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance) Operator, which basically meant I spent a lot of time on a special mission aircraft collecting intelligence. I flew somewhere in the neighborhood of 350 combat missions, and I only know that because they gave me a certificate when I hit 300, as it’s considered a difficult milestone to achieve. What it all boiled down to, though, was I was doing a job that I loved supporting some of the baddest dudes on the entire planet, and considered myself very lucky to be doing it.

FQ: When you were writing the Highglade series, did you have any issues keeping all of your characters and details straight? Did you have an organization system as you progressed with your writing and the details became more complex?

JENNINGS: When I was writing Awaken the Three (Book 2) and Days of the Dark (Book 3), I found myself doing a whole lot of CTRL+F in the manuscript for the first book. I wanted to make sure I got things straight like eye color (a very important trait for the race of people called the Athrani), previous character interactions, and overall story arc. The closest thing I have to organization is a text file on my phone with potential plot points or bits of dialogue that I may or may not end up using. I think it would drive a normal person mad, but then again I spend several hours a day talking to made up people in my head, so I think I’m already past that.

FQ: Days of the Dark is the conclusion of the Highglade series. Since your first series as a published author has been so successful, do you have any plans for future standalone books or perhaps another series?

JENNINGS: I have always loved writing, and consider myself very lucky to have found it. I’ve been rolling around an idea for a new story for a few years now, but I wanted to make sure that I finished my series first; it was very important to me that I told the whole story. Now that I have told the best story I could, I am very excited about my next project, which I try to update on my website, www.dl-jennings.com

FQ: On your website, you share a bit about your journey to becoming a published author, including the rejections you faced along the way. What advice would you give to someone who wants to publish a book, but is intimidated by the process?

JENNINGS: You never know what you are truly capable of until you try. Some of my friends have told me that they’re impressed with my imagination and that they could never write a book, but I was in my 30’s the first time I ever put pen to paper (metaphorically). Writing a book is far and away my proudest achievement and I’m so happy I attempted it – but at the same time I never would have been able to do it without the encouragement of my friends and family, people who told me that what I was writing was something worthwhile. I would say to anyone who is thinking about writing a book: do it. If you have it in you, it will get done.

FQ: You share that you travel a lot, and you even blog about it on your website and Instagram. Can you share with your readers a bit about your favorite trip recently: where you went, what you experienced while there, and why you loved it?

JENNINGS: Travel is one of my favorite things to do, and this past October I did something I almost never do: I visited the same place twice. Two years ago, I stumbled on a castle for rent on Airbnb. It slept 10 people and was situated in a Tuscan town called Poggibonsi. I had always wanted to go to Tuscany, and I knew that some of my friends and family would want to join me, so I reached out and got enough people interested in sleeping in a Tuscan castle that we ended up making it happen. We had such a good time that we ended up going back in 2023, and the owner remembered us. The last night we were there he cooked all of us a traditional Tuscan meal complete with wine made from grapes that he grew in his vineyard right on the property. We spent 5 days there in total, and I think, without exaggeration, it is my favorite place on earth. I have a feeling we will be back again.

 #Bookreview of Cold War: A Novel of the Berlin Airlift

By: Helena P. Schrader

Publisher: Cross Seas Press

Publication Date: May 15, 2024

ISBN: 979-8987177020

Reviewed by: Douglas C. MacLeod, Jr.

Review Date: June 25, 2024

Cold War: A Novel of the Berlin Airlift is the second book of a three-part series (Bridge to Tomorrow) written by Dr. Helena P. Schrader and devoted to a largely forgotten part of World War II history: the Russian blockade or Berlin Crisis of 1948-1949 when Berliners were unable to get the basic supplies they needed to survive because of Russian interference. Most historical novels and works of nonfiction about this time period are about what happened prior to and during the War, mainly focusing on the Holocaust; however, what Schrader expertly does is speak to the aftermath of the War, when innocent lives were (literally and figuratively) picking up the pieces and starving for the essentials. The Berlin Airlift in Gatow was a lifeline to those who needed assistance, and Cold War (the sequel to Cold Peace) is a dramatic attempt to show how significant this innovative and creative initiative was to a devastated nation on the brink of being ripped into two distinct worlds.

There is no doubt Dr. Schrader knows the subject matter; she earned her PhD in history from the University of Hamburg, and her areas of expertise include aviation and World War II, so it is obvious she is familiar with what happened between 1948 and 1949. This fact is apparent in her discussions about how the Berlin Airlift was built and used, from its paltry beginnings to becoming the juggernaut it was, eventually dropping almost 13,000 tons of necessities to the German people. Most of the novel, which is also a multi-character melodrama indicative of 1940s and 1950s war pictures, is devoted to providing readers with a complete understanding of the difficulties surrounding the Herculean task of ensuring an entire population of people are fed and living comfortably in a war-torn nation. She does this with an unparalleled audience-centered confidence; the book is simple, focused, and straight-forward, even if over 500 pages long. Dr. Schrader goes day by day, in a linear fashion, which makes Cold War flow and makes the building of the Airlift into something most readers can understand without googling different mechanical terminologies or looking up convoluted airplane schematics. The work is accessible and keeps readers engaged in both how the Airlift was built and how individuals, who had their own personal baggage to deal with, sacrificed it all to guarantee the safety of those in need.

Much of this has to do with Dr. Schrader’s “Forward,” which provides audience members a full synopsis of Cold Peace, plot points about the first book, character biographies, maps, and list of side characters who are not and who are historical figures. Similar to the expositions given day-after-day in daytime soap operas, having this “Forward” brings those who did not read the first novel in the series, up-to-date on what is currently taking place in the story; and, it orients readers in the hopes they will be able to stay focused on what is happening throughout. Although the number of characters admittedly can be quite dizzying (10 protagonists, and a slew of bit players, come and go throughout the work), Cold War is relatively easy to follow and is rife with a great deal to keep the audience on the hook: danger, suspense, intrigue, passion, good versus evil, and battles. In other words, Cold War possesses all the components needed for a successful historical novel very much like that of Casablanca, The Best Years of Our Lives, The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp, and a slew of other films coming out of America and the United Kingdom during that timeframe. The narrative is indeed important, but so is readers knowing about the tenacity of those willing to lose it all to save their fellow humans.

This tenacity comes from both men and women. Very different from the films discussed above, and many other war films, Cold War places women at the forefront of the narrative. Oftentimes, writing and visual authors of history whitewash groups of people out of said histories. Systemic misogyny and racism are a sad but true part of world history. Dr. Schrader, instead, recognizes women were just as important to the war effort. They were: pilots; translators; air traffic controllers; journalists; and, blue-collar workers. They contributed their time, blood and love of country to their countries of origin just as much as the men did, and Dr. Schrader does an excellent job in showing this fact of history in Cold War. Thus, the women get equal “screentime” and readers can get a good taste of what it meant to be a woman during this most difficult time in world history. And, ultimately, what makes Dr. Schrader’s timely work so valuable is how accurately Cold War shows the trials and tribulations all human beings went through during World War II and soon thereafter, as well as what they may be going through now in several countries around the globe. Just as much as it is historical, Dr. Schrader’s novel is a covert commentary of what is happening today and our need to be better humanitarians.

Quill says: Cold War is a sprawling but absorbing narrative that gives readers a full and accurate understanding to what happened during the Berlin Airlift of 1948-1949.

For more information on Cold War, please visit the author's website at: www.helenapschrader.com

Friday, June 21, 2024

 #Bookreview of See the Good/God in Everything

By: Regina Clifford

Publisher: Lightning Strikes Press

Publication Date: April 22, 2024

ISBN: 978-0-9756636-1-5

Reviewed by: Rebecca Jane Johnson

Review Date: June 21, 2024

See The Good/God in Everything offers life advice from a woman who knows. Regina Clifford gained wisdom through life experience and through humble prayer. She is a wife and mother whose faith in God has been tested by challenges with fertility, marriage, family, blended family, faith, career, emigration, and friendship. Her marriage to a divorced, older man launched her into a life she did not expect. Through marriage, she gained five adult step children; turning to her faith in God helped her get through life’s challenges. Growing up Asian in Canada, living in the Middle East, being estranged from her family, then becoming an Australian resident inform her international perspective. Whether her insights come from relationships, fertility, marriage, travel, citizenship, baby care, love or forgiveness, Clifford confronts everything with honesty and a strong desire to release judgment and be open to self-improvement. This book is like having a good friend offer intimate and useful advice.

This book reads like journal entries, written by a God-loving soul on a contemplative journey through life today. Each journal entry begins with a provocative title such as: “Working Moms Are My Heroes” or “Check Your Heart Often” or “Be Prepared to Face Your Insecurities.” In each entry, the author describes some issue she confronts, the challenge she faced, and what she learned from it. Each entry ends with a short prayer of thanks to God and closes with a Bible verse that invites readers into further reflection on the topic.

For example, in “Happiness is an Inside Job,” Clifford considers societal notions of happiness, then describes a time when her husband was miserable, and explains what she did to stay strong and not let his misery get to her. She ends this passage with a verse from Proverbs.

This would be a good book to feature in a Bible study book club. It offers tools to cope with repeated rounds of In Vitro Fertilization (IVF), repeated failures, endless hoping and getting hopes dashed but ultimately overcoming in the end. From these journal entries, readers get bits and pieces from the author’s life; however, this is not written as a memoir with any story arc. Sometimes the apparent randomness of the topics makes it hard to read in one sitting; nonetheless, this could be a useful book to open to any random page to read daily for quick bites of wisdom and inspiration. The author is purely delightful when she reveals herself through her quirky imagination: how does she deal with toxic thoughts? She visualizes putting bad thoughts into a giant golden toilet and flushing them down while two angels stand witnessing and protecting.

This book encourages keeping faith, and it offers strength, and even a little amusement, to anyone who may be seeking a friend. Clifford is a fellow mother who looks at life’s drama with honesty, humor, and scripture. Clifford discovers that to get into the Word more, all she had to do was put down her phone and pick up her Bible. Her advice is friendly and relatable. The balance of being both realistic and positive makes this book feel like it would be a perfect gift for a mother-to-be who loves to read, to journal, and to study the Bible.

Quill says: See the Good/God in Everything dazzles with wisdom and tenacity; it is a prayer book that holds motherhood and marriage inside a faithful heart, beating to the sounds of a prayerful mind.

For more information on See the Good/God in Everything, please visit the author’s website at: www.reginaclifford.com/