Thursday, February 28, 2013

Book Excerpt: The Mapmaker's War by Ronlyn Domingue

Ronlyn Domingue, author of the book The Mapmaker's War, stopped by to share with us an excerpt from her book.

By Ronlyn Domingue
Author of The Mapmaker's War: A Legend

This will be the map of your heart, old woman. You are forgetful of the everyday. | misplaced cup, missing clasp | Yet, you recall the long-ago with morning-after clarity. These stories you have told yourself before. Write them now. At last, tell the truth. Be sparse with nostalgia. Be wary of its tangents. Mark the moments of joy but understand that is not now your purpose. Return to the places where your heart was broken. Scars evidence harm done. Some wounds sealed with weak knits. They are open again. The time has come to close them.

Here, choose the point of entry. Any place, any time, right now and you have --

Your small finger in the hearth's ashes. A line appears. You divide space.

Then there were twigs and broom bristles. Scratches and marks and lines until you had the control to create shape. Circle, triangle, square, said your older brother. Ciaran put the first nib under your thumb and first scrap of parchment beneath that. What you drew is missing in substance and memory. In its place, years apart, you transformed the circle into a tub. The triangle was a churn. The square became a table. You marked your spot with an X.

Aoife, said your brother, who taught you to draw a map?

The kitchen as it was when you were five. You could render space and suspend time.

You lived in a large cold house at the edge of a forest. The shady quiet lured, then hid, you. Wild child, said the nursemaid. Uncivilized, your mother declared when you returned home dirty with treasures. She tried and failed to tame you. Wait until I tell your father, said she. Next to his chair, you held your breath and your guard. He saw no harm in the fresh air and exercise. Good habit to start now because what man wants a fat wife? said your father. Indulgent, she called him. She stormed off on stout legs.

You had few ordinary interests as a girl. You didn't dress your bronze hair, tend to dolls, or join petty quarrels. This perplexed your mother, who tried her best to create a being in her own image. You soon realized you had to give to take. When you were attentive to your morning girlhood duties, she fought less when you asked for afternoon freedom. You acquiesced to learn how to behave regardless of whether you intended to follow suit. The re­ward was worth the concession.

With meticulous care, you planned your provisions, though not your expeditions. Adventure wasn't in the hunger to come but in the quest of what to follow. You packed your pouch | nuts and fruit, soft bread and hard cheese | along with parchment and ink, cloth scraps and straight edges.

You mapped the hidden worlds when you were still young enough to see them.

Spiderwebs and honeycombs taught the wisdom of symmetry. To you, everything before your eyes was built upon invisible lines and angles. The very spot where you stood only a point among many. A girl is not always in her place, you thought. A girl can be many places at once. And so you were. When you settled upon a space in the forest or meadow, you made a grid on the earth with small steps and tiny flags until there were row upon row of even little squares. You took your seat within the grid. You moved from square to square, noting what stood still and what passed by. All day long you observed and measured, sketched and colored. That which was off the edges appeared on the parchment as well. There were mysterious realms of bees and ants and creatures never seen before, with tiny castles and bright gardens.

One day, as you traced the uncovered trails of termites, you heard a rustle in the brush. You remained still with hope that the ancient stag or a sturdy bear would meet your eye. What a lovely beast to draw in that place! Instead, you faced a boy with green eyes and chestnut curls. A boy you knew well. Prince Wyl called your name and held up a dead rabbit by its hind legs. You lifted your hand in a polite wave and turned back to your work.

Did you see what I caught? I shall skin it and give the fur to the tailor to make you a fine collar, said Wyl.

It will be cold if you do that, you said.

It's dead. It has no need for fur now.

So literal,Wyl.You mistake my japes.

You meant no hardness toward him. As you looked to the ground again, you smiled. You knew his gesture was an act of affection. Such regard you had neither sought nor earned. His attentions you tried not to encourage or reject. That you two knew each other at all was a matter of circumstance. Your father served as the King's most trusted adviser.

On that day, when you wished Wyl had been the stag or a bear, you realized he didn't ask to see your map. He had on other occasions.You had no way to know that in years to come he would be privy to every chart you made, to the very last one.

See, you became a mapmaker.

Those hours you spent looking at the distance from one point to the next | star to star, rock to rock, blade to blade | were your study of geometry before you ever received formal instruction. You could be both abstract and precise, and sit for long periods. Ciaran gave you lessons in nuthematics and astronomy. He had also taught you to read. You enjoyed the challenge of learning. You also liked the attention from your brother, amiable and patient with you. Your mother encouraged the companionship between her children. However, she saw no purpose for the lessons.

You need to know what is practical for a woman, said she. All this effort leads to nothing.
Nothing indeed would have come of it had you not heard your father and brother in conversation.

The kingdom was in a quiet time. For generations before, there had been years of strife, battles to claim land and battles to control it. At last, there was much to manage and little known about the holdings. They discussed the King's consideration to map the entirety of his realm. Mapmakers would need to be hired and some trained.

You almost cried out on impulse. This you wanted to do, although you didn't know why. You banished the thought that you would be denied the training. You wanted to be good at something other than what was expected of you, for life.You threw yourself at chance.

We'll see, said your father when you asked for a place at the apprentice's table. Don't raise your hopes, said Ciaran when you told him of your wish. Your brother, seven years your senior, had begun to serve the King in earnest, the heir to your father's role as a trusted adviser.You had no such secure inheritance.You suspected your name would not receive mention.

Now. Tell the truth.

You turned Wyl's affection to your advantage. The pull between you both served in your favor.You didn't call it manipulation. Perhaps it was. An offhand comment was all it took. I would like to learn to draw real maps. With magical speed, there you were in the mapmaker's chamber.

Heydar came from another kingdom with an accent, his instruments, and several bound volumes. His ears sprouted whiskers that reached up to his frantic hair and down to his bushy beard. He looked, and ate, like a lion. You passed the tests he gave you, then he tested your courage because he saw your wits. He didn't care that you were a girl, but twelve. All he cared was whether you could learn the craft, whether you practiced enough. He demanded excellence.You would deliver.

You thought to thank the King for his favor. Wyl arranged a brief meeting. The King said he had been assured of your talents. He said he made exceptions for what pleased him, and it pleased him greatly to have such intelligence, enthusiasm, and tenacity at his service. He gave no mention as to who might have swayed him. Or why he allowed it.

When you sat with your studies at home, your mother bustled to and fro. She stitched and stitched and stitched. She hurried and harassed the servants. She sighed and moaned.You ignored her. She told your father he would have difficulty finding a mate for such a daughter as yourself.

She isn't crippled or ugly, which is good enough, but no man wants a stupid wife, said he.

That was how you became apprenticed to the old man. Why you, with that silent desperation you hoped he could not detect? You sensed if you could do well there, if you were a good mapmaker, you would avoid the inevitable. You knew what happened to girls like you.

You confess that you weren't as smart as others assumed. You were no prodigy at figures and measures. What you grasped you did so with diligence and repetition until it became second nature. There had to be precision in your practice. You took pleasure in it. There was room for error in the Land of the Bees and Outlying Environs but not in the case of territory and ownership.

For four years, you apprenticed with the old mapmaker. Heydar tutored you in the pertinent subjects related to the craft. He showed you how to use all of the instruments. He sent you afield with them | heliotrope high in the hot sun |, then allowed you to practice at his side at the table. He gave to you his insight into triangles. That he brought from his distant land of sand. He mapped with three sides as his center and trained you to do the same. This he claimed proudly as his innovation. You claimed his legacy.

Heydar supervised your work as you charted the castle and its immediate lands. He had done so himself, but this was your final test. He praised your effort. He declared you ready to go on your own. Before he left to return to his homeland, he gave you the waywiser given to him by his adept.

Many distances this wheel has measured with its walks. Remember me in a step once in a while. My time is done, and yours has begun, said he.

The old mapmaker gave his leave and the King his permission. You crossed paths with your brother on his travels from holding to holding. With his group of envoys, Ciaran created lists and tallies. He was to collect numbers of people, animals, and goods. He was also to discern what grievances needed attention, what loyalties called for boons, and what troubles might be in brew beyond the borders.

You were instructed to chart all that could be seen, and that was much. The kingdom was wide and broad. There were mountains and rivers, hills and streams, forests and valleys. Within this were the hamlets and towns, mills and smithies, pastures and arables, roads and paths. Ciaran and you were to note the fortifications. Ciaran, the condition. You, the location.

Many times, Ciaran's work would be done before you finished with yours. He would return to your childhood home, and you would stay behind to tend to the maps, but not only the maps. You explored the nearby regions by yourself. There were birds and plants and on occasion creatures you had never seen. You liked to speak with the people and learn about their customs. They fed you unusual foods and told familiar stories with subtle twists. Sometimes you sketched simple treasure maps for the children and hid coins for them to find.

To you, knowledge of the people was meant to be mapped as well. For whimsy, you would include reminders on your work for the King. They meant something to you and only you. This was how you entered your childhood again. A hut's roof edged with ribbons for no apparent reason. A place where you ate too much of a succulent pie. A fallow field speckled with blue gentian.

It seemed, though, that just when you had found a comfortable rhythm in your temporary quarters, Prince Wyl appeared with matters to tend on behalf of his father. His presence caused a stir, with people running about to catch a peek at him and share words. He was, in fact, good with the subjects, when he saw them. He exchanged pleasantries. Sometimes he asked questions and listened until the people had had their say. When requested, he touched the crowns of children's heads with gentleness. But, more often than not, Wyl was within your sight. He rode his horse around the place where you were at work. He sat at the hand of the host who gave shelter and food to the King's representatives. He seemed to talk longer with others when you were nearby, in conversation with the son of a prominent nobleman. Or a lowly shepherd. Or a man on your crew.

He has the stealth of a squirrel and the modesty of a peacock, you thought.

One summer morning, you leaned over the plane table, your eye in a squint, and stood quickly when the object in your sight went black. There was Wyl with a raspberry between his fingertips and a small metal bowl filled with more.

Thank you, but I'll wait to eat them. Stained fingers, stained map, you said.

You're tame enough to feed by hand, said he.

You stood bold before his charming smile and the pride he'd mustered. Such a thing he'd never said to you. Wyl looked at the map in progress and noticed the triangles that branched across the parchment.

Where are we? asked he.

You pointed to an open space yet to be drawn.

This land is flat with little to see. Your work must be difficult.

I have my ways.

What would help you?

Elevation, perhaps. I've had dreams of a tower.

Then you'll have this tower, said Wyl.

So it was. You gave him drawings of the tower in your dreams. Wyl found the woodcutters and smiths to make its pieces. He found stouthearted men to test its design, which did not fail, and hired them to tend to its care.

Innocent Wyl. He could not hide his adoration. You resisted your tender feelings. Was it love? Perhaps. When you were children, you attempted to keep the boundary fixed. Much your mother's doing. Bow to him, Aoife, he is the prince. Be friendly, not familiar. Be gracious. Be obedient. Be careful. | yes, be that with his dark brother Raef as well |

You liked Wyl. His disposition was sanguine. He seemed more interested in pleasure than power. Grudges didn't suit him. When you were young, when a girl wasn't permitted to say aloud she found a boy comely, you thought he was just that. As you grew older, you found him handsome. An exceptional example. He, for whatever reason, found you pretty. No boy orbits a girl as he did unless an attraction, a physical attraction, exists.

When you first saw the tower, you toed the great beams at its base. You tugged the ropes that tethered the tower to the ground for safety. You tapped the metal bolts that locked the heartwood beams into place. Then, the best part of all, you didn't have to climb the sides like a ladder but could walk the staircase you had envisioned. A spiralled up to the top.

You took your maiden ascent alone, with a crowd below, Ciaran and your crew, Wyl and his brother Raef. It was summer again. All was green and gold. All was alive. You had stood higher before, in the hill country, but this was different. When you leaned over the side, that caused much shouting on the ground. You saw straight down, your shadow a small dark splotch in the grass. So this is what the swallow sees on the wing, you thought. And as if by invitation, a blue swallow appeared above your head. It hovered before your eyes, plunged toward the earth, and darted away with a green head and long legs crushed between its beak. You called Wyl to join you.

The tower is wondrous. I could kiss you, you said.

Yes, you could, said he.

So literal, Wyl.

Then I'll wait until you mean what you say.

You felt a sting. For the first time, a joke on him barbed you back.You watched him stare afar and wondered why he went to such lengths to please you. Perhaps there is more to this boy I once knew, you thought.You linked your arm with his and leaned into him, both swaying groundless.

The above is an excerpt from the book The Mapmaker's War: A Legend by Ronlyn Domingue. The above excerpt is a digitally scanned reproduction of text from print. Although this excerpt has been proofread, occasional errors may appear due to the scanning process. Please refer to the finished book for accuracy.

Copyright © 2013 Ronlyn Domingue, author of The Mapmaker's War: A Legend

About the book:

This will be the map of your heart, old woman. In an ancient time, in a faraway land, a young woman named Aoife is allowed a rare apprenticeship to become her kingdom’s mapmaker, tasked with charting the entire domain. Traveling beyond its borders, she finds a secretive people who live in peace, among great wealth. They claim to protect a mythic treasure, one connected to the creation of the world. When Aoife reports their existence to her kingdom, the community is targeted as a threat. Attempting to warn them of imminent danger, Aoife is exiled for treason and finds refuge among the very people who had been declared her enemy. With them, she begins a new life surrounded by kindness, equality, and cooperation. But within herself, Aoife has no peace. She cannot share the grief she feels for the home and children she left behind. She cannot bear the warrior scars of the man she comes to love. And when she gives birth to their gifted daughter, Aoife cannot avoid what the child forces her to confront about her past and its truth. On this most important of journeys, there is no map to guide her. In this tale—her autobiography— Aoife reveals her pain and joy, and ultimately her transformation.

About the author:

Ronlyn Domingue’s critically acclaimed debut novel The Mercy of Thin Air was published in ten languages. Her work has appeared in The Beautiful Anthology (TNB Books), New England Review, The Independent (UK), Shambhala Sun, and on The Nervous Breakdown.

She lives in Louisiana with her partner, Todd Bourque, and their cats. Connect with her on, Facebook, and Twitter.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Book Excerpt: Rubber Band Girl by Jennifer Nielson

Jennifer Nielson, author of the book Rubber Band Girl, stopped by to share with us an excerpt from her book.

"Where is Godzilla?” asked one of our neighbors. I stopped in my tracks. I was carrying a handful of treats to the table for our neighborhood picnic at the park, where we often gathered for potluck dinners and dessert. Now that she was a gregarious toddler, Hadley loved being with her friends—they would run and play for hours. As soon as we arrived she was off, scurrying away in her favorite red-and-white gingham dress with her little posse.

“Excuse me?” I responded, certain that I must have misunderstood my neighbor’s inquiry.

She asked again, this time with a chuckle in her voice, “Where is Godzilla . . . you know, Hadley?” I could hardly believe my ears. And from an adult, no less.

“Godzilla?!” I said with disgust, summoning all my power to restrain the mother bear inside me from attacking. I walked away, stunned and speechless. With the blood boiling inside me, I sought out a bench away from everyone; this get-together had suddenly lost its allure.

As I sat alone, I heard the children giggling and screaming all around me. I heard a little voice shout, “Watch me, Mommy!” I turned in the direction of the voice and saw Hadley being pushed on a swing by her dad, enjoying herself without a care in the world.

“Hadley is going to be okay,” I reminded myself. Between her frequent visits to the doctor and unusual accidents, it was a mantra that I found myself reciting often.

About the book:

Rubber Band Girl is a heartwarming story of a mother and daughter who never give up on life or on each other

Marfan Syndrome, or "Rubber Band Disease," as it is commonly called, has taken the lives of too many, too soon. A disease that attacks the ligaments of the body, it is associated with heart and vision problems, extreme flexibility of the joints, and, its most noticeable feature, excessive height.

In this inspiring memoir, Jennifer Nielson recounts her journey as the mother of Hadley, a beautiful young girl with Marfan Syndrome. Together, they climb the mountains of life-threatening health problems and endless doctor visits. Together, they travel through the deep valleys of sorrow and loss. Together, they successfully manage Marfan's-and forge an unbreakable bond in the process.

Rubber Band Girl is a heartwarming story of a mother and daughter who never give up on life or on each other. Because of its honesty, positive tone, and happy ending, it will find an eager audience with any parent who has struggled with the health challenges of a child.

About the author:

Jennifer Barney Nielson has always considered writing therapeutic, which is demonstrated by a large collection of journals she still has dating back to kindergarten. She graduated Summa Cum Laude from Arizona State University with a degree in elementary education. A self-proclaimed "recovering" perfectionist, she has learned to fuse her creativity and energy to produce a successful home-based interior design business, teach music, travel the world, and raise a family. She and her husband, Talan, have five children and live in Gilbert, Arizona.

For more information about Jennifer or her book, please visit

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Review: Thorn Ogres of Hagwood by Robin Jarvis

Dark forces are brewing in Hagwood

The werlings of Hagwood live peacefully in the trees of the forest—overlooked and unbothered while they leisurely perfect the art of wergling (shape-changing). But unlike his fellow werlings, the bumbling Gamaliel Tumpin can’t manage to wergle into even the simplest of forms—a mouse—like his peers. He’s tormented by his sister, Kernella, and teased by his classmates. And he envies star student Finnen Lufkin, who can transform into almost any creature.

But wergling will soon be the least of Gamaliel’s troubles. The evil elf queen Rhiannon, the High Lady of the Hollow Hill, is desperately seeking a precious possession that was stolen long ago. Her evil knows no bounds, and with her army of monstrous thorn ogres, she will not stop until it’s found. The werlings’ peaceful existence is threatened by death and danger—and clumsy, awkward Gamaliel will need to call on the strength within him to fight for his family and his home.

Received for review.

I had high hopes for this as it was described as perfect for Tolkien and Harry Potter fans and I really, really wanted to like it. This, unfortunately, has none of the magic and beauty of a Tolkien nor the joy of a Potter and to recommend it as such is frankly the equivalent of offering Velveeta in place of a farmhouse Cheddar.

The characters were annoying. Kernella was beyond irritating with no redeeming qualities and every time she appeared I could not get the Pink song Stupid Girls out of my head. The imp, Smaggart, was clearly a very thinly veiled Smeagol as well.

I found the violence and the rather graphic descriptions of said violence to be rather age inappropriate. They actually drew from the story rather than adding to it.

This would have been one star but for a couple of specific scenes which really illustrated what the book could have been, as the author is clearly talented, one of which was the beautiful scene with Finnen and the elderly mouse.

Overall I can't say that I heartily recommend this, but it was a solid "okay".

☆☆☆ = Just Okay

Monday, February 25, 2013

Featured Book: Lilly's Rooming House by E.E. Chernoby

About the book:

One woman's candid view on life, love and loss as well as the struggles and joy she found in caring for her special brother while running a rooming house on her own. You will fall in love with Vernard a mentally impaired brother who holds his own in a never-ending string of Looney toons.

About the author:

Lilly’s outrageous sense of humor weaves a tale of unbelievable behavior and amusement. Hilarious. No holds barred, Lilly tells it like it is!

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Review: Sugar Baby by Gesine Bullock-Prado

Cookbooks with recipes for baking with sugar (in the oven), continue to top the bestseller lists. And yet, no one has set out to do a cookbook with recipes on cooking with sugar (on the stovetop)—until now.

In Sugar Baby, Gesine Bullock-Prado offers totally unintimidating step-by-step advice; the simplest instructions; recipes for candy, confections, and treats that integrate stovetop work into finished desserts; and a hilarious voice.

Organized by temperature and chemical stages, here are more than 100 recipes for lollipops, caramel, rock candy, chocolate mousse, macarons, marshmallows, pudding pops, cakes, and much more.

Sugar Baby will satisfy even the most demanding sweet tooth.

Received for review.

I adore all cookbooks and to see one not only about sugar, but with a picture of cotton candy on the front I simply could not pass it by!

I was very pleasantly surprised. Yes, the recipes were not for amateurs, but there were a few that even those of us who are not pastry chefs could accomplish reasonably well. I'm choosing to ignore the French Macaron section entirely since we all know that they are simply impossible for mere mortals, unless you actually are Martha Stewart. In which case, you aren't really a mere mortal anyway.

The instructions were clear and easy to follow if you are adventurous and dedicated. The photographs were beautiful, and the accompanying text fun to read. It was certainly comprehensive as well, covering everything from marshmallows to hard candies to taffy to frostings and beyond.

I even came across a few recipes that I'd like to attempt:

Maple Pillows (hello, maple!)
Whoopie Pies
Gingered Drop Scones
Maple White Cake
Ginger Cookies

So, if you're in the market for a fun and different cookbook of sweets this will be perfect for you. Even if you never plan to make a single recipe it's an incredibly entertaining and educational read.

★★☆☆ = Liked It

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Review: Put 'em Up! Fruit by Sherri Brooks Vinton

A preserving guide and cookbook all in one!

This creative collection has 80 inventive recipes for preserving all kinds of fruit, from apples, berries, and cherries to lemons, quince, and tomatoes, but it also has 80 recipes for using those preserves (or ones you buy at the store) in main dishes, side dishes, desserts, and cocktails.

Make Quick Peach Jam and then use it to make mouthwatering Sweet and Sour Chicken, or make Grapefruit and Sultana Conserve and use it in Sauteed Greens with Grapefruit Dressing.

The flavors are fresh and contemporary, and the instructions are thorough and easy to follow. Putting up the harvest has never been so delicious!

Received for review.

This clear, comprehensive preserving guide is a breath of fresh air! It has all sorts of fabulous fruit preserving recipes but, more importantly, i provides recipes and ideas for using up said preserved
fruits! It's certainly easy enough to use up an applesauce, but what about a more exotic chutney? This book gives you that answer, along with many, many more options.

I have canned before but I usually use regular pectin (as per the Ball canning book), so seeing the recipes use Pomona's Universal Pectin was disconcerting, but after reading the recipes I may just have to stock up on it! I actually prefer pectin jams to those that must cook for ages. The pectin jams, while sweeter, just have a much fresher taste. I'm looking forward to trying out some of the author's jam recipes.

Some of the many, many recipes that I'm looking forward to making are:

Apple and Pear Sauce
Dried Apple Dice
Earl Grey Jelly
Mulled Wine Jelly
Lemon Ginger Marmalade

I may even have to try out the Christmas Cordial (Rumtopf) for the novelty factor!

This fun and informative book is a must for canners and those who have an abundance of fruit. The recipes are easy to follow and don't require any special equipment (except for the actual canning procedure). This would make a ideal gift for the friend or family member who loves to can or has a home orchard. I am actually going to request that my local library add it to their collection! I highly, highly recommend this!

★★★★ = Really Liked It

Friday, February 22, 2013

Featured Book: Trouganda by Daniel J. Strait

About the book:

A prophecy written over a millennium ago. A baby girl is born with a birthmark matching the one described in the prophecy. Her parents feared the worst so they fled from the elders. They found solace in the small village of Jin, where Nakiata would be trained by the greatest SOT Master ever known. After years of intense training, Nakiata must face her Final Test. A test that would send her out into a world of danger, mystery, and death. Nakiata would have to use every skill she knew in order to survive the dangers and wonders of ...Trouganda.

About the author:

Daniel J. Strait lives in central Ohio, where he works in the field of aviation. During his time off he writes the stories he has dreamed of for many years.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Review: The Fresh Honey Cookbook by Laurey Masterton

These 84 recipes celebrate the luscious flavors of honey. Each of 12 chapters focuses on a month of the year and a specific honey varietal (such as tupelo, orange blossom, sourwood, or sage) and offers a complete seasonal menu showcasing that varietal.

In November, you might choose cranberry honey and serve a meal of Candy Roaster Squash Soup, Endive with Pomegranate Seeds and Shaved Parmesan, Turkey Roulade in Puffed Pastry with Cranberry Chutney, Baked Acorn Squash, Elsie's Cranberry Pie, and Hot Mulled Cider.

Or in April, you might choose avocado honey and serve Guacamole, Borscht with Creme Fraiche, Avocado and Mango Salad, Rack of Lamb with a Coffee and Honey Crust, Glazed Baby Carrots, Rhubarb Cream, and Southern Iced Tea.

The featured varietals are always optional; any kind of honey can be used.

Received for review.

I actually really wish I hadn't read the author's introduction. It left me with a sour taste in my mouth as to the author as a person and colored my experience with the actual cookbook part of the book. I mean, do you really need to be told to check on your bees lest they die? Common sense people! That said, I'll move on to the other 99% of the book.

The book itself was beautifully photographed and the format was lovely. It was educational for beginners with all sorts of bee and honey related tidbits sprinkled throughout. The recipes were a mix of savory and sweet, with a decided leaning towards the savory. I was actually expecting more of a sweet leaning, but alas, I was disappointed.

I did find a few recipes that I'd like to try:

Whole Roasted Chicken with Fresh Herbs
Glazed Baby Carrots (I usually do my glazed carrots with maple syrup - of course! - but it will be fun to try it with honey.)
Easy Tarte Tatin
Russian Tea

Overall the recipes had a more fussy, gourmet bent to them with a decided Southern feel. I was actually disappointed not to find more British inspired recipes. Or even some not from California or the South.

While this was a pretty standard and okay cookbook it wasn't spectacular. It didn't have much joy to it. There was just something missing. And, actually, most of the recipes were actually rater light on the honey (a tablespoon here or there) which was disappointing. There was no mention of honey cake or frosting made with honey, etc. There were a few drink recipes but, again, most were quite Southern and ultra sweet. There were no recipes that struck a happy medium.

This was okay to flip through and would be interesting to check out from the library but it really isn't something you'd like to own. I really can't recommend it.

☆☆☆ = Just Okay

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Review: The Stone of Fire by Geronimo Stilton

This NEW Geronimo Stilton series spin-off is set in the Stone Age!

Who is Geronimo Stiltonoot?
He is a cavemouse -- Geronimo Stilton's ancient ancestor. He runs the stone newspaper in the prehistoric village of Old Mouse City. From dealing with dinosaurs to dodging meteorites, his life in the Stone Age is full of adventure!

THE STONE OF FIRE Old Mouse City is in an uproar. The most precious artifact in the mouseum -- the Stone of Fire -- has been stolen! Geronimo Stiltonoot and his cavemouse friend Hercule Poirat are on the case. It's up to them to retrieve the stone from the ferocious Tiger Khan and his band of fearsome felines!

E-galley received for review.

As a fan of the original Geronimo Stilton series I was excited to try this first volume in a new spin-off series set in the Stone Age.

While the book obviously isn't historically accurate, it makes for fun reading - think Flinstones: The Mouse Edition. Young readers will enjoy the entertaining story with familiar characters in a new setting.

This would be perfect for fans of the original Geronimo Stilton series as well as making a great introduction to the Geronimo Stilton world for new readers. I definitely recommend this and am looking forward to new books in the series.

★★☆☆ = Liked It

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Review: Terror Before Dawn by Anne Raghnild Fagerberg and William Sterling Williams

WW II as a backdrop, Terror Before Dawn is a moving memoir written through the eyes of a young girl.

Only seven when the Nazi’s invaded Oslo, Anne Raghnild Fagerberg shares her intimate story of the horrors the war brought to the Norwegian people.

Written with a spirit and determination of a child of the resistance, the story recounts the day-to-day life of a brave girl and her family trying desperately to reclaim their freedom and once peaceful and privileged lives, during Germany’s five year occupation of their country.

Her son, William Sterling Williams, brought the hand written manuscript to life in these pages and will leave the reader enthralled and wanting more.

Received for review.

I'm not a big fan of war novels. They're much too depressing. This was no exception.

While the writing was beautifully crafted the material was just unrelentingly sad. Yes, this is a true story and the actual events were horrifying, but I really don't want to read their retelling. Think Schindler's List as told by a child. If you're hoping for any redeeming happy scenes, there aren't any.

I really can't fault the book for its unfortunate tone and subject matter so this does get three stars instead of two, because it is technically a well written book. If you're in the market for an
extremely depressing and historically accurate portrayal of Nazi invasion in Europe from a child's point of view this is for you.

★★☆☆ = Liked It

Monday, February 18, 2013

Featured Book: Paris I've Grown Accustomed to Your Ways by Ruth Yunker

About the book:

Metro Cowboys, Tiny Elevators, Trusting The New Patisserie..."Paris, I've Grown Accustomed To Your Ways" continues the saga begun in Me, Myself and Paris, humorist and writer Ruth Yunker's account of her forays into life in Paris, part time tourist, part time resident. In Paris, I've Grown Accustomed To Your Ways the training wheels have come off. Ms. Yunker negotiates the exquisitely charming, but impossibly exacting, City of Light with a new sense of ease, and an increasing sense of feeling right at home. She revels in the amber warmth of Angelina's chocolate Eden on a cold November day. She zeroes in on, after six visits, her favorite arrondissement in which to rent her apartment...the fifteenth, just so you know! She shops in Montmartre with aplomb, and still does not climb up to the top of the Eiffel Tower. She sees passionate love in unexpected places out on the streets of Paris. She watches cowboys riding the metros, and considers the sweet life of a lemon as it rolls out of her apartment door. A little boy in St. Suplice wins her heart. The concierge at the apartment on rue Vaneau does not. She discovers there are rules for finishing one's plate in restaurants. But there are no rules for which pain rustique will make the very best toast every morning. In Paris, I've Grown Accustomed To Your Ways, Ruth Yunker delves deeply to discover what makes the heart of Paris sing, and emerges more in love than ever.

About the author:

Ruth Yunker is a writer, humorist, a columnist and blogger, a short story writer and essayist. She lives in Newport Beach, CA, does the New York Times crossword puzzle in erasable pen, has two grown children, and is contemplating, after a long line of cats, getting her first dog.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Review: Design Your Own Destiny by Mary A. Malloy

What if you could have the life you always wanted? What if it wasn't as hard as you thought? What if instead of always asking What if? you decided to dive in and design the destiny of your dreams? That opportunity is here now in Design Your Own Destiny: Life Planning for the 21st Century.

Whether it's looking for a job or trying to figure out the next steps to take in a relationship, award-winning author, speaker and life-planner Mary A. Molloy takes readers to a place where possibilities become realities. Combining years of experience working with Fortune 500 companies and clients all over the globe, Mary provides the answers to how people can make it happen. Examining the complete life with deeper connections Molloy helps people to:

o Find work/life balance
o Create tangible goals
o Put plans into action
o See results and measure success

Whether it's changing roles, changing perspectives or challenging the status quo, Mary helps readers take control and not leave what is most important to chance. She shows readers step-by-step how to break down the complex process of changing one's life so that everyone gets a personalized and manageable way to make their dreams happen.

Inspired by a talk she gave to twenty-five homeless women - many of whom took her Life Designs and were able to leave the shelter - Design Your Own Destiny will help you create the life you want to lead!

Received for review.

I was really excited to receive this for review since it sounded quite intriguing and I was not disappointed.

With The Secret a lot of self-help books seem to be jumping on the "wish and it will happen" boat but Mary Malloy's book actually provides a solid plan to get you from determining your dreams to
actually creating and implementing a plan to make them happen. Her book is comprehensive and can be a bit dense and technical at times but throughout you can truly feel that she wants you to succeed. Her caring and faith in the reader can clearly be felt in every chapter of the book.

I highly recommend this to anyone looking to bridge the gap between the fantasy of The Secret and real life.

★★★★ = Really Liked It

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Review: Simple and Sold by Sissy Lappin

With a little training, you can do a far better job selling their home than a real estate agent ever could. Think about it who knows your home better? Who's more invested in making the transaction work? If you are selling your home, the Simple & Sold method isn't just a should, it's a must. It will teach you how to sell your home yourself and save the real estate commission, which means saving thousands of dollars and a huge percentage of your equity.

Veteran real estate broker Sissy Lappin has created this start-to-finish program to give homeowners practical, relevant advice from a neutral, objective and experienced perspective. Following the steps in Simple & Sold, you'll have all the help you need to make smart decisions for selling your home.

Sissy knows that home sales don't have to be nearly as complicated as most real estate agents would make you think. If you handle the process correctly, it s a breeze. All you need to effectively sell a home by yourself is the willingness to learn and follow a system that will put you in control.

Simple & Sold gives you the proven tools and the effective strategies used by the best real estate insiders. Sissy walks you through the step-by-step process from start to finish, helping you identify and prevent problems before they start. You'll find that this program will result in your knowing the business better than many agents out there.

Received for review.

Okay, so I'm not currently in the market to sell a home, but I am glad that I read this now and that if I ever need it in the future it will be on my shelf to provide me with its expertise!

This was a truly fun and educational read. I know what you're thinking "Real estate? Yawn!". Trust me, this is not your average real estate book written by the average boring business guy. The author is intelligent and funny and likable! No, really! For instance, try this paragraph:

If you have any doubts, turn on Bravo's Million Dollar Listing and
tell me with a straight face that you can't do as good a job as they
do. It's as if a Real Housewife met the snake oil salesman and had a
brood of real estate agents for children!

So, take that humor and add it to solid information on how the real estate and the real estate market works and you get a genuine and, above all, useful guide to assist you in your home sale process.

I highly, highly recommend this to anyone looking to, or even considering, sell a house. You absolutely will get every penny's worth from this book!

★★★★ = Really Liked It

Friday, February 15, 2013

Featured Book: The Dogs of Luck by William Kenly

About the book:

Raw Humor Exposes the Tender Underbelly of Teens, Corporate Ladder-Climbers, and Family Drama...

Remember your own personal episodes that you never told anyone because you didn't want them to think less of you, those episodes from your teens or twenties and ones that could have turned out far worse? Those times when money and time were more abundant-or just less important?

William Kenly's latest book, The Dogs of Luck, aims a penetrating spotlight on these developmental years, letting their natural humor and irony shine through. From misguided boyhood experimentation ("We were bad Boy Scouts") to the too-liberated freedoms of post-college corporate ladder-climbing, plus a generous dose of comical family dramas, Kenly helps us laugh at ourselves-at the out-of-the-box experiences that we guiltily locked out of sight years ago but which are honest experiences of life. He explores his ties with his hometown, Warren PA, challenges in the corporate world, and the complexities of family life with humor and charm, and he has the unnatural ability to turn mortifying and sometimes painful situations into wildly entertaining snapshots of the human condition.

Reminiscent of the writings of Augusten Burroughs and David Sedaris, Kenly's take on the dysfunctional life situations and gritty reality that are buried in most people's past makes for an uncommonly captivating read.

About the author:

William Kenly is also the author of the highly acclaimed The Dogs of Divorce (2010), with The Dogs of Cancer coming out in early 2013. Kenly and his wife live north of Boston in their empty-nest home abutting a state park. They enjoy biking, kayaking, skiing, traveling, and watching their four 20-something-year-old children start their own adult lives.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Book Excerpt: Drugs, Crime and Violence: From Trafficking to Treatment by Howard Rahtz

Howard Rahtz, author of the book Drugs, Crime and Violence: From Trafficking to Treatment, stopped by to share with us an excerpt from his book.

Excerpt from Drugs, Crime and Violence: From Trafficking to Treatment (Hamilton Books)
by Howard Rahtz

The illegal drug market is the primary catalyst for both the violence on our city streets and the escalating drug mayhem on the Mexican border. Our response to date could only be described as the same old same old—more border agents, more police, more arrests and bigger jails with a measure of drug treatment and prevention thrown in. Robert Stutman, former head of the New York DEA office, nicely captured the insanity of our current War on Drugs —“Build a 12-foot wall around the U.S. The old joke is it takes dope peddlers 60 seconds to realize a 13-foot ladder gets over a 12-foot wall. Then what? Build a 13-foot wall?”

I am convinced that with some significant policy moves, we can destroy the financial underpinnings of the illegal drug market. Like any other business enterprise, the illegal drug market cannot exist without its customer base. We can take two policy steps siphoning off the majority of its customers.

The first is to legalize marijuana. Moving marijuana to a legal status takes 30-40% of the customers of the drug market and transitions them to the legitimate economy. The impact of such a move on the illegal drug market is beyond dispute. The medical marijuana market in California has already impacted drug traffickers as legally grown and distributed marijuana competes with the illegal market. Law enforcement and other observers note that the competition from even this limited legal market has eroded illegal trafficking more than 50 years of harsh laws and millions of arrests.

While the legalization of marijuana would strike a blow at the cartels, other policy changes can further marginalize these traffickers. These changes target drug addicts, the lifeblood of the illegal market. With some modification of drug laws and expansion of treatment resources, we can move substantially more addicts out of the drug market and into drug treatment. Without these heavy consumers, the illegal market would wither.

This book is now the rationale and prescription for a new approach to our drug problem. While the ongoing debate over drug policy is often loud and vociferous, there are very few Americans who are defending the status quo. Our choice now is to continue the body count or begin the change by leading a national discussion on the choices we face.

About the book:

Forty years ago, President Richard Nixon declared a “war on drugs.” Since that time, the country has incarcerated thousands of citizens and spent billions of dollars, and yet the drug problem rolls on. Today, the illegal drug market funds international terrorism, the horrific drug war on the Mexican border, and the senseless violence plaguing our communities, large and small. It is past time for a new direction. This book provides a drug policy framework that will choke off the revenue supporting the illegal drug market. Howard Rahtz outlines a series of drug policy steps buttressed by a historical review of drug policy measures, a review of international efforts against trafficking, and a clear understanding of the dynamics of addiction and its role in facilitating the illegal drug market.

About the author:

After a twenty-year career in the addictions field, Howard Rahtz joined the Cincinnati Police Department in 1988. He retired from the department in 2007 as commander of the department’s Vice Unit. He currently teaches at police academies and colleges in the Cincinnati area. He is the author of two previous books on policing.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Featured Book: Fit at 50 by Matthew McLaughlin

About the book:

No Hype, No Gimmicks-Just a Complete and Simple Guide to Health and Fitness...

Today's fitness world is a barrage of information, much of it based on unrealistic diet and training programs that aren't sustainable long-term. Fit at 50: Back from the Brink, Naturally stands out as a beacon of common sense, safe training, and habits you can stick with for a lifetime. Matthew McLaughlin learned the hard way, by making mistakes leading to physical injury and breakdown. In his early 40s, with the help of some of the world's foremost experts in medicine, physical therapy, and coaching, he has not only fully recovered; he has gone on to even greater fitness achievements. He shares the lessons he learned about stretching, strength training, cardiovascular exercise, and nutrition. Whether you're an experienced athlete or just looking for a way to start improving your lifestyle, this book is a simple, complete guide to a healthy, fit, and well-balanced body.

About the author:

Matthew McLaughlin is a lifetime athlete who has found a better way. Over the last 10 years, he has discovered and used information and techniques to attain the best health and fitness of his life. Matthew’s journalism and research background helped him organize and explain this material in a way that can benefit any reader. Although Matthew is a devoted husband and father, as well as a dedicated professional, he has found a way to fit it all into a very busy life—and you can too!

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Guest Post: Susan Shumsky author of Instant Healing

Susan Shumsky, author of the book Instant Healing, stopped by to share with us a piece she wrote.

The 7-Day Attitude Makeover—in Just 10 Minutes Per Day

By Susan Shumsky, D.D.

You can transform your life for the better in just 7 days. By using simple yet powerful methods, you can heal your mind, body, emotions, and environment. Your attitude can change, and attitude is key to whether your life runs smoothly and effortlessly, or whether it is a struggle. 

If you develop and maintain an optimistic attitude, and if you think, speak, and act positively, then life will be easy, effortless, fun, and joyous. If, on the other hand, your attitude is negative and your thoughts, words, and actions are inharmonious, then life will consist of stress and strain, and you will suffer.

With this 7-Day Attitude Makeover, you can take just 10 minutes every day to focus on improving your life. During this period, your habits of thinking, attitude, and outlook will change, and your environment will respond more favorably. By the end of the week, you will be transformed.

This process will be easy and comfortable. No strain or struggle will be required. No attempt will be made to sit in a rigid, painful meditation pose for hours, to achieve that elusive, pretzel-like yoga position, to make the mind blank, or to sweat ten inches off the waistline. The amazing thing about the methods suggested here is that their effects are effortless and instantaneous.

Your Subconscious Makes Up Your Mind

Do you believe you can heal yourself, fulfill your desires, and manifest your goals? You can. All it takes is a positive mental attitude, and the motivation to make your dreams come true. Your subconscious mind is like an infinite shipping department, whose only mission is to fill your orders. Your deepest unconscious beliefs are like order forms, demanding to be filled. 

Your subconscious mind always says "yes" to every order and gives you everything you believe you deserve.

For example, if you stand in front of a mirror and say, "I am fat, I am fat," then your subconscious mind says, "Yes, I can do that." If you say, "I am poor, I am poor," then your subconscious answers, "Yes, I would be happy to do that." If you say, "I am lonely, I am lonely," then your subconscious states, "Yes, I can do that for you."

Now it is time to give your subconscious mind some better assignments. The key to this is a method called "affirmation." Affirmations are simple statements of truth that, when spoken often enough, convince your unconscious mind that you are changing your attitude and therefore manifesting a new life and a new you. Rather than continuing to say "I am fat," now you are saying "I am healthy, slender, and attractive, at my perfect size, shape, and weight."

Sometimes you have to "fake it till you make it." Affirmation does that. Speak the truth, even though the appearance says otherwise. The appearance is that John doesn't have much money in his bank account. But the ultimate truth is the universe always provides for John as he opens to the infinite abundance that is all around him. If John speaks the truth often enough, "I AM infinitely abundant and always provided for," he finally convinces himself of that truth. His attitude changes and, as a result, his life changes. He becomes prosperous. 

Some people say this change is due to the "Law of Attraction," in which John changes his mind and therefore attracts positive results. 

The healing affirmation formulas you will use during your 7-day makeover are simple and effective, and require no background, skill, or training. All you need is to read the formula audibly and then let go and allow the magic to happen. Through simple affirmation methods, you can now discover how the power of your spoken word, with intention, produces miraculous, instant results.

Your 7-Day Assignment

Your simple assignment is to use one affirmation per day, and to say that affirmation 50 times that day. You can say the affirmation 50 times in a row, or you can break it up and say it at various times during the day. You may repeat these affirmations as many times as you like, as long the total is at least 50 times. After 7 days, you will have a better attitude, a better daily experience, and a better life.

The affirmations are to be spoken audibly, with conviction, in a strong, clear voice. Speaking clearly and audibly produces the greatest potency. Here are the simple affirmations for you to say during your 7-Day Attitude Makeover. Use only one affirmation each day, and repeat it a minimum of 50 times. 

Day 1: "I am in control. I am the only authority in my life."
Day 2: "My mind is filled with inspiring ideas and creative solutions."
Day 3: "I am happy, healthy, fulfilled, and whole, right now."
Day 4: "I love money and money loves me. It comes to me often."
Day 5: "I love everyone and everyone loves me."
Day 6: "I follow my heart and trust myself."
Day 7: "I claim my good now. My life is filled with miracles."

During your 7-Day Attitude Makeover, keep a daily journal that documents your experiences and feelings. At the end of the week, make an evaluation in your journal of how your life has been transformed. Enjoy the process, and expect only the best results. When you claim your good, you will receive all the good you deserve.

To continue your transformation, use 243 healing affirmations that will change your life instantaneously. Read Dr. Susan Shumsky's Instant Healing—Gain Inner Strength, Empower Yourself, and Create Your Destiny. This book provides affirmations for healing your mind, body, and emotions, healing and forgiving relationships, overcoming addictions, dispelling illusions, developing your full potential, lifting your environment, healing lower energies, and overcoming enemies. It also contains affirmations for health, love, prosperity, success, happiness, transforming the planet, and creating heaven on earth.

About the book:

In a world of chaos, uncertainty, and malaise, we can no longer depend on the institutions we counted on to offer security and hope. With increasing anxiety and a sickening fear of the future, can we reverse the downward spiral of turmoil and frustration?

Instant Healing provides a powerfully positive solution. By using simple prayers and affirmations, you can experience immediate healing, comfort, and solace. You can gain self-empowerment, inner strength, wellness, and abundance beyond your dreams.

Instant Healing provides 243 healing affirmations and prayers, along with instructions on how to use them. These methods are simple and effective, and require no background or training. Just read them audibly, with conviction, and in a clear voice. Then let go and allow miracles to happen. The field-proven, non-denominational, universal methods of spiritual healing in this book have changed the lives of millions of people worldwide.

About the author:

Dr. Susan Shumsky is the award-winning author of seven other books--Ascension, How to Hear the Voice of God, Exploring Meditation, Exploring Auras, Exploring Chakras, Divine Revelation, and Miracle Prayer. She is a foremost spirituality expert, pioneer in the consciousness field, and highly acclaimed speaker. Shumsky has practiced spiritual disciplines for 45 years with enlightened masters in secluded areas, including the Himalayas and the Alps. For 22 years, her mentor was Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, guru of the Beatles and Deepak Chopra. She served on Maharishi's personal staff for seven years. She is the founder of Divine Revelation®, a technology for contacting the divine presence, hearing and testing the inner voice, and receiving clear divine guidance.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Featured Book: The Political Trial of Benjamin Franklin by Kenneth Lawing Penegar

About the book:

Benjamin Franklin, it seems, was a reluctant revolutionary. In tracing the course of his political transformation, this book will explore the social and political understandings and misunderstandings that both sustained and divided Britain and its colonies in North America. At the center of the story is Benjamin Franklin's decision in late 1772 to use a cache of personal letters that had fallen in his lap in London for revelation in Massachusetts - essentially a Wikileaks for 1772 - and the consequences of that decision for himself and for the cause of an amicable settlement of differences between the colonies and the British government.

The personal side of Franklin's life in London is explored fully enough for the reader to appreciate both his strong attachment to the place and the inevitable sense of loss from which he reluctantly retreated in the spring of 1775 upon his departure from Britain and return to Philadelphia.

In the tradition of narrative history, this book combines two main stories, each one complementing the other. Woven into the chronological and social history is a tale with an air of genuine suspense and mystery about it, revolving around Franklin's publication of private correspondence with political ramifications. The "leak" was a shock to all, and had consequences for the prospect of avoiding a deeper rift with Britain, a cause Franklin pursued with increasing frustration in the last few years before the American Revolution.

There are notable editorial innovations in the book. The appendices contain full transcripts of significant documents of the time (a first) as well as a thorough exploration of the mystery over the identity of Franklin's source for the Hutchinson letters. A practical 'time-line' is included showing major correlative events. This work will fill a partial void in the late colonial period in American history and will deepen our understanding of the role of the American with the most extensive experience of British political and cultural sensibilities of the time.

About the author:

In his distinguished career as a law professor and dean Kenneth Lawing Penegar’s principal areas of teaching and scholarship have been professional ethics, criminal law and jurisprudence. He has published major length articles in a variety of law reviews and journals; some of these have been reprinted as chapters of books on criminal law and ethics.Dr. Penegar served on the faculties of the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, the University of Tennessee (Dean for fifteen years), and Southern Methodist University (Dallas), where he holds emeritus status. Penegar received his education from the universities of North Carolina (Chapel Hill); Yale; and London (London School of Economics & Political Science).He researched The Political Trial of Benjamin Franklin during a yearlong residence in Britain using collections of documents and papers in libraries and archives including the British Library, London.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Guest Post: What Do E-Readers Mean For Authors? by Joe Shervell

Joe Shervell from LoveReading, stopped by to share with us a piece he wrote.

What Do E-Readers Mean For Authors?

E-readers such as the Kindle, Nook, and iPad offer a lot of advantages to the tech-savvy reader. Being able to transport an entire library in a single screened reader allows for a great deal more flexibility and privacy in purchasing and reading. This is particularly beneficial to the reader whose tastes run to the erotica and erotic romance spectrum, because they can read unobtrusively on their commute or break without having to worry about being embarrassed by a racy cover or getting “those” glances from others. For authors, e-readers offer new opportunities to attract readers, but this opportunity comes at a price. Let’s explore some of the pros and cons of e-readers from the author’s perspective.

1) Attracting new readers

With “lending library” technology, readers can rent or borrow e-books easily and inexpensively. This allows them to be more experimental with their reading, giving “new (to them)” authors a better chance of being discovered. This has its good and bad points, of course. While many authors think readers will gladly pay for a book they truly enjoy, security and intellectual property concerns continue to plague this subset of the publishing industry. Some authors point out that if a reader can get an e-book for free, they will have less incentive to buy the book through reputable channels.

2) The “old-fashioned” argument

For avid readers over the age of thirty, many will agree there’s no substitute for curling up with a physical book and a cup of tea late at night and relaxing. While print books aren’t as portable, readers and authors alike appreciate the feel of actually turning a page and feeling paper under their fingers. Few will argue that swiping a screen offers the same sense of contact with the author’s work and words as a book, because books are a very tactile experience. Additionally with an e-book, there’s no way for an author to physically sign reader copies unless the reader prints out the book, which is a violation of copyright law. A signed copy of a book from a favorite author often becomes a cherished keepsake, but isn’t possible in e-format, although Kindlegraph is one example of efforts to apply the “feel” of physical books to e-books.

3) Loss of revenue

For most authors, going to e-book formats presents new challenges. DRM (data rights management) and e-book stamping are popular methods of preventing piracy, but these measures can be defeated. Once done, these books can be uploaded to torrent and peer to peer download sites simply and quickly. This can represent a loss to the individual author of hundreds to tens of thousands of dollars per work. When one considers that the vast majority of authors don’t and can’t work for free, but to pay bills and keep food on the table, these losses become very frightening.

4) Distribution

The e-reader debate is not all gloom and doom, however. Many authors embrace e-book technology as another sales channel to make their work available to readers. Small presses in particular often start books in e-format, releasing them in print after a specified time or threshold number of sales indicate that print releasing will be financially viable for the press and the author. This has the advantage of getting the author’s work on the virtual “shelves” more quickly and therefore makes smaller presses and lesser-known authors more competitive with Big Six publishing and New York Times-bestselling authors.

5) More Promotional Opportunities

For independent and self-published authors, e-books offer an unprecedented level of control and flexibility in reaching readers. Programs like Kindle Direct Prime offer generous royalties to authors, with the caveat that their work has to be offered for free at certain times during their initial contract cycle. Many authors dislike this enforced giveaway policy, but others state it gives them a powerful marketing tool and actually boosts their revenue. As with so many other things, the benefits of e-books versus regular paper books seem to lie largely in the eye of the beholder.

About the author:

Joe writes for many outlets including LoveReading.

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Book Excerpt: The Gringo: A Memoir by J. Grigsby Crawford

J. Grigsby Crawford, author of the book The Gringo: A Memoir, stopped by to share with us an excerpt from his book.

First it’s the heat. The heat is what hits you first.

La Segua sits about an hour inland from the coastline and be- longs to a large wasteland of sweaty, beaten terrain that gets pounded, in intervals, by heat and rain. Winkler had remarked that it was the Wild West of Ecuador. To me it felt like swamplands in the Deep South—the antebellum South.

The province of Manabí is the anti–bread basket of Ecuador. It’s low, if not the lowest, in all the statistics you want to be high in—literacy, production, health—and high in all the ones you want to be low in—poverty, domestic violence, hunger. The people there wake up every morning and get kicked in the face by life. Every day is a battle and they’re losing.

As a Peace Corps site, it was perfect. You name it—plumbing, running water, stable electricity, post–elementary school educations—and they didn’t have it. The bar was so low that the possibilities for improving the quality of life seemed endless.

Approaching La Segua from the north, you pass a giant landfill between the highway and the ocean. The toxic runoff from the fill drains down toward a shrimp farm leading out to sea. Wisps of smoke and sick-looking pelicans perch atop the mounds of smoldering gray waste in a postapocalyptic image.

The chief export of Manabí, technically speaking, is bananas. But if you ask anyone else in Ecuador, the chief export of Manabí is laziness. It’s the unique brand of stereotype that, if true, is at least forgivable. On either side of the highway, I saw an endless landscape of potbellied men swinging from hammocks, with a machete in one hand and a beer in the other. In the heat and with so little going on, their sloth is understandable—not to mention that with every meal being a variation on rice and plantain, there was literally a finite amount of energy your body could exert.
It is a strange place with strange stories. But mostly, it is a land of distrust.


Before we left Cayambe for our short visits, our program managers gave us a batch of information about our sites and the people we’d be teamed up with, known as our counterparts.

These locals were described as heads of organizations or the community. Among other things, they were in charge of finding us our initial housing for the first few months. In addition to working with us, they were, in a sense, responsible for our well-being. For instance, if we ever left our site—even for a day—we were supposed to notify them when we left and when we returned.

Throughout training, counterparts had been described to us as figures of authority, so you can imagine my surprise when my “boss” turned out to be a child.

I stood on the dirty sidewalk of the bus station and called my counterpart to tell him I’d arrived.

“Where are you?” he said.

I told him I was standing over in the corner of the parking lot. There was a pause. “Oh, I see you,” he said. “I’m walking toward you now.”

“I don’t see you yet. Are you sure you see me?”

When I said this, he was standing about five yards away—directly in front of me. Expecting to see an adult, I’d been looking right past him.

He was twenty years old (and fresh off a university degree in tourism—a fact he wasn’t about to let me forget, ever), but he looked no more than fifteen.

He wore flip-flop sandals, short shorts that rose uncomfortably high on his thighs, a Fidel Castro–style green hat cocked to the side, and a green tank top that read in English, “Ca$h Rules Everything.”

He was about five foot six and 120 pounds. In addition to the initial shock that my boss was younger—and indeed looked so much younger—than I, his appearance startled me. Everything about him was grossly out of proportion.

His nose was enormous, and this is something I can say with- out feeling bad, because my own isn’t exactly petite. His, though, was crooked, leaning to one side just enough to make me wonder if it caused him respiratory problems. His nostrils, however, had a permanent flare to them that must have made up for any inhalation deficiencies caused by the crookedness. His neck was too big for his head—like a wrestler’s, but worse, since it wasn’t balanced out by large muscles elsewhere on his body.

He had easily the largest Adam’s apple I’d ever seen on a human being. It bobbed up and down enthusiastically, as if doing calisthenics, every time he spoke. And, because the picture just wouldn’t have been complete without them, he had a set of pointy elfin ears shoot- ing out from his head.

When he removed his Fidel hat, he revealed a glistening helmet of hair slicked back with ungodly amounts of gel into an aggressive faux hawk. His hair and ears formed three towering, sinister peaks that all seemed to point directly at me no matter where I stood—like the eyes of the Mona Lisa.

When he spoke, every vein in his neck bulged out, causing a disturbance that made it seem as though talking even at an indoor volume caused him pain. He would tilt his head at an angle and the rope-like veins and hyperactive Adam’s apple caused a commotion. As for his voice, there may be an actual medical term for it, but the best I can do is say he sounded like Kermit the Frog. Along with the neck’s peculiar components, it all combined for a perfect storm of verbal and physical cacophony.

His feet were also large—noticeably larger than mine—particularly the toes, which is not insignificant since I was about half a foot taller. But it was his hands that got me the most. They were fit for a man twice his size. They were absolutely massive. Really—I can’t stress enough how truly gigantic and out of place his hands were. They were so disproportionately large for his body that, after a while, they were all I could look at. On top of their excessive size, he used them—in conjunction with his permanently puckered lips—in a manner that can only be described as effeminate. They were giant ogres of hands that moved daintily through the air and into pockets and across cell phone keypads as if they were scared of injuring the air around them.

The combination of all this would horrify me for weeks to come. This was my boss. His name was Juan Mendoza.

About the book:

Within weeks of arriving as a Peace Corps volunteer in a remote corner of South America, Crawford gets a lot more than he bargained for: a narrow escape from a kidnapping plot hatched by the people he was sent there to help.

Then things only get stranger.

In his quest to find adventure, Crawford undertakes a savage journey of danger, drugs, sex, and alarming illness. When anyone else would have packed up and quit, he endures—despite the unbearable pain and isolation. What resulted is The Gringo: one part literary tale of two lonely years in the Amazon jungle and one part gonzo-journalism account of a government agency wandering aimlessly through the twenty-first century.

Crawford doesn’t glamorize the darkness or poverty he encounters. Instead, with fragility and toughness, he delivers a memoir of life abroad that is unlike any other. Filled with sharp humor and eye-opening observations about the human condition, this is an unforgettable story that grabs the reader and doesn’t let go.

About the author:

J. Grigsby Crawford grew up in the Great American West. He graduated with honors from the George Washington University with a degree in Political Science & English. Upon graduating, he joined the Peace Corps. His nearly two and a half years in Ecuador—first on the coast and later, after a failed abduction attempt, in the Amazonian region—provided the material for his first book, The Gringo. As a journalist, Mr. Crawford has covered everything from presidential primaries and politics to murder and local mosquito populations. His writing has appeared in the Huffington Post, Congressional Quarterly, the Colorado Daily newspaper, Mile High Sports Magazine, and various blogs, ranging in topics from sports to men's fashion. He lives, somewhat peacefully, in a cozy little neighborhood tucked in Northwest Washington, D.C.

Visit his website for more information:

Friday, February 8, 2013

Guest Post: Giacomo Giammatteo author of A Bullet for Carlos

Giacomo Giammatteo, author of the book A Bullet for Carlos, stopped by to share with us a piece he wrote.

How are Bestsellers Made?

I picked up a book to read the other night. By the second page I was bored. Nothing was happening. There were no hints of exciting things to come, but I kept going. By page ten, it had gotten worse. I found no mystery. No magic. No dead body or threat to destroy the world. Despite that, I trudged on. 

By page thirty-two, I was ready to quit. The main character complained too much. I couldn’t relate to her. I didn’t agree with her thoughts, and didn’t believe her actions. I didn’t like her dialogue. The setting was too descriptive. The characters too vivid. Everything was too much. So I put the book down and picked up one of mine to read. 

Yes, the first book was from my wife’s shelf. I occasionally do this as a reminder that everyone has different tastes. My wife and I read such different books that they can’t be found in the same bookstore, even the same library. We have to keep them in separate rooms of the house for fear of catastrophic events—like matter and anti-matter coming into contact. Okay, it’s not that bad, but I think you get the point.

Predicting What Will Sell

So how, I might ask, is an agent, or publisher, or anyone supposed to know what will sell and what won’t. As much as the publishing world likes to pretend that they know, history tells us otherwise. If they knew—really knew—there wouldn’t be so many bombs. Every book would be a bestseller. 

About the only books that the publishers predict accurately are non-fiction books and books written by celebrities. In other words, ones that have a large following already. Oh, and trends. That is why, when a book becomes a runaway bestseller, like the Da Vinci Code was, or Twilight, or Hunger Games, or more recently, Fifty Shades of Grey, you can bet your last dollar you haven’t seen the end of those types of stories. 

Think back on it. 

When John Grisham stormed onto the bestseller lists with The Firm, legal thrillers came out of the woodwork. Dan Brown’s, Da Vinci Code, brought a trail of the same. But none may have spurned more spinoffs than Stephanie Meyer’s Twilight series. After Twilight, you couldn’t stretch your arms out in a bookstore without hitting a vampire or werewolf novel. Then came zombies and other urban fantasies. The Hunger Games started a craze for YA novels, and now, in perhaps what might become the biggest trend, Fifty Shades of Grey has opened the floodgates on erotica. 

And it doesn’t seem to matter what readers think of the book. Fifty Shades has almost 5,000, 1-star reviews on Amazon. Five thousand

I’m curious how a trend happens. It isn’t like these stories haven’t been there before. There were certainly legal thrillers before John Grisham. Historical thrillers preceded Dan Brown, and more than a few vampires and werewolves shed blood, or some substance, on pages of novels before Stephanie Meyer was even born. And erotica? It can be found in the ruins of Pompeii. So what was it about these novels that not only propelled them to bestsellerdom, but kicked off an industry-wide trend in that genre that lasted years? 

By all accounts, and by the number of bad reviews, these are not the best, or most well-written, books. Thousands of people have found major faults with the storytelling, writing, characters, plot… You name it and readers have picked it apart. So what is it that makes more and more people buy the books and read them? 

Is it controversy? 

I don’t remember The Firm having any controversy associated with it, but The Da Vinci Code did with the Catholic church, and Twilight did. And certainly Fifty Shades did. 

I personally think that controversy is one of the main drivers. Controversy gets people talking, and talking spurs interest, which drives book sales. The publishing world has known for a long time that word of mouth drives sales; their problem has always been figuring out how to fuel that fire.

So what do you think? What fuels the frenzies that we are seeing in bestselling books today?

About the book:

Detective Connie Giannelli's life has been torn apart several times. First when her mother died and then years later when she found out her Uncle Dominic was in the mob. Her life is about to be shredded again, and this time it could destroy her.
Connie's love of family and her badge are both threatened when an undercover drug bust leaves two cops dead and the drugs missing. Internal Affairs is looking for any excuse to take her badge, but she's not worried about them finding the missing drugs-her secrets could prove to be far worse.

Now Connie's racing against the clock to figure out who killed her partners and took the drugs-dirty cops or Uncle Dominic's friends. And she has to do it before IA pins the whole damn thing on her.

About the author:

Giacomo Giammatteo lives in Texas, where he and his wife run an animal sanctuary and take care of 41 loving rescues. By day, he works as a headhunter in the medical device industry, and at night, he writes.