Thursday, September 27, 2018

Book Review of The Colonel and the Bee by Patrick Canning

A peculiar explorer and downtrodden acrobat span the globe on a building-sized hot air balloon, in search of a precious artifact and the murderous treasure hunter who seeks it.
Beatrix, a spirited but abused acrobat in a traveling circus, seeks more than her prison-like employment offers. More than anything, she wants to know her place in the world of the halcyon 19th century, a time when the last dark corners of the map were being sketched out and travel still possessed a kind of magic.

One night in Switzerland, the mysterious Colonel James Bacchus attends Beatrix's show. This larger-than-life English gentleman, reputed to have a voracious appetite for female conquests, is most notable for traveling the world in a four-story hot air balloon called The Ox.

Beatrix flees that night to join the Colonel, and the two of them make a narrow escape—Beatrix from her abusive ringleader, the Colonel from a freshly-made cuckold. Beatrix, feeling the Colonel may have the answers to her problems, pledges to help him catch the criminal he seeks in exchange for passage on his magnificent balloon.

The criminal seeks a precious figurine, The Blue Star Sphinx, but he's not alone. The Sphinx's immense value has also drawn the attention of the world's most deadly treasure hunters. A murder in Antwerp begins a path of mystery that leads all the way to the most isolated island on Earth.

What dangers await the Colonel and the acrobat?

*We were given a copy of this book in exchange for our honest review*

As soon as I read the first page I knew I would enjoy this book. I absolutely love the way it was written. The tone of the writing added a depth to the story and help create the right ambiance for me as a reader. I loved the way the characters talked and the steampunk essence throughout the story.

Bee, or Beatrix, is a great character to follow and I enjoyed seeing her grow and expand on the journey with the Colonel. She holds her own and is easy as a reader to want to see her do well. I found her interesting and wanted to know more about her right away.

The Colonel reminded me of a Steve Zissou type character mixed with a little Sherlock Holmes. He's mysterious and alluring all at the same time and it's no wonder Bee wants to stay and learn from him.

Anyone who enjoys mysteries, steampunk and awesome world building stories should read this book. The Colonel and the Bee is a creative, fun, and exciting journey for any reader.

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Patrick Canning was born in Wisconsin, grew up in Illinois, and now lives in California with his dog, Hank.

He is primarily focused on turning coffee into words, words into money, money back into coffee.

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Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Why and How to Write for Children

~ Because it is fun?
~ Because you are interested in what they are interested in?
~ Because you want to teach them something?
~ You want to share an important message about life?
~ Because you never grew up and don’t intend to?

Then, once you have an idea for a story, what is the best way to present it? Well, embed it within the stories that children love. Here are some of the choices.

1. Animals:

Biophilia describes "the connections that human beings subconsciously seek with the rest of life."

Stephen J. Dubner (from Why Are Kids So Crazy About Animals? ) says that heis “surprised by how devoted kids are to animals, even if that devotion doesn’tseem to last into adulthood for some of us."

He says that perhaps kids like animals because:

1. Animals are simply cute and cuddly — at least in the abstract, and in cartoons.

2. Animals seem vulnerable, and kids want to take care of them — or, conversely:

3. Animals seem vulnerable, and kids want to control them.

4. Animals are a sort of proxy for kids in that kids are relatively powerlesscompared to adults whereas animals are relatively powerless compared topeople.

Patty Born Selly (from Nurturing Children's Love for Animals) says, “Most folks who work with children know that children are drawn toanimals of all kinds. There is definitely something special aboutchildren’s interest in animals. Research shows that humans’ innateinterest in animals is biological: we are drawn to species that are‘“other”’ than human and in many cases have an instinct to want tocare for or nurture creatures that are small and vulnerable. Unlike adults who tend to value animals for what they can provide (food, leather, wool), or how they can serve us (as companions), childrentend to value animals simply because they are. They recognize theintrinsic value of animals—that simply because they are livingcreatures, they are important.”

Here are some examples:

and the list goes on…and on….and on…Then there is...

2. Dirt

My grandson and I used to play in the dirt all the time. I have since found outthat he was, “allowing his immune response to explore his environment,”

Mary Ruebush, a microbiology and immunology instructor, wrote (in her book, Why Dirt Is Good ) “Not only does this allow for ‘practice’ of immune responses, which will be necessary for protection, but it also plays a critical role in teachingthe immature immune response what is best ignored.”

Another study found that kids who grew up on farms or with a dog in the househad fewer allergies.

One leading researcher, Dr. Joel V. Weinstock, the director of gastroenterologyand hepatology at Tufts Medical Center in Boston, said in an interview that theimmune system at birth, “is like an unprogrammed computer. It needs instruction.” He said that public health measures like cleaning up contaminated water and food have saved the lives of countless children, but they, “also eliminated exposure to many organisms that are probably good for us.”

From Why You Should Let Kids Eat DirtBy ALEXANDRA SIFFERLIN , June 6, 2014, says
“A significant amount of research has shown that kids who grow up living onfarms with livestock, or with a pet are less likely to develop asthma or allergies. Prior research has also suggested that it’s not necessarily dust that provides aprotective benefit, but the microbes that are in our guts that influence ourimmune system and ability to fight off infections.”

It seems that many of these new findings support a growing body of evidencethat a little exposure to germs here and there never hurt anyone, and in fact, could actually be protective.

So we play in the dirt and since children don’t know about these findings butsimply love the dirt, we can write about it. Make it a subject of our stories.

3. Some children love to be naked

A nice thing to know is that at two to four years of age, kids don’t care what theylook like - they have no shame in being naked. Then, when they reach about fiveor six years of age, they start to feel shame (the good kind of shame that keepsone from being in awkward situations).

So maybe, if a five or six-year-old is still running around naked, it’s because he or she is trying to gain a little control over something, or just simply unsure of when and where, or who, it’s appropriate to be naked in front of. Perhaps, it’s just because they think it’s hilarious.


I remember this poem vividly and think of it each time I take a child swinging.

The Swing
by Robert Louis Stevenson

How do you like to go up in a swing,
Up in the air so blue?
Oh, I do think it the pleasantest thing
Ever a child can do!

Up in the air and over the wall,
Till I can see so wide,
Rivers and trees and cattle and all
Over the countryside—

Till I look down on the garden green,
Down on the roof so brown—
Up in the air I go flying again,
Up in the air and down

5. Other Humans

So find what interests you, why do YOU want to write for children? I am amusician and dreamt about performing in front of large audiences when I was ayoungster. So, what do I write about? Musical fantasy stories like these….

What did YOU dream about or do as a child? This is the fodder you need foryour next children’s book!

Post by Alice Cotton 

Monday, September 17, 2018

Book Review of Philanthropy: The Fusion World Project by J. L. Tamone

When people get desperate enough, they will obey just about anybody. War had devastated Vyndral, leaving it barren and without resources. Revolutionaries under the leadership of Captain Cain Clark use an ancient device capable of traveling to parallel dimensions, invading the peaceful world of Rafia to extract justice. When Clark’s plan seeks to end all life in the universe, a group of five philanthropists band together to take him on. But with an assassin on their tail, will they survive long enough to take a stand?

*We were given a copy of this book in exchange for our honest review*

I really liked this book. I’m not really sure why, but I’ll try my best to not just say “there just something about it”. The story itself has a some very moral, heavy arguments at the core of it but the story itself remains fun. The characters, at first are not very likable, and seem to only exist in an effort to move the plot to different physical areas, but... they started to grow on me. I found myself enjoying them. I liked the way that, even during a stressful and intense moment, they are cracking jokes and being annoying; being real people.

It was surprising what good, kind people so many of the characters were, dropping everything to help a stranger, saving lives of those in danger, even when they didn’t mean to. 

This book is full of action from start to finish, but it doesn’t feel rushed. I just kept wanting to read more and see more of their world… which is so much like our own, but also, so different. Hearing the history of what devastated the parallel world, and how they have lived. Yes, there are parallel worlds.

Some of the characters feel very surface level and could use some more of a look into their lives and thoughts - I just wanted to know more about them. But I think this book has a very unique voice, it's not often that you can read a sci-fi, action thriller and come across a "that's what she said" joke.

This book ended with a “book 2 in the works” stinger and, I have to say, I definitely want to read it.

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This review was done by MJ! You can follow her on Twitter and Instagram 

Friday, September 14, 2018

Book Spotlight on Miles for Bonnie: Finding Our Family by Irene Helenowski

For the longest time, he was just going through the motions. And then a stranger came into Dave Simpson's diner, setting him on a journey to find what he and his late wife always wanted. It was not long before he would find their family.

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Irene Helenowski would like to be a writer when she grows up but also loves her current day job, being a biostatistician at Northwestern University in Chicago. She has received a Master's in Statistics from the University of Wisconsin - Madison and a Ph.D. in Biostatistics from the University of Illinois - Chicago. She hopes to follow her trilogy with a series of fairy tales and additionally writes poetry and is attempting a screenplay based on her trilogy. Irene also enjoys travel, going to concerts and museums, and other activities with friends and family. Spreading the love of math and science to minority groups has also become a passion of hers.

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Thursday, September 13, 2018

A genre for all ages

First off let me apologize for having a late post this month, I'm currently on vacation in Hawaii, so ya know, priorities!
This month I wanted to discuss the age appropriateness of fantasy.

Now, in my opinion, fantasy is one of those genres that brings all the ages together. Think of Harry Potter or Lord of the Rings. Harry Potter was released when I was in elementary school, and I'm damn near thirty now. It has even expanded now into an even earlier timeline with fantastic beasts. Lord of the rings came out well before I was born, and Tolkien was writing it while he was supposed to be focusing on the war (just like a writer's brain to need to write at the most inconvenient time.) The worlds Tolkien created have touched AT LEAST 3 generations to my knowledge, and that continues to grow.

Now a lot of the times fantasy may be perceived as a genre for children because a lot of them have young adult themes or just seem very childish in the larger schemes of things. What I see are stories that have intertwining age elements.

 If you're a parent or an older sibling, think of the last time you tried to watch something with fantasy with your child or younger sibling. Children tend to ask a lot of questions do they not? Have they ever asked you a question and you had to hesitate with an answer because they simply weren't old enough to understand that concept? Whether it be sex, war, critical thinking or whatever, some things just won't be understood. Just like for young folks trying to teach their grandparents today's technology lol!

In a lot of fantasy stories I've come across, there is romance. I mean, hey it's a part of life to love and want to be loved, so it seems crazy to not include it, right? But children don't understand that concept fully. Or when a story is telling it from the point of view from a child's mind, adults no longer think that way, so a lot of us may have reservations about the plot, because as we have grown older, we believe we have gotten smarter or wise than children, when in actuality we just started complicating things.

So be open to the different age elements in fantasy, open your mind up to things you may no longer understand or have yet to fully understand. Fantasy has a way of tugging at everyone's heart strings!

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

Author Interview with W. E. DeVore author of The Clementine Toledano Mysteries

Our lovely mystery contributor is also the author of the Clementine Toledano Mysteries. You can read the latest review of her book, The Devil's Luck here. DeVore was kind enough to answer some questions about her writing. 

1. What made you decide to be a writer?

I’ve always been a creative person; writing is just the latest evolution of that creative compulsion. So, I don’t know that I decided to become a writer per se; I had a story that I wanted to tell, and once I started writing it down, it became difficult to stop. That story became the first Clementine Toledano mystery, That Old Devil Sin. 

2. What has been the biggest hurdle for you in regards to writing and did you overcome it?

Selfishness. Or rather the societal idea that being selfish is in some way a negative thing. Because writing is a lonely art that you don’t share with anyone, really, until you’ve been lost in it for months or years on end, it takes time away from your ability to interact with the world. I used to feel like I was selfish when I’d open my laptop and vanish into my imagination. But I eventually realized that being creative and using my imagination was when I felt most healthy. So, for me, writing became a form of self-care, like working out or taking a bath when I’m stressed out. The two hours or so a day that I spend away from my friends and family makes me more present when I’m with them because I’ve taken the time I need for myself.

3. What inspired the creation of Q. Clementine Toledano? 

As a twenty-year music industry veteran, one of my biggest pet peeves is the way that musicians are portrayed in film or in books, especially female musicians. There’s always this twinge of melodrama that is just so false, and it makes me cringe every time I see or read it. Coming from that world, it’s very obvious when someone is approaching it without real-world knowledge of the experience. And I wanted Q and everything in her world to feel real.

I wanted to create a character that would be recognizable to my friends. A woman who could handle herself in the man’s world of the music business. She had to be a bad-ass player and hold her own in the tough New Orleans music scene. I love that she straddles the spheres between old Uptown money and gritty downtown funk. It’s such a strange dichotomy and provides a good tension between her and her fellow musicians.

4. Which of the characters in the Clementine Toledano Mysteries has been your favorite to write? Which is the hardest? What makes them so?

My favorite character by a mile is Derek Sharp, the charismatic frontman of Dark Harm. He wasn’t planned and just popped up right in the middle of Devil Take Me Down. I thought it was an interesting avenue to pursue, so I let him stick around for the rest of the book, thinking he’d serve his purpose and leave the series, but I just couldn’t do it. His vulnerable side is well hidden, but he really is a dark mirror of Q’s personality, so their interaction is a lot of fun to write. When I was writing Chasing Those Devil Bones, I hit a block until he turned up on Q’s porch and wormed his way deeper into her life. Now, he’s a part of the core ensemble. He’ll have his own saga, once I wrap up the 8th book of the Clementine Toledano series.

The most challenging character for me has been Detective Aaron Sanger. I knew what drove him, what secrets he was hiding and how he fit into the overall story arc, but I didn’t really know him. And I needed to know him better than anyone else to take the series where it needed to go. So, I started writing a journal for him to find his voice. It took me a couple of books to get it down, though. After some very good criticism from one of my beta readers for The Devil’s Luck, I finally realized what I was doing wrong, and he really came into his own in the final version of that novel. Now Sanger and I are good friends, and it’s a lot easier to write him. I think what makes him such a challenge is that he’s so much more stoic than the other characters. He really plays things close to his chest, which makes it difficult to convey how kind and strong he is.

5. What influenced your decision to self-publish?

I think if I just had written a stand-alone book, I would have continued to hone it and shop it to agents, going the traditional publishing route, but I had an entire series in mind. I wanted to spend my limited time writing it, not writing endless query letters. My band and I were DIY-ing albums back before that’s what everyone did, and I still have that drive to create, polish, and release a finished product. Because of that, self-publishing was a natural fit for me. 

It feels good to know that people can buy these stories and get some enjoyment from them. Some people create art for art’s sake. I create art because I have something I’d like to share.

6. What advice do you have for aspiring authors? 

There are two vices that every author I know falls prey to: self-doubt and self-praise. There are days when we all want to give up because we’re convinced that everything we’ve written is garbage. On the flip side, there are days when we become so convinced that we’re secret geniuses that we overlook the flaws in our crafting.

The trick is to find the balance between the two. Finding your own flaws and weaknesses and learning from them makes you a better writer. Overlooking them will set you up for failure just as fast as focusing all your energy on them.
Having confidence in your writing is really just short-hand for having confidence in your ability to make your writing better. Acknowledging that you may not be a genius, is not the same as acknowledging and appreciating your talent and accomplishments. 

W.E. DeVore is a musician, producer, and audio engineer. In her career as a musician and sometimes rock star babysitter, she has been fortunate to know some of the most entertaining and unique individuals that seem to only grow from the Louisiana soil. She’s also experienced some things that a nice Jewish girl from Montana probably shouldn’t know about - but it does make excellent fodder for a little fiction. DeVore has lived in Southeast Louisiana for the last two decades and currently lives in Baton Rouge, although her heart will always be in New Orleans - sweaty, dirty, crime-ridden, music-filled wonderland that it is.
The first three books of the Clementine Toledano Mysteries are available now (That Old Devil Sin, Devil Take Me Down, and Chasing Those Devil Bones). The fourth installment of Q’s misadventures, The Devil’s Luck, is due out Summer 2018.

DeVore posts on the second Monday of the month where she explores all the wonders of the mystery genre! 

Connect with W. E. DeVore:

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Tuesday, September 11, 2018

Book Review of The Devil's Luck by W. E. DeVore

New Orleans musician Clementine “Q” Toledano is having a hell of a day. After months on tour with her band, she discovers that she’s unexpectedly expecting her first child, and promptly stumbles upon yet another dead body. 

As she spirals down into a maudlin funk brought on by impending motherhood, her best friend, NOPD Homicide Detective Aaron Sanger, enlists her help once more to investigate the apparent suicide. The two of them discover a crime ring that could get them both killed if an obsessed fan doesn't get to Q first. 

When both your career and your amateur sleuthing could get you murdered, becoming a housewife doesn’t look so bad. 

*We were given a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review*

I love everything there is to love about this series! While this book is the fourth book in the Clementine Toledano Mysteries it can be read as a stand-alone. I myself haven't read the pervious three books but I am adding them to my list. 

The book starts off with a lot of drama which draws the reader into the life of Q quickly. The mystery of her friend's death and what Q and Aaron stumble upon is enough to keep the reader wanting more. Add on the relationship dynamics present in the story and you have a book you can't put down. 

What I enjoyed the most about this book was the level of character development. Each character not only has their own unique voice, but mannerisms, way of talking, and dressing. This level of detail gives the reader lots of indirect insights into who these characters are and what they care about. 

While the story does focus on the mystery Q and Aaron stumble into, other elements are brought up and addressed, such as Q finding out she's pregnant when she is about to go on a big tour with the famous Dark Harm band. For me, these elements kept the story grounded in reality and made the story more real. I found myself eagerly wanting to learn clues about the mystery, but also about the relationships. 

Anyone who enjoys mysteries, stories about strong female characters, or stories with lots of drama this is a book you really need to check out! 

Amazon   Goodreads 

W.E. DeVore is a musician, producer, and audio engineer who currently pays the bills by writing technical manuals and specifications for professional audio products. In her career as a musician and sometimes rock star babysitter, she has been fortunate to know some of the most entertaining and unique individuals that seem to only grow from the Louisiana soil. She's also experienced some things that a nice Jewish girl from Montana probably shouldn't know about - but it does make excellent fodder for a little fiction. DeVore has lived in Southeast Louisiana for the last two decades and currently lives in Baton Rouge, although her heart will always be in New Orleans - sweaty, dirty, crime-ridden, music-filled wonderland that it is.

Connect with W. E. DeVore:

Website   Amazon   Facebook   Instagram   Twitter   Goodreads   Pinterest 

Monday, September 10, 2018

More than a Mystery

I read every book as if it were a mystery.
Maybe it’s because my first favorite books were all mysteries. Or maybe it’s because I’m descended from a man who obsessively read every word Sir Arthur Conan Doyle wrote. Or maybe it’s because I'm a naturally cynical person. Who knows… The bottom line is whether it’s Dickens or Spillane, Allende or Eco, I’m going into every story looking for clues to put the puzzle together.
And over time, I’ve come to recognize that at the core of every good story is an essential mystery.
Don’t believe me? 

Then why do you keep turning the pages?

I’ll tell you why:
To find out what happens next.
Before any genre purists have a literary aneurism, let me explain.
In a good mystery - one in which the reader is trying to solve a puzzle (aka a crime) with the characters (see, I do know the difference) - the reader is motivated to figure out the puzzle (the crime) before the characters. To outwit the villain before the protagonist gets the chance.
Really good fiction (regardless of genre) does the same thing. It tricks the reader into that singular impulse to put all the pieces together and try to figure out what picture the author is drawing.
Why is that important?
Well, just like really good fiction borrows a few instruments from the mystery toolkit to manipulate the reader into moving faster through the story, really good mysteries do exactly the same from the reverse end.
Only in our genre, we use a really good story to manipulate the reader into forgetting they’re supposed to be solving the puzzle with the protagonist. Because it’s genre fiction, this is not a requirement. I have read many a good mystery on a long flight that didn’t have much in the way of a good story. But, hot damn, what a fun puzzle to solve (I’m looking at you, Dan Brown).
But really powerful mysteries… ones that make you explore your own weaknesses and humanity… ones that stick with you for decades, now those are as intricate as woven silk because those stories entwine the puzzle you’re supposed to be solving with the characters with one that you’re solving for the characters.
(If you’re a literary critic, please stop reading now, I’m about to piss you the fuck off.)
Jane Eyre is a baller of a powerful mystery.
That’s right, that Jane Eyre. And if you’re a literary critic who’s still reading despite my warning… yes, yes, I know it’s Gothic Fiction and Gothic Fiction usually has some sort of mystery and blah, blah, blah, but (and this is why I told you to stop reading) Jane Eyre is a big “M” Mystery masquerading as a work of Gothic Fiction.
Who is Bertha Mason?
That is the real story in Jane Eyre. All the rest? The powerful strength of Jane and the evocative language and emotionality of the story? Those are just distractions from the real mystery.
A mad woman who burns the motherfucking house down while dancing on the rafters. Find me a James Patterson or Karin Slaughter serial killer that is as terrifying and heart-wrenchingly tragic as Bertha Mason.
Go on. I’ll wait.
Ok, I won’t, because I don’t have that kind of time. But I do challenge anyone to find a villain who is so brilliantly drawn from the negative space of her own existence. I mean, we barely know or understand her but the entirety of the story revolves around her.
Edward Rochester’s everything is explained by her and everything we know about her is based on the characters’ reaction to her.
Now, that’s a mystery.
They don’t come along very often, these big “M” Mysteries. These More than a Mystery Experiences. I’ve only read two and I have read A LOT of mysteries. They’re so rare that they usually get pushed into high literature so quickly that our poor under-appreciated genre doesn’t get to hold onto these trophies. But they are there - books like Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë and The Robber Bride by Margaret Atwood - and I think very much that they should be ours.
Because in every really good Mystery - whether it’s a fun romp through a cozy village in Wales or a gritty detective novel with serial killers around every turn - there is always the opportunity to elevate it beyond its genre. There is always the opportunity to interweave a good story in amongst the puzzle pieces that the reader and the characters are picking up to solve along the way.
And that is hard as a genre fiction writer. It’s painful and nerve-wracking. When I was writing Chasing Those Devil Bones, I felt like I was so focused on the characters and their relationships that I wasn’t giving enough attention to the mystery. But finally, I just had to let go of that anxiety and I’m glad I did because I love that book. I’m proud of the way it turned out. The charm of it. For me, showing how two people become best friends superseded the crime that they were solving together and I’m glad I let it take centerstage.
Regardless of what genre you write, you are telling a story, and that story deserves its own care and attention. It deserves to be more than the label we slap on it for the sake of the Dewey Decimal system.
In The Devil’s Luck, my main character, Clementine “Q” Toledano, asks her best friend why he refuses to call her by her nickname. You see, everyone in Q’s world calls her “Q”, unless they are angry past the point of reason with her, but not Detective Sanger. He tells her that no one letter could ever live up to how amazing she is. And so it is with a good Mystery. No one label can really define what it is.
Don’t let your labels define you. Tell the story that needs to be told.