Sunday, June 30, 2013

Book Review and Author Showcase for Friends Forever

Before I post the review for today, I just want to mention that my young adult novel, Friends Forever, is being featured at Coffee Time Romance & More. If you have not visited that site before, it is a terrific place to find new books to read. Most of the books featured are romance, but there are some other genres spotlighted now and then as well.  Today, young adult fiction is featured, and I am grateful for all the folks at Coffee Time for their support of authors. Jamie Hill, one of the amazing partners at Books We Love Publishing, is blogging about the author spotlight today, so if you have time, hop over and see what she has to say.

Now, before anyone calls me on a mistake, I do need to clarify that the title "there was an old woman"  is not capitalized as that is the way it appears on the book. It might be interesting to know why the publisher decided to do that, but they might not be telling. (smile) I do want to thank Carl for sharing reviews that we are free to use on our blogs, and hope that you will thank him, too, by checking out his books.

there was an old woman  
by Hallie Ephron
ISBN: 978-0-06-211760-1
A William Morrow 2013 release
304 pages

I could hardly put it down. Creepy, tension filled, elegantly crafted, filled with emotional turmoil and characters that seem to rise from the pages and sit beside you while you read. Not a mystery in the usual sense, not a novel of slam-bang adventure with bodies dropping on every other page. This elegantly crafted novel demonstrates a mastery of story-telling, of how to feed tidbits of information to the reader in a way that not only keeps one glued to the book, but step-by-step raises gut-wrenching questions of life and death and reality.

Somehow, Ephron has plumbed the dark recesses of the mind of an elderly woman named Mina Yetner. Independent still at ninety-one, and living in a small New York City neighborhood on the edge of a salt marsh, she’s sound of mind if physically frail and she’s determined to live out her life as she has always done, to the very end. Mina is a wonderful fresh character and readers shouldn’t be surprised if her voice comes, unbidden to mind while they turn the pages.

In this time of aging baby boomers, of rising concerns about privacy, rampant mortgage offers, retail development, and uncertain government, here is a universal crime novel that should be read by just about everybody on the planet.
Carl Brookins  BLOG:  -BOOKS:  Case of the Great Train Robbery, Reunion, Red Sky

Friday, June 28, 2013

Friday's Odds and Ends

Tomorrow is the day. The Nite of Comedy plays on the stage at the Winnsboro Center for the arts in Winnsboro, Texas. If you are nearby, consider coming by and supporting the talented Young Players. 

200 Market Street - Downtown across from the Depot

I noted this past week that one of my favorite Dallas Morning News columnists, Jacquielynn Floyd, had issues with the spelling of her name on documents when she was going through airport security. Apparently the spelling on her driver's license did not match the spelling on her boarding pass. Long before this, I could have told her there would be problems. I never can spell her first name correctly when I mention her in a post and have often wished she could just be Jackie, or Jack, or maybe even Mary. All simple names to spell, right?

I'm rather fond of the simple spelling of my name. What about you? Is your name difficult to spell?

"Let us never forget that government is ourselves and not an alien power over us." FDR.

That quote caught my eye when I saw it at the top of a recent column by Alex Rose in the Dallas Morning News. She has spent several years in the Texas Legislature and wrote about how we can have our voices heard over those of lobbyists. Her message was that special interests groups do have significant influence in federal and state governments, but that does not mean that voters cannot have influence if they band together and speak up.

I won't argue the second part of that message. We do have to keep speaking up, even when it seems like our words are blown back in our faces by the wind of big businesses that have the biggest lobby groups. And one of the major things we need to speak up about is a drastic change in the political system, so businesses don't have the kind of power they do now.
Now for some fun from the comics.

This first one is from B.C. and Wiley's Dictionary: The definition of "Lip Service."

"Regular botox injections."

This one is from Baby Blues. The family is in a pet shop and Darryl says, "A puppy wouldn't be that hard to train Wanda."

She says, "O, really?

To which he responds, "It just takes patience. Look how well-behaved our kids are."

Then there is a loud crash and Darryl says, "Okay bad example."

Hammie runs up and says, "We just bought a tank of guppies." 

 I had to include that one as it reminded me of taking my kids to the grocery store - not something I did often, especially after one of them knocked down one of those towers of canned goods that stores used to have.

Do you have a favorite story of taking your kids to the store? Feel free to share it. And don't forget to leave your e-mail addy if you would like to be in the drawing for my Birthday Gift that I mentioned in Wednesday's post.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Special Sale for the Fourth of July

If you stopped by to meet Wednesday's Guest, you might want to check yesterday's post for a guest who could not make it today and get to know Ellen Harger. I am over at the Blood Red Pencil today where we are discussing authors writing book reviews. It is a discussion that started on Kristen Lamb's blog a week or so ago, and there are lots of pros and cons being tossed around. You might want to toss an opinion into the mix.

On another note, Untreed Reads is having a special sale to celebrate Independence Day! 

Now through July 4th, you can pick any four short stories (priced at $0.99 or less) and add them to your cart. During checkout, enter coupon code FIREWORKS and you'll get those four stories for only a dollar!

Even better news! You can use this coupon over and over, so come back and pick any other four short stories and get those for only $1.00 as well. We've even improved The Untreed Reads Store so that for many titles you can send the EPUB version directly to your Nook from your bookshelf, or send the MOBI version straight to your Kindle.

Click HERE for mystery short stories.
Click HERE for horror short stories.
Click HERE for romance short stories.
Click HERE for science fiction and fantasy short stories.
Click HERE for literary short stories.
Click HERE for experimental fiction short stories.
So many books - How can I choose?
I have four short stories with Untreed Reads - Making it Home - The Last Dollar - The Visitor - SAHM I Am . They are all included in the sale, so this is a great time to sample them. I have also decided to offer them as a special gift on July Fourth. Since that is my birthday, I thought I would give gifts as well as receive them. So I will give the short stories to one of my visitors who comment on any blog post starting with today's and continuing through the Fourth. Names will be put in a hat and one of my cats will use a very sharp claw to draw one out.

Don't forget to leave an e-mail so I can contact you.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Meet Author Ellen Harger

My guest today is Ellen Harger, who wrote the mainstream novel, Strong Enough, that I reviewed last Sunday. As I mentioned then, Ellen could not make it here tomorrow for the usual Wednesday's Guest spot, so I made time for the visit today. Ellen and I will be having some iced-cold sweet tea, as it is blistering hot here in Texas today. I have some ice-cream sundaes as well, so pull up a chair and join us at the table.

Enjoy your tea and ice-cream Ellen, but first give the readers a short intro to who you are and what you write.

Thanks, Maryann. As a military brat, I moved often during my childhood--something I never resented and continued as an adult. The constant starting over influenced my first published novel, Strong Enough.

I am a tortoise when it comes to writing, but I finished. Throughout the process, I wrote for various reasons. First it was to see if I could do it. Merely finishing became an objective because leaving the book half-written was worse than writing a maudlin novel. And finally, finally through all that, I found the story I wanted to tell. Mostly, I think it took so long because I was not ready as an author on so many levels.

Mystery/crime thrillers are my favorite books to read but impossible for me to write (though, the challenge will be attempted). What I love is the intricacy of story telling necessary for a good mystery. It requires leaving red herrings and hiding important caches of info in plain sight. You don’t just write a thriller; you sculpt it.

I took that appreciation for mystery and applied it to a mainstream/slice of life story with a strong female lead. It’s subtler in some ways because readers don’t look as hard for the clues, but there a very few writerly accidents. I carefully built, analyzed, and reduced the story to its primary themes. I pulled from all facets of my life and experiences--a technique that required more living than college theory to accomplish. We can’t all be like the Brontes.

That process is very interesting, and I think many writers do the same thing as there is always that element of mystery in any story. You mentioned that you drew on past experiences, so please share with us your fondest childhood memory.

One of my fondest memories was when I asked my mom for a Barbie. We were living in Cheyenne, Wyoming on FE Warren AFB. I was about 3 years old. Mom was finishing her under-graduate education by correspondence course and studied at our kitchen table. I was allowed to play nearby, if I was quiet. Since I was my mother’s third leg, I brought toys down and entertained myself.

I remember, clearly, one day asking if I could have a Barbie. My older sisters (nearly 9 and 11) had many but I wasn’t allowed to touch them. My mother told me I could have one when I was 10. This didn’t faze me in the slightest. I went up the back stairs of our enormous base house to my corner bedroom. There were the essential tools to my plan: a small green stove and matching folding table, both hand-me-downs.

I played house by sending myself to school and then returning to do homework. With great deliberation, I celebrated 7 birthdays--though I do believe that each year came faster than the last. Once I obtained my desired age, I returned to my mother and informed her that I was 10 and I would like a Barbie.

What a great story. You were obviously very clever and strong-willed. Did you come by that naturally?  

I grew up surrounded by strong women and feminists who read everything. My father’s mother had a college education and two careers in education after her third son started school. My mother is a strong, independent woman, the ninth of ten children. Her mother maintained a WV farm during the depression with just the children to help whenever Papaw was at the mine, and the first to receive her Masters. I am fascinated by and proud of both of my grandmothers. Grammy loved Little Women and Mamaw loved The Secret Garden. I used to spend many glorious hours reading with my mom on her bed.

So when it came to writing, strong women are natural characters for me. Even as a college-filtered feminist, romance doesn’t threaten me, so I found it possible to focus on women while acknowledging a major aspect of life--love.

It sounds like you have a terrific family. What is their favorite story to tell on you?

The time a friend and I ate portions of an old, stale gingerbread house my eldest sister made? How about the time I tried to take training wheels off my bike with a plumber’s wrench? Maybe the time in Germany when I insisted on accompanying my parents on a bike ride, and then, because I deemed the route was too long, I rammed my bike into a fence like a petulant kamikaze fighter? Or in Montana when my Grampy helped me transform the dog’s house into a Barbie two story? 

No, it was the time when I picked a special way to give a book report and my mother handled me like a pro. See, I thought I was being clever. I chose something that seemed so much less ostentatious than a fashion show or newscast. After I told my mom my choice, she wisely asked me if I knew what dramatization meant. My stomach flopped and flipped because suddenly I did, but I said, “it means I’m going to read it really well.” Needless-to-say, my mom used the potential disappointment of my teacher to keep me committed. It was a major transformational moment in my life. I performed a chapter from James Herriot’s All Things Bright and Beautiful for a room of thoroughly bored eighth graders and one beaming teacher.

What other creative things do you do?

Growing up, I was busier drawing than writing stories. I have an art minor and I enjoy painting. Almost all of the art in our house is my own. I also enjoy photography, though I am a total amateur. I danced in college and found a lot of creative expression buried inside me. Once I started dancing, I also started theater. This was a huge step for me because I was bitterly shy growing up.

I think most writers have other creative endeavors that help feed their muse. When it comes to writing, where do your stories begin? With character or plot?

For Strong Enough, it began with characters. I had a few fuzzy images of people who kept nagging me so I wrote trial and error style until I figured out their story. However, most of the following manuscripts have been centered on plot with me meeting the characters as I write.

Most writers I know are animal lovers.  Do you have a pet?

Always. Currently our dogs are Peanut Butter and my stepchildren’s dog, Roxy. Peanut/Nutter Butter is a mutt, and Roxy is a long-haired Chihuahua. I’m passionate about always finding my animals from shelters or rescue organizations. I would like to have more dogs but my husband is firm about the two-dog limit.

Most of us have had a variety of jobs in our lives before focusing on writing. What is the most interesting job you ever had?

Probably the most interesting job was when I worked for a Christian dating service while I was in college. I worked for the nicest woman who was trying to start a business after her husband divorced her. The job itself wasn’t that hard. I did data entry and manned the office so my boss didn’t have to be there every waking hour--I was her only relief and part-time. I sold dating packages and filmed new clients for the video library. When a client came in, I showed them to the private viewing space. It was a little amusing watching then make their videos and then wait for someone else to pick them out. This was before really took off and then the various off-shoots. My boss never gave up, though. She was a hard working, well-intentioned woman and not long before we finally parted ways, her business was bought by a large Christian dating franchise. I hope she did well.

Thanks for sharing some tea and conversation, Ellen. It was fun getting to know more about you. Readers, if you would like to enter the contest to win one of the copies of Strong Enough that Ellen is giving away, visit my Sunday Post where I reviewed the book. You can also catch up with the tour and enter there to win a copy of the book.

Monday, June 24, 2013

Monday Morning Musings

I am really behind in keeping up with some of the news. For instance, I did not know there are thousands do "fan girls" who feel sorry for Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, the man accused of the bombings at the Boston Marathon.

Really? I thought it was a joke when I first read the news item.

Why are so many young girls, and grown women, attracted to such bad boys? According to one columnist, Charlotte Adams, "women are chronically attracted to the bad boys because they want to reform them, or minister to their wounds, or be the healing presence they've never had - but mostly because they find them sexy."

Sexy? What does that say about our society?

On a much more positive note. We are in the last week of rehearsal for our annual Nite of Comedy at the Winnsboro Center for the Arts, where I have had the pleasure of working with some talented young people. The group has brainstormed and written some funny skits, and we will be doing a bit of improv, as well.

Hey, Dude. You are too happy to be singing the blues.
I love working with these kids and look forward to the Summer Drama Camp which will start on July 8th. Some of these young people took the stage for the first time at the camp, and it has been such fun watching them grow and mature as actors. The only problem is, they do grow up, graduate from high school, and then go away to college.

That said, I think you will understand why my posts over the next couple of weeks will be short, and hopefully sweet. There are lots of admin things to take care of for the show this coming Saturday, as well as the drama camp, and I do need to slot some time for working on my next book. Not to mention the big family gathering we will have on the Fourth of July as I celebrate my birthday and the birthday of the U.S.A.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Book Review - Strong Enough by Ellen Harger

Strong Enough
Ellen Harger
File Size: 522 KB
Print Length: 308 pages
Publisher: Ellen Harger  (February 25, 2013)
Sold by: Amazon Digital Services, Inc.
Language: English

While there was some excellent writing in this book, I really struggled to finish it as the characters simply did not draw me into the story. Even the central character, Whitney, did not become likeable until I was several chapters in, and there were times even then that I found her poor choices and wishy-washy behavior off-putting. Some of the supporting cast were people who did not like each other, and I couldn't help but wonder why they didn't just all go in separate directions.

But of course, then there would not have been a story.

Other readers have obviously been able to connect with the characters as there have been some good reviews on Amazon, so I am sure that my problem with the book was my problem, and not the fault of the author.  When we are introduced to new characters in a book it is much like being introduced to new people at a party. Some we like and some we don't. That doesn't take anything away from the person, or the host of the party. (smile)

In many ways the story celebrates strong women as Whitney becomes stronger herself. Then there is the  theme of friendships and how we are all affected by our attachments. There were some truisms in the book that were revealed as Whitney made her way through the minefield of her relationships. One of those truisms is that things can change if we just learn how to take a stand. Whitney learns that when she doesn't back down from a verbal attack by Sadi, cousin to Whitney's friend, Leah. Whitney also learns that enemies aren't always enemies and friends aren't always friends.

One of the many things I liked about the book was the use of music and music references to enhance the story. When the story opens Whitney has just taken a job as a radio DJ, and the scenes with her assuming her on-air personality, Kelly Carter, are some of the best in the book. The dialogue was also very well done, and each character did have a distinctive voice.

Ellen Harger, who has been on a blog tour to promote her book,  has studied creative writing and art in the Midwest and also in Boston at Cambridge. Strong Enough is her first novel. Ellen will be my guest this next Tuesday, so I hope you will come back and help me to welcome her. I usually have guests on Wednesday, but Ellen was scheduled at another blog that day this week. It would be hard for her to sit and have a glass of iced tea with me, if she was somewhere else. (smile)

In the meantime, you can catch up with the tour and enter to win a copy of the book.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Friday, June 21, 2013

Friday's Odds and Ends

The only good thing about when the summer heat hits Texas like a blast furnace is that flowers like the Mexican Petunia start to bloom. I'm trying very hard to make it my favorite flower as it blooms from late June through late October. Unlike pansies, which are my favorites, but have a much shorter life span in Texas. 
First bloom of the year
In Monday's post I mentioned the fact that Texas Governor Perry vetoed a bill that would have allowed school districts to deal with truancy cases in ways that would not make truancy a crime. Weighing in on the topic in the Dallas Morning News, a young teen volunteer columnist, Shruti Rao, pointed out that one problem with the policy is that it redefines poverty as a crime.

"By criminalizing truancy we are sending the wrong message." Ms. Rao wrote. "The message we are sending to disadvantaged students by treating them like criminals is basically: You are bad for being poor. "

Ms. Rao is also a teen court volunteer, and cites the example of two students who have truancy issues that are totally out of their control. Their parents are not able to keep a car running to take the kids to school.

Ms. Rao acknowledges that there are some students "who don't go to school because they are defying the law." But in her role as a teen court defense attorney she sees many more defendants who are there because of family circumstances. "If we treat poor, innocent kids like criminals, they will lose their faith in society. Ultimately, we as a society will pay the price."
Have you heard of patent trolling? Apparently this is a practice where attorneys look for patent applications that even remotely resemble the product produced by their clients, and file a lawsuit. When applying for a patent, people are encouraged to get patent insurance to cover the costs of those suits. I remember a time when trolling for clients was frowned upon, and the worst stigma an attorney could have was to be called an ambulance chaser.

I am a real animal lover - just saying in case you haven't noticed. (Smile) But I cringed when I read about a Dallas man who was convicted of felony animal cruelty for killing his girlfriends cat, but acquitted of assault charges for attacking his girlfriend and her daughters with a stun gun. He could go to prison for killing the cat, but gets a walk on the assault. Doesn't seem right to me.

Now for a bit of fun from the comics. This is from Mother Goose and Grimm:

Grimm is in a store to return a toaster. He says to the clerk, "This toaster doesn't work. I want my money back."

The clerk responds, "Sorry, no refunds unless you can prove its defective."

Grimm drops the toaster, then picks up the broken pieces and hands them to her saying, "It's defective."

Literary Lesson: 

"Doubt was a necessary element of life, one often not appreciated until later in life. Only with doubt could one challenge his assumptions and ensure that his course was proper."  From Unintended Consequences by Marti Green.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Kate Frost Meets Sophie Keech

Today's Wednesday's Guest is Kate Frost, who is sitting down for a chat with the central character from her debut novel The Butterfly Storm.  Please help me welcome the ladies to It's Not All Gravy. Grab a chair at the table and I'll provide a cool drink to beat the hot summer day in Greece. Here in Texas that cool drink would be sweet tea, but in Greece it is a chilled beer.

It's one of those perfect Greek summer days, hot and dry with just a hint of a breeze when I meet up with Sophie at the fish restaurant by the harbour in Oia, Santorini that she and Alekos had been to the summer before. Sophie's already there at a table by the water wearing a short cream skirt, a pink vest top, her green eyes shaded by sunglasses. She's tanned and toned, a few years younger than me and pretty in a not obvious kind of way. Her long hair looks even redder than normal in the sunshine. She waves me over, and I thankfully sink into the chair opposite her feeling hot and flustered from walking in the sun.

'You found it okay then? she asks.

'Of course, I've been here before remember? That's why I wrote about it in the novel. You and Alekos loved it too.'

'Apart from the argument.'

'Yes, sorry about that.'

There are two glasses of cold beer and an array of dishes already laid out on the table: calamari, fried mussels, Greek salad, octopus and fried Santorini tomatoes.

'I ordered,' Sophie says, taking a sip of her beer. 'I love your skirt by the way.'

I smooth down my long gypsy skirt. 'This old thing, really?'

'It's something mum would wear.' I take that as a compliment. Sophie's mum, Leila, may be a good few years older than me but she has taste, a youthful appearance and always looks good.  

'I have a bone to pick with you,' Sophie says, folding her arms and leaning back in her chair. 'Did you seriously have to put me through all that emotion?'

'Of course,' I say, shading my eyes from the sun. 'Who wants to read a story without emotion?'

'Fair point, but family trouble, boyfriend trouble, a domineering mother-in-law to be... you really dished it out, didn't you.'

'Well, I did try my hardest to make your story an interesting one that readers could invest in.'

Sophie stabs a piece of calamari with her fork and pops it into her mouth. 'Why did you write it?'

'The Butterfly Storm? Because it was a story I wanted to tell and one that was full of passion and themes that most people can relate too – family, love, independence, a sense of belonging.'

'What gave you the idea in the first place? Was it me?'

'Um, actually no, Sophie, it wasn't you. It was the time I'd spent in Greece visiting my husband's family that inspired the idea. I always start off with an idea of place. For The Butterfly Storm it was Greece and north Norfolk in the UK where my grandparents lived; for my new novel it's Tanzania and Zanzibar. You came along afterwards when I had a rough sense of plot and ideas for certain scenes, such as the birthday party in Greece. But ultimately you told the story. I went where you took me.' 

'Did you always intend to have me narrating the story?'

'I never really thought about writing it any other way than from your point of view. The story needs to be seen through your eyes so it makes sense that you take the reader on your journey both physically and emotionally.'

'And what a journey it was.' Sophie pops a fried mussel into her mouth. 'Oh my God, Kate, you have to try these.' She squeezes more lemon over them and passes the plate to me.

I pick a juicy looking one and pop it in my mouth. 'That is so good.'

Sophie smiles and taps her glass against mine. 'To us and our story. Oh, and congratulations on finally becoming a published author.' 

Author Bio

Kate Frost has wanted to write since she was seven. Over the years she's had short stories and articles published in various magazines including The London Magazine and New Welsh Review. She has a MA in Creative Writing from Bath Spa University and The Butterfly Storm is her first novel. She lives in the UK with her husband and their dog. 

Book blurb

Four years ago, life for Sophie Keech was perfect. A new start in Greece with Alekos, her boyfriend of just six weeks, removes Sophie from a mundane 9-5 job, takes her away from the difficult relationship she has with her mum, and gives her the opportunity and belief that she is finally doing something positive and exciting with her life.

But a lot can change in four years. An engagement, a domineering mother-in-law to be and the reality of life in Greece not being quite what Sophie imagined puts a strain on her relationship with Alekos.
When an accident forces Sophie back to the UK to look after her estranged mum, she has time to reevaluate her life, her idea of family, where she wants to be and, most importantly, who she loves.

Buy the book at Amazon U.S. or Amazon U.K  

If you enjoyed meeting Kate, you might want to visit  her BLOG - and follow her on TWITTER

Monday, June 17, 2013

Monday Morning Musings

So, Governor Good-Hair as we sometimes refer to our esteemed Texas governor, has done it again. Rick Perry recently vetoed two bipartisan ethics bills and rescinded state funding for the prosecutors unit that is investigating his cancer research fund. 

In an article in The Dallas Morning News written by Christy Hoppe and Robert T Garrett of the Austin Bureau, Craig McDonald of Texans for Public Justice was quoted as saying, "Perry's office is an ethical black hole. Ethics reform goes in. Nothing comes out."

That is one black hole that needs to be closed up.

Perry also vetoed a bill that dealt with equal pay for women, saying that women have enough recourse in the Federal government for equal pay issues.

Umm, right. Like that is really working.

I think Perry's hair interfered with his brain when he vetored those bills, as well as one that dealt with truancy. A bill to put the responsibility on school districts to find ways to improve attendance among truant students before pursuing criminal charges was passed by the House, but Perry shot it down. Under the current program school districts can refer a student to court after three unexcused absences, and Texas is one of only two states in the country that prosecute truancy cases in adult court.

Really? What about family court? As any teacher and he or she can tell you that the number one problem with truancy starts on the home front. 
On the topic of NSA secret-leaker Edward Snowden, Dallas Morning News columnist, Jacquielynn Floyd, says that we do need to be concerned about what Snowden is possibly doing in China and how that affects our national security. However, she also says we need a serious discussion about "...balancing personal privacy and national security. And in that discussion we should all get to participate."

All in favor, raise your hands.

Yesterday I received one of those messages that authors just love to stumble across in their e-mail inbox. A reader contacted me to say how much she loved Boxes For Beds, my new historical mystery. In fact, she said she readthe book twice, and at first I thought she was the same person who had said that in a recent review on Amazon, but turns out she is not. To get that kind of affirmation for my work is such a thrill, but it is also very humbling because I know there are few books that I like well enough to read more than once. I am always so eager to get on to the next fictional adventure, I don't often go back to previous ones. I imagine that most readers are like that, too, so it means a lot to know that at least two people have liked the story well enough to give it a second read.

That's it for me for today. Leave a comment if you are so inclined and let me know what you are musing about on this Monday.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Book Review - The Butterfly Storm by Kate Frost

The Butterfly Storm
Kate Frost
Format: Kindle Edition
File Size: 451 KB
Publisher: Lemon Tree Press (5 Jun 2013)
Sold by: Amazon Media EU S.à r.l.
Language: English

This is somewhat of a coming-of-age story even though the protagonist is not a young teen learning how to be an adult. Sophie is in her late twenties, but in a way she, too, must come into full maturity. She has left England to be with her boyfriend in Greece, thinking that move would make her happy. It does in some ways, but when it becomes clear that Alekos is torn between the demands of his mother and Sophie's needs, Sophie slowly becomes disenchanted with the whole fantasy of moving to the romantic setting and living happily ever after.

It doesn't help that Sophie has had a love/hate relationship with her mother - or mum in British vernacular. Sophie has left on bad terms with her mum and is not sure if they will ever smooth things over. That becomes a bigger challenge when her mother, Lelia, is injured in an accident and Sophie returns home to help, if her mother will have her.

Sorting out life's complexities is never easy for anyone, and Sophie is not spared as the challenges mount chapter after chapter. I don't want to give anything away, so I will let new readers be as surprised as I was at some of the turns the story takes.

There were some things that I absolutely loved about this book. The descriptions of the places Sophie went were so well done that I was always there with her. The cultural differences between Greece, England, and what I am familiar with here in the States, were also very interesting and sometimes amusing.

I also enjoyed the thawing of the ice between Sophie and her mum, and that was one of the best parts of the storyline - too see them both take baby steps toward each other instead of pushing away, which had been their pattern up to this point. In my opinion, this is when the story really took off, and the book became much more enjoyable to me. The new characters who were introduced were more likable than some of those in Greece, including Alekos who was too immature and weak willed to be the man Sophie needed.

The story structure seemed a little off balance to me, with the first part of the story when Sophie was in Greece taking too much space with scenes that were at times repetitious and other times not directly relating to the point of the story. It wasn't until well into the book that I got a sense of what Sophie's quest was really about.

Also a little off to me was Sophie's interest in Ben. This is the second book I have read recently that had a protagonist who was in a committed relationship, yet seriously entertained the idea of having sex with another person. That bothers me. Perhaps because I am of a generation that does not view sex the way young people do today - something I want, so why not? Even though other readers may not take issue with that plot point, it did make it harder for me to fully embrace Sophie as a character.

However, I decided to treat Sophie like I do my own children and separate how I felt about the behavior from how I felt about the person. That did make it easier for me to stay with her until the conclusion, which was very satisfactory. but again, I will let other readers find out what happens to Sophie on their own. No spoilers here. (smile)

Friday, June 14, 2013

Friday's Odds and Ends

First, thank goodness that storm that could have been as devastating as Super Storm Sandy didn't pack the same punch, but in Colorado the wildfires still pose considerable threat. Isolated thunderstorms are predicted for the area today, but the storms will have lots of high, gusting winds, but little rain.

The Black Forest fire, which is the worst in the state's history, has killed two people and destroyed 379 homes. Currently, residents of Colorado Springs on on alert for evacuation orders, with as many as 13,000 residences in potential danger. More than 38,000 people have already evacuated the area.

My thoughts are with all of the people who are too close to this terrible fire.

As the story of Edward Snowden, the self-avowed National Security Agency leaker unfolds, it reminds me of the spy thrillers I used to read and enjoy. All the intrigue was, well, intriguing, but I prefer the fiction to real life. It is disheartening, and a bit scary, that Snowden is on the lam and we don't know what he plans to to with the top secret information he was privy to in his job with the NSA. He has already provided documents to journalists revealing the existence of secret programs to collect records of domestic telephone calls in the United States and the Internet activity of overseas residents. And if he is planning to defect to China as some news reports have said, what secrets will he turn over to the Chinese governement?

Another news story that has parallels in fiction is that of Jose Martinez, who was recently arrested for killing a man in Alabama in March. As it turns out, the 52-year-old man from California who is a U.S. citizen, has killed as many as 30 men as part of his job as an enforcer for Mexican drug cartels. Apparently he was called when someone got crossways with the cartel. During his interrogation by Alabama investigators he said,  "I'm the guy that pays you a visit if you don't pay."

I made a note of his story, and that great line, for possible use in my current work in progress, Desperate Season, the third book in the Seasons Mystery Series. This story revolves around deaths related to the drug "cheese" which is made from the black tar heroine that comes up to Texas from Mexico. I thought it would be interesting to  have a character, like Martinez, who appears to be just a regular suburban homeowner but is an enforcer. That juxtaposition of identities is always interesting and is what I like most about the television show The Americans, the FX original series that features two KGB agents posing as Americans in the suburbs of Washington D.C. The series stars Keri Russell, Matthew Rhys, and Noah Emmerich.
 Now for a bit of fun from Garfield. In the first panel, Garfield is listening to Jon who is yelling from another room. "This computer has a virus."

In the next panel, Jon says, "Now it crashed."

Garfield thinks, "Jon does not do well with technology."

Then Jon shouts, "Now it's packing to leave."

I can relate. How about you?

I almost forgot. It's Flag Day here in the U.S. today. I did get my flag out.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Meet Author Elizabeth Buhmann

Please welcome Elizabeth Buhmann as today's Wednesday's Guest

Hello, and thank you, Maryann, for inviting me to be a guest here on It’s Not All Gravy. I’m Elizabeth Buhmann, author of Lay Death at Her Door, a murder mystery which has just been released by Red Adept Publishing. I live in Austin, Texas, where I worked for twenty years at the Texas Attorney General’s Office doing research and writing on criminal justice and crime victim issues. Lay Death at Her Door is my first novel.

Hey, we're fellow Texans. 

1. How did you come to write in the genre you chose?

I have always loved the mystery genre. I started reading Nancy Drew when I was a child and graduated to Erle Stanley Gardner as a teenager. From there, I moved on to PD James, Dorothy Sayers, Raymond Chandler, Ross MacDonald, and Ruth Rendell, to name just a few. Among contemporary writers, I love Sue Grafton, Michael Connelly and Gillian Flynn—and others! I would bet that half the books I’ve read in my life have been murder mysteries. I love the intellectual challenge of a good murder mystery, and to me, it’s satisfying when a killer is dragged out into the open and brought to justice.

2. What is a typical writing day like for you?

I get up blindingly early in the morning—often as early as four—while it’s still dark outside. I make a pot of tea and sit in my office with my dog at my feet to tackle the most important and creative work I want to do on that day. I break at about 7:30 to walk, have breakfast, and feed the chickens. I work off and on as the day progresses, shifting to more analytical tasks like editing, revising and polishing, or writing shorter pieces.

Oh, my, I did not realize four in the morning actually existed. So glad you verified that for me. (smile)

3. What is the most unusual or interesting research you have done for your books?

The main character in Lay Death at Her Door—her name is Kate—was born in Africa of expatriate American parents and came to the States as a teenager. I lived in other countries myself as a child, so I know what it’s like to reenter American culture from abroad. But I’ve never been to Kenya, where Kate is from. I loved reading about Kenya! So much so that I got carried away and put too much Kenyan history and politics in the manuscript. (Don’t worry—my editor took it back out.)

Thank goodness we have editors. Mine have been so helpful with the cutting. 

4. What gives you the most pleasure in writing?

I love everything about what I’m doing. I love giving free rein to my imagination, then following out the logic of a story and working within the boundaries of craft. I like working out the details—what year would Kate have been born, and where exactly in Kenya? What was her mother like, and how did that help shape who she is? What sorts of flowers would be growing in Tony’s garden at the house in Sedgewick? How would Max go about trying to find the mysterious missing man that Kate eloped with during a drunken weekend fling twenty years ago?

5. What other creative things do you do?

I draw and paint—you can see some of my watercolors at I’ve maintained that large and rambling website for more than ten years—purely for my own entertainment. It’s like an online journal—my virtual home. I’m also a very ambitious gardener—out of control! I have nearly an acre, and the whole thing is planted and bedded and riddled with paths and benches and little rock walls. It’s always changing, never finished, and occupies an inordinate amount of my time.

I, too, love gardening, but mine is much more primitive. I hope my readers visit the website and view your art. Quite nice. 

6. What do you do for fun?

Tai Chi. I have a black sash, and I’m currently learning Chen style.

7. Where do your stories begin? With character or plot?

I love that question. I begin with the major act, the crux of the plot, which to me defines the main character. Every trait and quirk and habit of a character relates, at least in my mind, to what that character will do in the overarching plot of the story. And the actions that make up the plot reveal the truth about the characters. So I would say that for me, character and plot are inseparable and evolve together.

Lay Death at Her Door is built around the character of Kate Cranbrook—a woman who lied on the stand about murder, in order to protect herself. She’s a dark protagonist, and her character is key to understanding the heart of the mystery—what happened and why.

Thank you so much for your candid responses, Elizabeth. Readers, do you have any questions for her? 

While Elizabeth is in the spotlight here, I have cloned myself and am at two sites today. I'm sharing some writing tips from the comics at The Blood Red Pencil and having some fun at The Lightstealers Song.

Monday, June 10, 2013

A bit of Humor to Start Your Week

My blog today will be an excerpt from my humorous memoir, A Dead Tomato Plant and a Paycheck - which is still looking for a publishing home, by the way. I still have company from our long weekend celebration that I mentioned on Friday, so I don't want to spend time on the computer that I could be spending with them.

When I was writing my weekly column for a suburban newspaper, it was always a challenge each year to come up with something to write about the summer break from school that wasn’t just a rehash of past columns. I thought maybe people were getting tired of my “I hate Summer” columns, but a friend assured me otherwise. “No, Maryann,” she said. “You’ve got to keep writing this. If you suddenly started loving the summer break, that would leave the rest of us looking like the worst mothers on earth. So accept the gauntlet, carry the flag, give us a game plan.”

How could I refuse?

I worked for two weeks on a plan I thought was perhaps the best summer vacation survival guide ever, but it only took two days for my kids to destroy it.

The shining glory of said game plan, which I considered definitive, succinct, and perhaps worthy of someday being etched in stone, were my edicts:

Thou shalt not wake up the household before eight o'clock in the morning.

“But you didn't say I couldn't sing."

 Thou shalt not fight.

"This isn't a fight. It's a police action."

I guess I should have covered more bases. I amended that edict to read:  Thou shalt not fight or engage in any sort of skirmish, duel, war or uprising. That should be clear enough for them.

Thou shalt not bother me with trivial details when I'm working.

"Grandma just called from Detroit. But I told her you were too busy to talk."

Thou shalt complete all chores before noon.

"Mom, your bed's not made and its twelve-o-one."

Thou shalt co-operate.

"We are co-operating. David's helping me get this Twinkie away from Michael."

Once the fun of breaking edicts was over, there was nothing left but this deep pit of boredom. We dipped so low, we were reduced to inane activities such as conducting a contest to see who had the most mosquito bites in unusual places.  (You do not want to know the details of who won.) Then we endured 14 hours of Love Boat reruns with a test afterward to see who could remember the most lines of dialogue.

And this was the shining example my friend thought I could be?

Sunday, June 09, 2013

Book Review - Lay Death at Her Door by Elizabeth Buhmann

Lay Death at Her Door
Elizabeth Buhmann
Print Length: 315 pages
Page Numbers Source ISBN: 1940215005
Simultaneous Device Usage: Unlimited
Publisher: Red Adept Publishing, LLC (May 22, 2013)
Sold by: Amazon Digital Services, Inc.
Language: English

When the story opens we learn that Kate Cranbook sent the wrong man to prison for rape and murder twenty years ago. Now there is new evidence that proves he didn't do it, but instead of admitting that she was wrong, she continues to try to cover the truth.

Kate, who grew up in Africa, now lives in Virginia, on an estate bought with money left to her father by his mother, but Kate is discontented with her life there. She longs for more, especially more from the man she had decided she has to have, no matter the cost. She also wants to escape from the iron hand her father uses to control her, and she longs for more independence.

At first, I forgave Kate for her poor choices and totally self-absorbed behaviors that drive the story. After all, she was traumatized by the alleged rape she experienced and the murder she witnessed. However, as the story progressed, I struggled more and more with caring about her, until eventually there was nothing to like about her. At least not for me, and I noted that there was one reviewer on Amazon who felt the same way. That reviewer wrote, "This is a dark, and deeply disturbing story, with a 'heroine' who is extremely difficult to care about. There were points where I truly despised Kate."

For most of the book, the writing was well crafted and kept me engaged, but the ending did stretch credibility for me. There was one surprise that was cleverly hidden, yet hinted at, that was very well done, and the truth of what happened that fateful night twenty years ago was another surprise.

Fans of a new style of story telling that is very dark and focused on characters that that challenge us to like them will probably enjoy this book. Perhaps those who are loyal followers of the television shows like "Hannibal".

Elizabeth Buhmann is originally from Virginia, where her first novel is set, and like her main character, she lived several years abroad while growing up. She graduated magna cum laude from Smith College in Northampton, Massachusetts, and has a PhD in Philosophy from the University of Pittsburgh. For twenty years, she worked for the Texas Attorney General as a researcher and writer on criminal justice and crime victim issues. Elizabeth now lives in Austin, Texas, with her husband, dog, and two chickens. She is an avid gardener, loves murder mysteries, and has a black sash in Tai Chi.

Elizabeth will be my guest on Wednesday to share a bit more about herself and how the book came about. Please do try to come back and make her feel welcome.

Friday, June 07, 2013

Friday's Odds and Ends

We are looking ahead to a busy weekend. Some of our kids are coming out to celebrate my husband's retirement from the Permanent Deaconate. He has served the church in many ways for 35 years, and is now ready to just sit in the pew like everyone else. We will also have an early Father's Day party on Sunday, so this will be a weekend for just family and friends and fun. Aren't those the best?

Most distressing to me is news that dozens of anomalies, including dented pipe, were reportedly found along 60 miles of the southern segment of the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline being constructed in Texas. TransCanada is calling these concerning problems with the pipe “small imperfections” along only nine sections.

Apparently, landowners in Texas, including those near my town of Winnsboro, have seen crews out digging up sections of the pipe that have been down for as much as six months.  A spokesman for TransCanada has said,  “The company does not have to reveal what happened, but seeing a completed pipeline having welds and dents cut out is reminiscent of other infamous low-quality pipelines built by a variety of companies that PHMSA has identified in the last few years. The odds are not favorable to avoid a leak when we are seeing problems such as these with a newly constructed pipeline, and a leak poses dangers for the people who live along this route.”
Did he really say what some of us have been saying all along? That the pipeline poses dangers?

We in the U.S.  are not the only ones against the pipeline. Government officials in Canada have rejected a plan to build the Northern Gateway pipeline in British Columbia which would pump tar sands through the province for export. The officials cited a lack of evidence that the company has the ability to transport the heavy crude safely, nor could the company prove that they would have a sufficient response to a spill should one occur. Those concerns are legitimate. People in Michigan are still cleaning up after a pipeline ruptured and dumped tar sands into the Kalamazoo River in July 2010.
 About the same time that I was reading the news report outlining Canada's objection to the pipeline, I came across a rather absurd comment made by Exxon CEO Tex Tillerson in response to a proposal from environmentalists to set corporate goals for cutting oil emmissions. He said, "What good is it to save the planet if humanity suffers?"


Okay, that's enough of a rant for the day. Now about a bit of fun from the comics. This one from Luann, another of my favorite strips.  Luann's parents, Nancy and Frank are trying on their summer clothes after a winter of having them packed away. Frank says, "Look I put on my summer shirt and found a pen and a pair of sunglasses in the pocket. And in my shorts I found a quarter and a dollar bill."

To which Nancy reponds, "Lucky you. I put on my summer clothes and found five pounds."

Unfortunately I can relate to Nancy. How about you?

Life Lesson: "Failure is just life trying to move us in another direction." Oprah Winfrey speaking to Harvard University graduates.

Wednesday, June 05, 2013

Green, Green Grass

Please welcome our funny friend, Slim Randles as today's Wednesday's Guest. This piece resonates with me as I have often wondered the "why" of lawns and lawn care. Enjoy. And if you like what Slim shares here, you might enjoy his book, Home Country, which is a collection of his essays. Great gift for Father's Day.

It’s idolatry, pure and simple. Why else would millions of men spend billions of dollars each year on something that simply takes work and means time away from having fun with friends and family?

It’s worship. Worship of tiny little plants invading our yards.  It’s lawn-o-mania.

Since man first invented the yard, he’s wanted it to look just like everyone else’s, and has donated years of his life and portions of his fortune to accomplish this. He’s polluted the air with power-mower fumes, used up enough fresh water in his devotion to enable us to grow vegetables in Saudi Arabia, and has neglected his family enough to warrant locking him away.

 Let’s face it; the plague of locusts in ancient Egypt couldn’t bring him to his knees in prayer, but a plague of nut grass or dandelions will leave him nearly prostrate on a hot summer’s day.

If it isn’t a religion, why else would people spend money to buy stuff in a bag to put on a lawn to make it grow faster so it has to be mowed more often?

Now if this were a practical lawn, it would make some sense. We’d fertilize it, encourage it to grow quickly and thickly, turn water on it to help in the process, turn cattle on it to mow it, and then barbecue the cows.

But to grow grass just to cut it down? Try telling that to a class in logic down at Jerry Hat Trick Junior College and see how far you get.

So this time of year, take a look at your neighbor out there whacking down healthy grass that is simply trying to do what he tells it to. Try to appreciate the sweat and work it takes to keep millions of tiny plants from realizing their potential. But forgive him, as he is a faithful follower of green expanses and garages full of gear. He is, in his way, lighting candles to Saint Briggs and Saint Stratton and praying against the onset of cutworms.

Faith is a powerful force.

Brought to you by The Backpocket Guide to Hunting Elk, a downloadable e-book for $5 just in time for Father’s Day. Read a sample at

Monday, June 03, 2013

Monday Morning Musings

The IRS has come under fire recently for allegations that it targeted Tea Party groups for audits and special attention. An unidentified agent in the IRS office in Cincinnati told congressional investigators that the office was told to search for Tea Party groups applying for tax-exempt status. Following on the heels of that allegation, is a new charge of excessive spending. The Treasury Department’s inspector general released the preliminary report on conference spending this weekend. The report states the IRS spent about $50 million to hold at least 220 conferences for employees from 2010 to 2012.

None of that is good news for the IRS, but something else that has not made national headlines is even worse.

Kerri Steele, a young mother in Frisco, Texas, who lost her husband to cancer late in December, was audited by the IRS. She was still dealing with her own grief and that of her three young children when she got the letter from the IRS saying they were auditing medical expenses for 2010 and 2011. Kerri was given 30 days to assemble the required documentation, which was no easy task for someone who was emotionally battered, so she asked for an extension. She was told that was impossible and she had to comply or face huge fines.

Steve Blow, columnist for the Dallas Morning News, checked into this situation, and a spokesperson for the IRS referred him to a section of the code that states that examiners don't have the authority to grant delays. Of course not. Low level employees anywhere don't have that authority, but somebody does. And instead of stonewalling a request, wouldn't common decency dictate that the examiner seek out that higher authority? Well, as Steve put it, "I don't think that's covered in the manual."

Too bad.

So, early this morning I get a phone call from someone at the National Republican Headquarters wanting to talk to me about something to do with "Like Ronald Reagan." No doubt in response to the recent comments by Bob Dole that the national party needs to hang a "closed for repairs" sign on the office doors until it comes up with a few positive ideas. Dole also said that today's ideologically rigid GOP probably wouldn't find a place for him, Ronald Reagan and other GOP legends who placed governing ahead of grandstanding.

I'm guessing the call this morning was to tell me who in the party is like Ronald Reagan, as that was the opening gambit, "Like Ronald Reagan." Since I hung up right after that, the recorded voice did not get a chance to tell me who or what was like the former president. Not that I'm disappointed.

I take issue with that call on two counts. First, instead of trying to "spin" out of  current problems within the political party, why not do something constructive and beneficial to the people. Overhauling the IRS might be a good place to start.

Secondly, if you want to win favor with the great unwashed masses, phone calls before business hours is not the way to go. Most people respond to phone calls late at night or early morning with a bit of panic. Has something happened to a friend or family member? So we answer with heart pounding just a bit, only to hear a recorded voice try to sell us something.

Not smart.

Sunday, June 02, 2013

Book Review - Camp Redemption by Raymond L. Atkins

    Camp Redemption
    Raymond L. Atkins
    File Size: 449 KB
    Print Length: 240 pages
    Publisher: Mercer University Press (March 1, 2013)
    Sold by: Amazon Digital Services, Inc.
    Language: English

    Every now and then an author comes along who so vividly portrays a place and it's people that you believe you are there with them. Laura Lippman does that with Baltimore, Dennis Lehane does that with Boston, and Raymond Atkins does it with Georgia. All three of his books, The Front Porch Prophet, Sorrow Wood, and now Camp Redemption are set in rural areas of Georgia that reflect the idiosyncrasies of the people who live there.

    In this latest book we meet  Ivey and Early Willingham who have started a bible camp on property that has been in their family for generations. This year, registration has not been good. In fact, there have only been ten applications and Early realizes they cannot try to run the camp and lose money. The solution, according to Ivey, who has visions that consist of visits from the beyond, mostly dead relatives, is to help other people.

    Early does not see how opening the camp to needy folks, like Jesus, a teen who ran away from an abusive father, and a bootlegger Hugh Don Monfort, is going to pay any of the bills. However, he has learned from experience not to question the advice from those who have chosen to give it to Ivey in her visions, so he goes along. His going along and honoring Ivey no matter how bizarre her messages can be is one of his most endearing qualities, and in a subtle way, sets up a nice surprise in the end of the story.

    Even though Early honors his sister's spirituality, he has no tolerence for the hypocrisy, ignorance, and  narrow-mindedness of organized religion. He does not attend the local church with Ivey, although he does take her there every Sunday. Then he goes to visit Hugh Don and they have their own Sunday meeting over a few beers. Every day Ivey prays that Early will stop his sinful ways, but because she loves him, she tolerates those indiscretions.

    The strength of the relationship between these two endearing characters is set up in the very beginning of the story when Early and Ivey are contemplating the handful of camp registrations. Early asks if she has any idea of what they should do about the camp, and Ivey's response is a quote from scripture "Wait on me, your Lord. Be of good heart and wait on me."

    Early is used to this from her. As Atkins wrote, "He was fifty-four years of age, and he could remember the latter fourty-five of them fairly clearly most of the time. In that entire span, his sister had encountered very few problems toward which she had not lobbed a Scripture or two, like sacred hand grenades. It was her way.

    "Technically, that wasn't your idea," Early noted. "Besides we have been waiting , and my heart is strong. But nothing much has been happening, and my bank account is weak."

    As the story progresses more people in trouble arrive at Camp Redemption seeking sanctuary. Millie Donovan comes with her children when she loses her home in town. Charnell Jackson, an out-of-luck lawyer who has always had a yen for Ivey, gets in financial trouble and comes to hide out. They are all affected in some way by the Newman's who covet the land upon which Camp Redemption sits. Gilla Newman and the deacons at the Washed in the Blood and the Fire Rapture Preparation Temple don't care that Ivey donated the land for their church and paid for their sanctuary. They will do anything to get the rest of her land.

    I highly recommend this book. It is so funny in places I laughed out loud and had to share quips with my husband. However, there is much more to it than the humor. It has tender, poignant moments that almost take your breath away.