Monday, January 30, 2012

Monday Morning Musings

I read a good editorial in The Dallas Morning News the other day. Titled: Trimming Government, Message to Obama and Congress: Get on with it, it listed a number of ways to balance the budget. The top two suggestions:
  • Eliminate duplicate programs
  • Consolidate related programs
Good ideas. Do you think if enough of us say this, someone in Washington will listen?

There are a number of programs available to help returning soldiers deal with PTSD and other combat-related issues as they assimilate back into civilian life. One of them is Horses for Heroes which has a facility in Keller, Texas called Rocky Top Therapy Center. There, men and women can spend some time grooming a horse and doing some ground work.

On the surface, you may wonder what that could do to help a traumatized veteran, but one vet has said working with a big chestnut gelding has reduced his stress level a great deal. The soldier said the horse is a good listener. "There's no negative feedback. There's nobody saying you need to do this and this and this."

Working with the horse also helps in controlling anger and frustration. There is no way you can lead a horse if you have a lot of strong negative feelings churning inside. I know that from personal experience. A horse has to trust you to let you groom him, pick up his feet, and lead him around. Horses are very intuitive and react to your feelings. If I approach him in anything but a calm manner, my horse shies away from me because he is afraid and his instinct is to run from whatever is scaring him.

Learning to be calm around a horse, can surely help a veteran learn how to be calm with his or her family, as well as in other social settings. Kudos to the people who are helping the soldiers learn that.

A new book out, Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking by Susan Cain, deals with the benefits of people who work alone. According to Cain, great inventions and great art come from people working in solitude, not committees, and she cites the example of Steve Wozniak, who built the first Apple computer alone in his garage. It took people like Steve Jobs to launch the business and work with committees to market the product, but the initial invention came from one man, working alone.

Susan Cain advises against relying on Groupthink in business and education, and has plenty of data to support her belief that people are more productive when they work alone with few interruptions. The book is well worth a read, as is the article she recently had published in the New York Times.

Speaking of good books, I have a review of Louise Penny's wonderful new book, A Trick of The 
Light over at The Blood Red Pencil blog. If you have a minute to check it out, you might find another good book to add to a list of those you want to read.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Book Review - Lethal Lineage by Charlotte Hinger

Thanks to Carl Brookins for the introduction to another good mystery. The list of books I want to read just keeps getting longer, and longer, and longer.....

By Charlotte Hinger
2011 Release from
Poisoned Pen Press

This is an amazing novel. Almost from the first line, one is interested, entertained, and enthralled. Lottie Albright is a first-class protagonist, a bright, wealthy, well-educated woman with a healthy measure of community sense and human empathy. The fact that she’s now living on the isolated windy plains of northwestern Kansas, second wife of a widowed farmer, only enhances her claim on the reader’s attention.

The author writes with such clarity, precision and verve, one is swept into the lives of these people with intimacy, with love, and with a clear eye on the realities of life in this place in the Twenty-first Century. As isolated as they are, and feel themselves to be, the citizens of four sparsely-populated counties will be touched in tender and horrific ways by larger events happening continents away beginning with a confirmation in a new Episcopal congregation meeting in a new church.

The novel’s  sojourn into the world of historical research, especially Albright’s struggle to deal with the surprises of family history projects is a fascinating and relevant subplot. The characters are all well-laid on and consistent in their roles. All in all an outstanding effort.
Carl Brookins  BLOG:  -BOOKS:  Case of the Great Train Robbery, Reunion, Red Sky

Friday, January 27, 2012

Friday's Odds and Ends

Did anyone watch the most recent, shouting match between Newt and Mitt? What an embarrassment. It was bad enough when Newt got all snarky at Mitt about who had more investments in Fannie May and Freddie Mac, but then Mitt blew his chance to show how a gentleman should comport himself during a debate. The only one who made sense to me was Ron Paul.

Don't you just love that word comport? It is not used much today, mostly because people don't comport. They yell and call names and behave in the most unconformable way possible. The word comport means: behave; especially : to behave in a manner conformable to what is right, proper, or expected <comported himself well in the crisis>

Granted, we don't all want to become like robots or Stepford Wives, but a little decorum... a little dignity... Please could we have some more. 

This man in Tennessee certainly didn't comport himself very well recently.  Apparently he dressed up as a woman in order to pick up prescriptions in the name of his dead sister. More on the story from Gopher Central. 

We're getting back into theatre mode at the local art center. I am directing a funny play, "Woman in Mind", and we are holding auditions. A director's worst nightmare is that nobody will show up to audition. The second worst nightmare is having lots of very talented people show up and not having enough roles to cast them all. I'm having the second nightmare, but as soon as I finish flipping coins and make a decision, it is going to be so much fun to work with these folks and make this story come alive.  

I have been busy getting my woman's novel, Play It Again, Sam, out in trade paperback. After reading about Morgan Mandel's success with getting her books out via CreateSpace over the past several years, and getting some technical help from Bob Sanchez, I got my book through the process at Amazon. It has the same terrific cover that the e-book has, designed by Dany Russell. Anyone who would like a signed copy can e-mail me at maryann (at) maryannwrites(dot)com and we can make arrangements. I will be also happy to send signed bookplates for anyone who orders through Amazon.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Wednesday's Guest - Morgan Mandel

Please welcome Morgan Mandel to the blog today as she shares an excerpt from her latest book, as well as some background on the Fountain of Youth.Today is my day to post on The Blood Red Pencil, where I blogged about mystery book awards.

This excerpt is from Chapter Five – From the heroine, Dorrie Donato’s point of view, as she listens to Roman Remington’s spiel. 

“This time, ladies and gentlemen, I’ve discovered something far more valuable than anything I’ve offered in the past. What I have in my possession, which I’m willing to share, will make every health aid obsolete. Forget about growing old, with all its debilitations. From now on, you can possess the power to regain your lost youth and become whatever age you desire. Not only that, you’ll retain that age and never grow old.  
“You may ask, ‘How is that possible?”
He paused for effect, then whispered, “Because I’ve discovered an age-reversing drug, a veritable Fountain of Youth.”
As his words sank in, whispers began. Did the audience believe him or doubt his sanity? She’d not thought such a miracle possible either, but her own body proved otherwise. 

The Fountain of Youth Myth

The Fountain of Youth is such a popular concept I couldn’t help including it in my thriller, FOREVER YOUNG: Blessing or Curse. Although Wikipedia says such a fountain had been popular for thousands of years, I’d only heard of it in history class years ago, not quite a thousand, though sometimes it feels like it could have been.
It’s said that the Spanish explorer, Juan Ponce de Leon went in search of the fabled Fountain of Youth to partake of its restorative powers. In his travels, he ended up in St. Augustine, Florida, where now the Fountain of Youth National Archeological Park commemorates his landing. The park actually contains a fountain and tourists actually drink from it. Apparently nothing magical has happened there so far by way of turning back the participants’ aging clocks. Otherwise, I’d surmise bottles of such miracle water would have been on the market by now, selling for more than the highest priced prescription.    
Although my story takes place in Arizona and not Florida, the concept is the same: using a magical means to regain lost youth. The older I get, the more I wonder what it would be like to be young again, yet benefit from my past experience. Aging is such a universal dilemma, I can’t be the only one who envisions turning back the clock. My imagination has taken me far afield, so far I had to write a book about it.
I invite you to follow along with my heroine, Dorrie Donato, and see how she adjusts to life again at twenty-four, instead of her actual age of fifty-five.
We all know life isn’t perfect, even in the best of circumstances. Though Dorrie may have gotten her wish to be young again, she’s still haunted by past happenings, along with threats to her present survival.

If you’re curious about Dorrie’s adventures, FOREVER YOUNG: Blessing or Curse is available on Kindle, Nook, Smashwords, and other electronic venues. 

To see them all, visit, where you can find every known link to this book, as well as those of my other three novels.
Look for print versions of all four books on Amazon soon.
Thanks for hosting me at your blog, Maryann.

Morgan Mandel

Monday, January 23, 2012

Monday Morning Musings

I read an interesting column by Nicholas Kristof in The New York Times about the worth of good teachers. His column was actually about great teachers and reported on a study that showed that "the difference between a strong teacher and a weak teacher lasts a lifetime."

He quoted some statistics that indicate a student is 1.25 percent more likely to go to college and 1.25 percent more likely not to get pregnant in high school if they have a great fourth grade teacher. While those are not huge numbers, they do represent individual students who did better because of the influence of one particular teacher. Those are students who have most likely grown up to be productive citizens and are not perpetuating an endless cycle of dropping out and either scrabbling for living or relying on government handouts for survival.

I remember that fourth grade was a pivotal year for most of my kids as they made their way through elementary school, and they did have a great teacher. She also happened to be a good friend and neighbor and to this day I thank her for being such a great influence on my kids, especially our oldest son.

David did not have a stellar academic career, in elementary school or high school, but it would have been much worse had he not had Ginger Liening as a teacher. He had a horrible time in third grade and was ready to run away from home and school both at the thought of another school year starting. Ginger, to her credit, didn't judge him on his past school experience or behavior. She encouraged him to start with a clean slate, so to speak, and I'm sure it was her mentoring that kept him from dropping out of school entirely.

So I agree with Kristof that school districts should find a way to keep those stellar teachers and weed out the weaker ones. Maybe then there would be a huge jump in the numbers of kids encouraged on to much better things.

On another note, I hope you will come back on Wednesday when Morgan Mandel is my guest. She is sharing some interesting facts about the Fountain of Youth, as well as a short excerpt from her latest book, Forever Young: Blessing or Curse

Fresh beginnings turn tragic when Dorrie Donato’s husband, Larry, is killed in a hit and run accident a few months after starting a new job at the Life is for Living Institute. Discouraged and desperate after  suffering countless setbacks, Dorie accepts an offer by  Larry’s boss, the famous Angel Man, to  be the first to test an experimental pill designed to spin its user back to a desired age and hold there, yet still retain all previous memories.  The pill seems too good to be true. Maybe it is.

Morgan Mandel is a former freelancer for the Daily Herald newspaper, prior president of Chicago-North RWA, prior Library Liaison for Midwest MWA, and belongs to Sisters in Crime and EPIC. She enjoys writing thrillers, mysteries, romances and also enjoys combining them. Her latest paranormal romantic thriller is Forever Young: Blessing or Curse, Book One of the Always Young Series, available on Kindle and Smashwords. Other novels by Morgan Mandel include the romantic suspense, Killer Career, the mystery, Two Wrongs, and the romantic comedy, Girl of My Dreams. Morgan is now working on Book Two of the Always Young Series, called Blessing or Curse: A Forever Young Anthology, where readers will learn what happens to others who have taken the Forever Young pill.  One more book will follow bringing back the original heroine to close out the series.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Book Review - Forever Young: Blessing or Curse by Morgan Mandel

Forever Young: Blessing or Curse
Morgan Mandel
Release date: December 2011

Middle-aged Dorrie Donato, is newly widowed and realizes she has to find a way to pay outstanding bills from years her husband had been out of work. He had started a new job at the Life is for Living Institute, but he hadn't worked there long enough for them to pay off the debts from that long financial cold spell.

The book opens with a dramatic punch as Dorrie finds her husband, Larry, dying in the garage parking of the Life is for Living Institute. She calls for help, but it is too late. Larry is dead and she is faced with an uncertain future. Larry's boss, known as Angel Man, offers Dorrie a job and an opportunity to be the first person to take the Forever Young pill. This is the project her husband had been working on, and Angel Man knows Larry would approve. The pill could take her back in years and she could remain 24 forever. 

In desperation she takes the pill and agrees to be the spokeswoman for the company, telling everyone what a wonderful opportunity Life for Living is offering to people - The Fountain of Youth. 

In time, Dorrie discovers that Angel Man's interest in her is not coming purely from a good heart. She also starts to see evidence that there are problems with the pill and realizes that her husband knew about the problems. Was his death really an accident?

The mystery and intrigue in the story are strongly plotted and readers will be kept guessing until the very end.  And even then, the guessing can go on beyond the story. I suspect we will be hearing more about Dorrie in the future.

The strongest writing is in the sections where the author shows the reader what is happening. That opening is one of them. The myriad of emotions that Dorrie experiences when she sees " A limp object lay sprawled in the parking lot where Dorrie was to meet her husband" are ones that any woman can relate to when something terrible happens to the person they love.

There were other places, however, where there was more telling than showing, and I would skim those sections quickly to get back to the action. I also had just a bit of a problem hanging in with Dorrie when she made some choices in her personal life. I thought the grief she would be working through after losing her husband should have had more emphasis in the story. Perhaps that is because I have worked so long as a hospital chaplain and have seen how overwhelming grief can be. Especially in a relationship as strong as the one Dorrie had with Larry.

That is purely a subjective opinion, however. I still enjoyed the story and would recommend the book to folks who like a quick, easy read with a fresh new concept and some good writing.

FTC Disclaimer - The author sent me a copy of the book for possible review, and I told her straight up that I would only review it if I thought it was well done and worthy of a review. Not that my reviews mean anything in the great scheme of things, but I really hate to have to say too many negative things about a person's work. I also did not receive any compensation for this review, nor do I expect to, unless the New York Times would like to buy it for a filler.

NOTE: Please come back on Wednesday when Morgan Mandel will be my guest and share an excerpt from the book.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Guest post from Jon Reisfeld

Jon Reisfeld, the author of the new book, The Last Way Station: Hitler's Final Journey is my guest today. We had a bit of a mix up on getting the material to me in time to post this this morning, so it is coming just a bit late in the day. I don't normallly have guests on Friday, but he wanted to share this piece today for obvious reasons.

A Dark and Infamous Anniversary

Seventy years ago, today, 15 Nazi government officials, many mid-level bureaucrats with Ph.D.s, met at a conference center in the Berlin suburb of Wansee to conduct official state business. They had come together to coordinate Hitler's planned evacuation, asset seizure, enslavement and eventual mass-murder of millions of Jewish civilians living in Nazi-occupied lands in Europe and North Africa.

Reinhard Heydrich, the man Hitler had hand-picked to spear-head the "Final Solution," as the Nazis euphemistically called it, "kicked-off" the meeting by outlining the challenge these bureaucrats faced and the game plan for achieving it.

Heydrich noted that only about half of Europe's estimated 11 million Jews "currently" lived in countries under Nazi rule. Since the government had outlawed Jewish emigration, the authorities had worked out a different solution. All Jews in Nazi-occupied Europe and North Africa, he said, would be evacuated to the "east" behind the German's 1,000 mile front, in a vast region representing approximately half-a-million square miles of recently conquered Soviet territory. "Under proper guidance," he said, "in the course of the final solution the Jews are to be allocated for appropriate labor in the East. Able-bodied Jews, separated according to sex, will be taken in large work columns to these areas for work on roads, in the

course of which action doubtless a large portion will be eliminated by natural causes. The possible final remnant will, since it will undoubtedly consist of the most resistant portion, have to be treated accordingly, because it is the product of natural selection and would, if released, act as the seed of a new Jewish revival".[22]

What Heydrich didn't mention was what would immediately happen to those who were not considered robust enough to join the slave-labor road work columns. But everyone in the room already knew their fates. Mass local killings of Jews already had begun in the newly occupied Soviet territories and new "death camps" were rapidly coming on line. Earlier that month, the death camp at Auschwitz-Berkenow had started testing Zyclon-b gas, in its newly constructed gas chambers. Early results had been most favorable, and the test subjects had been disposed of in huge, mass graves. By the end of that year, far fewer Jews would be alive within German-held lands.

Adolf Eichman, the man who would later send 440,000 Hungarian Jews to Nazi death camps in a record 6 weeks, testified at his war crimes and crimes against humanity trial, in Israel, that Heydrich had ordered him to cleanse the minutes of any direct references to death, extermination and murder. At the end of the 90-minute meeting, he recalled, cognac was served and the men became more relaxed and discussed the subject "quite bluntly, quite differently from the language which I had to use later in the record. During the conversation they minced no words about it at all ... they spoke about methods of killing, about liquidation, about extermination." Heydrich, he added, had been pleasantly surprised by the lack of resistance he had encountered. (A major purpose of the meeting was for Heydrich's RSHA to formally exert its control over implementation of the deportation policy.)

Wansee represented an unprecedented act in the history of civilization. It marked the first and, hopefully, the last time that a government would formally turn itself into an ongoing criminal enterprise by making a central tenet of its official state policy the systematic eradication of a people on a global scale. At Wansee, the Nazis took the first, formal step toward implementing that policy and coordinating it through its various agencies.

Those decisions rapidly took their toll in human terms.

       * On January 31st, SS Einsatzgruppe A reported it already had killed 229,052 Jews in local actions, in occupied Soviet Territory.

         *On March 17th, the Nazis began deporting Jews from Lublin, Poland to the Belzec death camp

        *A week later, they began deporting Slovak Jews to Auschwitz

        *Three days later, on March 27th, they began deporting French Jews to Auschwitz, with the first of these from Paris arriving there on March 30th.

         *In April, the first Jewish deportees arrive at Majdanek

         *In May, the Sobidor Extermination Camp comes online in Poland with 3 gas chanbers, initially using carbon monoxide from engines. These are later fitted to use Zyclon-B gas.

         *On May 18, the New York Times reports that the Nazis already have used machine guns to kill: 100,000 Jews in Poland, 100,000 in the Baltic States and more than 200,000 in occupied Russia.
       *By June 5th, the SS reports that 97,000 people have been successfully "processed" by such vans

        *On July 14th, the SS starts deporting Dutch Jews to Auschwitz

        *On July 19th, Himmler authorizes Operation Reinhard, which begins the mass deportation of Polish Jews to Auschwitz

        *On July 22nd, the SS starts deporting Jews from the Warsaw Ghetto and from Belgium to the new death camp at Treblinka. Two buildings with 10 gas chambers in each, can "process" 4,000 inmates at a time. The dead are then burned in open pits.

        *In August, the SS starts deporting Croatian Jews to Auschwitz

         *In September, the SS starts transferring victims' assets to SS and German government banks. By the following February, more than 800 boxcars, filled with confiscated Jewish possessions will leave Auschwitz. Much of the personal items and clothing are destined for troops and German citizens.

        *On Octobrer 5th, Himmler signs orders to deport all Jews still in German concentration camps to Auschwitz

        *October 25th, the deportation of Norwegian Jews begins

        *In November, German death squads murder 170,000 Jews near Bialystok

       *In December, after killing more than 600,000 Jews, the Belzec camp is dismantled and plowed under.

To see the video trailer for Jon's Book The Last Way Station  CLICK HERE

Friday's Odds and Ends

Rick Perry dropped his campaign for the Republican nomination for president. I couldn't help but wonder at the timing of the announcement. It was just before the debate yesterday. Had he forgotten to prepare?

And what did you think of Newt's rant against the press? In last night's debate, CNN moderator John King directed the first question to Gingrich, asking him if it was true — as Gingrich’s former wife alleged in an interview with ABC News — that he asked for an open marriage in the late 1990s.

 “I am appalled that you would begin a presidential debate on a topic like that,” Gingrich said. “Every person in here knows personal pain. Every person in here has had someone close to them go through painful things. To take an ex-wife and make it two days before the primary a significant question for a presidential campaign is as close to despicable as anything I can imagine.”

I'm not a fan of Gingrich, but I do agree that the media has crossed so many lines they have virtually been erased. Shame on the reporters and broadcasters who just keep filling the airwaves with junk and sensationalist.  A full story about the debate is online at

Some interesting predictions from Gopher Central:

In a story from the BBC two prominent futurologists take some shots at what the world will be like in 100 years. Following are their 10 most likely predictions.

1. Oceans will be extensively farmed and not just for fish.

We will need to feed 10 billion people and nature can't keep up with demand, so we will need much more ocean farming for fish. But algae farming is also on the way for renewable energy.

2. We will have the ability to communicate through thought transmission.

Transmission will be just as easy as other forms of brain augmentation. Picking up thoughts and relaying them to another brain will not be much harder than storing them on the net.

I found this second one most interesting. When my twins were young, I think they communicated telepathically.  Maybe they still do.

One of the things I decided to do this year is read books that have sat on my bookshelf forever. Well, not really forever since books haven't been around since the beginning of time. But you get my drift. Those of us who love to read have books tumbling out of shelves and falling off of tables or sitting in boxes, just waiting for us to get to them.

Yesterday, I started reading Spartina by John Casey. I don't even know how long I have had this book, but I bought it because it won the National Book Award in 1989. The edition I have was published in 1998. I almost donated the book to a local garage sale, but stopped. I bought the book for a reason, I might as well read it before I give it away.

I'm so glad I did. I am only a few chapters into the story, but I can already see why it won the award. It has wonderful descriptions, characterizations, and lines such as:  ...they waded through the clear water, stirring the bright sand, a little school of nice-looking people in bright clothes and bare legs... smiles and words as quick and simultaneous as a school of minnows."

Casey was describing a group of rich vacationers who had come for a clambake and weren't really connecting as people. They were too busy with the patter and chatter of people intent on being part of the group and making sure they said all the right things.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Wednesday's Guest

Instead of my normal Wednesday's Guest where a real live person shares something, I wanted to let some of the organizations and websites that are part of the online protest of SEPA speak up.

This from Google  

Millions of Americans oppose SOPA and PIPA because these bills would censor the Internet and slow economic growth in the U.S.

Two bills before Congress, known as the Protect IP Act (PIPA) in the Senate and the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) in the House, would censor the Web and impose harmful regulations on American business. Millions of Internet users and entrepreneurs already oppose SOPA and PIPA. The Senate will begin voting on January 24th. Please let them know how you feel. Sign this petition urging Congress to vote NO on PIPA and SOPA before it is too late.

To sign the petition use the link to Google that I provided.

This from Forbes Magazine:

The growing anti-SOPA (Stop Online Piracy Act) support that has swept through the gaming and Internet community found a very big ally today. With websites like Reddit and Wikipedia and gaming organizations like Major League Gaming prepared for a blackout on January 18th – the same day that the House Judiciary Committee hearing on HR 3261was scheduled in Washington, DC – President Barack Obama has stepped in and said he would not support the bill. SOPA has been killed, for now.

This from Wikipedia:

Imagine a World  Without Free Knowledge

For over a decade, we have spent millions of hours building the largest encyclopedia in human history. Right now, the U.S. Congress is considering legislation that could fatally damage the free and open Internet. For 24 hours, to raise awareness, we are blacking out Wikipedia.

This from me - a real live person:

SOPA is another example of how government goes to an extreme to deal with an issue. Piracy is a problem on the Internet. I have seen my books being pirated. But to enact such broad restrictions as are in this bill is ludicrous. Go after the pirates, but leave the Internet accessible for people who are sharing but not for profit.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Monday Morning Musings

Even with the convenience of getting news online or on TV 24/7, I still like to read a newspaper. Maybe I have a special affinity because of all the years I worked for newspapers. Perhaps. Anyway, one of my favorite things to do on Sundays is read The Dallas Morning News.

After scanning the headlines on the front page, I turn to the editorials and the comics. Sometimes in that order. Sometimes I read the comics first. I am always amused to find that some of the same topics are touched on in the comics and by the editorial writers. Art truly does reflect life.

Yesterday, I found the strip "Shoe" particularly clever. In the first panel, Cosmo and Shoe are fussing at each other, calling each other names. Roz says, "Hold it. Hold it. Why don't you gentlemen settle this like politicians?"

Cosmo asks,"You mean have a debate?"

Shoe says, "Don't be ridiculous. Only candidates debate."

Roz says, "Right. Real politicians just ignore the problem and hope it goes away."

Sad, but true. The politicians ignore solutions to problems because they are too busy playing partisan politics.

The Argyle Sweater was pretty clever, too. The strip presented Implausible Hollywood Headlines:

Playboy Enacts No Plastic Surgery Clause - Hefner cites integrity for implementation of new policy.

New Name - To portray a more accurate description of herself, Star Jones has name legally changed to "Pseudo-Star."

Kim Kardashian Abandons the Limelight - She chooses to live in quiet obscurity somewhere in Delaware.

Thankfully, none of those extreme changes will affect me. I didn't even know who Star Jones or Kim Kardashian are, and I've never put integrity and Hefner in the same sentence before.

What about you? Do you like to read newspapers? Do you read the comic strips first?

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Book Review - Damage Control by Denise Hamilton

Thanks once again to Carl Brookins for sharing his reviews with us.

Damage Control           
by Denise Hamilton
ISBN: 978-0-7432-9674-8
a 2011 hardcover release from
Scribner. 372 pages.

More than just romance can often flower under the hot desert moon. In southern California, a lot more. In the artificially irrigated hothouse of perfectly sculpted bodies, overabundance of wealth, aggressive power and overweening ambition are a dangerous combination that leads, almost inevitably, to corruption. And it is corruption that’s at the heart of this complex, lyrically written tale, along with a strong dose of murder and mystery.

Maggie Silver grew up on the far side of the tracks. Now in adulthood with a mortgage, a failed marriage, and an ill mother, she’s scrambling for a place, if not in the sun, as near as she can get without singeing her fingers. Her values are aspiring middle class. She’d like to be one of the beautiful people, and for a while in a private school with a rich girl friend named Anabelle Paxton, the giddy, youthful exuberance of unsupervised teenaged life seems to point to a life to come of luxury and happiness.

Fast forward to today. Having lost that youthful connection to the good life, Maggie is establishing herself as a fixer. Working for the powerful public relations firm, Blair Company, she find herself once more entangled with the Paxton family, Henry, now a powerful U.S. Senator, Luke, the golden son and Anabelle, once her very best girl friend. A murder has happened and the situation must be managed. The Blair firm gets paid a great deal of money by wealthy clients to do exactly that. What happens then, to Maggie, the Paxtons, to other members of the firm is enthralling, complicated, and almost a Greek tragedy.

The author has taken a common theme, power, wealth and their corrupting influences, and infused the story with a strong dose of both good and evil. and while she carefully and fully illuminates much of the evil that resides in Los Angeles and its special culture, there is, at times, a faint but fascinating aura of envy, as if the author yearns, however ruefully, for just a little taste of the life she writes about. The genius of the novel lies in part in the complex and convoluted story and the way the author infuses this story with life.

Hamilton has not penned a polemic against the culture of southern California. Rather she holds up the citizens, and the organizations to a searing light and lets readers judge the actions and the influences that result. Unlike Raymond Chandler, with whose writing she is compared, her sympathies clearly lie with all the characters, while never condoning their actions, or trumpeting the consequences. So in the end, readers, themselves having perhaps experienced a little bit of envy for the characters, can close the book and ponder the questions we all may ask ourselves, to whom do we really owe the greatest loyalty?

Carl Brookins  BLOG:  -BOOKS:  Case of the Great Train Robbery, Reunion, Red Sky

Friday, January 13, 2012

Friday's Odds and Ends

Most of us know that former senator Rick Santorum is against legalizing gay marriage, and he has been known to make some inflammatory remarks about homosexuality. More recently he told students at a college in New England that having gay parents is worse than having parents who are convicts.  His rationale is that a father in prison is better than having no father.

Hmmmm... I wonder if he has ever checked the statistics that show that young people are more prone to crime and violence if their father is or was in prison? That is a fact I discovered when doing research for my book on violence in schools, Coping With Weapons and Violence in School and on Your Streets.

If you'd like to read more about what he said, here is an article  that has more details. In researching this topic, I also found this comment on a forum that offers another viewpoint. "As the daughter of two lesbian moms, I'm disgusted and offended by the "family values" crowd claiming to want to protect children like me. Note to Rick and his ilk: you're not helping us. You're hurting us by making sure that our families are stigmatized and unprotected."

Whatever your views are on the subject, if we are truly to have separation of church and state, doesn't it stand to reason that a person's religious view of homosexuality should not influence legislation?

On another note, I found this quote on a blog titled terribleminds which is written by Chuck Wendig. I liked it enough I thought I would share it. "The writer’s voice is the thing that marks the work as a creation of that writer and that writer only. You read a thing and you say, 'This could not have been written by anybody else.' That is voice."   

Who are some authors you have read that have a distinctive voice? If you are an author, do you consider your voice as uniquely yours?

Here is an example of what I mean when I encourage clients to escape the ordinary in their writing. This is from Louise Penny's latest book A Trick of the Light. Instead of writing "Clara's heart beat faster." Or, "Clara's heart thumped in her chest." Both descriptions which I have read numerous times, she wrote, "Clara's heart threw itself against her ribs like something caged and terrified and desperate to escape."

It would be interesting to know how easily this comes to a writer like her. It reads effortless, but for me it takes time to move from the ordinary to the not so ordinary. That is why it takes me a long time to write a book. How about you?

It's Friday the 13th. A superstition says that if a black cat crosses your path on Friday the 13th, you will have bad luck all year. I'd better stay away from our new kitties.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Wednesday's Guest - Author Nancy Cohen

Please help me welcome Nancy Cohen to It's Not All Gravy. Nancy is the author of Shear Murder and is here talking about her book and what keeps her motivated to write.
Question #1: Have you always wanted to be a writer?
Yes, ever since I can remember I’ve been writing. At first, it was poems and short stories and a Shakespearean type play which I forced my summer camp mates to act out. I began the submission process quite young, but it wasn’t until grad school that I decided to write a novel. One of the most important things I did to boost my career was to join Romance Writers of America and attend conferences and monthly chapter meetings.

Question #2: Tell us a little bit about your latest book. 
Shear Murder is the tenth book in my Bad Hair Day mystery series. It’s the culmination of a personal journey for my hairstylist sleuth, Marla Shore. It’s about weddings and new beginnings. Just when Marla is planning her own nuptials, she gets caught up in another murder investigation. Marla is a bridesmaid at her friend Jill’s wedding when she discovers the matron of honor—the bride’s sister— dead under the cake table. She has a lot going on in her life, but when Jill pleads for her help in solving the case, Marla can’t refuse. It’s a fast-paced tale with humor, romance, and suspense as Marla races to find the killer before her wedding day arrives.

Question #3:  I noticed on your Website that you write books that mix genres a lot. Why do you think those types of books are so popular with readers?  
Mixed genre stories stretch the boundaries. You’re not limited by conventions of a particular type. You can blend these expectations, add unexpected elements, and surprise the reader. I really like combining sci-fi and fantasy with romance. Those stories of mine are romantic adventure tales set in another universe. Paranormal mysteries are another type of mash-up, popular with mystery lovers who like an otherworldly touch in their stories. It’s like adding spice to a recipe. My mysteries, however, are straight whodunits with a touch of humor.

Question #4: Have you always been a lover of books and stories? What did you read as a child?
I was a devoted fan of Nancy Drew, Cherry Ames, and Judy Bolton. I couldn’t wait for the next Nancy Drew book to come out. That was my favorite, but Cherry Ames stories inspired me to become a nurse. And Judy Bolton influenced my writing in that she grew and changed as a character. She got married, whereas Nancy Drew has changed very little over time. It’s much more interesting when you follow a character’s growth. Horatio Hornblower is another example of how a fictional character evolves over the course of a series. Thus my heroine sleuth, Marla Shore, matures during the stories to a woman who embraces her new family.

Question #5: Tell us a little about your family.  Has your family been supportive of your writing? 
My husband is retired and we’re empty nesters with two grown children. He knows to leave me alone when I’m writing, which is early in the morning. They’re all proud of my work.

Question #6: Most writers put a bit of themselves in their characters. Is there one in particular that you think has some of your characteristics? 
Marla Shore and I share similar backgrounds, traditions, and values. In some ways, she is me, but in other ways, she’s a lot braver! I wish I had her skills as a hairstylist, and I admire her talents. We also share the nurturing nature from my nursing career. Marla likes making people look good because then they feel better about themselves. It boosts their self-esteem.

Question #7: Many writers have pets. Do you? Do you include any in your stories?
Marla has a poodle named Spooks who takes after our late dog, who died at the ripe old age of nearly 17. Most of Spooks’ antics happened to our dear pet.

Question #8: What do your think your best friend from high school would say about you now? 
She admires my accomplishments. Seriously. We connected on Facebook.

Question #9: What is it that keeps you writing - money, success, readers or simply satisfying the creative urge?
Readers are the number one reason why I keep writing. So please continue your fan mail and positive reviews! Pleas for more Marla stories are what inspired me to finish Shear Murder after my previous publisher cancelled the series. If not for reader demand, I would not have completed this book. Also, being a writer is not a switch I can turn off. I love telling stories and sharing my imaginary worlds with booklovers. If I did it for money or success, I’d have quit a long time ago!

Question #10: What would you like to say to the people who read your books? 
Thank you so very much for being devoted readers, for following my work, and for your supportive comments. I have saved every letter or email written to me, that’s how much it means. You’re my inspiration. Keep reading!
Nancy J. Cohen is an award-winning author who writes romance and mysteries. Her popular Bad Hair Day series features hairdresser Marla Shore, who solves crimes with wit and style under the sultry Florida sun. Several titles in this series have made the IMBA bestseller list, while Nancy’s imaginative sci-fi romances have garnered rave reviews. Her latest book, and tenth in her mystery series, is Shear Murder from Five Star Cengage/Gale. Active in the writing community and a featured speaker at libraries and conferences, Nancy is listed in Contemporary Authors, Poets & Writers, and Who’s Who in U.S. Writers, Editors, & Poets.

Shear Murder

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Tuesday, January 10, 2012

A Surprise Visit

I know, I know, I said I was only posting on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, but sometimes I just can't help myself. (smile)

First, I want to thank my new followers, Melissa, Katie, Nay and Carol. So glad you find my blog worth some time now and then. I have enjoyed your blogs, too, and love making new friends in cyberspace.

The other reason I am popping in today is because I have put one of my short stories on free at Kindle today. It will be free until Thursday at midnight. I didn't want to post this tomorrow when Nancy Cohen is visiting, as that is her day to shine here, but I did want you to know about the sale in case you would like to sample this story. Making it Home was first published in Lady's Circle Magazine under the title A String of Pearls.

Monday, January 09, 2012

Monday Morning Musings

Some time ago I wrote a review of a book that had been sent to me by an author I'd met in an online writer's group. It wasn't a rave review, nor was it a scathing review, but I did point out that there were some problems with the plot and some of the writing was less than stellar. I also pointed out what I liked about the story and what I thought had been handled well in the writing.

I've been a reviewer for a long time. Long before Al Gore gave us the Internet and long before Amazon started dominating the book business. When my reviews appeared in newspapers, a short bio always appeared at the end, as most reviews still do in newspapers. So the day I posted my review on Amazon, I thought it would give my comments credibility if I included the bio, which simply read: Maryann Miller, author of suspense and mystery including One Small Victory.

Apparently not.

The Amazon Police, as I have come to think of people who scour forums and reviews and other public places on Amazon to find some author breaking the commandment that Thou Shalt Not Promote Thy Book on Amazon, found my review and my bio. They promptly left comments on how tacky that was for me to plug my own book under the guise of writing a review. Guise? What exactly did they think all those words that preceded the short bio were? Then the infraction was called to the attention of somebody at Amazon and the review was taken down.

That was too bad. Not for me, but for the author who now has one less review to help promote his book on Amazon.

What boggles my mind about all this is why the people who visit Amazon to buy books, are so rabid about an author not being able to even include a title of his or her book in a comment or anywhere else. Aren't they there to find out about new titles and new authors?

Yes, I know there are a few authors who have abused the process and spammed every forum on Amazon when forums first started, but the majority of authors are not that prone to gorilla marketing. If there is a good discussion going in a forum about plot and character and good writing, it is nice to know if some of those making comments are writers and what they have written. If the comment is particularly interesting and well thought out, I just might even check out the book. What a concept.

On another note... Please come back on Wednesday when Nancy Cohen, author of the  Bad Hair Day cozy mystery series will be the guest here. The series features hairdresser Marla Shore, who solves crimes with wit and style under the sultry Florida sun. Her latest book, and tenth in her mystery series, is Shear Murder from Five Star Cengage/Gale 

Nancy is currently on a blog tour for her latest release. Leave a comment during the blog tour and enter to win a set of Paua shell jewelry and a signed copy of Shear Murder.

Sunday, January 08, 2012

Book Review - Assignment Nepal by J.S. Squires

Thanks to Carl Brookins for sharing another review with us.
By J.S. Squires
2011 E-book release from Echelon Press

Readers of this review should be aware that this press has published some of my crime fiction and I am acquainted with the publisher, though not with the two authors writing under a single pseudonym.

The protagonist is named Irene Adler. Not the woman who beat Sherlock Holmes at his own game, her modern namesake, a Doctor of Philosophy in Anthropology at Boston University. Adler has a demi-cynical outlook on life and it turns out she supplements her income by playing poker; specifically Texas Holdem in the gambling parlors around the New England area. Irene Adler is a bright, smart, single woman, an endearing protagonist.

Her former adviser, a fellow faculty member, prevails on Ms. Adler to travel to Nepal to inquire into the life and times of a former fellow undergraduate student of Irene’s, a Margot Smith, who’s in Nepal doing research on one of that country’s goddesses, one Chwwaassa Dyo. The problem is that there appears to something awry with Margot and her physician husband and Adler is supposed to sort things out. What needs sorting turns out to be only part of the story. Irene agrees to go half-way around the world to see a woman she barely knows. From this most unlikely beginning, the plot drives poor Adler into one complexity after another.

Her assignment clearly has unstated dimensions about which neither we readers nor Irene Adler herself are clear. Now, Nepal is an exotic nation from which assaults on Mount Everest are mounted and the ubiquitous Sherpa play an important part, as do digital cameras, former Cold War adversaries, political unrest in the country, and a whole series of meddlesome individuals who seem to still show up on the fringes of the former English Empire.

The novel winds its way through a variety of conflicts among wanderers, a boorish American tourist couple, and murder and bomb blasts. At times the narrative suffers from a pedestrian pace and some lapses of editing discipline over the point of view. Still, the story is interesting, Irene is definitely a character to build a series around,  the exotic setting in and around Katmandu is, well, exotic, and a satisfactory conclusion is fashioned. I think four stars is too strong a rating, but the novel is more enjoyable than three stars would indicate. Sample the story and make your own judgment.

Carl Brookins  BLOG:  -BOOKS:  Case of the Great Train Robbery, Reunion, Red Sky

Friday, January 06, 2012

Friday's Odds and Ends

The Iowa caucuses are behind us and the candidates are off to New Hampshire, the place where Texas Governor Rick Perry said real Republicans live. Huh??? Who did he think all those people were that voted in the Republican caucuses in Iowa? Democrats?

Here's what William River Pitt has to say about Iowa and the people there in his op-ed piece for Truthout.

In the annals of mindless criminal behavior, this one is a doozy. An hour after burglarizing a store in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania,  three suspects and another teen posted pictures of themselves with the money and items they stole on Facebook. their bounty on Facebook. In the pictures, the teens proudly display what they took, holding up bundles of cash and posing by boxes of candy and cigarettes. Apparently a family member of one of the burglars tipped off police that the images were up on the social media site, and the burglars were caught. 

Another bizzare incident involved a Pennsylvania couple who were charged with having sex on a city bus, while a friend held their infant daughter. This apparently happened last August and the couple was charged with indecent exposure. They have recently pleaded guilty to settle the case.

Maybe these folks should go see the Wizard with Dorothy and ask for a brain.

If that isn't bizzare enough, how about the woman who was paid to overeat? Donna Simpson, a 44-year-old mother of two was a star in the fantasy fetish community that worshiped overweight people and overeating. Simpson had a website where men paid $19 a month to watch her eat. She became a bit of a celebrity in British newspapers and often flew around the world for various events.  According to the news report I read, she has shut down the website and is now trying to lose weight. That's the good news. The bad news is the fact that she did this for so long, thinking it was perfectly normal.  And what is normal about the men who paid to watch her eat?

Ending a little closer to home, and hopefully on a note that is much more normal, I am now the proud owner of four Rhode Island Red chickens. Did you know the best time to move chickens is at night? I didn't until my neighbor, who sold me the chickens, told me to come after dark to get them. The inherent challenge in that was to get them in the coop in the darkness that is so complete out here in the country you can't see a thing until the moon comes up. And if the moon is just a sliver, or there is a bank of clouds overhead, good luck with that. We had to park one of the trucks facing the barn with the lights on so we could find the coop in the corner of the barn.

My neighbor and her nephew came with me to help get the chickens in, along with water and feed. Poor girls were so scared they didn't even go up to the roost. They just huddled in the corner on the ground, which is where they were this morning when I went out. It didn't help that our dog considered them intruders on the territory and commenced barking at them. When introducing Poppy to new kittens or cats, I bring them all in the house and show Poppy that the cat belongs here. I'm not sure that is something I want to try to acclimate her to the chickens.

It was suggested that I leave the chickens in the coop for a few days until they get over the trauma of being moved and get used to the new place, so that is what I plan to do. Maybe those few days will be enough for Poppy to figure out that the chickens belong and will stop barking at them. I doubt they will give me any eggs if they are terrified of this big dog.

Wednesday, January 04, 2012

Wednesday's Guest - Slim Randles

I must have been cloned. Otherwise how could I be in three places at once. Here in my office working. Over at the Blood Red Pencil for my usual first Wednesday blog, and as a guest at a neat blog, Coffee With a Canine, where I introduce our dog, Poppy. While I am off gallivanting all over the Internet, my friend Slim Randles shares a post with you. Enjoy....

The phone rang just before Dewey pulled off his clothes for his end-of-workday shower.

“Hi Dewey.”

He smiled. “Hi Emily.”

“Hope I’m not interfering with anything by calling you.”

“Just got home from work and about to dive into a shower, so you called at a good time. How are you?”

He thought that would be a good way to start a conversation with this paragon of single bureaucratic woman.

“I’m fine. Thanks, Dewey. May I ask you some more questions? Got them right here. Tell me first, though, do you always shower after work?”

“Every day.”

“Any special reason? I mean, is it related to the cow manure thing?”

“Directly, actually. Cow manure … well, it permeates my very existence. It fills my waking hours. It … oh, it’s hard to explain.”

The king of fertilizer grinned as Emily Stickles wrote notes on the other end of the phone. If she wanted to think of him as having a fertilizer fetish, he didn’t mind. As long as she called.

“I’ve been reading up, Dewey. I think that … together … we can break this hold cow manure has on your life.”

“Oh, Emily, you really think so? What should I do about it, you think?”

“To get started, you should picture yourself free of cow manure. Just tell your mind that cow manure has no place in your thoughts and your life. Let’s see if that will cancel out some of the … unpleasantness.”

“You think cow manure is unpleasant, Emily?”

“You like it?”

 “Let’s say I like what it can do for others. It’s a little like a smile or sunshine,” said our fertilizer king, “it works wonders when you spread it around a little.”

Emily Stickles, the county employee in charge of fixing things for people who don’t realize they need fixing, was silent.

 “Dewey, we really need to talk.”

 “Dinner at the Chinese place tomorrow, maybe?”

 Then he just sat there, glowing in fertile, pre-shower radiance, and grinned.
Brought to you by Slim’s award-winning book “A Cowboy’s Guide to Growing Up Right.” Learn more at 

January seems to be a great month for lots of e-book discounts. Many publishers and writer's groups are offering titles for 99cents or for free. If you have a Kindle, this is a good time to stock up on some good reads. My suspense novel, One Small Victory, is free for two more days. The authors at Backlist eBooks have some of their books listed for only 99cents. Their sale ends on January 8th.

Monday, January 02, 2012

Monday Morning Musings

ACK! How could it happen. Just two days into the new year and already I have forgotten that I was going to be more organized this year. I did clear some things off my desk by adding address's to my holiday card labels. I had these envelopes for two weeks or more waiting for me to get this chore done. But did I really need to do that before taking care of any other business - like updating the blog?

First things, first, Maryann......

The editorial page of The Dallas Morning News yesterday had a few memorable quotes from 2011, and I thought a few were worth mentioning here.

"I think the people who are protesting break into two groups.... and you can tell which group is which. The people who are decent, responsible citizens pick up after themselves. The people who are just out there as activists trash the place and walk off and are proud of having trashed it." Newt Gingrich talking about the Occupy Wall Street Movement.

It's not just on Wall Street. Driving down my county road the other day, I saw three places where people obviously stopped their vehicles and dumped a pile of trash out. Did they even stop to wonder who would pick it up? They could at least have made it easier by putting it all in a bag first. Geesh!

"The next election is 14 months away and the people who sent us here... don't have the luxury of waiting 14 months."  President Obama speaking about the Jobs Bill.

That goes for every piece of pending legislation that our country needs. Stop making it about politics and power and the next election. Make it about the people. And stop going on national television to support your position and saying it is about the people unless you really mean it. As Leslie Stahl pointed out in and interview with Republican Majority Leader, Eric Cantor, 91 percent of us have no confidence in Congress and don't trust what is being said. Congress has an approval rating of only 9%. When asked about the perception people have that government is just playing games, this was Cantor's response, "Cantor: There's not.. there's no games. What we're trying to do is trying to do what's good for this country."

Right. And I'm the Queen of England. No, wait, that's Elizabeth. Sorry, Liz.

Today is the last day of the special promotional offer from my publisher for The Wisdom of Ages, a short story collection free for Kindle.

Three stories; four  men whose lives take unexpected turns. Meet Samson who wonders what is down that country road that draws people so. Should he get in that old truck and go see? Mel and Rube have been having dinner at the Leavenworth Grill every Wednesday for years. One day the menu changes and so does life for Mel. Tom would give anything for his life to change. Can he beat back the effects of a crippling stroke by sheer force of determination? Growing old is not for the faint of heart.

Sunday, January 01, 2012

Happy New Year

It seems like just the other day we were bidding farewell to 2010 and here we are starting 2012. I remember my grandmother telling me how the years fly by as you get older, but she told me that when I was just 12. I had no idea what she was talking about.

Thinking about that, made me realize that the best resolution I could make for this year is to stop and savor moments in each day instead of letting it end with me thinking where did it go. If I make a conscious effort to literally stop and smell my roses, how much better that will be than simply walking by them.

That goes for stopping to appreciate other beautiful things in my life like family and friends.

I hope 2012 is an awesome year for all of you who have touched my life in so many ways.


As a special way to bring in the new year, my publisher of The Wisdom of Ages is offering the short story collection free for Kindle readers today and tomorrow, Jan 1 and  2.
Three stories; four  men whose lives take unexpected turns. Meet Samson who wonders what is down that country road that draws people so. Should he get in that old truck and go see? Mel and Rube have been having dinner at the Leavenworth Grill every Wednesday for years. One day the menu changes and so does life for Mel. Tom would give anything for his life to change. Can he beat back the effects of a crippling stroke by sheer force of determination? Growing old is not for the faint of heart.