SPOTLIGHT & INTERVIEW: How to Love the Empty Air by Cristin O’Keefe Aptowicz

How to Love the Empty Air

by Cristin O’Keefe Aptowicz

Autobiographical Poetry

Book Description

Vulnerable, beautiful and ultimately life-affirming, Cristin O’Keefe Aptowicz’s work reaches new heights in her revelatory seventh collection of poetry. Continuing in her tradition of engaging autobiographical work, How to Love the Empty Airexplores what happens when the impossible becomes real―for better and for worse. Aptowicz’s journey to find happiness and home in her ever-shifting world sees her struggling in cities throughout America. When her luck changes―in love and in life―she can’t help but “tell the sun / tell the fields / tell the huge Texas sky…. / tell myself again and again until I believe it.” However, the upward trajectory of this new life is rocked by the sudden death of the poet’s mother. In the year that follows, Aptowicz battles the silencing power of grief with intimate poems burnished by loss and a hard-won humor, capturing the dance that all newly grieving must do between everyday living and the desire “to elope with this grief, / who is not your enemy, / this grief who maybe now is your best friend. / This grief, who is your husband, / the thing you curl into every night, / falling asleep in its arms…” As in her award-winning The Year of No Mistakes, Aptowicz counts her losses and her blessings, knowing how despite it all, life “ripples boundless, like electricity, like joy / like… laughter, irresistible and bright, / an impossible thing to contain.”

  1.  Tell us a little about yourself.

My name is Cristin O’Keefe Aptowicz. I’m the author of seven books of poetry, including How to Love the Empty Air which is coming out this Spring, and two books of nonfiction, most recently Dr Mütter’s Marvels: A True Tale of Intrigue of Innovation at the Dawn of Modern Medicine which spent three months on the New York Times Best Seller list. For most of my adult life, I lived in New York City, but fell in love and now live with my husband and our family in Austin, TX.

  1.  What made you want to become a writer?

My mother. In fact, the very first poem in my very first poetry collection is about that very subject, and you can watch a film of my performance of that piece online here:

 

 

  1.  Who or what gives you inspiration?

As writer of nonfiction and of poetry, I love true stories told by the people who lived them. My husband is a fiction writer, and so our house is filled to the brim with books. Whenever I feel lost, inspired, or confused on where to go next with my writing, I just pick up a book and see what it can tell me. For poetry, my go-to poets of late have been Kevin Young, Bob Hicok, Hanif Abdurraqib, Sharon Olds, Danez Smith, Denise Duhamel, and the poets I am lucky enough to be touring with this spring: Sarah Kay, Anis Mojgani and Derrick C. Brown.

  1.  Please give us some insight on How to Love the Empty Air.

My books are all autobiographical, all attempts at trying to capture what life is like for me at whatever time I am living it. The first poet who made me realize I could be a poet was Jim Daniels, who wrote lovingly and honestly about his working class upbringing, and his time as a worker in an auto factory. Until then, I didn’t realize you could be working class and a poet. I wanted my work to do the same: honestly depict what life was like for a college student (my first collection), a writer for porn (my second collection), an office worker by day, performance poet by night (my third collection), etc… However, choosing to record your life in this way means also having to shine a spotlight on the tougher parts. How to Love the Empty Air is my attempt to capture the before, during and aftermath of the loss of my mother.

  1.  What’s the hardest part of being a writer?

I mean, honestly, it’s believing that you can do it and then doing it. As mentioned above, I came from a working class neighborhood: all cops, firefighters and sanitation workers. When I told folks that I wanted to be a writer when I grew up, I might as well have told them I wanted to be the tooth fairy. But being a writer means taking risks, writing constantly, risking failure, and navigating success. At each level, you are going to feel like a total fraud, but you need to push through and remember that it’s all about the writing, doing the work. After my mother passing, I was given her journals, I found a 4 item list in one of them that I use as my guide for life and writing, which I think is tremendously helpful:

1.) Know Your Purpose

2.) Be Present

3.) Act Decisively.

4.) Don’t be attached to the results.

She titled this list “True Work” and I can’t think of a better guide for writing.

  1.  What do you need around you to write (special drink, lucky items, etc)?

No. I’ve written in coffeehouses, libraries, museum, trains, planes and tiny laundry-rooms-cum-offices. The only thing I need to something to record with – laptop preferred, but a sharpie and a stack of napkins have worked in a pinch too!) and I am ready to go.

  1.  What are some of your favorite books?

I would wear out the battery of the computer if I listed them all, but since How to Love the Empty Air deals with processing grief, I will share the books I found the most helpful during that time in my life:

The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion

Dear Darkness by Kevin Young

The Art of Losing, a poetry anthology edited by Kevin Young

Motherless Daughters by Hope Edelman

  1.  Do you have any advice for up and coming writers?

My best advice for upcoming writers is to embrace the concept of “Horizontal Loyalty.” The traditional model for finding success as writer has always been identifying mentors – writers who have been there before and will help guide your career. And while mentors are absolutely important, it has been shown that the success of an artist can more successfully be tracked by their connection to other artists on their level who are creating work they admire. Meaning, identify people your age, or doing work on a level similar to yours, whose approach, style and work ethic you really like. Make a connection with those artists, and share resources, help each other cross finish lines, alert each other to great projects, and push each other to new heights. This is what is meant by the phrase “Horizontal Loyalty.” It means finding your kinship with your peers and developing with them. And this has certainly been true for me in my writing life. While I have had incredible mentors, so many of the artists I met and connected with when we were in our teens and twenties are artists who have helped shaped my career as an adult. The gondolier and amateur magician who I booked at the show I used to run out CBGBs in the early aughts later became my publisher… and the minister at my wedding! The tech support cubicle jockey who I helped book his first NYC poetry tour in 2001 would build my first website that year (the one I still use!), introduce me to my literary agent a decade later, and would become my husband in 2016! Which is all to say, instead of looking upward to help move your career forward, just look around. The tools for success are already around you, you just need to value them!

  1.  What, if anything, are you working on right now?

This Spring I will be touring around the country in support of How to Love the Empty Air. So you live in LA, New York City, Philadelphia, Washington DC, Chicago, Austin, Minneapolis, Portland, Seattle, and a half dozen places inbetween, please come on out and say hello. Tour details can be found on my website: http://www.aptowicz.com I will be performing along with some incredible poets, and we would love to see your face. Once my tour has wrapped, I will be getting back to work on my next nonfiction book. It’s top secret for now, but I can’t wait to share it with the world!

  1.  Why do you love writing?

 My love for writing comes from my love of reading. I love how connected I feel to the world when I read something written by someone else that truly resonates with me. The person could be very similar to me, or as different as can be imagined, and yet, we can share this same thing, this humanity. It’s humbling and affirming at the same time. I love writing because it allows me to join the conversation, and add my own stories to the mix. What greater gift could there be?

About the Author

Cristin O’Keefe Aptowicz is the author of seven books of poetry, including The Year of No Mistakes, crowned the Book of the Year for Poetry by the Writers’ League of Texas. She is also the author of two books of nonfiction, most recently Dr Mütter’s Marvels: A True Tale of Intrigue and Innovation at the Dawn of Modern Medicine, which spent three months on the New York Times Best Seller List. Recent awards include a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship, the ArtsEDGE write-in-residency at the University of Pennsylvania and the Amy Clampitt Residency. When not on the road, she lives in Austin with her family.

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BOOK TOUR SPOTLIGHT & GIVEAWAY: Our Dark Stars by Audrey Grey & Krystal Wade

Our Dark Stars

by Audrey Grey and Krystal Wade

YA Sci-Fi

Book Description

While she sleeps, the whole universe changes.

Princess Talia Starchaser has it all. Wealth. Status. Adoring citizens. But on the eve of her eighteenth birthday, she’s forced to publicly betray her best friend, a companion mock she’s had since birth, setting events into motion that lead to the destruction of the humans, and the princess floating through space, a remnant of a time when humans ruled over droids.

One hundred years later, half-mock captain Will Perrault and his ragtag crew discover a device floating in space. When a very human Talia emerges from its depths, Will suspects she’s the key to buying his way back into the regiment he once commanded against the last remaining rebel humans—and the ruling mock queen’s good graces.

Both Talia and Will would rather get space-tossed than trust one another, but with the queen’s forces chasing them across the galaxy and the fate of both worlds hanging in the balance, they’ll forge the unlikeliest of alliances to survive.

 “She knows my every move!” Talia growled, pitching into a steep dive that brought them back into the bowels of the city. In open space, the queen could best Talia any day of the week, but here maybe she could even the playing field.

Sweat slicked her fingers as she guided the steering wheel, working to calm her breathing. The quiet inside the cockpit was an illusion of safety. Up above the queen stalked them from the clouds, waiting to strike.

Talia peered up at the sky, the sun’s glare crippling her vision. “I can’t see her.”

“Me either,” Will confirmed. Judging by his leather seat groaning, he was twisted around trying to find her. “She’s using the sun to her advantage.”

Of course she was. That was one of Ailat’s favorite tricks. Talia dove lower until she skimmed the turquoise waters around the palace. They’d made an entire loop through the city. What was the queen’s plan? Ailat had always been a better pilot, a better tactician. She could toy with them for hours until they ran out of fuel—but that wasn’t what she wanted.

No, she needed to prove once and for all she was better than Talia.

“Here she comes!” Will warned.

The queen’s Starfighter dropped from above in an aerial attack, and the water below exploded in a straight line toward them as she strafed it with bullets. Ascending from this level would make the ship slow and decrease her power, so Talia cut toward the palace, hoping the queen wouldn’t sacrifice the bystanders on the bridge with those bullets.

Talia was wrong. She flinched as the hail of firepower chased them into the courtyard, cutting down the crowds still stuck there.

“Oh God,” Talia cried, wishing she could shut her eyes.

“Look out!” Will shouted as they careened between two archways.

Last second, Talia banked sideways, and the ship slipped through the opening by a whisker. The queen climbed back to her perch in the clouds, safe from Talia’s guns while waiting to swoop down again.

The maneuver was called a high-sides gun pass, and Ailat had done it to Talia a million times before in training. Never once had she recovered after Ailat got her in this position. Growling, Talia swiped sweat-soaked hair from her forehead and then banged her fist on the dash.

“You okay, there?” Will called.

“We’re not going to die today!” She repeated it, louder, for good measure. No way in hell would she let the queen kill them.

“Does this all seem familiar, Tal?” the queen purred over the com, the pleased tone in her voice riling Talia’s blood. “There’s nowhere you can hide now. No safety. You know how this ends.”

Talia grabbed the radio. “I am Talia Starchaser. I fear nothing. I own the stars and the planets and the galaxies, and I am not afraid of you, Queen.”

 

About the Authors

About Audrey:

Hi! I’m an award winning and USA Today bestselling author of several books, including the Moonbeam Children’s Award bronze finalist, SHADOW FALL. I live in the charming state of Oklahoma with my crew: one husband, two little people, four mischievous dogs, and one poor cat. You can usually find me hiding out in my office from said crew, surrounded by books and sipping kombucha while dreaming up wondrous worlds for my characters to live in.

In between the chaos—What’s for dinner? Stop pinching your sister! Homework! Dishes!— and my writing, I make time for various projects. An admitted paintaholic, I’ve painted, sprayed or transformed nearly every piece of my house at least once. I even painted my husband’s beloved fabric chair. Oops!

I thrive on creation: starting from an idea, a blank canvas, or perhaps an outdated room, and using my imagination to create something new and emotionally engaging that’s all my own. But stories have always been my first love. Weaving together complex worlds full of flawed, conflicted characters allows me to express myself in a way I could never do otherwise.

I started creating stories during the sweltering Oklahoma summers spent laboring in my father’s wheat fields. Alone and bored, I dreamed up wild fables of vampires (the Anne Rice kind), cave men, and love-torn ghosts. By college my tales had grown more persistent, and I started to actually write them down.

Now, fiction is my life, and I look forward to sharing my characters and their stories with all of you.

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About Krystal:

I’m happily married to the love of my life (don’t gag) and raising three beautiful children in the gorgeous state of Virginia. We live just outside Washington, D.C., and every day I wake up to find myself stuck in traffic trying to get there.

The horrid commute gives me plenty of time to zone out and think about my characters in full, brilliant details (I’m a safe driver; don’t worry). Stories give me a way to forget about the sometimes smelly strangers sitting next to me on the fifty mile trek into town (I pick up hitchhikers every day. True story. Check out http://www.slug-lines.com if you don’t believe me).

I’ve been a part of organized hitchhiking for nearly fifteen years, but that’s just one small aspect of my oh-so-large life. When I’m not working, commuting, or chasing after my three children (four if you count the man), you can usually find me outside talking to my chickens like they’re the cutest things in the world (they are), or training my amazing dogs how to herd said chickens (which they love), or curled up on the sofa with a good book (why can’t that be 100% of the time?).

I hope you love my stories (or just like them a little; that would be okay, too). And I hope that one day you find your passion, because there’s nothing in life better than doing what you love while surrounded by people you love.

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1 winner will receive a $30 Amazon GC and a hardcover copy of Cinder, US Only.

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REVIEW: The Wonder by Emma Donoghue

The Wonder

by Emma Donoghue

Historical/Literary Fiction

Book Description

In the latest masterpiece by Emma Donoghue, bestselling author of Room, an English nurse brought to a small Irish village to observe what appears to be a miracle-a girl said to have survived without food for months-soon finds herself fighting to save the child’s life.

Tourists flock to the cabin of eleven-year-old Anna O’Donnell, who believes herself to be living off manna from heaven, and a journalist is sent to cover the sensation. Lib Wright, a veteran of Florence Nightingale’s Crimean campaign, is hired to keep watch over the girl.

Written with all the propulsive tension that made Room a huge bestseller, THE WONDER works beautifully on many levels–a tale of two strangers who transform each other’s lives, a powerful psychological thriller, and a story of love pitted against evil.

The latest masterpiece by Emma Donoghue, bestselling author of Room.

MY THOUGHTS:

3 out of 5 FLEURS DE LIS


The Wonder
by Emma Donoghue

A little word of warning: if you are planning on listening to this story in audiobook format, as I did, then you should know that the narrator puts on a thick Irish brogue for some characters that can be hard to understand. For this reason, I kind of wish I had just read the book instead.

The story is set in August 1859, and is told from the point of view of Mrs. Lib Wright, who after becoming widowed set off to serve as a nurse under the training of none other than Florence Nightingale herself. Lib is sent to a private household in Ireland to maintain a two week watch on a little girl named Anna O’Donnell. Anna claims to not have taken food for the past 4 months, and Lib is being sent to confirm whether that is true.

Many of the people of the town and beyond its’ borders have come to view pious Anna as a sort of miracle child. Lib starts her job with a biased, skeptical mind but soon comes to know the child better and just how much her religious beliefs mean to her. When the truth behind Anna’s motivations for her fast are revealed, Lib is rocked and sets out to do what she can to help Anna realize the consequences of what she is doing.

I chose this book because of the mystery aspect of it–a child hasn’t eaten for four months? How is she alive? But soon, I was taken in by Anna and her congruous nature, both painfully innocent and wise beyond her years. The entire first half of the novel is basically laying the foundation for the reader to get to know Lib and the O’Donnells, and to see a sort of friendship grow between the nurse and the girl.

It’s frustrating, as a mother, to have a child that turns down food, so the idea of having to watch as your does this for four consecutive months is terrifying. It’s also terrifying that Anna’s parents believed so much in their daughter’s obsession with her religion that they allowed this to go on. But it was a different time, and a different country, so I had to kind of just go along with the fact that they did let it happen. So many people were complicit in Anna’s fasting and it was very disheartening to see that this child was continuously allowed to make her own decisions.

As far as the main plot, it started off really slowly but I was glad for the slow burn because when all was revealed towards the end, I was truly shocked at what had transpired. There’s a subplot with a romance angle, which was kind of OK but I did see it coming from miles away.

This is a difficult book to review without giving away the heart of the story, but I’ll say I think it will appeal to a large audience of readers. Whether you’re a believer or not, The Wonder will make you think about your own relationship with your higher power and how it has a hold on your life and the lives of those you love most.

View all my reviews

 

About the Author

Emma is the youngest of eight children of Frances and Denis Donoghue. She attended Catholic convent schools in Dublin, apart from one year in New York at the age of ten. In 1990 she earned a first-class honours BA in English and French from University College Dublin, and in 1997 a PhD (on the concept of friendship between men and women in eighteenth-century English fiction) from the University of Cambridge. Since the age of 23, Donoghue has earned her living as a full-time writer. After years of commuting between England, Ireland, and Canada, in 1998 she settled in London, Ontario, where she lives with her partner and their son and daughter.

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BOOK TOUR INTERVIEW & GIVEAWAY: Antipodes by Michele Bacon

Antipodes

by Michele Bacon

YA Contemporary 

Release Date: April 3, 2018

Book Description

When Erin Cerise steps off her plane in Christchurch, New Zealand, she is focused intently on her mission: do something unique that will erase the mess she made of her life on her 17th birthday. She’s already lost her swim team captainship, her boyfriend Ben, and her reputation. Her mother is certain studying abroad will regain Erin’s chances of a good future. Once Erin sees her uninspiring host family and city, though, she’s not so sure.

Before Christchurch, Erin wasn’t always intense and focused. Years ago, a mission sounded like a fun adventure, and the only ivy she cared about was the stuff growing around her grandparents’ back porch at their peaceful Upper Peninsula home. When had her priorities gone upside down?

Now Erin balks at NZ’s itchy school uniforms, cold houses, and her hosts’ utter inability to pronounce her name correctly. Christchurch does boast amazing rock climbing, gorgeous scenery, and at least one guy who could make her forget Ben if she lets him. With months ahead of her, Erin slowly begins to draw on the years behind her, one step back into her memories at a time. As she rebuilds her life from the other side of the world, she finds that when life turns your world upside down and you’re far from home, every way you move takes you closer to where you came from.

  1. What made you want to become a writer?

I cannot remember wanting to be anything else. Except a majorette. I desperately wanted to be a majorette. Aside from that, I’ve been writing and telling stories all my life. While I’ve been a writer all my life, I always wanted to be a published author. Now I realize there are many ways to have a rich and fulfilling life as a writer, and I’m happy.

 

  1. What are some of your favorite books?

In YA, anything by Brittany Cavallaro, Jandy Nelson, Courtney Summers, or Nicola Yoon. Also Eleanor & Park (Rowell), Genuine Fraud (Lockhart), If I Stay (Forman), The Inside of Out (Thorne), and Shine (Myracle). In adult, anything by Bill Bryson, Michael Cunningham, Laurie Frankel, Roxane Gay, Jonathan Tropper, or Kevin Wilson. Also Left Neglected (Genova), The Nest (D’Aprix Sweeney), Before You Know Kindness (Bohjalian), and Station Eleven (Mandel)

 

  1. Are your characters based on anyone you know?

Yes and no. I’ve invented each of my characters, but I often steal personality quirks from people I know or give characters my passions. I gave my first protagonist, Xander Fife in Life Before, my childhood. While no character is based on a singular person I know, I do steal surnames of my favorite people for every manuscript.

 

  1. Why do you love writing?

I love words and telling stories, plotting a book, discovering the best way to tell a story, writing dialogue, and inventing new characters. But the thing I love best about writing is hearing from readers that what I wrote made them think or feel something. When my stories touch the brain or heart of someone I’ve never met? That’s a great feeling.

About the Author

Michele Bacon writes novel-length fiction for young adults and older adults. When she’s not writing, she’s skiing, playing tabletop games, traveling, or dreaming of travel. She lived in Christchurch, New Zealand for over a year, and is eager to return. Today, Michele lives in Seattle with her partner and three children. She is also the author of Life Before.

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Ends: 3/30

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The Fantastic Flying Book Club

Quick Inspiration–Overcoming Gym Intimidation

SPOTLIGHT: Retribution by CJ Laurence

Retribution 
by C.J. Laurence
Breaking Free Series, Book One
 
 
Louisa Simmons is one of the lucky ones. She escaped her abusive relationship before it was too late. However, her ex still has access to their eight-year old son. Not only does Louisa have to rebuild herself, but she faces a daily fight of her ex attempting to charm his way back into her life.

In the middle of all this, Louisa stumbles upon a new man who sweeps her off her feet. With major trust issues and a meddling ex, Louisa is left dealing with a whole new set of troubles. When her ex realises he’s losing her for good, a campaign of terror is ignited. 

How can a new relationship blossom under the shadow of an obsessed ex? And more importantly, can Louisa stop her ex from taking things too far?
 
 
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About CJ Laurence 
 
Born in the grand year of 1986, I am currently a 31 year old female living in Lincolnshire, England. 

By day, I work in an office from 8.30 – 3.30 but my mind is never quiet from scenes, ideas and characters chattering away.
By night, I am an aspiring author, hoping to touch others with my crazy, wild ideas.
I am a mother to an energetic 10 year old boy and partner to the world’s best boyfriend.

My main interests are in the paranormal but I am interested in all genres and am planning stories to cover the vast array of different tastes. I’m passionate about serious issues such as domestic violence and mental health. As a result, these themes do run in alot of my stories. 
I am also a hardcore conspiracy theorist and all of my stories contain twists, turns, and ideas that will hopefully leave you thinking ‘What did I just read?’

I am a redhead (and proud of it!), and as such, most of my female characters are redheaded as I feel we are underated and albeit forgotten!

Anyway, I hope you find something of mine to enjoy – thank you for stopping by!
 
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SPOTLIGHT & GIVEAWAY: Legends of the Lost Causes by Brad McLelland and Louis Sylvester

Legends of the Lost Causes

by Brad McLelland and Louis Sylvester

Middle Grade Fiction

Book Description

The first book in a new middle-grade fantasy action-adventure series set in the Old West.

A band of orphan avengers. A cursed stone. A horde of zombie outlaws. This is Keech Blackwood’s new life after Bad Whiskey Nelson descends upon the Home for Lost Causes and burns it to the ground.

With his home destroyed and his family lost, Keech will have to use the lessons he learned from Pa Abner to hunt down the powerful Char Stone. Luckily, he has the help of a ragtag team of orphans. Together, they’ll travel through treacherous forests, fight off the risen dead, and discover that they share mysterious bonds as they try to track down the legendary stone. Now, it’s a race against the clock, because if Bad Whiskey finds the stone first. . . . all is lost.

What made you want to become a writer?

Louis: I love stories. Reading is one of my favorite activities and I try to read for a couple of hours every day. As I read, I discover inspiration for my own stories and characters. I also enjoy playing games, especially role-playing games (RPGs) like Dungeons and Dragons, in which you and a small group of friends create a story together. After enjoying a big adventure, I wanted to share my characters and plots with other people. It didn’t take me long to realize that the best way to share my stories was through writing.

Brad: This might sound silly, but growing up with a novel constantly in my hand, I always enjoyed imagining myself as one of those mythical Authors (capital A) who created the stories I loved. I would read a book and envision my name on the cover, or see my photo on the back of the jacket, and before long I couldn’t contain the desire to see that in real life. So I started writing my own stories, and thanks to the endless support and encouragement of a wonderful mother, I never stopped.

 

What do you need around you to write (special drink, lucky items, etc)?

Louis: While I enjoy a nice can of Pepsi when I’m writing, what I most require nearby is my copy of Blood Meridian by Cormac McCarthy. Whenever I feel like I’m stuck or blank, all I need to do is pick up this book, read a page or two, and I find that I’m reinvigorated and ready to write some more.

Brad: I’m a huge sucker for chocolate and coffee — I think those are my lucky charms. If I start a session of writing, I have to make sure I have at least one of those two items on hand. If I don’t, I go for the next best substitute: hot cocoa! (What can I say? I’m a choco-fiend.)

 

What are some of your favorite books?

Louis: My favorite western books include True Grit by Charles Portis and (as mentioned above) Blood Meridian by Cormac McCarthy. My favorite fantasy books are The Heroes by Joe Abercrombie and Claire North’s The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August. I grew up loving Orson Scott Card’s Ender’s Game and Douglas Adam’s hilarious The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. Also, anything by Neil Gaiman makes for a wonderful read.

Brad: I grew up absolutely adoring Robert Arthur Jr.’s The Three Investigators series, particularly The Secret of Terror Castle and The Mystery of the Whispering Mummy. Like Louis, I’m also a massive fan of Ender’s Game, and I never grow tired of Stephen King’s The Dark Tower series. On the western side, my favorites are True Grit and Lonesome Dove — both being the gold standard, I think, for the western genre.

 

Are your characters based on anyone you know?

Louis: I think every character is infused with aspects of people I know. But none of our characters are exactly like people in my life.

Brad: I agree with Louis that I can’t pinpoint specific people who our Legends characters are based on. That said, I do find myself from time to time envisioning the faces and hearing the voices of certain childhood buddies while writing our kid characters. For example, I sometimes see the grinning face of my best friend in middle school when I contribute to the character of Sam.

 

Why do you love writing?

Louis: There is something amazing about witnessing a story growing into life. When you first start working on a story, you think the tale will go a certain way, but as you revise and edit and rewrite, the characters come alive and often demand that the story move in surprising directions. I love the way a story can take me by surprise and I love seeing how a character can come alive on the page.

Brad: As I mentioned before, so much of the passion I have for writing started with my mother. An elementary school teacher for most of my childhood, she personally taught me how to read and write and draw appreciation and strength from stories and storytelling. In fact, I don’t recall a single day of my youth when Mom took a book from my hands and told me to stop reading. So I think my passion for writing came from her desire to grow me into a solid reader. And when I started tinkering with my own stories, she always lifted up my creativity and encouraged me to keep pushing toward my dreams.

 

About the Authors

Born and raised in Arkansas, Brad McLelland spent several years working as a crime journalist in the South before earning his MFA in creative writing from Oklahoma State University. A part-time drummer and singer, Brad lives in Oklahoma with his wife, stepdaughter, a mini-Aussie who gives hugs, and a chubby cat who begs for ham.

Louis Sylvester is a professor at Lewis-Clark State College in Lewiston, Idaho. He earned his PhD from
Oklahoma State University. He enjoys playing tabletop games from his collection of over 1,000 card and board
games, watching western films, reading fantasy novels, and spending time with his wife and two dogs.

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Macmillan will give away one copy of the book to one commenter from the US or Canada!  Leave a comment letting me know what your fave middle grade books are.  Giveaway ends 3/25/18.

TV SHOW SPOTLIGHT & GIVEAWAY: POPE: The Most Powerful Man in History

Hi yall!  I am excited to share with you a fascinating look at one of the world’s most influential figures, explored in depth in a way like never before.  This Sunday, CNN will premiere the six part series POPE: The Most Powerful Man in History. Lent is the perfect time to begin watching and learning more about the history of this leader of the Catholic church.

Narrated by Liam Neeson, Pope: The Most Powerful Man in History, is a six-part CNN Original Series that explores how 12 apostles became 1.2 billion Catholics today, linking recent news events surrounding the Vatican with their unexpected origins.

“Ever since a man, claiming to be the Son of God, was nailed to a wooden cross over 2000 years ago, the Catholic religion has had a huge and profound influence and impact on our society,” said Neeson. “As an amateur scholar myself, I was delighted to learn more about this by narrating a series that sheds a detailed light on how the Popes, past and present, and the Catholic Church came to be a prevailing force through fair means and foul, and along the way inspired some of the world’s greatest works of art.”

The series’ debut episode, “The Rise of the Pope,” examines the origins of the papacy and how Catholicism, against all odds, spread throughout Europe.  Pope: The Most Powerful Man in History, will premiere Sunday, March 11 on CNN.

History buffs, travel enthusiasts, and anyone who has ever dreamed of visiting (or revisiting) one of the most iconic cities in the world will have a chance to win a once-in-a-lifetime trip to Rome.  Inspired by the upcoming television premiere of Pope: The Most Powerful Man In History, contestants can vie for the opportunity to win by visiting the website:  www.myvaticanvacation.com.  Giveaway begins March 8 and ends on April 15.

The winner of the giveaway will receive the following:

  • Airfare and five nights of hotel accommodations for two in Rome.
  • A $500 gift card.
  • A rare and private tour of The Vatican.

The Vatican is home to some of the greatest works of art including The Pieta, Raphael’s Transfiguration, Leonardo Da Vinci’s St. Jerome In The Wilderness, the statue of Apollo Belvedere, and a painting of The Last Judgement by Michelangelo, located inside The Sistine Chapel.  The Sistine Chapel is famous throughout the world as the location where The College of Cardinals from The Roman Catholic Church, meet when a new Pope has to be elected.

 

In addition, one commenter on this post will win a $25 LifeWay Stores gift card!

Hiring a Professional Cleaning Service for All the Right Reasons

Everyone’s life is busy. Whether you are a working single person or a working parent, or just don’t like cleaning, hiring a cleaning service either regularly or upon occasion is something you should consider.

Many people look at paying someone to clean their house as a luxury because it costs money and it is something that they can do themselves. However, it really depends on your reason, budget, and personal lifestyle that will help you decide if this is a good decision for you.

Parents need to learn how to balance many aspects of their lives, especially if they work. The days start out with getting everyone out of bed and ready for school or work, shopping, making sure homework is completed, paying bills, preparing meals, running errands, and then getting children off to bed at the right time to be ready to wake up and start the process all over again.

It is often difficult for parents to keep up with the daily challenges of everyday life including keeping their house clean. Hiring a professional cleaning service, even once a month for the big cleaning, can be very helpful in alleviating some of the pressures of working parents.

You don’t want to hire just any company to come into your home. It is important that you find a company that is licensed, bonded, insured, and certified. According to Amazon Cleaning, providing experienced and highly-trained personnel who have gone through extensive background checks will guarantee that customers are not only satisfied but will also enjoy a spotless home.

Once you make the decision to hire a cleaning company, you want to have the confidence that your personal and property interests are protected while knowing that you have hired reputable and reliable professionals.

Save Money

Yes, you can actually save money by hiring a professional cleaning company. As most homeowners know, they have to maintain a supply of various cleaning materials for different rooms in their house and for different surfaces. Most cleaning services not only provide their own supplies but also their own equipment. Not only are you saving money on supplies, you are also extending the life of your vacuum cleaner as it won’t be used as often. Good vacuum cleaners can be very expensive. Also, don’t forget that time is money and your time is valuable

Reduce Stress

Life can be stressful. Many people are overextended and have more to do than there are hours in a day. Some find it difficult to juggle the time and energy needed to get everything done. Keeping your house clean and in order can take a toll on one’s family, marriage, work, and even health. Some people might feel guilty when cleaning their house because it is taking time away from friends and loved ones. Others might feel guilty if they don’t take the time to clean and have a messy house. Hiring someone else to clean your house can go a long way in reducing the stress in your life. Think about how nice it would be to come home from a hard day’s work and walk into your newly cleaned home.

You Hate Housework

Yes, it’s true that most of us have to do some things in our lives that we just don’t like to do. In some cases, cleaning is one of those things. Hiring a professional cleaner does not mean you are avoiding your responsibility, living extravagantly, or that you are lazy. If you are able to, why not focus your time and energy on aspects of your life that you enjoy and where you are proficient?

Some people also never learned how to clean everything in the most efficient and effective manner. There are trick and tips that professional cleaners learn with time and experience.

A Possible Compromise

For those people who can’t decide whether or not to hire a professional cleaner, or who do not have enough money to hire one every week or even those who feel guilty for paying someone to do something they can do themselves, how about bringing in a professional cleaning service once a month? Or even once every 2-3 months?

This way, you can take care of the general day-to-day cleaning and leave it to the professionals to do the occasional larger-scale deep cleaning.

BOOK TOUR REVIEW: If I Die Tonight by Alison Gaylin

If I Die Tonight

by Alison Gaylin

Mystery

Book Description

Late one night in the quiet Hudson Valley town of Havenkill, a distraught woman stumbles into the police station—and lives are changed forever.

Aimee En, once a darling of the ’80s pop music scene, claims that a teenage boy stole her car, then ran over another young man who’d rushed to help.

As Liam Miller’s life hangs in the balance, the events of that fateful night begin to come into focus. But is everything as it seems?

The case quickly consumes social media, transforming Liam, a local high school football star, into a folk hero, and the suspect, a high school outcast named Wade Reed, into a depraved would-be killer. But is Wade really guilty? And if he isn’t, why won’t he talk?

MY THOUGHTS:

2.5 out of 5 FLEURS DE LIS


If I Die Tonight
by Alison Gaylin

Jackie is a single mom of two teenage sons: Connor, the youngest, is mostly obedient and helpful to his mom, but Wade, who used to be his mom’s sidekick, has been secretive and seems to have a dark cloud hanging over him for the past several months. When a classmate dies, Wade is implicated in the accident and soon the little town turns on him and his family. But if he didn’t do it, and he won’t reveal the truth to his own mother, how can he clear his name and stop his life from being ruined?

From the beginning, I wasn’t as into this mystery as I could have been. Teenage boys hiding something is nothing new, and some of the plot points seemed very obvious to me. I also thought the progress was very slow, and this wasn’t helped by the author throwing in all kinds of relatively useless information about the characters.

So we have a washed up rocker named Aimee, who claims that she was robbed after a show one night by a teenage boy in a black hood. When Liam, the victim of the story, tries to stop the robbery, he is hit by Aimee’s car and dies. There are multiple suspects including Aimee herself, and it’s like extracting teeth to get any of the players involved to tell the truth about the night of the accident.

I didn’t like how the mother, Jackie, basically ALLOWED her son to be so shady and hide things from her. Yes, I know, teens will do that, but when someone has died, the kid doesn’t GET to have secrets anymore. I also wouldn’t have sent him to school in such a situation, but Jackie did. There were some bad parenting decisions made for the majority of the book. I also felt that Wade was highly overdramatic, and when the truth finally came out about what he’d been keeping from his mother, it wasn’t as serious as the life or death situation he was trying to take the blame for instead. I couldn’t believe the kid would rather go to prison than tell his mom the truth.

The author does a fine job of making you suspect that maybe Wade really did kill Liam, but there are so many other characters involved in the incident of that night that your attention is thrown in a lot of different directions. In the end, there is a deus ex machina that really just brought the story to a rather bland ending.

I know this is a thriller, but I didn’t feel any thrills at all. I would recommend avoiding this one as it’s quite forgettable.

View all my reviews

 

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