Christmas is almost upon us, and I find myself wondering how that's possible. The last couple months at our house have been filled with ups and downs, which I'm sure many of you have experienced time and again. Although some might say, "c'est la vie," I prefer not to brush past those peaks and valleys so quickly, but rather, reflect on them. When I do, I find I'm grateful for both, because without the valleys, the peaks would be mere hills to stand on.
Life took a downhill turn near Thanksgiving, when my father-in-law passed away. He was a good man who'd led a full life, and I am grateful to have known him. Though he will be missed by his family and friends, at Thanksgiving we could all be thankful for the joy and lessons he shared by example.
At the same time, my new book, The Cry Beyond The Door, was to be released, but it was not meant to be. The timing was lousy, but some pleasant surprises have occurred this month in spite of the setbacks. Two book signings went well, and another local book store agreed to carry my books. They're also graciously planning to host a book signing for me in January. Then I was asked to speak at an event at Ft. Wayne's new Promenade Park Pavillion this summer as part of the Sundays on the Riverfront program. That could be a high and low all rolled into one!
So many people I've encountered recently have had no idea how their presence and smiles have set my course this Christmas on an upward path. From family, to friends, to complete strangers, each have given me the gift of joy. I don't know if they were experiencing peaks or valleys in their own lives, but I appreciate them for providing me with a push or tug along the way. If you were one of these people, I'd like to thank you. I sincerely hope to pass it on to others this Christmas and into the New Year.
Have a blessed Christmas, and remember to spread the gift of joy to others. It costs nothing, yet means so much, for we never know if the person we meet is in a valley, standing high on some summit, or somewhere in between.
Recently, I was fortunate enough to receive an advance copy of The Lucky One, compliments of Lori Rader-Day and HarperCollins Publishers. I couldn’t wait to read it, and immediately settled in for what I was certain would be a great read. I was not disappointed. Edgar Award nominated Rader-Day has done it again.
A delicious plot-twisting story with a surprise ending, The Lucky One is a suspenseful story told from the viewpoints of two characters, Alice and Merrily. Their confusion and disjointed lives are reflected in Rader-Day’s writing style, setting the mood for both characters and plot. If you enjoy roller coasters, strap yourself in for the ride she takes you on, complete with one of those thrilling loops that will leave you breathless. — M.A. Koontz
I really enjoyed the way Kate Flora steadily built suspense throughout this novel. It definitely kept me turning pages to see what was going to happen next — a great example of a book that is hard to put down.
I also appreciated Flora's female protagonist, especially how she created an imperfect character, one that could take charge without waiting for her knight in shining armor. Despite that, her character still had a vulnerability to her that softened her dynamic nature.
The main character, Thea Kozak, searches for her adopted sister's killer, and finds her life is turned upside down as each new secret is revealed. Clues that expose an ugly truth force her to look at her sister and her family in a new light. When she follows the same dangerous trail her sister had taken that got her killed, nothing is as she expected. She questions whether she'll ever be able to find her sister’s murderer, or if she’ll end up as another murder victim instead.
Review by M.A. Koontz
Ta-Nehisi Coates provides an intimate view of the slave culture in #TheWaterDancer at a time when the Underground Railroad was building in strength and numbers. Written in the first person perspective of Hiram Walker, his struggles to recall the events of his parents' disappearance unfold into the story of the "Tasked" and the "Quality."
His life begins as a slave at Lockless, a tobacco plantation in Elm County, Virginia, where he and others from "the Street" continually experience torture, humiliation, and anger at the hands of their masters. Enraged by the injustice, he discovers a gift within him – one that can lead many to freedom – if only he can learn to harness its powers.
I must admit, I struggled with the prose in parts of this story, as well as the meaning behind specific sections. This is exactly what makes this novel a great read for a book club. There is no shortage of material to discuss.
I would like to thank Carrie Vrabel with the #ACPL for the Advance Reader's Edition of this amazing novel.
I enjoyed the way Stokes built suspense throughout this novel, keeping me anxious to see what would happen next. His protagonist, Teri, is an unlikely main character, which I found refreshing. After she witnesses a murder, she's determined to find justice at her own risk, but didn't count on putting the lives of others at risk as well. Stokes does an excellent job of demonstrating Teri's impulsive nature, along with her increasing strength and resilience. A great read!
I hesitate to share with readers a particular lesson I learned from two maple trees that are growing strong in my front yard, but I can't help myself. I guess it never ceases to amaze me how much I have learned over the years, through working in the garden or simply tending to the landscaping surrounding our house. Nature's lessons tend to sneak up on me. Perhaps it's the physical aspect involved, or maybe it's the quiet time spent in union with the earth and it's life force. Regardless, I think I cherish the "ah-ha" moments that emerge, and I definitely remember the lessons better than if someone had lectured me on the specific topic.
When we moved into our previously-owned home in Indiana, two maple trees were struggling to survive. They were little more than saplings, so I went into my full-blown nurturing mode. I spoke with experts from the local nursery, and purchased the appropriate fertilizer, along with a bag that zipped around the base of the trunk. It allowed a slow trickle of water to soak into the roots on the dry days of summer.
I treated both trees equally. Soon, though, I noticed that one had dark, rich, green leaves, while the other was a much paler green. Obviously, I hadn't put enough fertilizer on the tree with the lighter foliage. Hence, I proceeded to carefully mix the recommended fertilizer again into a bucket of water and dumped it around the base. It had worked so well on the other maple tree, I was certain it would do the same for this one. Instead, I watched in horror as the tree began to wither. It made no sense to me, until it finally did.
One day, while clipping a few more dead branches out of the struggling tree, I noticed something I should have noticed long before. I had been so busy treating the trees equally, that I hadn't paid attention to the fact that they weren't the same. Although both were maples, they were two distinct varieties of maple trees. The one with lighter green leaves, actually had variegated leaves, that were meant to be lighter in color. The tree was meant to have leaves with two-toned lighter shades of green, not dark green. I had nearly killed this tree because I'd ignored it's uniqueness. Finally, I stopped fertilizing it, and simply watered it. Eventually, it flourished as well as the dark-leafed maple tree had done.
The experience made me think of people. Sometimes I lump us all together and expect each individual to react the same way to situations. After all, we're all part of the human race, right? But as much as we're all the same, we're also each uniquely different. Whether it's two kids from the same family with different personalities, or people within our neighborhoods or communities, in spite of shared experiences, each one is unique.
The monumental task, then, is to learn how to nurture one another by embracing who we are as individuals, not who we are expected to be because of family, culture, religion, etc. It requires both time and patience, and sometimes mistakes. Yet the effort is well worth it. Maybe we'll know we've gotten it right when we each begin to flourish like those two maple trees, with roots firmly planted and possessing the ability to thrive. It will require some serious master gardening skills. Good luck honing yours. May we all be master gardeners, nurturer's of one another.
Author Dawn Hosmer does an amazing job of building suspense in her thriller, "Bits & Pieces." In this first person account, the reader is submerged into the minds of both a young woman with a special gift, as well as a killer. The deaths of four female college students and a search for their killer, creates tension and mystery throughout. The story will keep you guessing until the very end, where it delivers a surprise twist.
Her main character, Tessa, has a special gift that feels more like a curse, when it drives her to the brink of insanity. A mere touch can give her "bits and pieces" from the lives of others in flashes of color. Relationships become complicated. Compelled to solve four murders, will her gift be a hindrance or an asset along the way?
Little Pretty Things is a compelling mystery with characters everyone can relate to on some level. Lori Rader-Day creatively pulls the reader into the life of Juliet, the main character, and takes them along on her personal journey as she solves a mystery in a small town. Good luck putting this one down!
** spoiler alert **
For Juliet Townsend, her years on the track team in high school were not the way she'd chosen to remember them. When her best friend and former high school track star, Madeleine, tries to reunite with her ten years later, she is forced to face the ugly reality of those years. Maddy's death sends ripples of distrust through the small town, and Juliet finds herself among the list of suspects. As the hunt for a murderer unfolds, Juliet discovers clues about herself tangled within the secrets of those high school years.
I've often been asked, as an avid reader, "Do you like books with a lot of detailed description?" A discussion usually ensues over this point, that partially includes not only the reader's preference for detail, but also the specific book in question.
For example, when a setting is so unique, as in Delia Owens' Where the Crawdads Sing, I relish the beautiful prose that paints the scenery in vivid sensory delights. In this particular novel, it is of special importance to the essence of the story. And therein lies the answer to the question, how much description is too much?
It only makes sense to delve into detail about a marsh teaming with plants and wildlife, when the main character is referred to as "The Marsh Girl." It's intrinsic to the development of Kya. However, should a writer include page after page of setting description in every novel? Probably not. So, it is up to the author to determine if such detail is deemed necessary.
Certain stories demand the author provide a detailed setting for the reader. After all, how difficult would it be to read a fantasy novel, if the other realm was not described with care? Readers crave to easily imagine a place they've never experienced before, which only comes through the author's words.
On the other hand, a novel written with the goal of evoking an emotional response, requires building upon something quite different than a detailed setting. The same would apply to a suspenseful story that builds upon action more so than setting. Not that a certain amount of description isn't necessary in these novels, but the demand for it from the reader is less.
At the risk of frustrating some, I would suggest the amount of description depends on the specific goal of the book. Let that be the general guide. The rest is still personal preference.
When murder enters a small Kansas town, there is a ripple effect that leaves everyone changed, especially the families of the victim and the suspect. Two children, Jody and Collin, from both of these families, experience sympathy and hate overnight as a result. Life somehow goes on until a prison release has town folks scrambling not only for their safety, but for unwanted truths as well.
You will not be able to put this book down, as Nancy Pickard does the artful job of painting the reader into her picture of this small town. She builds suspense like a stack of building blocks, then knocks them over to reveal a surprise twist. A highly recommended read.