Friday, May 31, 2013

Discovering Books for Grandchildren

Since I became a grandmother years ago I've enjoyed buying books for Howie, who is two. His parents read to him at nap time and before he goes to bed. Of course, he is the most advanced child because of this. And, IMHO, because he is my grandson.

I immediately looked for my favorite children's books. I picked newer books, lots of Dr. Seuss, Sesame Street. I couldn't find Golden Books, but I did find some of the titles reprinted by other publishers. I began scouting book fairs where I was selling copies of Mad Max Unintended Consequences. My two latest are as different as can be, but each has a positive message. That's what I want.

The Goose Gang Summer Competition by Carol Nolan teaches that the competition itself is more important than winning or losing, a message we all should remember. Nolan's drawings are colorful and enhance the story. Because Howie is two, he should like the images on the page; his parents will like the message.

My friend Dee Nicholls's Hurricane Day is too old for Howie right now. Published by Featherweight Press, this is no lightweight book. Jimmy lives in a modern-day family, which is always too busy to stop and be a family. When a hurricane bears down on Long Island, Jimmy's brother stocks up on candles, batteries, snacks and water, board games. The family brings sleeping bags into the living room to ride out the storm. When the family is unplugged, it discovers how much great it is to have fun together without distractions. Strong moral delivered well. I predict Howie will be ready for this in a couple of years.

I wonder what I'll discover at my next writers' events in Galax and Abington later this month. All I know is if there are good books out there, Howie will have them in his collection.

Hats off to Carol Nolan and Dee Nicholls for their great books. Howie wants more...

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Author Interview: Kristen Houghton

I sat down recently with Kristen Houghton after I read her novella, Welcome to Hell. I followed her columns in the Huffington Post and and relate to many of the women's issues that are her favorite topic. Some of you may not know that Kristen writes wicked satire, although if you read my book review of Welcome to Hell, you'd know she is a wickedly funny satirist, albeit with a streak of dark humor. I asked Kristen to introduce herself.

I was always a story-teller and that’s what writers do; we tell stories. I was the little girl who could keep her friends interested for a couple of hours by telling all different types of stories. My imagination was, and is, very fertile and active. In high school I created a sort of soap opera and each day during study hall I would hand out the next part of the story. I made sure to always leave a cliffhanger of sorts with each new part to stir up anticipation. 

I just completed the  first book in my new Catherine Harlow, Private Investigator mystery series.  The book is already copyrighted and in pre-publication. I love my characters and truthfully the story seemed to tell itself. It was a very satisfying writing experience and I will be continuing the series. 

Surprisingly, since I am not this way in some other areas of my life, I am a very organized writer. I like to write beginnings, middles, and endings in my stories in that order. This gives me a story timeline and lets me get inside the minds of my characters as if I am going through what is happening to them. Let's say that everything is going along smoothly in the beginning of the story and then something unexpected or traumatic happens, how does that impact one or more characters and how do they react? But I do sometimes write endings or future parts of a story if an idea comes to me.  My filing system on my computer is well-labeled with stories, story ideas, and articles.

Before we learn about your latest work, can you tell us the last two exciting places you visited? Why did you pick these destinations?

Ah, exciting places! Yes, I would love to tell you about those. My husband and I are scuba divers so we try to go on a dive once a year. Last year we dove in the Bahamas from the island of Exuma. This dive was especially beautiful and serene. 

My second exciting destination was in Miami. I was there for a magazine meeting; I had never been to Miami. Everything was fast-paced but there was a feeling of being laid-back too. So different from my home in NYC!

Now, let’s get to your novella. It’s not your first book, so please let our readers know about your others. 

My very first book, published by GPP Life Press, a self-help book for women called  And Then I'll Be Happy! It was launched in December 2009 and its success was a nice Christmas present. My second book is No Woman Diets Alone-There's Always a Man Behind Her Eating a Doughnut. There were twenty-six essays on relationship humor and it did very well. I've also written short horror stories that have appeared in the print anthology books, The Horror Zine.

Welcome to Hell is part black humor, part satire, part morality play. What gave you the idea to put a skeptic in hell and have him deny his new reality? 

      Teddy likes to deal in reality and his idea of Hell was the fire and brimstone version. Arriving in a place that looks like a Caribbean resort and with a host who looks nothing like his idea of the Devil, makes him deny the truth of what they say is really Hell. Plus, I think there are times when, even though we know something is true, our fear makes us deny it. That's Teddy's dilemma.

How in the world did you get from writing about women’s issues for The Huffington Post to writing about a man in hell? Is there a secret message for men here?

Well, I love writing about women's issues but those issues are real, current, and what women experience. For those I deal with facts.

The fiction I love to write, gives me more leeway and creative freedom. There really wasn't a message for men there. I related to Teddy and writing about a man in this type of situation just seemed more comfortable for me. The author Anne Rice  often writes in the voice of her male characters and it seems natural and works well.

What are the last three books you read and why did you choose them? 

      I love reading and don't get to read as much as I would like. I read Inferno by Dan  
      Brown, because I enjoy his character Robert Langdon and because it references
      Dante's Divine Comedy, which I have always loved. I also read Sara Paretsky's V.I.
      Warshowski novel, Breakdown. Two weeks ago I finished reading your debut
      novel Mad Max: Unintended Consequences which was thoroughly enjoyable and
      currently I am reading The Associate by John Grisham, an author whose work I've
      been reading since his first novel, A Time to Kill.

What haven’t I covered that you’d like to add?

Relating to other people is a plus for me as a writer. People, even complete strangers, talk to me and tell me things about their lives.  I can take something they tell me that may seem simplistic to them and embellish it to make it an interesting and readable story. I did that with an incident that happened to a couple on their way to my friend’s wedding. I turned what I was told into a horror story which is in the just released anthology book, The HorrorZine.   The couple was pleasantly surprised and the story received rave reviews.

Thanks, Kristen, for sharing your time and insights with us. And for the shout-out for Mad Max Unintended Consequences. I don't know about the rest of you out there in Social Media Land, but I can't wait to read Catherine Harlow, Private Investigator. Stay tuned to this blog for a future review of No Woman Diets Alone.

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Book Review: Welcome to Hell by CK Houghton

How would you feel if you woke up in what seems like the fanciest Caribbean resort but had no memory of how you got there? Would you think your buddies were playing the greatest trick in the world on you? Would you maybe get a tiny clue when the temperature continues to rise to uncomfortable levels?

In CK Houghton's wicked new novella, Welcome to Hell, Teddy Jameson wakes up disoriented. He's not where he was before he went to sleep. He asks, "Where the hell am I?" He doesn't pick up on the answer: "Oh ho, funny, very funny, indeed, Mr. Jameson." Thus begins Teddy's conflict between disbelief in what he knows is right and grudging acceptance of the fact his circumstances are vastly altered. Even though the Devil himself welcomes him, Teddy can't accept the charming man who looks more like Brad Pitt than our childhood image of horns, cloven hooves and flamesis the real Devil. Has to be a trick played on him by his best friends. He was just making love with his girlfriend.

Houghton leads Teddy through a series of events that repeat themselves over and over. A drowning followed by rescue followed by drowning. Still Teddy doesn't want to admit what he's seeing. The resolution of Teddy's disbelief comes after many scenes, threats and promises of eternal damnation.

Take a healthy pouring of Jonathan Swift's satire. Stir in black humor. Add a slug of morality play when the Devil explains what is in store for Teddy's eternal damnation. Stir well. Sip. Repeat.

Houghton hits two of my favorite writing elements, satire and black humor. If you are a bit bent, as I am certainly bent, this novella is for you. Sit back and enjoy. You'll find it's worth the ride.

Follow CK Houghton as Kristen Houghton on and She's the author of the wildly funny novel, No Woman Diets Alone--There's Always a Man Behind Her Eating a Doughnut.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Book Review: Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford

Jamie Ford's debut novel of hope is set against a dark backdrop of racial tensions in World War II Seattle. It's well written. It's romantic. And it's derivative. David Guterson's Snow Falling on Cedars precedes this book by four years, where nearly the same story is told. In Guterson's book, a non-Japanese falls in love with a Japanese-American girl just before Japanese Americans are relocated to internment camps inland. In Ford's, a Chinese boy falls in love with a Japanese-American girl just before she and her family are sent to an internment camp in Idaho. That doesn't make Ford's book a copy. It isn't. It's a strong, literary treatment of love in a time of crisis.
In Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet, Ford introduces us to Henry, a twelve-year-old Chinese boy living with his traditional parents in Seattle's Chinatown. His parents send him to a white prep junior high where he meets Keiko, another twelve year old. Keiko's family is about as different as it can be from Henry's. Her parents are proud Americans first, Japanese second. They are progressive where Henry's family of suffocatingly traditional. Henry is forbidden to speak Cantonese at home. His father insists he use "his American" even though neither parent understands much English. Keiko's family is open, fun-loving. Keiko doesn't even know how to speak Japanese, even though she lives in Nihonmachi.

With internment comes separation of the children. Keiko promises to return; Henry promises to wait. They write each other until the time between letters becomes too long. Eventually, the letters stop. 

The book switches between the mid 1940s and 1986. Secondary characters are well drawn, the plot is solid, and the longing both children feel for each other is believable.

Deliberately derivative or not, both Snow Falling on Cedars and Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet should be required reading for the glimpse they give into a world now nearly forgotten.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Book Review: The Left Lane by Keith T. Hodge

If this book were a movie, it would be rated R at the least, more probably X. It's raw. The language carries the rhythm of the streets, full of swearing, slang and a liberal use of a variation of the "n" word. It has gratuitous sex. It's a window into the drug culture of Martinsville, VA. And it's a window into custom cars and street racing.

So, why did I pick it up, since it's not like anything I normally read? Because I met Keith's momma and aunt at a book festival. They told me his story: convict, owner of a custom car company, writer. According to his aunt, he wrote the book in notebooks which his family then entered into Word for publication.

What I liked about the book was its sense of authenticity. The language and casual sex ring true. The street racing is fascinating, while the details of building custom cars would appeal more to a audience into such activities. The interactions between the main character Tyrone and his girlfriend Telina develop in the course of the story. The hood with its drug dealing and hustle are never far from the action, with some characters arrested, others killed.

This is not ripped from the headlines. Rather, it reads like it's what happens behind the headlines. The Left Lane by Keith T. Hodge delivers action in a new and authentic voice. Warning: this book is not for the casual reader because if its content, but if you persevere and finish the book, you'll have experienced a new writer with a natural talent learning his craft.

Friday, May 3, 2013

Welcome Sharon Struth, Author of The Hourglass

It's not often that I get to welcome a fan of this blog to participate in an interview. Sharon and I share an agent, a passion for writing and a love of travel. Our paths have run parallel for years, only to intertwine now through our agent Dawn Dowdle's Facebook group. We've lived near each other, she in Poughkeepsie, NY, me in Westchester County. We love travel, she to Tuscany and Germany, me to Japan and Thailand. We have books in our blood. And somewhere in mid-life we did an evaluation and decided to become writers.

Please help me welcome Sharon Struth who is celebrating the e-book release of her novel, THE HOURGLASS.

 Can you tell us a little about how you became a writer?
When I hit forty, I asked myself a tough question; do I want to do accounting for the rest of my life…because time is ticking by fast! It took me another eight years of soul searching, but one adult writing class later and I had my answer. A year later, I got published in a national anthology. Then another. Then, one day, I said “I’m going to write a novel.” Nearly every single day since that time, I’ve worked extremely hard at learning this craft. Is it an obsession? YES!

      Tell us about writing THE HOURGLASS, your first published novel.
The Hourglass characters came to me while in the middle of writing my first book -- which I finished and tucked in a drawer. Not worth the time to edit. But this story demanded my attention and time so I gave it a thousand percent.

 The main characters are two adults in the middle of their lives. They’ve never met, but they both face the same demon: learning to forgive themselves. In Brenda’s case, she’s a relationship psychologist with a best-selling self-help book. Her husband commits suicide the year before my story begins. The shame she carries over being unable to repair the damage under her own roof is understandable. CJ’s one single mistake tortures him, even after ten years. He lives a life of subtle punishments, punishments that deny him any true happiness. So, in short, it’s a story about learning how to forgive…others and ourselves.

Will you share the blurb for THE HOURGLASS with us?

I'd be glad to. 
Can forgiveness survive lies and unspoken truths?
Until Brenda McAllister’s husband committed suicide, she appeared to have the ideal life: a thriving psychology practice, success as a self-help author, and a model family. But her guilt over her affair with Jack’s best friend prevents her from moving on. Did Jack learn of her infidelity? Was she the cause of his death? 

The release of Brenda’s second book forces her into an unexpected assignment with arrogant celebrity author CJ Morrison, whose irritating and edgy exterior hides the torment of his own mistakes. But as she grows closer to CJ, Brenda learns she wasn’t the only one with secrets—Jack had secrets of his own, unsavory ones that may have led to his death. While CJ helps Brenda uncover the truth about her husband, she finds the path to forgiveness isn’t always on the map.

Excerpt from Chapter One:

An unexpected gravitational pull swelled Brenda’s anger. Her cute quip ran into hiding. She no longer cared about winning this man’s favor. His rudeness left her feeling as if she’d been doused with hot coffee this time. Brenda clenched her fists. A year of internal browbeating over Jack’s suicide had left her easily irritated.
Brenda gripped the frail edges of her self-control. “I once again offer my apologies for the accident, by definition an unplanned event with lack of intent.” He looked down his sturdy, Grecian nose at her, so she stood and put her hands on her hips. “Shouldn’t you, as a writer, know that?”
Every line on his face tensed. “I could do without your sarcasm.” He leaned closer. “Thanks to you, I missed my meeting. Maybe tomorrow morning you could get room service.”
The brunette unleashed a tight smirk. CJ motioned for them to move on.
Brenda fumbled for a good retort. As he stepped away, the last word went with him. The same way Jack had the last word in their life together. A silent explosion went off inside Brenda’s head and propelled her anger forward.
“Mr. Morrison?” She raised her voice to be heard above the crowd.
He looked over his shoulder and arched a questioning eyebrow.
Brenda crossed her arms and fixed a phony smile as she nodded toward his companion. “It’s so nice of you to bring your daughter to the conference.

To watch a book trailer, please visit

The book is available from: AmazonBarnes & NobleAll Romance Ebooks, and Kobo. 
Thanks, Sharon, for sitting down with me. If you have questions for Sharon, please comment here. She'll be monitoring the blog post all day, as will I.