Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Murder on Bamboo Lane on Tour (+Giveaway)



It’s my pleasure to welcome author Naomi Hirahara to Thoughts in Progress today to talk about her latest release, MURDER ON BAMBOO LANE, the first installment in her new Officer Ellie Rush Mystery series.

Naomi joins us to tell where Ellie Rush came from and I’ll share my thoughts on this fun new series. In addition, Naomi is giving away a print copy of MURDER ON BAMBOO LANE. Please see the end of the post for the giveaway details.

Here’s a brief synopsis of MURDER ON BAMBOO LANE:

Trouble awaits rookie LAPD Officer Ellie Rush as she patrols the mean streets of Los Angeles on her bicycle…
      Bike cop Ellie Rush dreams of becoming a homicide detective, but it’s still a shock when the first dead body she encounters on the job is that of a former college classmate.
      At the behest of her Aunt Cheryl, the highest-ranking Asian-American officer in the LAPD (a source of pride for Ellie’s grandmother, but annoyance to her mom), Ellie becomes tangled in the investigation of the coed’s murder—with equal parts help and hindrance from her nosy best friend, her over-involved ex-boyfriend, a smoldering detective, and seemingly everyone else in her extended family…only to uncover secrets that a killer may go to any lengths to ensure stay hidden.  


Please join me in welcoming Naomi to talk about ‘Finding Ellie Rush.’

For the past five mystery novels, I’ve been in the head of a man significantly older than me (although as the years pass, that gap is closing in!). His name is Mas Arai, a gardener in Southern California, Hiroshima survivor, and, of course, a reluctant detective. Mas was modeled after my father and men like him – working class and seemingly ordinary on the outside, but with intricate secrets and strength within.

In April of this year, I’m embarking on a very different mystery protagonist, Ellie Rush. She’s, well, first female and considerably younger, 23 years of age. And the biggest challenge for me – she’s a bicycle cop with the LAPD assigned to downtown Los Angeles’s central core.

Don’t ask me the last time I’ve ridden a bicycle, but take my word for it, I can. And in terms of shooting a gun, I have. In 2011, the same year my beloved father was battling terminal stomach cancer, I participated in a Southern California-based ATF Citizens Academy once a week for two months. There we learned about the hidden perils of cigarette smuggling (usually this crime is linked to more dangerous international gang syndicates), the adventures of going undercover, and how to follow an arson trail. 

9780425264959_medium_Murder_on_Bamboo_LaneProviding a brief break from sharing caregiving duties with my mother, these sessions let me escape into the shoes of someone completely different from me. We even donned earpieces and stuffed wireless radios in our jackets to do surveillance at a local mall, wore bulletproof jackets and aimed pellet guns inside an abandoned office which, for our pretend purposes, was supposed to be harboring suspects, and finally went to an outdoor gun range, where we shot firearms of various sizes.

The biggest eye-opener for me is how essential it is for law enforcement officers to work together as a team. But what about the lone rogue detective that we see so much on TV, the movies, and novels? In crashing a drug pad, often the Number Two ATF man or woman has to pull the collar of the person in front. “Hey, not so fast!”

As a lover of basketball, I could totally relate to team coordination. Everyone has a certain role and purpose. I had always viewed law enforcement as powered by adrenalin and emotion, but for it to work properly, quite the opposite is true.

During that same year, I also agreed to step in as an instructor of a UCLA undergraduate writing workshop. As I gazed at the beautiful, fresh faces of these 15 young people, I was transported to my college days, when despite a sluggish economy, we also remained optimistic about our futures.

Somehow these two experiences – the ATF Citizens Academy and the UCLA writing class – intertwined in my brain. The following year, my father passed away in a hospital bed in the room where he had watched his favorite samurai and Japanese soap opera programs on TV for decades. As I struggled with this great loss, I grappled with focusing on something new and young. Slowly this young woman, Ellie Rush, emerged – vibrant and enthusiastic, yet still wondering how she would make her mark on this world.

While the tone of the Office Ellie Rush mysteries are much lighter and breezier than my Mas Arai mysteries, there are still some common elements. I still want to take my readers on a tour of lesser known areas in my “homeland” of Los Angeles. And family and friends are important to both – although cranky Mas will not admit it publicly.

Ellie has her first mystery adventure in Chinatown, so the first book is titled MURDER ON BAMBOO LANE. Hope you might want to take a ride with her, and it won’t matter when you were last on a bicycle.

Naomi, thanks so much for sharing this look at how Ellie came to be. Your father sounds like he was a great influence in not only your life, but your writing.

Now let me share a bit of background on Naomi.

Naomi is the Edgar Award-winning author of the Mas Arai mysteries. The first book in her Officer Ellie Rush Mysteries has been released by Berkley Prime Crime and is available in both mass market and eBook format.

For more information on Naomi and her writing, visit her website and connect with her on Facebook and Twitter.

Now here are my thoughts …..

MURDER ON BAMBOO LANE by Naomi Hirahara

Being drawn into an unfamiliar setting, meeting new characters, and taking a fascinating journey are all part of the fun reading the first installment in a new series.

Author Naomi Hirahara doesn’t disappoint in her new cozy murder mystery, MURDER ON BAMBOO LANE, the first book in her Office Ellie Rush Mystery series. Hirahara introduces readers to a fun and determined young protagonist, Ellie Rush, an LAPD bike cop.

Ellie Rush may be a bike cop but when her college friend Jenny is found dead, she’s determined to help find her killer. Working with the handsome lead detective Cortez Williams, Ellie soon discovers there may be more to Jenny’s murder than first thought. The more they investigate, the more complex the case becomes taking readers on a roller coast ride of possible suspects and motives.

The author has created a well-blended cast of characters that readers will find likable, realistic and compelling. Their diverse backgrounds adds depth and richness to the story.

Readers are given a glimpse into Chinatown and various parts of L.A. through the vivid descriptions by Hirahara. Her eye for details and intricate accounts places the reader among the characters.

MURDER ON BAMBOO LANE moves at a good pace holding the reader’s attention. This is a riveting start to what promises to be an alluring new series.

Murder on Bamboo Lane by Naomi Hirahara, An Officer Ellie Rush Mystery Book #1, Berkley Prime Crime, @2014, ISBN: 978-0425264959, Paperback, 304 Pages 

FTC Full Disclosure - This book was sent to me by the publisher as part of the author’s virtual book tour in hopes I would review it. However, receiving the complimentary copy did not influence my review.

GIVEAWAY DETAILS:

This giveaway is for one print copy of MURDER ON BAMBOO LANE and is open to residents of the U.S. only. To enter the contest simply click on the Rafflecopter widget below and follow the instructions. Be sure to include your email address in your comments, if it’s not included in your profile. The widget may take a few second to load, please be patient.

Thanks so much for stopping by today to visit with Naomi. When was the last time you rode a bicycle? Have you ever been to Chinatown?
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Tuesday, April 15, 2014

S.B. Redstone’s A Sinister Obsession (+Giveaway)



Sinister Obsession Banner photo A-Sinister-Obsession-Banner.jpg
It’s a pleasure to be participating in author S.B. Redstone’s Juniper Grove Book Solutions Virtual Book Tour for his recent release, A SINISTER OBSESSION.

S.B. joins us today to tell a bit about his book and share an excerpt. In addition, he is giving away a $25 electronic Amazon Gift Card as part of the tour. Please see the end of the post for details. Now, here’s more about S.B.’s book.


Sinister Obsession cover photo A-Sinister-Obsession.png Title: A Sinister Obsession
Author: S. B. Redstone
Published: August 2013
Publisher: Black Opal Books
Word Count: approx. 94,000
Genre: Mystery Thriller
Content Warning: Violence and Sexual Content
Recommended Age: 21+

Here’s a brief synopsis: 

      A psychopathic killer on a quest leaves behind a string of brutal murders, and to find the Who, the police must first discover the Why…
        Detective Aubrey McKenzie has been assigned to investigate the murders. A lovely, fabulously wealthy, dark-haired Scot, whose iron will was forged in the inferno of human tragedy, Aubrey is stymied by the lack of solid clues. Now she must rely on her paranormal ability to apprehend the killer—an ability that has been invaluable in her police work but has made a disaster of her social life.
        Fate teams Aubrey with Detective Joshua Diamond, a handsome, talented, and compassionate man who is more than happy eating a greasy bacon-cheeseburger and wearing clothes that should have been thrown out with the trash. In a race against time, Aubrey and Joshua must overcome their vast differences—and their attraction for each other—and discover the identity of this elusive killer, and the quest this fiend is on, before more lives are destroyed.

A SINISTER OBSESSION can be found at the following sites:
Amazon | Barnes & Noble | GoodReads

Excerpt from A SINISTER OBSESSION ……

      When Aubrey arrived home, she glanced at her answering machine. There was one message. Since she didn’t have friends, she knew who it was. She pressed the button and heard that cold, authoritative voice. “Aubrey. This is your mother. I am reminding you of Randal’s birthday party tomorrow night. He would be quite disappointed if you did not make an appearance. The time—”
      Aubrey quickly pushed the delete button. She hated being reminded of times and dates by her mother, as if she was a forgetful child. It pissed her off.
      After taking a hot shower, she slipped into green satin pajamas. Sitting in her entertainment room, watching the late evening news, she sipped 1981 Armagnac Cames Brandy and ate crackers with brie.
      Nearing three in the morning, Aubrey turned off the television, and went into bed. In the darkness, she obsessed about the murder case, feeling a rising anger toward this heinous criminal. Her last conscious thought before falling asleep brought a smile to her face. She knew the perp had failed to take one essential factor into consideration before deciding to perpetrate the crime. A factor that he didn’t predict, and in fact, couldn’t have predicted. And that factor would eventually lead her to discover his identity and get a conviction. He didn’t know I’d be assigned to the case!

About the Author:


I write under the name S. B. Redstone. I began my career, after graduating from Hunter College, as a caseworker for the New York City Department of Social Services, Protective Services, investigating the horrors of the abuse and neglect of children. After attaining master’s degrees in Social Work and School Psychology, and then completing a post-graduate education in Psychoanalytic Therapy, I became a School Psychologist in the New York City Department of Education and a Licensed Clinical Social Worker in a private therapy practice on Long Island, treating adults, adolescents, children, and couples. Always striving to improve my understanding of human nature, I researched and then wrote a personal improvement book, Taming Your Inner & Outer Bullies: Confronting Life’s Stressors And Winning, which offers remarkable insights into behavior, societal institutions, and relationships. I have written articles on the web concerning human nature, relationships and the abuses of societal institutions, given lectures, and appeared on radio shows.

Always having a vivid imagination and a desire to write fiction, I developed my writing skills by becoming a successful writer of short stories, all of which have been published on the web and in print. As an expert in the field of human psychology, I have been able to develop realistic characters from the dark side of human nature where my villains don’t aspire for happiness through personal achievement, but rather from their demented narcissistic schemes. 

Many of my characters have been taken from my clinical experiences and interesting people I know. I love romance in my stories. It is an essential element in my mystery thriller A SINISTER OBSESSION and horror novel. Now that I am obsessed with writing “senior” romances, it has become further developed and heartfelt. I have two seeking publication at this time. I am a member of the International Thriller Writers Organization and Romance Writers of America.

For more on S.B. and his writing, connect with him on the following sites:
Amazon Author Page | Facebook | Twitter | GoodReads | Website


Giveaway Details:
 
This is a tour-wide giveaway and is open internationally. Prizes include the following:
  • A $25 electronic Amazon Gift Card
      
    Thanks so much for stopping by today. What do you enjoy most about mystery thrillers?
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Monday, April 14, 2014

Bloom and Doom on Tour (+Giveaway)


I’m delighted today to welcome author Beverly Allen to Thoughts in Progress as she tours blogdom with her recent release, BLOOM AND DOOM, the debut book from her new Bridal Bouquet Shop Mystery series.

Beverly will tell us what her wish is for readers and I’ll share my thoughts on this fun new series. In addition, thanks to Beverly and the delightful Danielle at Penguin Group, I have a print copy of BLOOM AND DOOM to giveaway. Please see the end of the post for the giveaway details.

First, here’s a brief synopsis of BLOOM AND DOOM:

As the co-owner of The Rose in Bloom, Audrey Bloom creates magnificent flower arrangements for brides to be. Though helping to plan a wedding can be stressful, it’s nothing compared to the groom turning up dead.
        A designer of eye-catching bridal bouquets—many of them based on the Victorian meanings behind each flower—Audrey Bloom is used to celebrations that end with happily ever after. In fact, every couple she’s worked with is still together, living in wedded bliss. But her perfect record is about to be broken.
        Her childhood friend Jenny Whitney has reeled in the most eligible bachelor in Ramble, Virginia, and she’s hired Audrey to design the bouquet. But before Jenny can walk down the aisle clutching her blend of anemone, scabious, and pussy willow (a floral disaster in Audrey’s mind), the groom is found dead—sprinkled with bits of a bouquet. This is bad for business—not to mention for Jenny, who has become the prime suspect. So Audrey decides to do a little digging herself, hoping she won’t be the next Ramble resident pushing up daisies…


Please join me in welcoming Beverly.

My wish for BLOOM AND DOOM is that readers have at least half the fun I had writing it. 

Audrey Bloom is a twenty-nine-year-old wedding florist, and she’s at that stage in her life where her idealism is being challenged by some tough realities. In many ways she’s still mourning her beloved Grandma Mae. The Rose in Bloom, the shop she runs with her cousin Liv, continues to struggle. Audrey also recently broke up with a long-time boyfriend--on the very day she had expected him to propose. The smart side of her (and she’s very smart) has decided she’s not ready for another relationship. The romantic side of her (the part of her that loves old movies and swoons over the town’s new cupcake baker) isn’t so sure, especially when she spends her days making things perfect for other people’s weddings

Audrey loves the old Victorian language of flowers and enjoys helping a bride choose flowers that match her personality or characterize her relationship with her 9780425264973_medium_Bloom_and_Doomfuture spouse. In fact, Audrey just learned that no bride who has carried one of her bouquets on their trip to the altar has ever split up. But when an old friend shows up and asks for a bouquet of anemone, which means forsaken, it can’t be a good omen. 

Researching all the old meanings and how they changed over time was eye-opening. Many modern florists use meanings that are all positive. (Probably because they’re trying to sell flowers!) But the older sources, while they don’t often agree on the meanings, will include many negative connotations as well. For example, to the Victorians an orange lily could mean I hate you. But now some say it means I burn for you. I may never look at a bouquet the same way again.

Not that I’ve ever worked as a florist… In BLOOM AND DOOM we also meet the local police chief, Kane Bixby, and he’s less than overjoyed at working crime scenes that contain flowers because he’s highly allergic. (Want to guess where I got that idea? Hmm?) Still, I toughed it out, even taking a course in floral design so I could get more hands-on experience. (Thank you, Benadryl!) I’m also fortunate to have a friend who retired from running her own flower shop, so she looks over all my designs and the general workings of the flower shop. She recently told me she’d gladly come out of retirement if she could find a job with Audrey and Liv!

And when the protagonist is a wedding florist, the series is bound to contain a wedding or two. Elaborate theme weddings can be a lot of fun to plan, especially when you don’t actually have to do the work or pay for the venue--and maybe even more fun if things don’t work out quite the way they were planned to! 

All that wedding planning may pay off in real life, however, as my daughter recently announced her engagement. She wants calla lilies--magnificent beauty. Oddly enough, she wasn’t interested in using any of the weddings or bouquets from the series. I’m not sure why. Maybe it’s because people keep dying?

Of course, BLOOM AND DOOM is a cozy mystery, so in the middle of all that wedding planning, we have a body, breaking the peace of the cozy small-town of Ramble, Virginia. While Ramble is fictional, I had a small town picked out as a model. But while I was writing the first draft, my planned research trip kept getting delayed. It was only a couple of weeks before the manuscript was due that I was in the area and finally got to spend the day exploring my model town. I had a chance to visit the local visitors’ center, police station, and even hang around the local floral shop. While it’s not identical, the similarities were uncanny. I’m not sure I had to change anything. And I had the oddest case of déjà vus when I saw the idyllic Main Street, the historic churches, and the white gazebo in the town square!

I hope readers enjoy getting to know Audrey Bloom and the other residents as much as I have.

Beverly, thanks so much for stopping by and giving us this behind-the-scene look at BLOOM AND DOOM. I had never thought about flowers having negative and positive meanings, interesting.

Let me give you a bit of background on Beverly.

Barbara Early (A.K.A. Beverly Allen) grew up buried in the snowy suburbs of Buffalo, NY, where she developed a love for all things sedentary: reading, writing, classic movies, and Facebook Scrabble. She holds a degree in Electrical Engineering, but her penchant for the creative caused her to run away screaming from the pocket-protector set. 

Beverly taught secondary English and science for several years before home schooling her daughter successfully through high school. She cooks up cozy mysteries with a healthy dose of comedy and sometimes a splash of romance.
When not reading or writing, she enjoys cooking, crafts, home-improvement projects, and spending time with her husband and daughter.

For more on Beverly and her writing, visit her website and connect with her on Facebook and Twitter.

Now for my thoughts on 

BLOOM AND DOOM by Beverly Allen

With spring comes visions of flowers and the perfect time for BLOOM AND DOOM, the debut installment in author Beverly Allen’s new Bridal Bouquet Shop Mystery series.

Audrey Blooms and her cousin, Olivia ‘Liv’ Rose, co-own and operate The Rose in Bloom floral shop. Audrey makes beautiful floral arrangements for brides based on the flowers’ meanings. While her own love life doesn’t have a good track record, the couples Audrey has made special bouquets for are all living the ‘happily-ever-after’ life.

Just as her childhood friend, Jenny Whitney, is about to be married, her fiancé (the most eligible bachelor in town) is found dead covered in the bride-to-be’s bouquet. With Jenny as the prime suspect, Audrey and the floral shop gang set out to find the real killer.

The author has created likable and well-balanced characters. She has blended mystery, murder, humor and a vast knowledge of flowers into a fast pace adventure that will capture your attention. The story offers twists and turns to keep you guessing until the end.

The setting is pleasant and realistic. Readers don’t have to love flowers to enjoy this tantalizing mystery. However, don’t be surprised if you come away with a better appreciation of flowers thanks to Audrey (and the author). 

BLOOM AND DOOM is a terrific beginning to an amazing new series that promises more excitement and intrigue to come.

Bloom and Doom by Beverly Allen, A Bridal Bouquet Shop Mystery Book #1, Berkley, @2014, ISBN: 978-0425264973, Paperback, 304 Pages 

FTC Full Disclosure - This book was sent to me by the publisher in hopes I would review it. However, receiving the complimentary copy did not influence my review.

GIVEAWAY DETAILS:

This giveaway is for one print copy of BLOOM AND DOOM. The giveaway is open to residents of the U.S. only.

To enter the giveaway click on the Rafflecopter widget below and following the instructions. Be sure to include your email address in the comments, if it isn’t included in your profile. The widget may take a few seconds to load, please be patience.

Thanks so much for stopping by today and visiting with Beverly. What is your favorite flower and does it have its own special meaning to you?
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Sunday, April 13, 2014

Declan’s Cross and Death of a Policeman


I have two delightful audio books to share with you today.

DECLAN’S CROSS by Carla Neggers

Declan's Cross coverIf you’re looking for an escape from the recent crazy weather, author Carla Neggers’ DECLAN’S CROSS will transport you to beautiful Ireland.

Narrator Carol Monda does a terrific job bringing the characters to life. She gives each character their own unique voice with her mannerisms.

FBI Agents Colin Donovan and Emma Sharpe are enjoying some down time in Ireland. Meanwhile, marine biologist Julianne Maroney has come to Declan’s Cross to heal her broken heart after a split with Colin’s brother, Andy. She didn’t know Colin and Emma were in the Irish seaside village. She was to stay with a friend, Lindsey, but it seemed upon arriving that Lindsey was missing.

Things change drastically for the trio when Lindsey is found dead. At first it looks like an accident, but then it appears Lindsey was pushed from a cliff to her death.
A new layer is added when Lindsey’s father arrives in the village. He could possibly have a connection to a decade old art theft that Emma’s grandfather, a renowned art detective, investigated. The stolen art nor the thief have never been found.

What follows is an intriguing story with a number of subplots all combining for a suspenseful tale. The story moves at a steady pace with twists and turns.
The characters are realistic and well-developed. They have flaws and concerns readers can relate to. The interaction among family members adds depth to the characters.

The author’s rich descriptions and eye for detail makes the reader/listener feel transported to Ireland. Her vivid accounts of the area bring it to life.

DECLAN’S CROSS is the third installment in the Sharpe and Donovan series, but can be read/listened to on its own. There are references to past issues, but new readers/listeners won’t be left in the dark.

This is a tantalizing tale of murder, art thefts, and mayhem with moments of subtle romance woven throughout. Set in a fascinating Celtic seaside village, this suspenseful tale will hold you spellbound until the end.

Declan’s Cross by Carla Neggers, A Sharpe and Donovan Novel Book #3, Performed by Carol Monda, Recorded Books, @2013 ISBN: 978-1464018220, Unabridged, 9 Discs, Running Time: 9 Hours

FTC Full Disclosure - This audio book was sent to me by the publisher in hopes I would review it. However, receiving the complimentary copy did not influence my review.

DEATH OF A POLICEMAN by M.C. Beaton

Death of a Policeman coverSergeant Hamish Macbeth is unlike most policemen you will encounter in murder mysteries. Hamish is more of a laid-back, low-tech officer, but still very dedicated to protecting the residents of Lachdubh in the Scottish Highlands.

The narration by Graeme Malcolm brings the story to life. Malcolm’s cadence and mannerisms adds depth to the story and gives individual voices to the characters.

With the threat of local police stations being closed, Detective Chief Inspector Blair sees an opportunity to possibly get rid of Hamish. He sends Cyril Sessions, a young policeman, to spy on Hamish and document his laziness.

Hamish discovers Sessions is spying on him and begins a plan to spoil Blair’s plot. However, Sessions is murdered and it’s up to Hamish to prove his own innocence, find the real killer and expose Blair’s dirty dealings.

As the investigation gets underway, a woman is found dead in Hamish’s garden. He realizes the body is a warning that he’s digging into something much bigger than he first expected.

The plot is filled with twists and turns. It also includes a number of zany characters such as the spinster librarian, Hetty, who was briefly involved with Sessions and has serious problems of her own. In addition, Hamish is forced to take actions to save his police station that he doesn’t like but doesn’t have a choice.

The author draws you in with the vivid details and descriptions of the area and its residents. The characters are likable and colorful. The story flows at a steady pace and holds your attention.

DEATH OF A POLICEMAN is the 29th installment in the Hamish Macbeth series. While this book can be read/listened to on its own, there are references new readers/listeners won’t completely understand. However, those references don’t impede the reading/listening of this book.

This is a murder mystery that is rich in characters and suspense.

Death of A Policeman by M.C. Beaton, A Hamish Macbeth Novel Book #29, Performed by Graeme Malcolm, Hachette Audio, @2014, ISBN: 978-1478982180, Unabridged, Digital Download

FTC Full Disclosure - This audio book was sent to me by the publisher in hopes I would review it. However, receiving the complimentary copy did not influence my review.

Thanks so much for visiting today. Hope you’re having a relaxing Sunday. Have you read or listened to either of these series.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Iesodo: Love and Faith


Teaching youngsters about right and wrong, as well as faith and understanding can be a daunting task for parents and guardians. Using animation sometimes, however, draws the youngsters in quickly and they learn while they’re being entertained.

Zaya Toonz and Rollman Entertainment have created a charming new animated series to help teach youngsters “The Way of Jesus” such as conquering fear, sharing, loving one another, and being kind. I want to share my thoughts on two DVDs from this series.

First, I want to give you a little background on those involved in this endeavor. They include: Eric. S. Rollman, who was the president of production for Marvel; Colin Brady, whose credits include Toy Story, Toy Story 2, and A Bug’s Life; Brian E. Ray, whose credits consist of Muppet Babies and My Little Pony Tales; and the voice of Erin Bethea (Fireproof and Amazing Love) as Maggie. Writer/producer Rob Loos is an Emmy Nominee and writer/producer for McGee and Me! Christmas Lam, Kids 10 Commandments, and Touched by an Angel.

Here are my thoughts on two of the highly acclaimed Telly and Accolade Award winning series DVDs. The faith-based DVDs have also been given the Family Approved Seal by the Dove Foundation.


Love.CoverA cast of animated birds live in a Cypress tree on the shores of Galilee. The wise dove that guides them is called Iesodo (pronounced Yay-Sa-Doe), which means ‘the way of Jesus.’

The DVD features two stories. The first is Birds of a Feather, Fish Together.’ Freddie and Fiona finch are to be married. The wedding celebration is headed for disaster. Jacob and Jack, the Pelican brothers, can’t seem to catch any fish for the celebration because they’re too busy arguing. Iesodo arrives to calm everyone and show that they can feed everyone by working together.

The second segment is ‘Love Your Enemies.’ Zack, the tax collector, isn’t well liked as he plays by his own set of rules. Iesodo demonstrates that showing kindness to those who are mean can make a difference.

The beautifully animated 55-minute DVD also features Bible verses, a sing-a-long, and how the segments translate to the stories of the Bible. The characters are brought to life through the voices of various actors who do a terrific job relating the emotions of the stories. The stories are accented by beautiful music.

IESODO: LOVE is a charming and inspiring DVD for the entire family.

Iesodo: Love; Directed by Brian E. Ray; Zaya Toonz LLC; Actors: Tony Oliver, Erin Bethea, T.W. Gibis, Joey Lotsko, Ron Allen; @2014; 1 Disc DVD; Run Time: 55 Minutes; ASIN: B00GX00CVS

FTC Full Disclosure - I received this DVD from Edify Media Inc. in hopes I would review it. However, receiving the complimentary DVD copy did not influence my review.


Faith.CoverViewers are transported to a Cypress Tree on the shores of Galilee where a group of animated birds live. They are guided by a dove called Iesodo (pronounced Yay-Sa-Doe), which means ‘the way of Jesus.’

There are two segments to this DVD. The first is called ‘Miracles Are Everywhere.’ A special celebration is underway and birds from all over the world have flown to the Cypress tree to meet Iesodo. As the crowd grows in size, food to feed them begins to dwindle. Before panic overtakes the crowd, Iesodo appears and provides food in abundance.

The second segment is called ‘The Wind and the Rain.’ On their way back to the Cypress tree, several of the birds are caught at sea when a storm suddenly pops up. Frightened and stranded on a log in the sea, they learn that with faith, anything is possible.

Viewers, young and old alike, will be captivated by the beautiful animations and lovely music featured in IESODO: FAITH. The actors giving voice to the characters do a wonderful job depicting the highs and lows of the segments. The bonus features are a great addition to the segments and enhance the learning experience.

This is inspirational and uplifting entertainment for the whole family.

Iesodo: Faith; Directed by Colin Brady; Zaya Toonz LLC; Actors: Tony Oliver, Erin Bethea, T.W. Gibis, Joey Lotsko, Ron Allen; @2014; 1 Disc DVD; Run Time: 55 Minutes; ASIN: B00IDDPTOM

FTC Full Disclosure - I received this DVD from Edify Media Inc. in hopes I would review it. However, receiving the complimentary DVD copy did not influence my review.

Capitol Christian Distribution, the market leader in Christian and Gospel music distribution, as well as chart topping Christian films and books, distributes the Iesodo DVD series, which can be purchased at Christian retail stores, Wal-Mart and Amazon.com. 

To have an even better understanding of these lovely DVDs, click here to watch a trailer and see additional information. 

Thanks so much for visiting with me today. I hope you find some time today to relax, enjoy a good book, and spend time with those you love. Do you think children learn by watching animated stories?

Friday, April 11, 2014

On Tour with Susan Witting Albert’s Widow’s Tears (+Giveaway)

 
I am excited today to welcome author Susan Witting Albert to Thoughts in Progress to talk about her recent release, WIDOW’S TEARS, the 21st installment in her China Bayles Mystery series.

As part of the tour, Susan will be talking about writing WIDOW’S TEARS and I’ll share my thoughts on this delightful murder mystery. Thanks to Susan and the lovely Danielle at Penguin, I have a print copy of WIDOW’S TEARS to giveaway in celebration of this tour. Please see the end of the post for the details.

Here’s a brief synopsis of the book:

      Herbalist and ex-lawyer China Bayles is “in a class with lady sleuths V. I. Warshawski and Stephanie Plum” (Publishers Weekly).  In Widow’s Tears, a haunted house may hold the key to solving the murder of one of China’s friends…

      After losing her family and home in the Galveston Hurricane of 1900, Rachel Blackwood rebuilt her house a hundred miles inland and later died there, still wrapped in her grief. 
      In present-day Texas, Claire, the grandniece of Rachel’s caretaker, has inherited the house and wants to turn it into a bed-and-breakfast. But she is concerned that it’s haunted, so she calls in her friend Ruby—who has the gift of extrasensory perception—to check it out. 
      While Ruby is ghost hunting, China Bayles walks into a storm of trouble in nearby Pecan Springs. A half hour before she is to make her nightly deposit, the Pecan Springs bank is robbed and a teller is shot and killed. 
      Before she can discover the identity of the killers, China follows Ruby to the Blackwood house to discuss urgent business. As she is drawn into the mystery of the haunted house, China opens the door on some very real danger…

I discovered Susan’s books long before I ever thought of blogging and have followed China Bayles through some interesting dilemmas always finding them entertaining and informative. Please join me in welcoming Susan as she tells us how China came to be involved in WIDOW’S TEARS.

I love books that tell true stories about real people who survive enormous challenges. That was why, when I read Eric Larson’s book, Isaac’s Storm, about the hurricane that wiped out Galveston TX in 1900, I knew I had to write about it. The hurricane—to this day, the deadliest natural disaster to hit the United States—struck Galveston Island on September 8, 1900. It killed as many as twelve thousand people (nobody really knows how many), wiped out whole families, and changed the destiny of the city of Galveston, which at the time was the most important port city on the Gulf of Mexico. 

The hurricane fascinated me because it was a Texas event, of course—and because Galveston worked so hard to rebuild itself. But the storm is also fascinating because it’s not just historical, it’s timely and topical. Hurricanes happen today, and when they hit big cities (Katrina’s hammering of New Orleans is a terrifying example), they’re hugely destructive.

9780425254646_medium_Widow's_TearsSo I began to collect research materials describing the 1900 storm (the list of documents and books I used is in Widow’s Tears) and think about how I would tell such a story. Whose story was it? Why? What happened? What happened after that? Out of answers to these questions, I fashioned Rachel Blackwood, her family, and her cook-housekeeper Colleen O’Reilly, basing them on the real hurricane survivors and victims I was reading about in my research. I sketched out the Blackwood story, or most of it, from beginning to end.

But I wasn’t writing a standalone historical novel (believe me: I was tempted!). I was supposed to be writing the next book in an ongoing series of contemporary mysteries. So I faced the challenge of incorporating this compelling backstory into the lives of my series characters, China Bayles and Ruby Wilcox, China’s best friend. I fiddled with three or four different scenarios, most of them featuring China, who is usually (but not always) the first-person point-of-view character in these books. But nothing seemed to click.

Then lightning struck. (Well, not really. That’s just how it always seems to me when an idea sparks enough energy to produce a story.) In previous books in the series, we’ve learned that Ruby has a special gift, especially when it comes to solving mysteries. We’ve seen her adventures with the Ouija board in Rosemary Remembered and Bleeding Hearts, and we saw her intuition at work in Indigo Dying. But we’ve never discovered where her gift came from. We don’t know if it was a family inheritance or uniquely hers. And while we’ve learned bits and pieces of Ruby’s history, we’ve never heard the full story. This would be a good opportunity to learn more about her—and to see her learning to come to terms with her gift and show us just how good she is at looking deeply into mysteries that are often completely hidden from everyone else.

So I began crafting a narrative that would link Ruby to Rachel Blackwood and to the Galveston hurricane, both in the present time and the past. What I thought of as the “Ruby story” involves a friend who has inherited an old house with a strange history. And of course, there’s China. I couldn’t very well leave her out. But what kind of role could she play in this already complicated mystery?

And there was still one other challenge. Every book in the China Bayles series (soon to be 23 and counting) has some sort of herbal theme. Sometimes the book is based around a single herb, such as Lavender Lies and A Dilly of a Death. Wormwood is based on the Shakers, a historical sect that grew herbs and crafted herbal medicinal products. Indigo Dying includes many herbs that are used as coloring agents, and Mourning Gloria involves psychoactive herbs. Cat’s Claw is built around herbs that have thorns, spikes, or prickles.

I had already settled on the title herb for the Ruby/Blackwood story: a plant called dayflower or
widow’s tears (Commelina) because as it fades it seems to weep. But I wanted something larger, an idea that would allow me (and China, of course) to bring in a wider variety of plants. That’s when I decided to base the herbal theme of the book on the Victorian “language of flowers,” or Florigraphy, in which every plant has its own meaning. It was fun and satisfying to introduce readers to this somewhat esoteric language and to show how plants were once used to spell a story.

I hope you’ll enjoy Widow’s Tears, and that as you read it, you’ll reflect on the ways in which these different threads (Rachel Blackwood’s story, Ruby’s story, China’s story, the herbal theme) were woven together into the novel. If you have questions or comments, please post them. I’ll try to drop in several times over the next few days to reply.

Susan, thanks so much for visiting us today and sharing this behind-the-scene look at how this story came about. It has always fascinated me how you combined intriguing murder mysteries with the various herbs and their uses. I’ve learned a great deal about herbs from you (and China).

For those who aren’t familiar with Susan, let me share a bit of background on her.

Susan Wittig Albert grew up on a farm in Illinois and earned her Ph.D. at the University of California at Berkeley. A former professor of English and a university administrator and vice president, she is the author of the China Bayles Mysteries, the Darling Dahlias Mysteries, and the Cottage Tales of Beatrix Potter. She and her husband, Bill, coauthor a series of Victorian-Edwardian mysteries under the name Robin Paige. 

The Alberts live near Austin, Texas. For more on Susan and her writing, along with that of her and her husband, visit their website

Now for my thoughts on this book.

WIDOW’S TEARS by Susan Witting Albert

When picking up a China Bayles mystery by author Susan Witting Albert, I expect murder, mystery, mayhem and of course, herbs.

With WIDOW’S TEARS, Albert combines all my favorite elements with fascinating historical data about the deadly hurricane of 1900 that changed the course of Galveston, Texas. In addition, Albert focuses the story not on her protagonist, China Bayles, but on China’s best friend, Ruby Wilcox. China is still very much a part of the story, but just not as prominent.

Ruby’s childhood friend Claire has inherited the Blackwood House and plans to open a B&B. However, the house appears to be haunted and Claire needs Ruby and her special gift to set things right.

The story gives readers a look at the present, along with the past and how the house came to be with its mysteries and grief.

As always herbs are involved and Albert uses the Victorian ‘language of flowers’ to help tell the story. Readers are also given delicious recipes to accompany the story and where to find additional information on the Galveston hurricane.

Albert’s characters are well-developed and likable. She continues to evolve them with each new installment giving readers a better understanding of them and their interaction with one another. Changing the focus of the story to Ruby gives the characters a broader base to expand on in future adventures.

The story flows at a quick pace holding you attention until the very end. WIDOW’S TEARS is a bit of a change for the China Bayles series, but in a good way that opens new possibilities. Another captivating installment in a riveting series.

Widow’s Tears by Susan Witting Albert, China Bayles Mystery Book #21, Berkley, @2014, ISBN: 978-0425254646, Paperback, 304 Pages 

FTC Full Disclosure - This book was sent to me by the publisher in hopes I would review it. However, receiving the complimentary copy did not influence my review.

GIVEAWAY DETAILS:

This giveaway is for one print copy of WIDOW’S TEARS. The giveaway is open to residents of the U.S. only.

To enter the giveaway, simply leave a comment saying you’d like to win the book and be sure to include your email address with your comment.

Thanks so much for stopping by today. Do you find disasters from the past intriguing and long to know more about them? Are you familiar with herbs and/or tried your hand at growing them? What is the most unusual herb you’ve ever grown?

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Steal The North and a Giveaway

 I’m delighted today to welcome author Heather Brittain Bergstrom to Thoughts in Progress to talk about her soon-to-be released debut novel, STEAL THE NORTH.

Thanks to Heather and the wonderful folks at Viking, I have a print copy of STEAL THE NORTH to giveaway. Please see the end of the post for details.

Vocally graceful and fearlessly intimate, STEAL THE NORTH (Viking; on-sale: April 14, 2014; $27.95; ISBN: 9780670786183), is a striking portrait of modern identity, faith, family, and love in all of its forms. The story, which Heather deftly narrates in various voices, centers around Emmy, a California teen who discovers her mother’s past, the family she never knew she had, and an extraordinary love in the land of her birth, eastern Washington state. With atmospheric prose and engaging characters, Heather has delivered a novel that will appeal to literary and commercial fiction readers alike.

There’s a brief synopsis:

      Emmy Nolan is a sheltered and introverted sixteen-year-old living in Sacramento with her mom, Kate, when a phone call comes from an aunt she never knew existed. Fifteen years earlier, Kate had abandoned her only sibling, Beth, fleeing their tiny eastern Washington town and the fundamentalist Baptist church that had condemned her as a whore. Beth, who’s pregnant for what she knows is the last time after countless miscarriages, believes her only hope for delivering the baby is Emmy’s participation in a faith healing ceremony.

      Emmy reluctantly goes. Despite uncovering her mom’s desperate and painful past, she soon finds she has come home—immediately developing a strong bond with her Aunt Beth and feeling tied to the rugged landscape. Then Emmy meets Reuben Tonasket, the Native American boy who lives next door. Though filled with passion, their love story mirrors those of the generation before them, who fear that their own mistakes are doomed to repeat themselves in Emmy and Reuben.

STEAL THE NORTH is an imaginative and deeply felt debut, one whose characters live at a nearly intolerable level of vulnerability. Yet, as fragile as they may seem, Heather has imbued them with a tremendous inner strength, proving that the idea of home is a spiritual one, that getting over the past is hope for the future, and that the bond between family is truly unbreakable.

Please join me in welcoming Heather as she answers some questions about her writing.

Your short fiction was named a distinguished and notable story for The Best American Short Stories in 2010. You’ve also won numerous awards from The Atlantic Monthly, The Chicago Tribune, and Narrative Magazine just to name a few. What inspired you to write a full form novel? What are the different challenges/benefits to writing short stories vs. novels?

Heather:

More than being inspired, I wrote the novel in a sort of desperate state after my story collection, which took me seven years to complete, didn’t land a publisher. In my twenties, as a young mother and student, I wrote poetry. In fact, I was accepted into my MFA program in poetry, not fiction. In my thirties I wrote short fiction. I tried my hand at a novel (an early version of Steal the North) when first making the transition from poetry to prose, but I did not possess the skills or, with growing children, have the time. Never formally trained in fiction writing, I taught myself by reading, reading, reading contemporary stories and studying fiction writing guides.

I began my novel anew right after I turned forty. My skills were honed. My oldest child had been at college long enough that I could turn her bedroom into a “room of one’s own.” Writing a novel is total immersion into another world. For me, there were no breathers between chapters as there had been between my stories. As a reader, I continue to enjoy all three genres, but, as a writer, the almost complete abandonment of self-required to compose a novel is profound and addicting.

STEAL THE NORTH takes the reader up the west coast from Sacramento to Eastern Washington—can you discuss why you chose these particular settings?

Heather:

I was born and raised in eastern Washington. And I have lived near Sacramento, now, for many years. California is definitely a part of my novel, but it is not the main place. Eastern Washington, with its coulees, cowboys and Indians, large rivers and dams, wind and sage, is the backdrop.

I love the west, the mountains, open expanses and ruggedness. I can’t imagine living anywhere else or writing about other landscapes. That being said, California, even Northern California, is very different than Eastern Washington. I would argue that 9780670786183_medium_Steal_the_NorthCalifornia is different than all the other state in the West. For example, I live almost an hour north of Sacramento in a farming town with a Sikh and a Hindu temple. Within forty five minutes of my house, and surrounded mostly by rice fields and orchards, are numerous junior colleges, two state universities and a U.C. Roadside fruit stands line the highways selling locally-grown figs, kiwis, almonds, you name it. In my novel, California is a place of refuge for Kate, my protagonist’s mom. And it is where she chooses to raise Emmy, her daughter and my protagonist. It’s a safe haven, but not the blood and guts of the novel.

In my short stories, characters are eager to leave eastern Washington. Just as I was eager during high school to escape the sagebrush and miles of “nothingness.” And so I did. But as I grew older, I realized how much, like it or not, I had been shaped by the landscape of my childhood. I had left it, but it hadn’t left me. Returning for visits, I began to see beauty where before I saw ugliness. I had to accept the starkness of my homeland, and once I did, the place captivated me. I longed for the coulees, the wind, and even the sage. I especially longed for the rivers. Emmy is my first character ever to yearn for eastern Washington. Hers is the first migration north, rather than south.

Your protagonist’s mother runs away from her hometown and the fundamentalist Baptist Church. Do you have a personal connection to the church?

Heather:

I grew up in two different Baptist churches, the second one being far more fundamentalist. I remember, as a teenager, rafting down the Snake River in a long dress. Girls weren’t allowed to wear pants, let alone swimsuits, even for outdoor activities. Each year on the Fourth of July, families gathered at the church to watch apocalyptic movies. I was educated through the tenth grade in an unaccredited basement academy by deacons’ wives, some of whom, like my mom, hadn’t even finished high school themselves. Students were instructed to circle the church should state or federal agents try to close down our school.

However misguided, the church, in particular the less fundamentalist one, gave my family a needed sense of community. Eastern Washington is an isolated place. The overall population is small. Individuals and individual families in much of the rural west tend to stick to themselves. On top of that, the landscape can seem empty, overwhelming, even brutal. In the church we had a large extended family. I still love some of those church members dearly, although I am not in touch with any of them. My characters, Beth and Matt, are partly a reflection of that love.

Without revealing too much, what does the title STEAL THE NORTH mean?

Heather:

The title evokes the Native American myths in the novel. It also evokes native myths in a larger context. Coyote, Raven, and other Animals—in the time before humans—stole the sun, stole fire from the Sky People, stole each other’s wives, stole food, tails, fancy clothing. Emmy steals the north (her birthright) from her mom, the dad she’s never met, and even her beloved aunt and makes it her own. Reuben and Emmy steal the north for themselves: by taking drives, but also in the way lovers often take possession of places where they share intimacy. And then, of course, the north was stolen from the Indians by whites.

Spirituality is a strong theme in STEAL THE NORTH. How did you start to make comparisons to the Christian church and Native American spirituality and culture?

Heather:

I kept coming across parallels while writing this novel between the Christian church and Native American spirituality and culture. The healing ceremony that brings Emmy to eastern Washington for the summer doesn’t seem as bizarre after Reuben explains that his people still have healing ceremonies at the end of the twentieth century. Reuben admits he is a “sweat lodge junkie.” His confession makes Emmy’s conflictions with purity seem not as ridiculous. I did not set out to equate these two very different religions and cultures, but I kept finding parallels. If nothing else the Native American spirituality in Steal the North tempers the harsher Christianity. In reality, many tribes have melded their native religion and Christianity. This melding drove the early missionaries nuts. I find it beautiful. A grave on the Colville Reservation often has a cross and a feather, maybe also a basketball, a pile of rocks, and a Bible.

What inspired you to write Native American characters?

Heather:

I grew up between the two largest Indian reservations in Washington State: the Colville and the Yakama Reservations. My home county is divided from the Colville Reservation by Grand Coulee Dam. I was born and raised in Moses Lake, Washington, a town named after Chief Moses, whose descendants live on the Colville Reservation. Native Americans are very much part of the area where I grew up. There’s extreme prejudice against them for being “drunks” and “lazy,” for being allowed to fish in places where whites can’t (part of their treaty rights), and for being allowed to help manage some of Washington State’s natural resources. I wasn’t taught as a kid to respect or even recognize the existence of these marginalized people—in fact, the opposite.

Our Christian school took frequent field trips to the enormous dams on the Columbia River. Dams scared the hell out of me, so I’d sneak into the tiny Native American cultural centers adjacent to the visitor centers. The museums fascinated me. I didn’t realize as a young girl that the museums were afterthoughts by the Bureau of Reclamation: a nifty place to display the tattered remains of indigenous cultures whose centuries-old and sacred fishing sites were now drowned forever in backwater. In a way, through the act of writing Steal the North, I stepped back into those tiny museums.

What do you want people to take away from reading STEAL THE NORTH?

Heather:

Various things. A strong sense of place: the physical land and the people of eastern Washington. A belief in the redemptive power of love. A larger understanding of and appreciation for Native American culture and people. A wrenching feeling for the absolute necessity of family. To witness both the destructive and sustaining forces of religion. And the most ambitious: to perhaps inspire young people (through the examples of Emmy and Reuben) to take possession of their own lives. In doing so, who knows, they may also mend some of the broken parts in their parents and then the world.

When you form characters do you ever incorporate aspects from people you know?

Heather:

Absolutely. My characters are a mix of the following: reflections of people I’ve known, my imagination, and careful observations of strangers. Beginning fiction writers are sometimes afraid to look at the people they’ve known through the lens of fiction. They feel they must record the truth to the minutest detail. And, yes, truth is important, but the truth they must adhere to is the truth of art. Just because something really happened to your great aunt or your neighbor does not automatically make it truthful in fiction. My favorite type of characters to write are the ones that seek me out, like Rueben in Steal the North. I did not plan to have him narrate, but he jumped off the steps of his sister’s back porch and said, “Hey, let me tell my story.” His chapters practically wrote themselves. On the other hand, Kate was the hardest character to crack—probably because she hit too close to home. I rewrote and rewrote her chapter. Lesson learned.

What are you working on now?

Heather:

I am working on a second novel. It is similar to Steal the North in that there will be multiple narrators, land is important, and love in central. However the characters in my new novel are definitely misbehaving more than the characters do in Steal the North. I worked as a hired girl at a lakeside mansion in Northern Idaho the summer before my senior year of high school. The novel is partially based on that experience.

Heather, thanks so much for visiting with us today and sharing this look at STEAL THE NORTH. I especially like how you’ve combined the Native American briefs into the story.

Now let me share a bit more background on Heather:

Heather Brittain Bergstrom has won fiction awards from The Atlantic Monthly, The Chicago Tribune, Narrative Magazine and others, and a story was named a distinguished and notable story for The Best American Short Stories in 2010. Her short fiction has been published in several literary journals and anthologies.

She holds an MFA in Creative Writing. She is from eastern Washington and now resides in northern California. For more on Heather and her writing, visit her website.

Heather will be touring later this month and in June. You can connect with her at the following locations:

Book Passage, Corte, Madera, CA, on Monday, April 14
Lyon Books, Chico, CA, on Thursday, April 17
Powell’s @ Hawthorne, Portland, OR, on Monday, June 16
Elliott Bay, Seattle, WA, on Friday, June 20

Here are others are already saying about Heather’s new release ……

        “A strong debut… The book is far more than a story of love or belief, and its layers are peeled away as the narrative progresses. Bergstrom takes the reader so deeply into the characters.” — Publishers Weekly
        “A carefully crafted family drama.” — Kirkus

        “Bergstrom’s magnetic debut resonates on several levels, but first and foremost it is a poignant story of the love between two mismatched teens… The reader becomes involved in this thoroughly engaging first novel’s denouement because of how perceptively Bergstrom has drawn her central characters.” — Booklist

        “A heartrending exploration of longing, loyalty and love. With palpable sympathy, Bergstrom captures the rugged and desolate atmosphere of eastern Washington and the distinctive people who call that place home.” — Christina Schwarz, bestselling author of Drowning Ruth and The Edge of the Earth

        “Heather Brittain Bergstorm’s debut Steal the North is one of those rare novels that has everything. It’s about family, the ties that bind us no matter how hard we sometimes try to escape. It’s about love: between mothers and daughters, between sisters, between men and women--most memorably between a young Native American man and a white Californian girl, a Romeo and Juliet story on an eastern Washington reservation. Most of all, it has a rich sense of place, of how we find our homes in the soil, in our roots, in the places we’ve left and in other people. This is a resonant, powerfully moving novel.” — Jenna Blum, New York Times bestselling author of Those Who Save Us and The Stormchasers

        “A shimmering debut about the ties that bind, and the bonds that save us, especially when we least expect it. Shattering, romantic, and deeply profound, (and how many books can claim such adjectives?) Bergstrom’s novel lays a dazzlingly original claim to the unpredictable landscape of the human heart.”— Caroline Leavitt, New York Times bestselling author of Is This Tomorrow and Pictures of You

GIVEAWAY DETAILS:

This giveaway is for one print copy of STEAL THE NORTH. The giveaway is open to residents of the U.S. only. To enter the giveaway, simply leave a comment saying you’d like to win the book and be sure to include your email address with your comment.

Thanks so much for stopping by today. Do you enjoy novels that incorporate Native American beliefs and traditions into the story?