Monday, December 14, 2015

The Hanged Man's Noose: A Glass Dolphin Mystery-- A Review and a Giveaway

Congratulations to Sheri Levy who won LIKE A RIVER on last week's blog. Thanks to many of you who entered this popular giveaway. Ironically, Sheri is the reason for this week's review. Read on!
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As my faithful blog readers know, I generally read and review middle grade or young adult books, but every now and then an adult book sneaks into my pile. Judy Penz Sheluk, author of The Hanged Man's Noose contacted me because I had reviewed Sheri Levy's book, Seven Days to Goodbye. Judy's book was also published by Barking Rain Press and she was interested in my reviewing her debut mystery. 

Good thing I agreed. Now one of you will have a chance to win this entertaining book!

Although my WIP, Half-Truths, has elements of mystery, I've never attempted writing a suspense thriller. And while it's challenging writing a novel from two-points-of-view, the intricacies of the Hanged Man's Noose's plot and the way in which Sheluk wove together a complicated backstory, clues, and red herrings--makes me think that my work is a piece of cake. Or, perhaps, in the case of this Canadian whodunit, a "Treasontini"--blueberry vodka plus triple sec plus blueberry juice--as pictured on the cover.

The star of the show is Emily Garland, a journalist who comes to the small town of Lount's Landing to ostensibly start up a small niche magazine. In reality, her boss wants her to find out the scoop on mega-real estate developer, Garrett Stonehaven. Emily is only too happy to bring him to his knees because she thinks he had something to do with her mother's recent mysterious death.

In the process of getting to know the local business proprietors, Emily learns about Garrett Stonehaven's plans to convert an old school to a big box store. His vision for the town's future doesn't sit well with Emily's new friend, Arabella Carpenter, owner of a new antique store who wants to restore the historic main street.

When three people turn up dead in a short period of time Emily's investigative reporting becomes more serious.  Her discovery of Stonehaven's past which links him to many of the town residents eventually puts Emily in danger herself.

Sheluk does a good job of characterization both with physical descriptions that match the characters' personalities as well as through their dialogue. Early on Emily meets two of Lount's Landing's townspeople:
The woman's hair was black as a raven's back and cropped close. With the exception of a pair of diamond stud earrings, she appeared to be decked out in yoga wear from head to toe. 
Emily referred to the PDF and pegged her as Chantal Van Schyndle, owner of the Serenity Spa and Yoga Studio. She assume Hockey Jersey was Carter Dixon, owner of Slap Shot, a sporting goods store that Johnny wrote was "barely hanging on." (p.20)
Later, Stonehaven and Arabella face off at her store's opening:
"The candlesticks are in the window of the Glass Dolphin for decoration, Mr. Stonehaven. They are not for sale."
 "Nonsense, Ms. Carpenter. Everything is for sale at the right price. Everything and anybody. Even you." (p. 47)
 Emily's desire to find out the truth about her mother's death motivates her to press on--even when her own life is threatened. And in the end, Sheluk neatly ties up the many threads which she wove through the novel. 

My only critique of the story is that there are a lot of characters to keep track of. Occasionally I had to backtrack to remember who a secondary character was. But kudos to Judy Sheluk for her well-plotted debut mystery.

I am offering my gently read copy of Hanged Man's Noose to one of you. To win, please leave me a comment by December 17 with your email address if you are new to my blog. If you become a new follower or share this on social media, I'll enter your name twice. 

Monday, December 7, 2015

You Heard it Here First: Kathy Wiechman's Path to the Grateful American Book Prize- Part II

Congratulations to Monica O' Quinn who won A Handful of Stars by Cynthia Lord. Thanks to so many of you for entering; this was a popular giveaway. And here's another!

Last week you heard how Ohio author Kathy Wiechman, the self-proclaimed "poster child for perseverance" attended workshops and critique groups for years before stepping into the "I'm a published author!" box. Today you'll hear more details about the workshops she's attended, the people who have helped her along the way, and the Grateful American Book Prize.
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CAROL: Can you tell us more about the Highlights workshops that helped further your career?

KATHY: Shortly after I attended Chautauqua in 1999, the Highlights Foundation began offering smaller, less expensive, workshops at their Boyds Mills location. I told my family not to give me birthday or Christmas gifts anymore, just donate money toward a workshop. My first one was Joy Cowley’s Writing from the Heart in 2001. I was hooked. I went from going every other year to every year to twice a year. I learned about Voice from Patti Gauch, promoting a book from Peter Jacobi, and about the publishing business from numerous experts. I even learned how to load and fire a muzzleloader, when I was researching LIKE A RIVER.

CAROL: Who helped you the most?

KATHY: I took more than half a dozen workshops with Rich Wallace. Not only was he encouraging, but he always seemed to spot what my writing was missing, and I came away with what I needed to move forward. Carolyn Yoder (Calkins Creek Press) saw the early chapters of LIKE A RIVER at a retreat in 2012. She encouraged me to keep going, told me things I could improve, and requested I send it to her when it was finished. I did, and she has been my editor ever since.

CAROL: What were some of Carolyn's suggestions?

KATHY: Make Leander more likable, flesh out the characters of Crawford and Morgan a bit, and give the two halves of the book more balance.

CAROL: Why have you chosen not to be agented?

KATHY: When I first began, very few children’s writers had agents. But times have changed, and it can be extremely difficult to get a manuscript in an editor’s hands without an agent. I was researching possible agents at the time I was offered my first contract with Boyds Mills Press. I had an agent friend look over the contract before I signed it, but have never sought one to represent me. I am very fortunate to have been published by Boyds Mills Press, who still accepts unagented manuscripts. If I were a younger writer, I might seek an agent, but for the time being, I don’t feel it necessary.

CAROL: What advice do you wish someone had given you when you first started writing?

KATHY: I wish someone had warned me how long the road to publication can be. I would have traveled it anyway, but it would have been good to know. I wish someone had said, "Don't take rejection personally. Think of it as not being chosen yet." (I heard that after I was already published, but it would have been good to hear during all those struggle years.) I wish someone had said, "Don't be afraid to break the rules of grammar and sentence structure. Have a good reason for breaking them, but don't let them hold you back."

CAROL: Tell us about your experience winning the Grateful American Book Prize. How many books did you compete against? How did you find out about the contest?

KATHY: I was told there were "more than 140" books competing for the Prize. Last spring, one of the marketing people at Boyds Mills Press told me they were planning to submit LIKE A RIVER for the prize and asked me to write about my research methodology for the submission form. I am incredibly grateful for the support I have gotten from the folks at Boyds Mills Press.

I never dreamed of winning an award. The Grateful American Book Prize is a new award, the brainchild of David Bruce Smith and Dr. Bruce Cole. This inaugural award was for writing about the past in a way that engages young readers in American history, something I have always tried to do with my historical fiction. The judges for the award are people who honored me just by reading LIKE A RIVER; deciding to award me the prize was beyond words. I received the award (an exquisite medal, a fantastic cash prize, and a lifetime membership to the New York Historical Society) at a cocktail party and dinner at Lincoln’s Cottage in Washington, DC.
Kathy receiving the Grateful American Book Medal from David Bruce Smith
I have always been a devotee of the sixteenth president, and LIKE A RIVER is a Civil War story, so the setting was perfect. Tours of the Cottage are available, and I tried to take one the afternoon of the award ceremony, but I was told the afternoon tours had been cancelled to allow for setting up for “a big event” that evening. My big event! After dinner, I was taken on a personal tour, which ended in the room where Lincoln wrote the Emancipation Proclamation. Heaven indeed for a Lincoln fan and history buff like me! 

CAROL: What’s next?

KATHY: My second novel, EMPTYPLACES, is due out in April, 2016. It takes place during the Great Depression in Harlan County, Kentucky, and has a few elements inspired by my husband's family. I am also working on new novels, writing and researching. I waited a long time to reach this stage of my career, and now I am busier than ever, but I enjoy it all, especially meeting with and hearing from the readers who like my book.


As I promised a week ago, Boyds Mills Press is providing a copy of LIKE A RIVER to one fortunate blog readers. Leave me a comment (make sure you leave your email address if you're new to my blog) and I'll add your name to the list of entries from last week. (If you left me a comment last week, you can enter twice.) Winner will be drawn on Thursday, December 10 so that you will receive your book in time for the holidays.
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Thanks, Kathy, for sharing your journey and wonderful news with us. 

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

A Handful of Stars: A Review and Audio Book Giveaway!

I think I can honestly say that I've never read a Cynthia Lord book that I haven't enjoyed. From her picture books about a wild and wacky hamster, to her sensitive middle grade book Rules about an autistic boy and his family, Ms. Lord has a way of telling stories that entertain, teach, and delight readers of all ages. 

So, when I had the opportunity to review an audio book for Recorded Books and A Handful of Stars was one of the selections, I jumped at the chance.  

I wonder if elementary or middle grade teachers asked their students who the protagonist of this story is, who would they choose? Would they pick Tiger Lily, who has lived with her French Canadian grandparents in a small town in Maine ever since her mother's death when she was a young girl? Young readers might (correctly!) identify that Lily's desire to save her beloved dog Lucky's eyesight is a central problem; the conflicts which Lily faces over her dog and being the right kind of friend makes her the protagonist. 

Or would they pick Salma, a migrant farm worker in town to pick blueberries for the summer with her family, who not only shows Lily a truth she didn't want to see about Lucky, but also teaches her about art, courage, and what it means to work hard to follow your dreams? 

Then again, I can imagine a spunky fourth grader volunteering that the true protagonist is Lucky. Because if he hadn't run away from Lily, she might never have met Salma. He was responsible for bringing the two girls together in an unlikely, but special friendship that is central to this story. 



There you go. Now that you have some teasers, here are a few favorite parts:

In order to save money for Lucky's eye operation, Lily sells painted bee houses in her grandparents' store. She stencils on three different patterns and carefully paints each one to realistically resemble blueberries, leaves, or flowers. When Salma volunteers to help, she thinks outside the stencils. Her blueberries are pink or purple and the results shock Lily. When Salma says she loves art because there are different ways of looking at the world and there are no wrong answers, Lily's thinking is challenged.

Proof of the pudding is when Lily goes outside her normal way of painting a bee house and decides to paint a Tiger Lily (first wondering if it a flower or a weed) without using a stencil. When she is done, she admits it's not perfect, but signs her name anyway. This time she created art. 

Another favorite plot point is the empathy Lily develops when she learns that her mother, a French Canadian, struggled to feel as if she belonged in the little Maine town. Understanding her mother's history enables Lily to see the obstacles facing Salma as she competes in the local Blueberry Queen pageant. 

Finally, she remembers her grandfather's advice to be brave and passes it along to Salma at the pageant: "To do brave things you don't have to be hugely brave. You just have to be a bit braver than you are scared," is so delicious that I have to include it here too.

This would make a great holiday gift for a young girl in your life (ages 8 and up.) I am giving away the audio CD through this issue of Talking Story. Leave a comment here for one chance to win; leave a comment through the newsletter and I'll enter your name twice. Contest is up December 7 so enter now! And make sure you leave your email address if I don't already have it.