Just a short note to wish you all – my friends and readers, a Happy New Year filled with all good things, love, and good health.
Honestly, I’m not sure where the year has gone. It seems it was just September, life is going a tad too quickly it seems, a good reminder to be grateful for every day we wake up to a new one. I can’t quite track where this past year has gone and all that transpired. However, I do remember spending the first 2 glorious months of the year in Mexico, and although not quite for 2 months this coming, year, I’m looking soooooo forward to returning there again.
I expect January to fly as I seem to have an ever-growing and lengthy to do list before our February winter jaunt. I’ve also just about completed first draft to a new book I’ve been working on this past year, and that should take me well into the spring or early summer to ready for publication, considering I will be leaving it for marination while away. So that’s my first half year planned, lol. As for the rest—I’ll leave it up to destiny!
Sunday Book Review this week is for Sally Cronin’s Flights of Fancy. As I was cleaning up my Goodreads books I’ve read for the past year, I realized for some reason I was missing a review for Sally’s Flights of Fancy. As one who enjoys reviewing all the books I read I wanted to share my review for this fine book of stories that will touch your hearts.
Ghosts, romance, friendship of all kinds and revenge form the basis of this collection of short stories. Ghosts hint at a chance of coming back to say goodbye, exact a little payback, or simply to help someone else carry on living. Romance is not just for the young and nor are second chances. As for revenge, well… Never underestimate a group of elderly ladies with contacts from the past.
My 5 Star Review:
An inviting book of short stories sure to reach various emotions from heartwarming to mystery and always with a twist at the end from this author.
Cronin’s knack for being able to write across several genres is a gift, and that’s what we’re getting in this ‘smorgasbord’ of stories, which no matter the genre, will always bring out a tenderness or justice in the end of her stories.
Flights of Fancy offers 11 short stories. From the story of Trust, a beautifully painted setting with sorrow and one bright spot from a canine visitor, to The Sewing Circle, an engaging short about a senior sewing club with a lot of spunk getting caught up in the crime happening around them, bringing a host of emotions together in one quaint, but suspenseful and satisfactory tale of justice. Cronin also takes us into The Other Side of Heaven, in a moving story in usual Cronin style, with a twist and a tear. How about a motivating psychic parrot who helps to solve one woman’s marital dilemma? No matter the storyline, Cronin knows how to engage an audience with her vivid stories on various subject matters, then wraps them all up with her sentimental touch and always a satisfying ending. Whether on mysteries, humor or heartwarming stories, Cronin has her own special way of bringing in the human condition to all her stories.
My last Travel Column for the year was recently featured at Sally Cronin’s Smorgasbord Blog Magazine, and I’m sharing it here with you today. This is the second part of this issue. The first part offered some warm winter getaway destinations, and this edition features a few cold getaway recommends for those who prefer winter activities. Next year I will be writing a new column for the Smorgasbord blog – Realms of Relationships, so stay tuned!
Smorgasbord Blog Magazine – The Travel Column Finale – With D.G. Kaye – Winter Snow Vacations for all the family.
For the last two years D.G. Kaye, Debby Gies has taken us on vacation all around the world from Arizona to Malta, on cruise ships and by air. This will be the last Travel Column, but have no fear… Debby will be returning in 2020 with a brand new column that showcases one of her other areas of expertise, relationships in all their glory. I am excited and I am sure that you will find the series both interesting and helpful as we navigate our way through these sometimes tricky elements of our lives.
Look out for Debby’s introduction post in the New Year….
For this final Travel Column Debby is going to share three winter resorts that are popular during the ski season but also have activities for all the family, including someone like me who does not trust two short planks down a mountainside at 60 miles an hour… I prefer waiting at the other end of the slopes at the Gluhwein (hot red wine) stall…..
Take it away Debby….
Thanks everyone for setting out on this last trip of the Travel Column series and I am very excited to be back next year with my new column, and looking forward to plenty of discussion on the subject of relationships.
There are a great many wonderful ski resorts in North America and in Europe as well as slightly further away in New Zealand. I have selected three that are wonderful places for the whole family including non-skiers. If you are thinking about a ski vacation then you might find this site very useful as it covers resorts around the world: Ski Resort Information
I am of course going to begin in my home country.
Canada, British Columbia – Whistler Blackcomb gets five out of five stars by multiple users on the site.
The Whistler Blackcomb ski resort is very family and child friendly. There is a separate Family Zone on Whistler Mountain and multiple Whistler Kids children’s areas distributed throughout the ski resort. The Children’s Adventure Park, the Big Easy Terrain Garden and the Tree Forts are very popular up on the mountain. Families are very well cared for at Whistler. For the bigger kids, there are many events as well as the Ziptrek (a zipline flight over Whistler). Special packages offered for the whole family round off the offering. – Please continue reading at Sally’s blog
I know we are all so busy at this time of year, in particular today, as many of us are getting ready to gather with friends and family to celebrate the festive season. So, I’m going to keep this short, especially since I can see how quiet blogtown is today, lol.
I want to wish all my friends and readers a beautiful holiday season and thank you all with deepest gratitude for all your visits, shares and interactions here for the past year(s). May you all be blessed with love and hope and gratitude for you and yours.
Also, for you bloggers who are looking for a great blog party complete with all things festive – food and drink and great music, and some wonderful Christmas wishes added from several authors over at Sally Cronin’s Christmas Smorgasbord, the post is still running hot and live throughout the holidays. So come take in some festive cheer over at Sally’s blog!
Wish – Guests, Food, Music and laughter
The theme for this year’s party is ‘Just One Wish’. We are all familiar with the story of Cinderella and her Fairy Godmother, who was pretty liberal with that magic wand of hers and managed to turn a pumpkin into a golden carriage.
Unfortunately, she has long since retired and hung up her wand, but because I asked nicely (and she would like me to promote her memoir –The Prince Charmings I have Known!) she has agreed to allow my guests, just one wish…
My thanks to everyone who sent in their special wish and with a great deal of positive thought from us all, and of course a little assistance from the magic wand of the Fairy Godmother, they might just come true…
Please help yourself to food and drink and if you would like to dance on the tables… that is great. You will find links to authors author pages and a selection of their books and their social media so please head over and discover more. . . Please head over to Sally’s and join the fun!
My Sunday Book Review is for another book by Alice Hoffman – Incantation. This is the second book I’ve read by Hoffman in the last month. The first book I read of hers, The World That We Knew, I reviewed a few weeks ago and I am hooked on her stories because she writes stories about people’s lives in different time periods and have the elements of magical realism -well researched with fictional stories about true things that happened in the time with a sprinkle of mysticism, and often about the human condition. This recipe of elements are right up my reading alley.
Bestselling author Alice Hoffman tears a page from history and melds it with mysticism to create a spellbinding, highly acclaimed tale about the persecution of Jewish people during the sixteenth century.
Estrella is a Marrano: During the time of the Spanish Inquisition, she is one of a community of Spanish Jews living double lives as Catholics. And she is living in a house of secrets, raised by a family who practices underground the ancient and mysterious way of wisdom known as kabbalah. When Estrella discovers her family’s true identity–and her family’s secrets are made public–she confronts a world she’s never imagined, where new love burns and where friendship ends in flame and ash, where trust is all but vanquished and betrayal has tragic and bitter consequences.
Winner of numerous “best book” citations and infused with the rich context of history and faith, Incantation is a transcendent journey of discovery and loss, rebirth and remembrance that Newbery Award-winning author Lois Lowry described as “Magical and spellbinding…Painful and exquisitely beautiful.”
My 5 Star Review:
I’ll preface this book review by saying for a 166 page book taking place in the 1500’s, during the Spanish Inquisition, this is one heavy book. Well researched, many parts painful to read, entwined with love and beauty and of course what Hoffman is known for – her magical realism where the realism of the horrors, betrayals, superstitions, religious persecution and condemnations are met with love and compassion, commitment to religion, risk, mysticism and survival of the craftiest in this heart-grabbing story about Estrella di Madrigal, a sixteen year old girl during the Spanish Inquisition who learns what she’s known of her life till now has been a secret lie.
The story is told in first person by Estrella, and begins in the late 1500s, during a time when Jews in Spain were being persecuted and tortured for simply not being Catholic or Protestant. The only way they remain living is incognito as ‘conversos’, as Christian converts. But many who’ve converted remain practicing their faith in secret.
The book begins with Estrella and her lifetime best friend and next door neighbor, Catalina in the town square where they went to the well to fetch water and witnessed a huge book burning bonfire. Books were not allowed for fear people may get educated (my spin).. Estrella’s mother happened to be in the town square market when she saw her daughter watching in amazement and sadness as the bonfire grew so big, flames were flying onto people, and at the same time an old Jew was publicly being beaten to death because he wouldn’t let go of his book. Abra, Estrella’s beautiful widowed mother, grabbed her daughter away from the center and told her, “Never look at other people’s bad fortune, if you do, it will come back to find you instead of its rightful owner!”
Magic, Judaism and Muslims were all condemned, and those who kept their faith lived behind ‘the gate’ and wore red circles stitched to their clothing for identification. But there were many Jews who had fled Spain and many more who chose to stay, some risking their lives by converting to Christianity (conversos) and going to church on Sundays and living as good Christians. And some of those ‘conversos’ remained true to their Jewish faith living as Christians in the outside world and practicing their faith secretly at home.
We’re soon introduced to more characters in the story – Estrella’s strict and overbearing maternal grandmother, her grandfather who spends most of his waking hours in a secret room in the basement of their home, her brother Luis – a few years older than her who is off to the seminary preparing to become a priest, and Catalina’s cousin Andres who lives in her home, and who Catalina has a ‘fatal’ crush on with hopes and plans to marry someday, only Andres loves her like a sister.
Once we’re exposed to the ugliness and hatred of the times, the story opens up the true peril. Estrella watches as their lovely neighbors on the other side of their house – the Arrias family, is being dragged out of their homes, beaten and shackled as the soldiers screamed out to them Marranos -the name given to Jews at the time -Direct translation – ‘pigs’. The accusation – ‘secretly’ practicing Jews, despite their upstanding membership to the church. Estrella was sickened and petrified all at once for her fear for them, leaving her wondering what on earth these gentle people could have done to be stripped of their homes, family, and certain death.
Quote from Estrella – “The day when the arrests began reminded me of the day of the burning books, when the air was filled with sparks, when something bad crept out onto the Plaza from the deep, evil place, something that would become so strong no one could catch it or beat it down or lock it away. Now I understand those days were not really a beginning but a continuation. A monster is hard to see and even harder to kill. It takes time to grow so huge, time to crawl up into the open air. People will tell you it’s not there; you’re imagining things. But a book is a book. Pages are pages. Hawks are hawks. Doves are doves. Hatred is always hatred.”
Jews were taken to the armory – heresy was enough to convict to death. An accusation by a citizen was enough to arrest and convict whether true or not. Their children would be given to good Christian families.
The plot thickens after Estrella spies in the Arrias’s family window after they were taken, Catalina and her mother looting the home. Estrella is sickened enough to turn her away from her once best friend. And more friction occurs after Catalina spots Andres giving a gentle kiss to Estrella. We’ll now begin to watch the fire rise between these once best friends – a fine line between friendship and hatred. And a new town edict causing panic and lies and fears when the government orders anyone who knows of a Jew pretending to be Christian, they must turn them in – the reward, the rat will receive half of all that accused person owned, split with the government. This edict of course, is quite tempting for some to lie and condemn innocent people for personal gain, selling out people for profit. A perfect glimpse into the human condition, scruples and morals.
Estrella is a curious girl. Not long after the lunacy edict begins we’ll learn along with Estrella, a very big secret (no spoilers) after she spots the door ajar in the ‘secret’ room in the basement where she spies her grandfather stitching up a wounded citizen and a shelf full of books. She instantly realizes her family could be killed if it were to come out her grandfather practiced medicine. Medicine was considered hocus pocus as doing so made one a ‘sorcerer’ in the government’s eyes.
As Catalina’s jealousy grew for Estrella and her cousin Andres’ now blooming attraction for each other, her cold heart decided that Estrella’s mother who worked with healing herbs and flowers, and the family’s constant avoidance of wanting to eat pork would be a wonderful way to cause trouble for them if she reported Estrella’s family for heresy to hurt them as she felt betrayed by Estrella and Andres. No spoilers after this, just a quote from the aftermath from Estrella as she confronted Catalina:
“Instead of knocking on the door, I picked up a stone and threw it as hard as I could. Something shattered. Something broke. Catalina came to the door and opened it, not all the way, but enough. I could see her.”
“This isn’t what I wanted to happen,” she said to me. “But you betrayed me.”
“I looked hard to see if she was saying some cruel joke; but, no. She meant it.”
“You took my cousin,” Catalina said.
“And then I understood that she had no idea what she’d done to my family. She thought love and hatred were equal.” ‘
The above profound quoted conversation chilled my bones. What had happened before this conversation I’ll save for other readers, just as what transpired after the conversation you will want to find out for yourselves.
The author adds a historical note at the back of the book explaining how the Jews experienced persecution in Spain as early as the 12th century, reaching it’s peak during the Spanish Inquisition when in 1481 Queen Isabella and King Ferdinand requested the pope extend it into Spain lasting from 1481 until the late 18th century.
From ancient times to present this story demonstrates the power of love and betrayal, and how some unscrupulous people would sell out another human being for the love of money.
Welcome to the last of 2019 author interviews. And I’m happy to send off the season with my featured author guest Darlene Foster. Darlene has recently released another book in her Amanda travels series – Amanda in Holland: Missing in Action. And Darlene is already working on the next book in the series! Let’s find out what she’s up to!
Brought up on a ranch in Canada, Darlene dreamt of travelling the world and
meeting interesting people. She has always loved to tell stories and was
encouraged by her grade three teacher to write them down. She is the author of
the exciting adventure series featuring 12-year-old Amanda Ross who loves to
travel. Readers of all ages enjoy travelling with Amanda as she unravels one
mystery after another in countries such as the United Arab Emirates, Spain,
England, Germany, Holland and her own country, Canada. When not travelling
herself, Darlene divides her time between the sunny Costa Blanca of Spain and
the west coast of Canada.
Amanda is in Holland to see the tulips with her best friend, Leah; as well as travelling the canals of Amsterdam, visiting Anne Frank House, checking out windmills and a wooden shoe factory, and taking pictures of the flowers of Keukenhof Gardens. She is keen to find out what happened to her great uncle who never returned from WWII and was declared missing in action. What she doesn’t expect to find and fall in love with is Joey, an abandoned puppy. While trying to find a home for him, she meets Jan, a Dutch boy who offers to help, a suspicious gardener, a strange woman on a bicycle, and an overprotective goose named Gerald. Follow Amanda around the charming country of Holland, filled with colourful tulips, windmills, and more bicycles than she could have imagined. Once again, intrepid traveller Amanda encounters danger and intrigue as she tries to solve more than one mystery in a foreign country.
Amanda in Holland was a wonderful read. I enjoyed the way Amanda and
Leah interacted and the fast pace of the story. Having the tale told mostly
through conversation was different from the things I usually read. It was
very effective. I don't often read thrillers, so I was kept guessing until you
tied up all the loose ends. The way you wove in historical places and events
was marvelous. It made me want to look back at the photos I took when we
visited Holland. That was almost 40 years ago, but you made the country
come alive for me again.
Thank you very much for sending me the book. You are a fantastic writer,
and reading this book was delightful. I’ll be aware of your travels through
your blog and wondering how you might use the setting for the next Amanda
Now let’s get to know a little more about Darlene:
Do some of your own character traits or personal experiences spill into your book’s characters?
Of course, I think it can´t be helped. As a writer creates characters, some
of their own traits and experiences will naturally creep in. My main
character, Amanda Ross, loves animals and enjoys travelling to different
countries, as I do. She is well-read, inquisitive, enjoys cooking and likes to
help people. These are all similar interests and attributes of mine. My books
are based on my own travel experiences and I often include what I noticed
and how I felt while visiting the location in my stories. Leah, Amanda’s friend,
loves fashion and shopping, like I do. She is often impatient, as I can be, and
says things I would say.
I once read an interview with an author who suggested that all characters
in a book have a bit of the writer in them, even the villains, as everyone has a
light and a dark side. Food for thought.
D.G. – I wholeheartedly agree Darlene. It would be hard not to incorporate parts of us or at least our observances on life into our stories.
What can you tell us you’ve gained from blogging as an author?
I have been blogging for ten years and it has been an awesome
experience. I have met many wonderful people, like you, in the blogging
world that I would not have met otherwise. And I have learned so much from
everyone. Fiction and nonfiction authors, travel writers, cooks, historians,
animal lovers and environmentalists have all shared their knowledge and
helped me become a better writer. Reading interviews like this, writing tips,
unique news stories and information about other parts of the world have all
contributed to my stories by giving me ideas and motivation. I consider the
blogging community as part of the support group that helps me to eventually
publish a book. So what I have gained is knowledge, inspiration, support and
most of all friends!
D.G.. – I would say that’s an apt description Darlene. Blogging and being part of a community who understands what the craft of writing means is a blessing, particularly when the people in our daily lives don’t have an inkling as to what’s involved.
Who is your favorite author and why?
I have many favourite authors but Jane Austen is one of my all-time
favourites. She was a master of character development. I love how she could
take a small village or community and create a world we could all feel part of,
full of interesting people we care about. She was so good at making fun of
people as well. Oh to have her wit. The fact that people still enjoy her work
two hundred years later speaks for itself. My reading time is limited so I
seldom reread books, but I have reread her books a number of times and
always learn something new when I do.
D.G. – We can only wish people will share interest in our books when we’re too long gone.
Where do you believe your passion for storytelling originated from?
I was a lucky kid. We didn’t have a TV in our home until I was eleven
years old. For entertainment, I made up stories in my head. I would have my
teddy bears and dolls act out my stories. There was an old abandoned Model
T Ford on our property which my aunt and I would sit in and pretend we
were on driving holidays all over the world, having adventures. I also come
from a long line of storytellers. My grandfather loved to tell stories as did his
father. Sitting around the dinner table, we were encouraged to share stories
when I was growing up. Even when we eventually got a TV, it was never on
while we ate. Our father would often tell us stories before bed and I would
continue them in my mind before I fell asleep. It is an inherent passion.
D.G. – An inherent gift more like it, lol. How amazing that you were encouraged to share your stories. No surprise that you’ve carried on that childhood trait of creating stories and now writing for other children to help them create their own fantasies.
Would you like to share with us what upcoming projects and/or ideas for books you’re working on?
I have completed the first draft of Amanda in Malta: The Sleeping Lady
and have begun the editing process. The release is scheduled for spring 2021.
In this adventure, Leah is in Malta and she’s in trouble. Amanda,
desperate to help her friend, travels to Malta with her friend Caleb and his
parents. She is intrigued with this exotic place full of colourful history,
limestone fortresses, stunning beaches and fascinating birds. But, who is
shooting the birds and who stole the Sleeping Lady from the museum? And
why is Leah acting so strange? Join Amanda and her friends as they visit
ancient temples, gorgeous islands, an exciting falconry and Popeye’s Village
while trying to unravel the mystery of the Sleeping Lady.
I have also scribbled some notes for Amanda in France. I have an idea for
a picture book and possibly a graphic novel. I am also working on an
anthology of creative nonfiction short stories about growing up on the
Canadian prairies. There is no rest for the creative.
D.G. – You are such a dynamo Darlene! No doubts the Amanda fans will be thrilled to hear the series continues! I wish you great continued success!
And now for an Excerpt of Amanda in Holland:
They all piled into the car, Leah in the front, Amanda and Jan in the back with Joey between them.
Amanda enjoyed the scenery as they drove along the highway. “It’s so flat and very green.”
Jan explained how Holland is actually below sea level in many places, and dykes were built to keep the water out. “No doubt you have heard the story of the little boy and the dyke?”
“No, I haven’t.” Amanda shook her head. “Tell us?”
“Well,” Jan began, “a long time ago, a small boy was on his way to school when he noticed a leak in the dyke. He saw the seawater trickle through the opening and knew that even a small hole could eventually become bigger. If too much water flowed through, the village could be flooded. So, he poked his finger into the hole to stop the water, even though it meant he would be late for school and get into trouble. He stood there with his finger in the hole for a long time, until eventually someone saw him and got help. The hole was repaired, and the boy became a hero for saving his village.”
“That is such a great story. Is it true?” asked Amanda.
“It’s more like a legend. The story is told to children to show them that even a small child can prevent a disaster if they use their wits. Actually, an American author, Mary Mapes Dodge, first wrote about it a hundred and fifty years ago in her book, Hans Brinker or The Silver Skates.”
“That’s so interesting, don’t you think, Leah?”
“Yeah, sure.” Leah turned the page of her fashion magazine. “I heard that story when I was a little girl. What do you think of this outfit?” She turned around and held up the page.
Amanda smiled. “That’s very nice. It would look good on you.”
Everyone kept quiet as they passed more farm buildings and neatly tilled fields.
“Turn left,” said the GPS woman.
Mr. Anderson turned the corner and slammed on the brakes. A large, angry goose stood in the middle of the road with its wings flapping and neck stretched forward as it honked.
Amanda laughed. “What a silly goose!”
“That’s my grandfather’s goose. He likes to think he is protecting the property,” said Jan.
“You mean he’s like a guard goose.” Amanda grinned.
Jan got out of the car and spoke to the goose in Dutch. The irate bird finally left the road and waddled into the field, his eye still on them.
Leah’s dad rolled down the window. “Thanks, mate. I wasn’t sure how we would get past him. Get back in and we’ll take you to where you need to be.”
Jan climbed back into the car. “You can drop me off over there.” He pointed to a farmyard in the distance.
As they neared the farm, Amanda noticed the rustic house with a sloping roof that looked like a face with a large, slouched hat pulled over its eyes. “Is this where your grandparents live?”
“Yes, they have always lived here, and so has my great-grandmother. It’s her family home,” answered Jan.
The place looked inviting and cozy. Someone pulled aside a lace curtain and peered out the window. Grey eyes met Amanda’s. The curtain dropped.
Thank you so much, Debby for this opportunity to answer your questions. Should I ever get to Toronto we will definitely meet up.
My pleasure Darlene. And yes! I would look so forward to meeting in person! 🙂
Welcome to this week’s and this year’s last edition of Writer’s Tips. This edition includes some choice articles for authors in particular with some excellent information as always from Anne R. Allen, Doris Heilmann of 111 Publishing shares 3 great tools to check for plagiarism, and Brigid Gallagher share some great insights on how to get our books featured on Publisher’s Weekly.
Anne R. Allen offers some helpful information on the Do’s and Don’ts of writing a novel – first paragraphs, when to break the rules and more!
I was thrilled to be nominated for the Blogger Recognition Award by Stevie Turner. With each award there are rules of courtesy to follow. Here are the rules:
1. Thank the blogger(s) who nominated you and provide a link to their blog.
2. Write a post to show your award.
3. Give a brief story of how your blog started.
4. Give two pieces of advice to new bloggers.
5. Select up to fifteen bloggers you want to give this award to.
6. Comment (or pingback) on each blog to let them know that you’ve nominated them and provide a link to the post you’ve created.
How my blog got started:
I began blogging in 2013 about 8 months before I published my first book. I had no clue what I’d be blogging about, just that I learned it’s best to get blogging if you’re going to be self-published. I think it took me a good year to find a comfortable place about what I wanted my blog to represent – even though it is still a bit eclectic, but that’s my personality. Eventually, through discovering blogs I enjoyed reading and then forming friendships with other bloggers, my blog reading expanded exponentially. After almost two years of blogging I decided to get my own domain and website – always a cautious person that if anything went down the tubes with WordPress I wouldn’t lose my blog. The rest is history!
Two pieces of advice for new bloggers:
Comments on our blogs are like gold, just as reviews are for our books. If you want your community to grow – like, share, leave comments on other’s blogs and you will find all will be reciprocated. You get what you give!
My pet peeve – blogs written in tiny print on background colors drowning the already tiny print is a double no no. Blogs that are difficult to read will have people leaving. I know, because I do the same. Make your blogs welcoming and eye appealing for readers.
I don’t typically pick out names to nominate others because I don’t like to single anyone out or leave anyone out because I treasure all my readers, but today I’m going to pass this award along with a theme to help me choose. I’m nominating some writer friends who have been some of my biggest supporters and have helped me many times over with either beta, proofing, and early feedback for my books along the way to publication. I know some have already received this award, and you don’t have to follow protocol if you choose not to. Just know you have been acknowledged. ♥
Note: No surprise Sally Cronin was been nominated more than once, and once again, generously nominated me again. Sally has created an image for the award that I have proudly added to this post.
More Notes: Since the posting of this thank you post, I’d like to acknowledge that I humbly have also been nominated by Colleen Chesebro and Sue Vincent. Thank you so much to all of you. I am thrilled to know I’ve made a difference to all of you at least in some small way. ♥