Spotlight: The Tale of the Taconic Mountains

tac Title: The Tale of the Taconic Mountains
Author: Mike Romeling
Genre: Suspense / Occult

Synopsis:
Everyone had an agenda and it just seemed like coincidence—and of little consequence—that they happened to end up in the small town of Cedar Falls nestled at the base of Bakers Mountain, deep in the ancient Taconic Mountain range. Completely involved, even obsessed, with their own pursuits, it was hardly surprising the visitors would be unaware of older agendas both within the dying town and up in the forests and ridges of the mountain looming above.

There was the discontented novelist fleeing his job and his family, hoping to regain his mojo with a young girlfriend and a new book; a mother in search of her long-estranged daughter, but finding first an unlikely romance with the proprietor who loved his failing bowling establishment like a child—at least when he wasn’t making plans to burn it down for the insurance; a soap opera queen who thought she was stopping by for a simple PR gig for the PETA folks when the town was plagued by thousands of bats in search of a new home. Instead found herself revisiting Gretchen Foley, the frightened disturbed child she had been before emerging as the famous Amber Steele.

There were the two Native American friends who came to climb the mountain in search of the fabled quartz Spirit Stones of their Mohican ancestors, the young man who wanted to retrace the steps of his grandfather who once lived along the river that flowed through town. But instead he would come to grief and need to be carried down the mountain by the mysterious and seemingly ageless Boudine sisters who had led secluded lives high on the mountain as long as anyone could remember. Few knew where these strange women had their cabin, but the dying Randle Marsh did, and it was said that he visited the sisters often; was he trying to live on endlessly as dark rumors suggested the sisters did? The rustic Wayne Funt knew where they lived too, but he would leave them strictly alone until he and his dog Duke played a major role in the mayhem that broke out during the raging Christmas snowstorm that buried the town and the mountain.

This collision of clashing agendas was presided over by a sheriff who did the best he could to navigate a safe landing for as many as he could who shared the wild ride on this memorable, often frightening year. And if the result could often be laced with humor and absurdity, it was always tempered—sometimes tragically—with what has always been true: sometimes, deep in the heart of the New England mountains, there are things going on, things both lighter than air and darker than starless night.

mikeAbout Mike
Mike is a freelance writer and singer-songwriter from upstate New York. His first novel “Tale of the Taconic Mountains” was released in 2012. He lives−and often rambles through−the very mountains where the novel is placed. But since writing it, he takes care to return home before scary darkness falls.

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Spotlight: The River of No Return

river Title: The River of No Return
Author: Bee Ridgway
Genre: Historical Fiction / Time Travel (Science Fiction)
Publication Date: April 23, 2013
Publisher: Dutton Adult

Synopsis:
“You are now a member of the Guild. There is no return.” Two hundred years after he was about to die on a Napoleonic battlefield, Nick Falcott, soldier and aristocrat, wakes up in a hospital bed in modern London. The Guild, an entity that controls time travel, showers him with life’s advantages. But Nick yearns for home and for one brown-eyed girl, lost now down the centuries. Then the Guild asks him to break its own rule. It needs Nick to go back to 1815 to fight the Guild’s enemies and to find something called the Talisman.

In 1815, Julia Percy mourns the death of her beloved grandfather, an earl who could play with time. On his deathbed he whispers in her ear: “Pretend!” Pretend what? When Nick returns home as if from the dead, older than he should be and battle scarred, Julia begins to suspect that her very life depends upon the secrets Grandfather never told her. Soon enough Julia and Nick are caught up in an adventure that stretches up and down the river of time. As their knowledge of the Guild and their feelings for each other grow, the fate of the future itself is hanging in the balance.

breeAbout Bee
I was raised in Massachusetts, then drifted around from here to there until I finally came to rest in Philadelphia. I teach American literature at Bryn Mawr College, and for fun I read, write, read, cook, read, walk all over my beautiful and dirty city, read . . . THE RIVER OF NO RETURN is my first novel, and the experience of writing it was so overwhelmingly fun that I’m roaring ahead on the sequel.

Connect with Bee
Official Website
Twitter: BeeRidgway
Facebook: Page
Goodreads: Author Page

Spotlight: Leave of Absence

9781592998838 cov.indd Title: Leave of Absence
Author: Tanya J. Peterson
Genre: Contemporary Fiction
Publication Date: April 01, 2013
Publisher: Inkwater Press

Synopsis:
“Each substance of a grief has twenty shadows.” — William Shakespeare

Hollywood has stereotyped the schizophrenic. Prepare for your perceptions to be shattered. Penelope Baker grapples with schizophrenia. She has suffered losses, and her grief has deep and numerous shadows. Oliver Graham, utterly bereft, wrestles with guilt. He has suffered losses, and his grief has deep and numerous shadows. Leave of Absence unveils the complexity—and the humanity—underlying psychological struggles.

When Oliver Graham’s suicide attempt fails, he is admitted to Airhaven Behavioral Health Center. Unable to cope with the traumatic loss of his beloved wife and son, he finds a single thread of attachment to life in Penelope, a fellow patient wrestling with schizophrenia’s devastating impact on her once happy and successful life. They both struggle to discover a reason to live while Penelope’s fiance William strives to convince her that she is worth loving. As Oliver and Penelope try to achieve emotional stability, face others who have been part of their lives, and function in the “real world,” they discover that human connection may be reason enough to go on.

Written with extraordinary perception into the thought processes of those dealing with mental illness, Leave of Absence is perfect for readers seeking an empathic depiction of grief, loss, and schizophrenia. It has a place in the classrooms of counselor-educators, among support groups for those with mental illness and for their caregivers, and in the home of anyone who has ever experienced human suffering and healing.

Leave of Absence Trailer

Where to Purchase Leave of Absence:
Amazon (Kindle) | Barnes & Noble (Nook) | Barnes & Noble (paperback)

5834270
About Tanya
I’m intrigued by the human experience, which is probably the reason I decided to earn degrees in education and in counseling. I enjoy working with people and helping them empower themselves to make their lives great, and I sincerely appreciate those who have helped me through my own challenges in this human experience (I’ve experienced counseling from both sides of the proverbial couch). I’ve worked at a school for homeless and runaway adolescents and in traditional schools as well. I also love to write, and I enjoy creating stories about the human experience.

Connect with Tanya
Official Website
Twitter: tanyajpeterson1
Facebook Page
Goodreads: Author Page

Spotlight: The Ashford Affair

ashford Title: The Ashford Affair
Author: Lauren Willig
Genre: Historical Fiction
Publication Date: April 09, 2013
Publisher: St. Martin’s Press

Synopsis:
As a lawyer in a large Manhattan firm, just shy of making partner, Clementine Evans has finally achieved almost everything she’s been working towards—but now she’s not sure it’s enough. Her long hours have led to a broken engagement and, suddenly single at thirty-four, she feels her messy life crumbling around her. But when the family gathers for her grandmother Addie’s ninety-ninth birthday, a relative lets slip hints about a long-buried family secret, leading Clemmie on a journey into the past that could change everything. . . .

What follows is a potent story that spans generations and continents, bringing an Out of Africa feel to a Downton Abbey cast of unforgettable characters. From the inner circles of WWI-era British society to the skyscrapers of Manhattan and the red-dirt hills of Kenya, the never-told secrets of a woman and a family unfurl.

14469About Lauren
Lauren Willig is the New York Times bestselling author of eleven works of historical fiction. Her books have been translated into over a dozen languages, awarded the RITA, Booksellers Best and Golden Leaf awards, and chosen for the American Library Association’s annual list of the best genre fiction. After graduating from Yale University, she embarked on a PhD in English History at Harvard before leaving academia to acquire a JD at Harvard Law while authoring her “Pink Carnation” series of Napoleonic-set novels. She lives in New York City, where she now writes full time

Connect with Lauren
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Spotlight: The Photo Traveler

phototravel Title: The Photo Traveler
Author: Arthur J. Gonzalez
Genre: YA / Science Fiction

Synopsis:
Seventeen-year-old Gavin Hillstone is resigned to being miserable for the rest of his life. Left alone in the world after his parents died in a fire when he was four, he was placed in foster care, which for him meant ending up in an abusive home with an alcoholic adoptive father.

Gavin’s only escape is in taking and creating images. His camera is his refuge from the unending torture and isolation of daily life in his “family.”

Until he learns by accident that he isn’t alone in the world after all. His father’s parents are still alive and living in Washington DC.

When he takes the plunge and travels 3,000 miles to find his grandparents, he learns that they—and he—are part of something much bigger, and more dangerous, than he could ever have imagined. Something that has always put his family at risk and that will now threaten his own life, while forever changing it.

He learns that he is one of the last descendants of a small group of Photo Travelers—people who can travel through time and space through images. But his initial excitement turns to fear, when he soon discovers that he and his grandparents are being pursued by the fierce remnants of a radical European Photo Traveler cult, the Peace Hunters. What Gavin has, they want!

His adventure will take him to past eras, like The Great Depression and the Salem Witch Trials. Gavin will have to discover who he really is and must make choices that spell the difference between life and death for himself, for the relatives he now knows and loves, and for the girl he will come to love.

For Gavin Hillstone, life will never be the same.

Where to Purchase The Photo Traveler:

Amazon (paperback) | Amazon (Kindle) | Barnes & Noble | eBookpie | Kobo | Smashwords

ajgAbout Arthur
THE PHOTO TRAVELER is young adult author Arthur J. Gonzalez’s first novel. Arthur was born and raised in Miami surrounded by his loud Cuban family. He graduated from the University of Florida, where he acquired his coffee obsession and his chocolate hoarding antics. He’s the proud father of one baby girl, Sookie–his miniature schnoodle dog. Arthur is a self-professed goofball who spends 98% of his life laughing. He’s now working on his second novel.

Connect with Arthur
Official Website
Facebook Page
Twitter: arthurjgonzalez
Goodreads: Author Page

An Open Letter to Jane Austen

Alyssa Goodnight and Stiletto Storytime teamed up to host a Pride & Prejudice 200th Anniversary Party Hop. There are over 70 blogs participating and I encourage everyone to check out the participants since each post will be slightly different and a few are hosting giveaways as well! How do you plan to celebrate the occasion?


Dear Jane:

Congratulations! Today marks 200 years of Pride and Prejudice‘s publication. 200 years in which girls have fallen in love with Darcy and wishing we had our own. Generations of women have formed friendships because of their love for the book. Mothers and daughters bond over discussions and of course seeing the adaptations. One cannot forget the first time we read Pride and Prejudice nor can we forget our very first screen Darcy (mine is Laurence Olivier).

A lot has changed socially since your book’s publication. Women attend university and have the right to vote. Single women no longer have to rely on their male family members to provide for them since we now can earn our own living and depend solely on ourselves. Family members still pester a few regarding marriage, but it is acceptable to remain single should our own Mr. Darcy never arrive. Although some women still do marry for money, a majority of women in today’s society marry for love. It is also acceptable to set up our own household and live alone as well as travel alone.

Pride and Prejudice has sold over 20 million copies since its initial publication. It’s been adapted for stage, film, and even television. You’re probably wondering what film or television is and this is the best I can describe it: think of it as a play, but instead of a stationary stage, there are moving pieces. These pieces are recorded frame by frame to create a moving picture. Pride and Prejudice also has inspired authors to write their own version based on your plot.

My favorite Pride and Prejudice television / film adaptation is the Andrew Davies production of 1995. It stars Colin Firth as Mr. Darcy and Jennifer Ehle as Elizabeth Bennet. It also inspired the Lost in Austen adaptation to feature the famous lake scene from the 1995 version, where Amanda asks Mr. Darcy to emerge himself in the water as Colin Firth had done.

These adaptations also expand on Darcy’s proposal since you didn’t actually give us his entire speech. I really like the 1995 proposal:

In vain I have struggled. It will not do. My feelings will not be repressed. You must allow me to tell you how ardently I admire and love you. In declaring myself thus I’m fully aware that I will be going expressly against the wishes of my family, my friends, and, I hardly need add, my own better judgment. The relative situation of our families is such that any alliance between us must be regarded as a highly reprehensible connection. Indeed, as a rational man I cannot but regard it as such myself, but it cannot be helped. Almost from the earliest moments of our acquaintance I have come to feel for you a passionate admiration and regard, which despite my struggles has overcome every rational objection, and I beg you, most fervently, to relieve my suffering and consent to be my wife.

We learned a lot from Pride and Prejudice. You taught us to stand up for ourselves and our beliefs. Family members may embarrass us on occasion, but they are still family. Things may look dire and we think we’ll never recover from a situation, but in the end we are stronger than we think we are and do recover. You also taught us to never settle for a Mr. Collins.
That there are always two sides to a story and even the most dashing man may have an ulterior motive. Through you we learned, that first impressions aren’t always what they seem and it is okay to change your mind. Most importantly you taught us, that he’s worth waiting for. When we finally meet our Darcy, he will do anything to make us happy even if involves facing his own past and knowing it is humiliating to him.

We owe a lot to you Jane. I do wish you could see the influence of not only Pride and Prejudice, but of all your books in our society. You should be proud of your accomplishment and how I wish I could turn back time and inform you not to sell your copyright, but alas that is not possible.

Thank you. Thank you for giving us a beautiful story; for the lessons learned and for the friendships formed.

Yours very affectionately,
Jessica

Book Review: “Outlander” by Diana Gabaldon

ImageTitle: Outlander
Author: Diana Gabaldon
Genre: Romance, Historical Fiction, Fantasy
Series: Yes (Book 1 of 7)
Rating: 4 out of 5
My Copy: Purchased

The first thing you encounter when you pick up a copy of Outlander is probably surprise, and maybe a bit of intimidation; the novel is a veritable tome, weighing in at well over 800 pages. Oftentimes, this is enough to scare away the more casual reader, but for me, it was more the book’s reputation and popularity that gave pause.

Throughout my bookish life, I’ve been told I ought to read Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander. It is the single, most oft-recommended book that I’ve ever had suggested to me, and so not inclined to follow the crowd, I resisted. News of an impending mini-series wrought by Ron Moore of Battlestar Galactica fame helped entice me to overcome this initial reluctance, as did the full knowledge of the book’s premise: Jacobite Scotland, espionage, intrigue, highland adventures, and time travel. What’s not to love? As I’ve been on a time travel kick lately, what list of epoch-defying novels is complete without Outlander?

Here ye be warned–spoilers abound in this lengthy review for a lengthy novel.

Summary
Following World War II, Claire Randall and her husband, Frank, embark upon a second honeymoon to Scotland in an attempt to rekindle their war-dwindled romance. Venturing into the countryside, they come across a circle of standing stones, and as Claire is sucked back in time, we are likewise taken along with her.

Positives
The conveyance which transported Claire back two hundred years is simultaneously brilliant and eyebrow-raising. A megalithic circle akin to that of Stonehenge, called Craigh na Dun, is deemed responsible,  and it is also suggested that this is a natural phenomenon that the ancients knew of but did not fully understand. It is implied not that the stones themselves possess the power to thrust a being back in time, but rather more realistically, that the stones were erected ages ago to warn passersby to stay away. Gabaldon’s inclusion of the mythic legends regarding fairies was also clever, and in context, such legends would be a satisfactory explanation for previous occurrences of time travel.

The juxtaposition of Claire’s 20th century mind with the 18th century culture she finds herself thrown into is amusing as well as fascinating. While she’s intelligent enough to avoid more of the situations that would create more comedic scenarios, she’ll still slip and use phrases like “Do not pass go, do not collect two hundred dollars,” confusing those around her and eliciting a chuckle from the reader.

Negatives
Loch Ness monster? Really, Gabaldon? Someone please convince me how this contributed to the plot. It felt like nothing other than a Scottish cliche inserted to amuse the ignorant masses, who cannot think of Scotland save to conjure images of a smiling Nessie sporting a plaid tam.

I’m going to risk incurring the ire of every Fraser fangirl alive by saying this, but Jaime doesn’t do it for me. At all. I completely fail to see why he’s so appealing and attractive. Repeatedly, we’re reminded of his physical perfection; this smacks of Twilight to me, and beating me over the head with description after description of the hero’s physical glories does not at all convince me of the character’s worth. Jaime is kind enough to Claire, that is true. Initially, he seems to be quite likeable. His use of the term “Sassenach” is downright endearing, even to me (I’ll even admit that I think I’d get chills if someone called me that in a Scottish accent); however, I have to be  brutally honest here, and say that I have had great difficulty getting over the scene where Jaime beats Claire. Yes, it’s period for an 18th century man to be able to thrash his wife in punishment. Yes, he promises to never do it again and adheres to that (at least in the first book). But accurate or not, this is one instance where I am not able to accept period-correct behaviour and dismiss it in context. No woman ever deserves to be beaten, no matter her perceived crime. Is this our literary hero?

This book has an even darker side, one of which I would caution less mature readers. There are several scenes and themes in this book I would consider to be potential “triggers” for anyone with a history of abuse, and even for those merely of faint of heart or weak of stomach. We see scenes of vividly-depicted sexual abuse (heterosexual and otherwise), rape, and sodomy. It’s downright uncomfortable to read, and while I understand Gabaldon’s decision to brave exploration of abuse in the 18th century, I don’t understand why she chooses to revel in the literally gorey details, yet gloss over the ramifications and subsequent trauma. It makes me suspect she did it for shock value, and to villainize Jack Randall as much as humanly possible. To be blunt, it felt somewhat cheap.

Quotes

Jaime was not my first hero. The men moved too quickly through the field hospital, as a rule, for the nurses to become well acquainted with them, but now and again you would a man who talked too little or joked too much, who held himself more stiffly than pain and loneliness would account for.

And I knew, roughly, what could be done for them. If there was time, and if they were the kind who talked to keep the dark at bay, you sat with them and listened. If they were silent, you touched them often in passing, and watched for the unguarded moment, when you might draw them outside of themselves and hold them while they exorcised their demons. If there was time. And if there wasn’t, then you jabbed them with morphine, and hoped they would manage to find someone else to listen, while you passed on to a man whose wounds were visible.

— Chapter 36

The dusk momentarily heightened all the colors of the countryside, lighting the land with jewels; a glowing emerald in the hollows, a lovely shadowed amethyst among the clumps of heather, and burning rubies on the red-berried rowan trees that crowned the hills.”

[…]

We came down from the braes near Loch Madoch, pressing the chilly dawn mist to the edge of a still sheet of grey. Wild ducks began to rise from the reeds in untidy flocks that circled the marshes, quacking and calling to rouse late sleepers below. By contrast, a well-disciplined wedge of geese passed over us, calling of heartbreak and desolation.

The grey fog lifted near midday on the second day, and a weak sun lighted the meadows filled with yellow gorse and broom. A few miles past the loch, we came out onto a narrow road and turned northwest. The way took us up again, rising into low, rolling hills that gave way gradually to granite tors and crags.

— Chapter 25

Thoughts
I have nothing but praise for the way Diana Gabaldon writes. Her prose is lyrical, her descriptions vivid and realistic, and her dialogue is good (though not fantastic or wholly period). She has a strong grasp on the historical and cultural aspects of the 18th century, and I say this as an enthusiast of the era. I only caught one inaccuracy; she refers to a character wearing a cotton gown. While cotton was certainly known and the fabric on its way to becoming a staple (later in the century Eli Whitney’s invention would allow it to become affordable enough to reach the masses), in this context, I felt a garment made of “linsey-woolsey” or plain wool would have been more appropriate.

One area I felt could use a bit more exploration was, exactly what sort of trauma and mental distress time travel would invoke on the traveler. We are given very little of what I would expect to be a horrifying experience for anyone; aside from Claire’s initial confusion and denial, it never seems to occur to her that what she has just experienced is a mind-boggling impossibility. I don’t know about you, but I would be doing some heavy-duty thinking about whether or not my every move would be altering the course of history (read Ray Bradbury’s short story A Sound of Thunder if you haven’t already). This is touched upon more satisfactorily in Dragonfly in Amber (which I’m presently in the midst of), and admittedly a 1940s mind might not be as familiar with the concept of time travel in general as Gabaldon’s modern-day audience. Still, we barely see Claire even ponder her quandary at all.

Another question worth asking is whether or not Claire is a bigamist. Why not just tell everyone she was still married? While technically her husband Frank hadn’t been born yet, this would have alleviated the problems of her being forced to marry again. This is addressed in one of the best portions of the entire novel take place in one of the later chapters, where Claire confides in a kindly priest and consults him on the quandary of her marriage to Jaime. The issue of bigamy is addressed, albeit rather conveniently, but through this, Claire is reawakened to religion. It’s a transformation that’s always tricky to pull off, and Gabaldon does it admirably and respectfully, without the all-too-typical “Hallmark” quality that offends my sense of realism.

Conclusion
I do feel that Gabaldon could use an editor; she can be wordy, often unnecessarily so, but not in her description or exposition. It is in her innumerable adventures, the tales of Claire and Jaime that she wears the reader’s patience. Over and over we read of their exploits across the highlands (and between the bedsheets), again and again we are told of how much they love each other. But that’s just it; we’re told, rather than shown. The age-old adage holds true here. Show, don’t tell. Gabaldon is a master of description, but she fails to give us an emotional connection illustrating exactly why Claire would choose Jaime over Frank. We’re given reasons such as her fear of travelling back through the stones a second time; this makes sense, but don’t you think she would brave that risk for Jaime?

Outlander begins to weave several threads that I can only hope will be grasped more firmly later in the series. Especially the story of Geile Duncan and Frank’s experiences during the war, both of which intrigued me, and neither was fully explored.

Overall, four stars for the sheer magnitude of Gabaldon’s undertaking, her ability to pull it off with considerable aplomb, and her laudable knowledge of the historical elements surrounding 18th century Jacobite Scotland. ♦

Bookish Dress Up & My Book Crack

Our first mini challenge is hosted by Nyx Book Reviews: Bookish Dress Up. The challenge is: I would love to know which character you would dress differently, and how!

If I had to pick any character to dress up, I’d say Susan from Chelsea Cain’s Archie Sheridan / Gretchen Lowell series. Susan is often described as wearing nothing but jeans, t-shirts (such has her beloved The Pixies shirt), and combat boots. Susan in part dresses the way she does because she has a hippie mother. I’d like to see her wear more dresses and take pride in her looks, but not as a way to impress Archie. Susan also sports a different hair color in a each book, but I think if it were up to me, I’d have Susan sport her natural hair color for shock value.

outfit

The first three dresses are from Anthropologie and I think they can work for Susan and it provides a bit of a bohemian style for her and yet lets her look feminine. The last dress is ModCloth and I picture it as the dress Susan wears on a night out with Leo or maybe in the future one day with Archie (oh how I ship those two).


Our second mini challenge is hosted by Bookgoonie: Name Your Book Crack. The challenge is: What is your Book Crack? What can you NOT SAY NO to? What bookish things make you blissful

cain Autographed Books
I can’t say no to signed books! I don’t know what it is, but there’s something about an author taking the time to sign a book. It doesn’t have to made out to me (although it make makes me all warm and fuzzy when it is), but a basic signature is fine. I wasn’t like this, but over the past few years it has become impossible for me to say no to a signed book. I admit I never was one to collect signed books from authors I read because I had no idea how to get them other than book signings, but living where I do it’s rare popular or well known authors stop by. A majority of my signed books were academic books by visiting scholars and I adore those, but I do love the books signed that friends have been able to get me.

bookmarkBookmarks
I also can’t say no to bookmarks, which is funny because I NEVER use them. Um yeah I’m known to dog ear my pages, but not all the time! The primary reason why I don’t use them is because I’ve made the switch to an e-reader (first Sony which still works just fine and still use and now for Christmas I received a Kindle Fire HD) and if I’m reading an e-book then the theory is I don’t need a bookmark. I do hate to see beautiful bookmarks go to waste so I do use them and the really pretty ones are kept hidden so they won’t get damaged.

107242034846699430_fA7ppA2x_b Bargain Books
Last but not least, I can’t say no to bargain history books. As a Medievalist in training (meaning I’m still in grad school with a master’s, but no PhD yet), if I come across any bargain book on the Middle Ages or Ancient History I buy it. I’m also a fan of Regency / Victorian culture and I’ve been known to purchase guides to costume or period dress. My thinking always is, “as a professor one day, I could use a page or two for reference.” What I do like about bargain history books are the collection of essays and the illustrations. I bought a medieval warfare book a few years ago and recently discovered it was edited my former master’s thesis advisor!

Book Spine Poetry

This looked like too much fun to resist, so here’s my attempt at book spine poetry!

(I’m by no means a poet, so consider yourselves WARNED)

Image

So much to be done
by a lady,
the captivating
woman in white.
Common sense
kidnapped
her (a) common life;
love and friendship
in this mountain
are now gone with the wind. ♦