Sunday, January 31, 2016

Bridges Burned: A Zoe Chambers Mystery

Zoe Chambers is a paramedic and deputy coroner who works hard "to find answers for the dead" in Vance Township, a tight-knit Pennsylvania farm community. In her first two books, Circle of Influence and Lost Legacy, Zoe tracked the killer of a prominent town board member and investigated the suicide of a local farmer. In book three, Bridges Burned, Zoe stops a man from re-entering his burning house in an attempt to save his wife. When the raging fire proves fatal, Zoe empathizes with the grieving, homeless, unemployed widower, Holt Farabee, and his ten year-old daughter, Maddie. She offers lodging to the pair in the dilapidated 1850s farmhouse she shares with her aging, infirm landlady. In exchange, Holt, who has handyman skills, agrees to do odd jobs.

Zoe soon forges a bond with Holt and identifies with Maddie, as Zoe lost her father when she, too, was a young girl. But when Police Chief Pete Adams--a man whom Zoe has kept at a romantic arm's length for years--learns of the living arrangement, he's not pleased as his investigation is harvesting suspicions about the deadly fire and Holt's past. When Pete tries to caution Zoe, she refuses to listen. Might Zoe's stubbornness lead to further peril? 

Small town dynamics color a suspenseful, well-plotted storyline rife with red herrings that reveal how seemingly mundane lives are much more complicated and connected than first believed. But it's Annette Dashofy's likeable heroine--her vulnerabilities and deepening challenges--that makes for another winning installment in this series.

Burning Bridges by Annette Dashofy
Henery Press, $14.95 Paperback, 9781941962398, 288 pp  
Publication Date: April 7, 2015

To order this book via INDIEBOUND link HERE

Note: This review is a reprint and is being posted (in a slightly different form) with the permission of Shelf Awareness. To read this review on Shelf Awareness: Reader's Edition (4/10/15), link HERE

Sunday, January 17, 2016

Let's Be Less Stupid: An Attempt to Maintain My Mental Faculties

It's not easy growing older, but for Patricia Marx, the decline of the mind provides fodder for a smart, often laugh-out-loud exploration of the human brain—"the three-pound wrinkly glop of glopoplasm in your skull" that contains "about a hundred billion neurons." In Let's Be Less Stupid, Marx--a curious, comic writer and contributor to Saturday Night Live, The New Yorker and the author of Starting from Happy--presents a candid, loosely structured memoir about her four-month mission to better understand, sharpen and boost her brain, which she claims is, "the size of Kareem Abdul-Jabbar's fist, the consistency of flan, and weighs as much as a two-slice toaster." She states, "if you were a plastic surgeon, you'd say my brain needed a facelift."
 
Marx believes the modern world inundates minds, especially hers, with an overabundance of information--"the shoe size of my ex, the names of Sarah Jessica Parker's children, the calories in cottage cheese"--and, with age, the brain becomes a clogged think tank where "our cerebrums are filled with more facts than are contained in all the editions of Trivial Pursuit." Thus, she sets out to examine and test ways of transforming and rejuvenating her "ol' noggin'." She offers a trove of neuro-knowledge factoids and clever self-help strategies fortified with statistical data, word problems, quizzes, brainteasers and "Middle-age Mad Libs"; graphics, doodles, photographs and charts; physical and nutritional enhancements, medical tests and meditations. These accoutrements illustrate, reinforce and/or dispute theories Marx encounters amid her hilariously sophisticated, often literally mind-boggling, "get-smart" crusade.

Twelve Books, $22.00 Hardcover, 9781455554959, 208 pp
Publication Date: July 14, 2015

To order this book via INDIEBOUND link HERE

Note: This review is a reprint and is being posted (in a slightly different form) with the permission of Shelf Awareness. To read this review on Shelf Awareness: Reader's Edition (7/30/15), link HERE 

Sunday, January 3, 2016

The Saturday Evening Post: Great American Fiction

 
I am pleased and honored that one of my short stories received honorable mention in The Saturday Evening Post: Great American Fiction Contest. The coordinators of the prize--Steven Slon and Patrick Perry (editors of The Saturday Evening Post magazine)--have compiled the top selections and assembled them in one collection entitled, Best Short Stories from The Saturday Evening Post Great American Fiction Contest 2016

My story, "Affentity," which is featured in the collection, takes place in 1922 and is about the relationship between an impressionable young girl and her bootlegging, spiritually challenged grandfather.
To learn more and to order the anthology link HERE

Happy Reading...Enjoy!


The Saturday Evening Post Society, $3.99 ebook, B01A05K7RU, 402 pp
Publication Date: December 29, 2015
To order this book link HERE

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Favorite Reads of 2015

As a writer for Shelf Awareness, I read and review at least three titles per month. Plus, I also read books for my own pleasure (although there is never enough time!)  Below are some of my favorite reads from 2015:



FICTION

Act of God by Jill Ciment: The premise of Ciment's novel may seem zany--a fungus overtakes Brooklyn and affects the lives of two elderly sisters--but the absurdity serves to offer insights into the human condition in the modern world.
Crow Fair: Stories by Thomas McGuane:  Montana is McGuane's terrain, and this master of the short story form tackles the quirky bonds of friendship and family with a wry, comic edge and a host of "surprise" endings.
Days of Awe by Lauren Fox:  Fox's novel, infused with wit, centers on a woman's sudden death and how it challenges her best friend to reassess the meaning of her life, her marriage, motherhood and the possibility of a second chance at love.
Girl Waits with Gun by Amy Stewart:  This imaginative, historical-based, true-crime novel takes place in Paterson, New Jersey in 1914 and is about three sisters (one of whom was a female sheriff) who took on the Mob...and all that that entails!
Go Set a Watchman by Harper Lee:  If this novel truly reveals Lee's original intent--before it was rewritten for more commercial, mass appeal as To Kill a Mockingbird--then this pared-down story about a woman confronting racial intolerance and discrimination in her Southern hometown and in her family shines on its own merit.
Like Family by Paolo Giordano: This short, beautifully written novel, translated from Italian and inspired by real events from the author's life, is a gentle, moving story about an older woman who becomes a nanny and confidante to a family of three and how her presence changes their lives.
Our Souls at Night by Kent Haruf: It's never too late to love...In this tender, understated, short novel, aging widowers--who have known each other for decades, but who live alone and have "no one to talk to"--form a deep bond of friendship and true intimacy that ultimately sparks controversy in their small town and amid their families.
Valley Fever by Katherine Taylor: Taylor delivers a bittersweet, entertaining story about a heartbroken, disillusioned young woman who returns home to a vineyard in Fresno, California in order to find herself—and untangle the vines of family and fortune.
The Woman Who Stole My Life by Marian Keyes: Keyes' distinctive, clever brand of humor is in top form as her novel traces the life of an Irish beautician who is transformed by a mysterious illness and a charismatic neurologist who changes her life.
NONFICTION
Boys in the Trees: A Memoir by Carly Simon: The Queen of Top Forty tells all about her life from childhood to family secrets, romances and even the creative inspiration behind her hit, "You're so Vain."
Drinking in America: Our Secret History by Susan Cheever: Cheever presents a riveting, well-conceived and well-balanced portrait about the history--good and bad--of one of America's favorite pastimes.
A History of Baseball in 100 Objects by Josh Leventhal: It's like visiting a well-conceived museum exhibit between the covers of a book...Leventhal presents a wide-range of interesting artifacts relating to every era of the game.
The Time of Our Lives: Collected Writings by Peggy Noonan:  Noonan is a columnist for the Wall Street Journal, and this collection offers her reflections and impressions of life in the USA--and beyond--over several decades. Compelling food-for-thought for Conservatives and Liberals, alike.
BOOK TO WATCH IN 2016
My Name is Lucy Barton by Elizabeth Strout: In spare prose, Strout (Pulitzer Prize-winner for Olive Kitteridge) crafts a luminous, moving novel about a writer who looks back at pivotal experiences in her past that ultimately shaped her sense of self and her destiny.
Happy Reading in 2016!


Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Merry Christmas!


 

How would the world be different--beyond spirituality and religion;
in a cultural sense--if Jesus Christ had never been born?

Wednesday, December 23, 2015
Opinion/Editorial: "Other Views/ Guest Columnist" (Section A-13)
BY KATHLEEN GERARD

To read the article in its entirety, click on the highlighted title above

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Elin Hilderbrand: A Summer Novelist Tackles Winter

The Writer's Life

photo: Laurie Richards
Twenty-two years ago, Elin Hilderbrand sublet her Manhattan apartment where, after college, she'd been living and working in publishing and as a teacher, and spent the summer on the island of Nantucket off the coast of Massachusetts. "The second my ferry pulled into the harbor I thought, I'm never going back (to New York)," she says. Ever since, this bestselling author has called Nantucket home, on the page and off--all of Hilderbrand's 16 novels are set on the island. Hilderbrand has been labeled "the Queen of the Summer Novel"; her fans expect a new book from her every summer, featuring ensemble casts of characters, the complexities of contemporary family life and romantic entanglements.

In 2014, Hilderbrand published her second novel of the year, Winter Street, a story about the Quinns, a large dysfunctional family that gathers on Nantucket for Christmas and faces unexpected surprises. In Winter Stroll (see my review below), Hilderbrand reunites the Quinn family as they face new familial complications and partake in holiday festivities particular to Nantucket.

Did you plan to write a Christmas series of books?
In the summer of 2013, my publisher, Little, Brown, had a book fall off their winter list, and they asked if I could write a Christmas book in four weeks. I said, "No!" But it got me thinking about Christmas novels, and I came up with the idea of the Winter Street Inn and the Quinn family. I knew I wanted it to be a trilogy, but it took the first book for me to convince my publisher.

Why should readers want to read your "Winter" series when they've grown so accustomed to your "Summer" novels?
The Christmas books give a whole new aspect to life on Nantucket. It happens to be one of the most charming places in America to celebrate the holidays. In Winter Stroll, I tried to incorporate the fun aspects of Nantucket's annual holiday festivities, including Winter Stroll Weekend, where Nantucket becomes a winter wonderland. At the Festival of Trees party, the Whaling Museum is all adorned and decked out, and island businesses and organizations decorate 100 Christmas trees. Nantucket restaurants and people--year-rounders and summer residents--dress up and kick off the Christmas season in style.

How did you create the Quinn family for the series?
I knew I wanted a large, blended family--a man with a wife and an ex-wife, with children by each. I myself have two older boys, then a girl. So I used that combination from my own life in the story, and I added the character of Bart, who is deployed to Afghanistan, to the creative mix. Bart is the son by the second Quinn wife.

Your books often juggle multiple story threads and characters.
Yes, I wait to see what my characters will do once I create them. It's always surprising.

Do you have a favorite character from the "Winter" novels?
Hands down, my favorite character is Kelley Quinn's first wife, Margaret Quinn, who is the anchor of the CBS Evening News. I love Margaret because she is a working mother and at the time that I started writing this novel, I was so absorbed with work that I suffered from mom guilt. I wanted to write a novel where the working mother came in to save the day, where the working mother was the hero.

In Winter Stroll, you mention that Ava (the music teacher) despises the Christmas song "Jingle Bells." Is this a personal dislike of yours?
All music is personal and our predilections are inexplicable. I hate "Jingle Bells." Hate it. I was able to vent this particular dislike in the character of Ava.

You've been writing two books a year. Is it hard to do?
Yes, it's an insane work schedule! I began writing two books a year with Winter Street. I have two down, one to go in the "Winter" series. And then I hope to reclaim my life and go back to one book a year.

Do you have a favorite novel among those you've written?
My favorite of recent novels is Summerland, which takes place at Nantucket High School. My favorite character is Hobby. If you want to understand why, you really have to read the book.

Which is the most difficult novel you've written?
Silver Girl, but in some way each novel gets progressively harder because my job is to write the same thing and yet something completely different. It's a tall order.

Have you ever had the urge to revisit characters from your prior novels?
Yes, I'm considering writing a murder novel called "N" and bringing back characters from the past 10 books.

You are a breast cancer survivor. Did that affect your writing?
The only connection between my cancer and my writing is that the writing kept me focused and occupied during a very trying time. I wrote The Rumor all throughout my illness, surgeries and treatment. I have to admit, I look back and I can't believe I kept going.

You graduated from the "literature-based" writing programs at Johns Hopkins and the University of Iowa. How did you come to write commercial women's fiction?
I wrote short stories while at Iowa. When I graduated, however, it was pretty clear there wasn't really a market for stories. I needed to write a novel, and I wanted to write one set on Nantucket. From there came my idea for my first published novel, The Beach Club--and the modern beach book was born. I don't think in terms of literary or commercial. I think of writing about people and the place that I love better than anywhere on earth.

Do you think you'll ever write a novel not set in Nantucket?
My novels will always be set primarily on Nantucket, although the one I'm writing now is also set in New York City, Kentucky and L.A. And on deck... a novel about Nantucket and Martha's Vineyard.

Would you be willing to offer readers a glimpse into your next "Summer" novel?
Sure. It's called Here's to Us, and it's about a very famous, very successful and very tormented Manhattan chef who kills himself on page one. His three ex-wives and their children come to Nantucket to the house he impulsively bought in order to spread his ashes.

Note: This interview is a reprint and is being posted with the permission of Shelf Awareness. To read this Q&A as originally published on Shelf Awareness  (10/23/15), click HERE 

Winter Stroll


Family and holiday traditions are at the center of Winter Stroll, book two in Elin Hilderbrand's Winter Street series. In this installment, the Quinn family reunites in Nantucket on Thanksgiving weekend, when Kelley Quinn, the twice-married family patriarch and father of four, once again hosts his ex-wives, as many of his children as can make it, their children and several significant others at his iconic Winter Street Inn. All have gathered to celebrate "Winter Stroll," an annual Nantucket festival to kick off the Christmas season, and to attend the baptism of a new addition to this large, complicated and dysfunctional family.

Personal baggage and romantic difficulties abound for Kelley and his offspring: Patrick, a once successful financier, is now serving prison time; Bart, a soldier, is still missing in action in Afghanistan; Ava, a local music teacher, is having second thoughts about her relationship with the school principal; and an old flame returns to taunt Kevin, who thought he finally had his life back on track. Add Margaret, Kelley's first wife--a high-profile television journalist--and her commitment-phobic doctor beau, and eccentric Mitzy, Kelley's estranged second wife, to the mix, and the ante goes up for feuds and dramatic complications.

Hilderbrand (The Rumor) juggles an ensemble cast and successfully weaves together many bittersweet story threads, tying up just enough of them to keep readers anticipating another sequel. Despite some characters being at odds with each other, the Quinns--a large, complicated, dysfunctional family--prove to be a close-knit, unified and loyal bunch, who truly love each other and stick together through the joys and challenges of life. 



Little Brown and Company, $25.00 Hardcover, 9780316261135, 272 pp
Publication Date: October 13, 2015
To order via INDIEBOUND link HERE


Note: This review is a reprint and is being posted (in a slightly different form) with the permission of Shelf Awareness. To read this review on Shelf Awareness: Reader's Edition (10/23/15), click HERE

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Short Story America : Volume IV

I am pleased and honored that one of my short stories was a finalist for the Short Story America Prize. The coordinators of the prize and T.D. Johnston (writer/editor) have compiled 33 notable entries and gathered them in one amazing collection.  

In my story, "Revival," a second wife goes to great lengths to help her dying husband. I wrote this story--a story I treasure--during a very challenging time. It was my way to escape the "drama" of my own life.

To learn more about the anthology and to order the volume, link HERE

Happy Reading...Enjoy!




Short Story America (Volume IV): 33 Great Contemporary Short Stories
Edited by T. D. Johnston
Short Story America Press, $25.00 Paperback, 9780988249783, 285 pp
Publication Date: October 1, 2015
To order this book via INDIEBOUND link HERE

Sunday, December 6, 2015

Letters to Santa Claus by "The Elves"


For years, letters addressed to Santa Claus have been shipped to Santa Claus, Ind., where a staff of dedicated town volunteers, "elves," process and answer over 400,000 pieces of mail every December.

The book gathers more than 250 scanned letters and documents from the 1930s to the present. Material wish lists reflect the times--from Shirley Temple dolls to Apple gift cards--and the letters are telling and confessional. A "good little bad boy" admits he's been a "real louse," pouring Tabasco instead of chocolate syrup on his brother's ice cream.  A humble little girl only wants "some shoes...with heels" for her depressed single mother.  Another asks for a time machine to "fix all the bad things that have happened to me." A 6 year-old wants Santa to bring his ex-con father a job. A dog, abandoned by housemates, wants his favorite treats. A Braille letter from a blind, Filipino girl asks for a radio.  There are others boldly seeking mates, money, lingerie and legal aid.

Some lists are long and typed, others short: "I want my dad to be smarter" (102); "Can my mom come home from the hospital?" Questions about reindeer, chimneys and coal abound, as do apologies and vows toward better behavior. Some dangle prospects of Christmas Eve sweet treats to entice Santa—one promises beer and a liverwurst sandwich.  This well-presented, historical collection--reflecting both the naughty and nice--will entertain and offer insights into the human condition. And it's even been reported that a reader spotted her own letter to Santa in mix! Might yours be included?

Indiana University Press, 20.00 Hardcover, 9780253017932, 224 pp
Publication Date: October 5, 2015
To order this book via INDIEBOUND link HERE


Note: This review is a reprint and is being posted (in a slightly different form) with the permission of Shelf Awareness. To read this review on Shelf Awareness: Reader's Edition (10/27/15), link HERE

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Happy Thanksgiving!

Kings River Life Magazine has featured one of my mystery short stories in their Thanksgiving issue. "Last Licks" is bound to make you sit up and take notice of the potatoes on your Thanksgiving table in a whole new way. The story can be read online for free. See the link below...Enjoy!

"Last Licks" is a featured in the anthology, THE KILLER WORE CRANBERRY (mystery series) published by Untreed Reads.  The book is available for purchase wherever ebooks are sold. 

To learn more, link HERE


Last Licks
by 
Kathleen Gerard


I didn’t know what hit me. All of a sudden there was a thud! and a wet splat! that triggered everything to go flying everywhere—atop the sparkly crystals of the gently swaying chandelier; the steaming gravy boat that sat alongside that big, trussed up bird, half of it carved up on a platter; the beads of sweat rolling down the glass water pitcher; and even onto the cheek of this runny-nosed kid, who was sitting in a highchair across from the scene of the crime. After it happened, there was silence. Nobody moved. Nobody breathed. Every face looked at every other face, pale and stunned. But it wasn’t until one of the tall, wax tapered candles singed and launched a curly ribbon of smoke in its wake, and that snot-nosed kid started crying, that I knew things were bad. Real bad. And here I was, just a few forkfuls away from cleaning up in the betting pool.

It’s a long story that started back when we were surrounded by this oppressive darkness. There was lots of it. The two of us, Spud and me, we had been stuck in a heap for three months, covered by mounds of well-drained, moist-textured soil that smelled of clay and compost. It was a small plot of land tended by folks who had way too much time on their hands and believed in tomorrow. Every morning, noon and night, I could feel their determined footsteps trampling all over us. The ground quaked with their hard work and ambition. The heavier one wore clod-hopper boots whose soles sank into the earth like dull spikes. He got down on his knees and dimly mumbled his prayers aloud while he dug in the dirt until his fingernails turned black...

Sunday, November 22, 2015

The Dog that Saved Stewart Coolidge


Novelist Jim Kraus has been steadily building a brand writing heartwarming stories that explore the impact domestic animals have on the human experience—and vice-versa. In The Dog that Saved Stewart Coolidge, he crafts a story about twentysomethings struggling to carve out their own niches in the world and how a stray dog brings them together.

The book opens when a loose dog sneaks into the Tops Super Market in the small town of Wellsboro, Pa., and successfully steals a rawhide bone from the pet aisle. When the bone-wielding bandit starts returning regularly to the scene of the crime to make additional heists, Stewart Coolidge, a recent college graduate who can't find a job and works as a grocery store bagger, is enlisted by the store owner to catch the elusive thief. The recurring incidents soon become the talk of the town. Whose dog is it and where did he come from? When a local (and conniving) used car dealer decides to capitalize on the situation--and offers a reward for the dog, which he falsely claims is his own--Stewart, in his quest to wrangle up the stray, joins forces with Lisa, his neighbor, also a recent college grad with journalism ambitions, who works at the local coffee house.

While Stewart tries to capture the renegade dog, Lisa begins to cover the story for the town news. In their pursuit, the two become friends. But will their past heartbreaks and disappointments in life and love keep them from being honest with each other and prevent their friendship from blossoming into romance?

When the vagabond canine criminal, whom Lisa and Stewart come to call Hubert (named after The Patron Saint of Dogs), eventually shows up at the apartment house where Lisa and Stewart live--and Stewart decides to secretly take Hubert in--the dog's presence and his mischievous actions deepen the couple's relationship and things grow even more complicated around town. What repercussions will occur in harboring a four-legged fugitive?

Details of small town life ring with authenticity, along with the stresses young people face in meeting the expectations of others and finding and taking their places in the world while remaining true to themselves. Kraus (The Dog that Talked to God) presents a lovable cast of townsfolk and a suspenseful plot that is ultimately infused with a faith-based message that unites the spiritual themes of this wholesome, feel-good story.  

FaithWords, $14.99 Paperback, 9781455562541, 336 pp
Publication Date: October 27, 2015
To order this book via INDIEBOUND link HERE

Sunday, November 8, 2015

Owls: Our Most Charming Bird


Artist and avid ornithologist, Matt Sewell, has built a brand writing and distinctively illustrating informative, yet accessibly appealing books about birds. In Our Garden Birds and Our Songbirds, he presented two volumes, each exploring 52 favorite species from England—one bird for each week of the year. In Owls: Our Most Charming Bird, Sewell branches out beyond Great Britain and offers a world-wide compendium of various owls: multi-faceted, nocturnal birds of prey. Watercolors rendered in Pop-Art style and concise, lively prose highlight the individuality of 50 different species of owls that are indigenous to diverse regions of the world.

Sewell explores Woodland varieties like the Northern Saw-whet Owl--native to North America--which is "smaller-than-a-blackbird and fluffier-than-a-three-week-old Labrador" and has "pleading, puppy-dog eyes" etched with a permanent look of surprise. The Great Gray Owl, with a head like a "geodesic dome inhabited by a bunch of strung-out hippies," is considered a Wilderness variety that is a stealthy hunter built to survive in northern, glacial environments. The Elf Owl is one of the smallest that loves cacti and inhabits Wild West deserts of the USA and Mexico. While the Crested Owl is indigenous to tropical Central and South American climates and has eyebrows that appear like "incredible appendages" that serve to aid his camouflage efforts when pretending to be a branch.

This playful, well-conceived collection enhances--and also shatters--myths and folklores surrounding these "all-seeing, all-knowing" mysterious and imperious bird-hunters and proves fiercely entertaining and enriching in the process.

Ten Speed Press, $12.99 Hardcover, 9781607748793, 128 pp
Publication Date: September 22, 2015
To order this book via INDIEBOUND link HERE

Note: This review is a reprint and is being posted (in a slightly different form) with the permission of Shelf Awareness. To read this review on Shelf Awareness: Reader's Edition (10/2/15), link HERE