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Saturday, March 31, 2012

MS Walk 2012, Newburyport, Massachusetts, March 31, 2012
Team Terry
back row, on the sea wall: Tracy, Christine, Mary,  Ann (and Betty, back at the gate)
front row, from left: Denise, Kathy, Stacey, Mal, Pat, Terry, Rick, Pat, Jane, Leela

With temperatures in the thirties, scant falling snow, and a stiff breeze coming along the water, MS Awareness Month came to a chilly end. The walkers gathered at Cashman Park, turning in their registration envelopes and receiving orange shirts for their fundraising efforts. 

But Team Terry members were already dressed in their team shirts, white with a yellow and orange sunburst and an image of a walker standing atop a rock, hands reaching out towards the sky in a posture of success.

And the team did reach their goal of fundraising $500.00 for the National Multiple Sclerosis Society, sponsors of the walk.  They all walked the picturesque route, starting alongside the mouth of the Merrimack River, which flows from Lake Winnepesaukee in New Hampshire all the way through lower New Hampshire, into northern Massachusetts, passing through large cities that grew because of the water power available for the early textile mills.

The walk maps led them then through the neighborhoods of brick sidewalks and Early American clapboard houses, and then along High Street, famous for its Captain's Houses and Brick Courthouse ~ the oldest one in America that is designated a Federal Courthouse and still operating as such.  The walk then led them through the restored early commercial district where the Towle Silver building still stands, and then around and back to Cashman Park.

Refreshment stands with water and healthy snacks were set up along the route, every mile and a half or so, where facilities were available for those in need, and team mates had a chance to catch up with each other. On returning to Cashman Park, pizza donated by a local vendor and more water and warm coffee and cocoa were available to the walkers and their cheering squads.

The five mile walk through the city took about two hours, and sparked a lot of lively conversations along the way. Snow in March is not unusual in northern Massachusetts, but as it was only our third or fourth snowfall in this nearly snow-less winter, and non accumulating at that, it deserved comment.

Walkers, strollers, wagons and carriages, and a few wheelchairs all meandered through the narrow sections of walkway, and picked up speed and a healthy cardiovascular workout when the terrain opened up. The National Multiple Sclerosis Society's goal is to keep people moving, and keep people connected, and this day was a fine example of how to do both!

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Thursday, March 29, 2012

More Reviews for Multiple Sclerosis, an Enigma

I'm happy to post  more positive reviews of Multiple Sclerosis, an Enigma. will be promoting the book during the month of April, and more reviews may follow.

Carmen Ambrosio, author of Life Continues, has written: 

"Bookended by the challenging generational demands of growing children and seriously ill elderly parents, dedicated educator Terry Crawford Palardy put everyone else's needs before her own for years--even as she experienced perplexing neurological symptoms.

Fluid dialogue and vivid descriptions reveal the author's protracted, diagnostic odyssey. Readers share alongside Terry the physical and emotional toll of getting to and through physician consultations, diagnostic procedures, tests, and treatments. The escalating frustration, confusion, and fear she feels when she interacts with certain medical, pharmaceutical, and insurance company staffers may be familiar to others who have a chronic illness or their caregivers.

Finally, Terry connects with doctors she trusts. A once elusive MS diagnosis becomes definitive. Throughout her ordeal, Terry resolves to preserve her dignity. She is bolstered both by her religious faith and by her husband's consistently calm, reassuring presence. His devotion to her is the embodiment of unconditional love. Despite losses and lingering unanswered questions, Terry remains true to her conviction to decide treatment options for herself.

When I finished the last chapter, I applauded Terry's determination to deal with multiple sclerosis on her own terms. It was a rousing ovation I hoped somehow she could hear."

And Faye Manos Quinn, another person experiencing multiple sclerosis, has written:

"Amazing! As I read along, I felt I was walking right beside her. In the story you could see that she was sticking to her recollections of symptoms throughout her life starting at an early age. And as I stated to her, I wonder also, were her family members misdiagnosed and had MS as well. We will never know. I felt comfortable walking beside Terry through her journey as I felt she had my heart in hand. I admired her for many years, but now is "special" to me! Quite brave to share such intimate details along this struggle we all experience in the Dragon of MS.

I recommend to all with MS and friends/family of someone suffering from MS!

Beautiful Read!"

Lauren DuBois, in France, posted this review of the book on

"Terry's memoir is a story of courage and hope. It's so well-written that I feel I know the author personally. She writes of her life which was interrupted with the diagnosis of multiple sclerosis - a debilitating disease.
It's important for anyone who is newly-diagnosed or for family members, caregivers, friends to read this novel and get a good understanding of how MS can shake up a person's life.
Kudos to Terry for writing and sharing her innermost thoughts on her disability."

A winner of the book's Giveaway at Goodreads, Shane, sent this review:

"I entered this contest for my aunt. It took her a while to read it because of her condition but she finally emailed me to tell me what she thought. She wanted me to thank the author for allowing me to win this and that although she is in really bad shape, she said it gives her hope. I believe that she is going to be trying some of the steps that Terry took and will run some by her doctor as well. And she said she is going to start a journal to occupy her mind. Tv is getting old she said. All those channels and nothing to watch. LOL Her words Not mine. Sorry it took so long Terry. And thanks for the book. It put a smile on my aunts face and gave her some hope."
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Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Another Mystery / Thriller, this one by A. K. Alexander

A human infant sleeps in his incubator at a ne...A human infant sleeps in his incubator at a neonatal intensive care unit. Photo by Chris Horry at Arnold Palmer Hospital in Orlando, Florida, November 2002. (The infant is now a healthy two year old.) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The Covert Reich, by A.K.Alexander is a political/sociological thriller that is a fast paced, character driven novel. It begins in a hospital emergency room, where a young mother codes after needing life-saving efforts: her two month premature infant daughter is taken to the neo-natal intensive care unit by Doctor Kelly Morales. Kelly hears, while hooking the infant up to monitors and checking her vital signs, that two young mothers and their babies died the day before in this same hospital. Kelly is determined to save this baby, and find out what may have been similar in the three mothers' deaths.

Her questions lead  her to the morgue, where she asks the doctor, her friend  Jake, for the autopsies, but rather than having a collegial chat about results, she encounters hesitation, evasion, and fear in Jake. They agree to meet for dinner to talk outside of the hospital. Jake never arrives at the restaurant, and she goes back to the hospital to find out why.

She is met there by a police homicide detective, and is told that her friend has been murdered there in the morgue. Kelly is put off by the detective's blunt questions and by her attraction to him. He, in turn, is struggling with his own reluctant attraction to her.

The story reveals, slowly, character by character, a whole host of bad guys, racists who are involved in a conspiracy to make the world a better place by removing the "undesirables." Their program toward having a "pure" white society is funding a politician who is on track to be the next president of our country.

The settings change quickly: from the hospital's NICU (newborn intensive care unit) to the morgue, to the streets and a parking garage, from San Francisco to the Cayman Islands, from Germany to New Jersey, and from ordinary condo units to a mansion. The characters are varied: East European bullies, neophyte assassins, well intentioned physicians, hypocritical doctors taking the money offered, pharmaceutical chemists with the strength to say no, and others who play along for the money, the wife and twin daughters of a chemist on the run from the killers, a reporter/journalist with an excellent memory, and  police officers who may or may not be involved with the conspiracy.

The reader is kept guessing, and kept judging or not judging, siding with or not siding with the characters in this story.  The author touches on issues of poverty, teen pregnancy, gay rights, medical responsibility, racism, and ethnic removal plans. The story is thought provoking, heart rending, and well constructed.  Five Stars!
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Friday, March 23, 2012

David Bishop: The Woman

David Bishop's mystery The Woman is much more than a clever detective story could be. Bishop has written a story that tells another story: he writes of today's world, its political corruption, personal greed, and efficient killings.

The story begins with Linda, a divorced thirty something woman who is savvy enough in day trading to have amassed enough wealth to live comfortably on her own in a seaside condo. Linda has a good friend in town, with whom she shares long weekend walks and a weekly luncheon date in a cozy restaurant. Cynthia has become more of a mother figure in Linda's life, and when she is found savagely tortured and murdered, Linda's tranquil life takes a sharp turn.

What might have been a simple "Who done it?" becomes an entangled, widening web of intrigue, unanswered questions, economic and political discourse, and altered identities. Linda is not the shy retiring lone runner the reader first assumes early in the story. She evolves, out of necessity, into a clever, bold, courageous woman who follows out her dead friend's instructions to begin a new life.

There are men in Linda's life: the shy waiter with a sketchy gang-related background whose life is saved by Linda's generous blood transfusion; two muggers who attempt to kidnap her but are thwarted by a third, mysterious stranger; the town's chief of police who is tall and handsome but perhaps dangerous, according to the stranger's words; an assassin sent to eliminate Linda, and two more thugs who follow her on her escape race across several states.

David Bishop describes the scenes of the story in realistic detail ... the craggy stone cliff at the shore that Linda climbs, the highways and byways she encounters on her race through California, Oregon, Washington State, Nevada and Arizona to safety, the glitz and glamour of Las Vegas, the barren landscape of unoccupied territories, the gated gardens surrounding a wealthy home in Washington DC and the small seaside town of her post-divorce retreat. His descriptions of the people are clear but not drawn out, and each one becomes real to the reader in short order.

The book has the potential for a character series, or at minimum a sequel. But life is not a tidy package with finite edges and endings, and neither are Bishop's books.
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Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Two More Authors with Stories of Multiple Sclerosis in Their Lives

By Tracy A. Todd

Tracy writes her story as Tesh, beginning at the tender age of ten, attending a parochial school a city bus ride away from her home. As an academically talented sixth grader,  Tesh unexpectedly experiences an episode of what is thought to be epilepsy. Half of her body is numb, and she has fainted in the classroom, causing quite a stir and resulting in an ambulance ride to the local hospital. In the days long before MRIs were available, the best medical assessment could be obtained with CT scans.

Tesh returns to school after a few days of tests and consults, with the diagnosis of epilepsy and a prescription of Dilantin, a medication she is all too familiar with, as her mother cares for disabled adults and administers their medications to them each evening, sometimes with Tesh's assistance. Tesh is then determined to learn all she can about epilepsy, and in the days before internet searches, her thirst for knowledge takes her to the public library. Equipped with the knowledge found in encyclopediae and medical books, she formulates some questions for her next doctor appointment. And while her aunt is impressed with her independent search for knowledge, her mother is scandalized to think that a ten year old would pose questions of her doctor!

Years pass, Tesh marries her high school sweetheart after college, and they begin a family. More symptoms arise, more tests are done, and Tesh is left in the land of the unnamed disease. She moves her research toward multiple sclerosis and demyelination, as she has been made aware of these potential labels after having early MRIs, at first in a cold mobile trailer attached to the hospital. After several years new and disabling symptoms and more tests, she is finally diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. Her husband then becomes her caregiver, and despite his own needlephobia takes on the role of injecting his wife. He, and their two young children, learn with Tesh about multiple sclerosis.

But this story is more than a chronicle of diagnosis and treatments. This is a story of family and love. In it, Tracy Todd tells of the strengths needed and developed, and of the resources sought and found. When she finds a neurologist who specializes in patients of African American descent who have multiple sclerosis, she realizes that she is finally in the right place, medically. And when she and her family find a support group of others with multiple sclerosis, they realize they have found an extended family.

Faith in God the Father is a strong thread in this family's story. Tesh often stops in the midst of despair and confusion to pray, and ask for guidance. She also prays to ask the question all people who live with multiple sclerosis ask: Why has this happened to us? Why has it happened to our families? She listens carefully for answers, and watches attentively for signs. And she learns that patience and trust must go hand in hand with faith.

by Carmen Ambrosio

I have read a lot of books about the diagnosis and treatment of multiple sclerosis, but Carmen Ambrosia goes far beyond that scope. Her book, Life Continues, tells the story of life: life with family, life as an independent woman, life as a wife and step-mother, and life with friends and co-workers. Life with multiple sclerosis is a part of her story, but it is not her defining role.

Carmen grew up in the Virgin Islands, but moved to the northern United States to attend college. Statistics say that moving to a northern latitude before the age of 16 can increase an individual's possibility of developing MS. Whether that is due to the sudden lessening of natural vitamin D via sunlight, or due to other environmental toxins, is not yet known, and is not addressed in her story. Why she developed MS is not a question she spends a lot of time asking; how to go on and live her life as best she can is more her focus.

Ambrosio's book includes moment of humor and moments of pathos; her father's death of cancer is a sobering moment in her life. She had a wonderful relationship with him, and treasures what she learned from him. Her independence and self sufficiency are traits that she attributes to that relationship. She also had a warm and valued kinship with her grandmother, who lived her life in the Islands simply, making herbal remedies for her fellow islanders and sharing generously her wisdom, faith and food. What Carmen brought forth from this relationship is her own sense of generosity and the ability to self-sustain with the help of those who love and care for her.

Carmen views doctors as people who are capable of helping and capable of making mistakes. She does not remain in a doctor's negative or callous presence, but moves on as quickly as needed to find a better doctor. Her description of the right doctor is one who listens and responds to the person seeking help, and she has found two such doctors in her new home state of Ohio.

Carmen Ambrosio's sense of humor shines through in her story; her understanding of "bod-mail" identifies her own knowledge of how important listening for messages from her body. She describes a morning ritual similar to a roll call, checking in with each portion of her body to assess the day's potential and needs. She has learned the hard way that ignoring messages of early discomfort or building weakness can cause much greater difficulty later. Her methodology of printing these bod-mails as inbox messages and her own responses drives this important message home without resorting to a preaching style.

Life Continues is an informative, entertaining and comforting read for people trying to find themselves in the person suddenly diagnosed and labeled with the term multiple sclerosis. It certainly can stay on a bedside table and be picked up for those few moments of clear eyesight and the need for a quick uplifting read. It's a valued book in my collection!

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Monday, March 19, 2012

More Thoughts in General:

Hello all,
I don't usually get into medical issues at this blog, but since March is MS Awareness month, I thought I would take some time to "think in ink" as I used to call my notebook scribblings. I don't often write in spiral notebooks any longer, because what I write with pen and paper is not as legible as once it was. I miss that time sitting comfortably in a rocking chair next to the woodstove in winter, or out on the porch in spring and fall. My writing was smoother then, more sentimental, more personal, as a journal would be. When I type on the laptop I'm siting in the living room, in a comfy recliner with my coffee nearby on an electric candle warmer, always aware of an eventual audience.

My writing has changed. This is just a result of life changes, I tell myself. After all, I'm retired ~ I no longer "live by the bells" in a school. I don't have to hurry, I don't have to finish anything today, or prepare anything for tomorrow, or meet anyone's need for information or knowledge. Sometimes I miss being needed, and try to fill an amorphous need of "audience" by writing what I think is a cleverly veiled lesson. I have two Facebook pages where I post information that I think will help others to write, or to quilt, or to understand multiple sclerosis better.. I read others' pages and harvest resources and links that I believe will help my readers.

My sense of self has changed. I am not a public school teacher any longer, though my dreams haven't caught up with that reality. I still dream in and of school settings. I dream of being lost in a building that has been altered while I was absent ... I think of it as my Rip Van Winkle dream. Additional floors have been added to the old brick building, and the budget now requires that our space be shared commercially. In that dream, my classroom is large but shares space with a furniture store specializing in mattresses and pillows. Visitors arrive and observe my teaching, and I am often looking for missing students, aware of the observers' notebooks and pens and dismissive looks. Assistants who in real life were often my greatest supporters appear to take over the classroom, shoo the visitors to the other side of the large room, and organize the children into groups. I most often stand at the side wondering what I might do to be helpful, but I'm clearly just in the way. I eventually follow the visitors and try to talk about mattresses, but realize I know little and have less to offer.

I define myself now as an author, a writer and a poet. In my first few months of retirement, I gathered old writings of mine, while writing new pieces. My six books were self-published, self-edited (several times) and then given or sold to those who had expressed interest. The last book was completed with the help of new on-line colleagues at a website where I could write and submit for review chapter by chapter, earning that service by reviewing what others had written. I was very busy, day and night. And by November I was finished, published, and now marketing my books seeking to embellish my teacher's pension.

I joined more Facebook pages: a page for self-publishers, a page for "indie writers," one for talking about fiction, one one for writers liking writers on Amazon in an effort to boost ratings and earn more promotion. I was then guided by another writer to a site called LinkedIn, where social networking took on another whole level of investment. I had begun this blog, and so connected to a portion of LinkedIn for writers of blogs. I was a member of Goodreads, and so signed on as a volunteer librarian to post books not yet posted so that I could then post my reviews of them, adding to their visibility and anticipating that others would do the same for me. I have probably reviewed close to seventy-five books this year, displaying my reviews on my blog, at Goodreads and on Amazon. Reciprocation has not yet happened in the form of posted reviews, but I have been invited to others' blogs for interviews, which provides more exposure to a wider audience of readers.

Two of the pages I've joined are MS related, and within that smaller circle, writers of books about multiple sclerosis read and review each others' work. The sponsor of those pages also has a website, and a radio connection, and so authors who can donate funds for the station are interveiwed via telephone connection. I've participated in one of those for an author's novel featuring a character with MS; in time I will be able to participate as the interviewed author. I've just received in the mail today a copy of another author's book, and I will read and review that, and she will read and review mine. My book sales of the title Multiple Sclerosis an Enigma did rise when I joined that page and began reviewing there, and my first royalty check for those sales will arrive at the end of this month, from Amazon.

Our local library has invited me to appear as a speaker in their local authors series. I was scheduled for Leap Day at the end of February, and went with a supply of books and a brief list of points I wanted to make about self-publishing. We had our first snow of this very odd winter that night, and so the gathering was small, but they purchased books at the end of the night, and invited me to return this month for an 'encore' presentation to a larger group, which I will do happily. Our local newspaper reporter interviewed Rick and I and wrote a lovely story, published Valentine's week, telling of Rick's dedication and support to his wife with MS. And our local cable television interview show has featured me and my books, and did a second interview to appear this coming weekend, 'spotlighting' multiple sclerosis, the walk for MS research at the end of the month, and the need for more awareness of this condition. Each of these have provided buyers of my books, and for that, I am grateful.

But for now, back to my reading of books from authors who also have multiple sclerosis, and who, as I, have written their story of the altered path MS forms for us. I'll be back with a review of two tomorrow.

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Friday, March 16, 2012

Well Written Horror Mystery: Andrew Kaufman

There are horror stories filled with blood and gore, fantastical creatures, dismal endings, and inevitable "risen from the dead" sequels. And then there are mysteries with an element of horrific behavior best left to the reader's imagination. This is the sort of psychological mystery that Andrew Kaufman offers  in The Lion The Lamb The Hunted.

Subtle in the telling of emotional abuse, the nuances of which are difficult to describe and more difficult to rationalize, Kaufman skillfully builds a quiet understanding with the reader: there are horrible things happening to the character, frightening events that defy description, and yet the reader comes to realize these as the story unfolds.

Kaufman's main character is a journalist/investigator who writes for a national weekly. With his mother's funeral opening the story, the tone is set for a retrospective look back at a mother/son relationship. It is one that is made more clear in a series of flashbacks carefully written as haunting dreams. Patrick has a medical issue that is disclosed through one of these dream sequences ... two conditions that are unrelated but equally life threatening. One is genetic, and unavoidable. The other is behavioral, and cruel in its origin.

The settings of the story range between the states of Georgia and Texas, well-described without needless description, a careful balancing act that Kaufman has done well. Subordinate characters are sometimes main characters in the dreams, and the reader comes to know them through their actions rather than through lengthy details. All of this adds to the quick pace of the story, which closes with a scene that would satisfy both the enthusiastic horror reader and the more skittish mystery reader who might close eyes during a movie's horror scenes.

There were portions of the story that made me wipe tears away, and others that made me sit up in indignation at what people can do to each other. This story invites the reader into the mind of a grown man who is struggling with untold childhood events, invoking this reader's empathy for the character and appreciation of the author's storytelling skill.

Within the genre of horror and mystery, famed author Stephen King's books have a following  due to name recognition more than to continued quality. I enjoyed King's early work.  But I would not put King and Kaufman in the same genre. Kaufman's books, too, will gather momentum and more respect in time, due to his subtle style and his avoidance of gratuitous, graphic gore.

The best horror writers allow a role to the reader in creating the scenes implied ... Edgar Allen Poe, long considered one of the greatest horror writers, never had to resort to exposing the beating heart buried deep in the floor ... the reader knew it existed in the character's mind. Kaufman has the same skill.   Definitely, a Five Star read!
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Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Stories of Families, Love, and Loss

A Happy Story of Adoption

 Paul Jansen has written a joyous story of adoption, and he has written it as a read-aloud story. The Child in Our Hearts is a sweet story of parenting. Paul has created a story of love, and the illustrations of Kevin Scott Gierman,with their soft colors and gentle strokes, fit the bill perfectly.

A beginning sight reader would be thrilled to read this book back to his or her parents, and in time, a non-reader would use the context of the illustrations to begin reading along. This book definitely offers a positive family activity together.  Five Stars for this poignant book.

A Sad Story of Life Interrupted

Chris Tatevosian has written a sensitive  memoir, true to his life and to his discoveries, and to his determination to share his mistakes with the purpose of helping others to avoid the same. Life Interrupted: It's Not All About Me is a book that looks like a quick read, but in fact leads readers to stop and ponder the story behind the story.

This is the story of a young man's diagnosis of Multiple Sclerosis, his friendships, his loves, his challenges, mistakes and regrets. Chris shares openly his love and loss, and he credits that loss to the effects MS has had on his life. He refers to the "Poor Me Attitude" and its domination of his emotions and behaviors during the time of greatest MS fatigue; afternoons and evenings are most difficult for people with MS, and they are hours usually reserved for important family time. Chris found his strengths gone during those hours, and his weaknesses limiting his ability to be loving towards those he loved most, his wife and step-son. The resulting divorce: devastating.

Chris recognizes that MS is not the only chronic condition that can cause life-changing events. Any condition that causes physical pain and emotional loss has a depressing power over an individual's choices.  Chris wrote this book after realizing how his own choices may have been better controlled and could have resulted in very different outcomes in his life. His choice to share this story with others is purposeful. He wants to help others maintain control of their choices and happier outcomes. Five Stars for this honest, worthwhile tale. 
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Monday, March 12, 2012

Madison Johns Returns!

Madison Johns is an author whose first published book I have reviewed here, but I wanted her to come back and tell us more about herself. Madison's first book, Coffin Tales, Season of Death contained two short stories. Her next is a full novel, a mystery featuring two elderly ladies who get into a pickle now and then. When the book is released, I'll read and review it here for you. But for now, let's meet Madison:

Hi Madison, what inspired you to write and publish books?

Hi Terry, my fiancé, Nick said once that he had always wanted to be a writer and just like that, I started writing. I know it sounds dumb huh? I have always had a vivid imagination as a child that seemed a little over the top. It's like these voices inside my head wouldn't shut up. It's like they were screaming, "Let us out!" I'm embarrassed to say that I often secluded myself during those years. My imagination was a safe place where nobody could hurt me. Of course if you write a book, you want to have it published.

Do you have a favorite author or genre on your bookshelf?

Janet Evanovich is the top of my list. I can't say I'm a chick lit kind of girl exactly, but she makes writing in first person seem so easy. It's in her books that I discovered a part of myself I had no idea was buried inside. I have always loved romance and mystery too ala Lisa Jackson and Lisa Gardner. I think Ms. Jackson needs a shrink or something. (Laughs.)

Can you tell us a little about yourself as a writer?

I have multi layers inside of me. The first genre I wrote was horror, but I'm gonna blame my fiancé for that as he used to do horror illustrations. I then wrote a bone chilling thriller, The Bone Extractor, which is as of yet unpublished. I then found that I enjoyed writing humor and pounded out what will be my first novel, Armed and Outrageous.

How old were you when you first wrote and shared your writing?

Forty-four, I know, right? How strange is that?

I think I was about that age when I first wrote columns for the paper. What do you want your readers to take from this novel?

 From Armed and Outrageous I want readers to laugh out loud as they read the antics of seventy-two year old Agnes Barton, and her partner in crime, Eleanor Mason. I want people to alter what they think about senior citizens. Okay and if you like mystery, they solve crimes too.

Do you have a favorite character in your book?

 Eleanor Mason is my favorite by far, she gets all the best line and has more freedom to behave badly.

Do you have a favorite character or setting in another book or books?

I love Hanover, IL, the setting for Hell Crow. I love the concept of a town where everything seems so perfect, until the crows come to town that is.

Can you tell us a little about your favorite space in which to write ... or preferred time of day ... or season?

My office and computer are basically in my bedroom. That means I can get up at any time I want and write. I have a map of Montana and pictures attached to it or surrounding it. Most of which are Illustrations or potential covers for books that are waiting to be published. I prefer to write in the middle of the night when it's quiet.

Are you planning to write another book?Will it be a sequel to this one, or a totally new story? 
I'm planning a sequel to Armed and Outrageous. I have like a thousand words started so far.

How have your friends and family responded to your book, and to your being a writer?

This is a hard question because I don't think people realize this is a real thing for me. Many people look at writing as a hobby not a job.

 Thanks, Madison, for sharing these thoughts with us. I'm really looking forward to the new book, Armed and Outrageous. I'm so happy to know someone who loves working with elders and recognizes their strength and sense of humor!

Madison's book, Coffin Tales, Season of Death, can be seen at Amazon. And Madison has her own blog, where she features other authors and their works. Her newest venture is her book page, to which she invites all of you for previews of Armed and Outrageous!

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Sunday, March 11, 2012

More about Self-Publishing

The other day, I wrote a blog about Smashwords, and self-publishing in general. I wrote of the speed of delivery, the frustrations of formatting, and the challenge of self-marketing that comes with the decision to bypass the establishment of editors and agents. One of the most difficult facets of self-publishing is knowing how to price your work. Assessing the current market and going with the flow is the most popular method in E-book marketing. Genre is necessarily involved in this decision. Sometimes, mistakes are made because genre was left out of the equation.

English: Bongkoch Publishing booth Ver.2                  Is my book in there?Many authors have begun listing books for free, or for a low ninety-nine cent price. The rationale for doing so is based on competition, and supply and demand. An author writing a murder mystery is one among thousands of authors doing so. An author writing a series of murder mysteries, featuring a character that readers become attached to and want to follow, has the best options available with today's technology. For a prolific writer, the first installment of books will be offered at a low price, and the later books telling, as Paul Harvey would say, "the rest of the story" can be priced higher, and then higher still. The number of books is increasing exponentially each month.

So, totally captivated by the stories of authors earning five figures in a week, selling thousands of books within hours of time, I decided to jump on the ninety-nine cent bandwagon, and lowered the price of my two Kindle books. And then I watched and waited, anticipating and willing the numbers to rise, and rise again. I forgot to consider the genre aspect of selling. But I decided to widen my books' audience, selecting with a single click "worldwide" for my market. I watched as the various prices instantly appeared on the seller's page, listed in pounds, in euros, in American dollars and in Canadian dollars, and in other currencies across Asia and  Europe.

But again, I'd forgotten to consider the genre. And, as a watched pot never boils, the sales numbers for my two books didn't rise to the occasion. I waited, but stopped watching. I checked in again several days later ... but found nothing to celebrate. And then it finally registered with me: books about American Public Schools, their changes over decades past, and their stories of sentiment and humor, were not going to attract the readers who were busily capturing the free and ninety-nine cent murder mysteries. They, it seemed, were the  prominent buyers.

It didn't feel good initially, lowering the price on work that I had spent years of my life completing and composing the reflections of change over time. And it didn't feel good seeing that low price next to the work, and next to my name. It diminished me, and the work. I finally realized that the books were not wrong, but the audience was different than the people my work might appeal to. Like a salt water fish dropped into a fresh water aquarium, my work could go nowhere in that price range.

It did feel good today when I entered higher, more relevant prices for my books, reflecting the quality I believe is held within their covers. I don't know that it will catch the eye of discerning readers, but it satisfies me to believe that, in a smaller pond with books of similar genre, my work stands a chance with discriminating buyers. And if they continue to sit with no notice, at least they are sitting in a dignified setting, collecting virtual dust beside other worthwhile books left unsought in the frenzy of free books.

As a reader, I too check the book's price right after the title and author's name. And I do collect the free titles, believing that one day I will have nothing new to read, and open my Kindle and pull out from the virtual storage cloud one of these bargains that had something of value that caught my wandering eye. When some of my books sell, perhaps I'll have discretionary funds to spend  on the books that wait on the shelf, patiently, with mine.

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Saturday, March 10, 2012

The Beholder, by David Bishop and Evolution of Insanity by Haresh Daswani

Flagstaff AZ USA 315 10Arizona

David Bishop has written several murder mysteries, and I am gratefully working my way through them. Each one offers a different back story, with a main character that invites both the author and the reader to imagine a series of stories. 

The Beholder features a new character, Sergeant Maddie Richards, appointed to lead the newly created homicide task force. It is a position she has worked toward since becoming a detective, following in her father's footsteps, and working with his former partner, Jeb. Finding her way into the very male department is seen as a challenge to Maddie, one that she takes on and deals with using workplace humor and language. Her character reveals appropriate caution and some dare-devil driving.

Maddie is a single mother with a now wealthy remarried ex who would like to gain custody of their young son, using the danger and stresses of Maddie's career to paint her as an unfit mother. Maddie and her son live with Maddie's mother, who cooks and cares for the two of them. Maddie's neighbor is a handsome man being considered a suspect in the death of his wife in Chicago, and her mentor is a handsome FBI agent in Washington DC who flies in with a willing ear to hear her thoughts and help her construct a profile of the murderer. The reader is kept wondering about all of these entanglements and personalities, and which of them will hold Maddie's interest romantically. 

The first homicide is a young black woman trying to work her way out of her poor situation and into a Chef training in California. She is killed in a brutal fashion, best left here without description, as I know some of my readers are still at a tender stage in their readings. This book is not one I would recommend for any readers under 18, as some of the language and scenes are provocative.

When the second murder occurs in a similar fashion, word spreads quickly that there is a serial killer afoot, and Maddie's responsibilities are now overshadowed by pressure coming at her  from the press and down from the Mayor and Chief of Police.  Aside from the manner of death, there seems only one other similarity between the two beautiful victims: their promiscuous lifestyles; one is a single "working girl" and the other a wealthy married woman with time on her hands and no inhibitions. But the third victim is not like the first two at all, and so the puzzle remains. And the governor of Arizona joins those seeking a quick solve, as tourism may be affected by the spreading fear.

David Bishop has again written a mystery that holds the reader suspended in thought ... not only who is the killer, but why are these women chosen, and how was the murderer's evil mind formed? When the fourth murder takes place, another similarity is glimpsed by Maddie, who then has to convince her superior officers to go with her theory and assign more officers but quietly.

I give five stars to this mystery, and caution those with a squeamish temperament to read the book with the lights on and someone trustworthy nearby, ready to allay your fears of sounds in the night. As Maddie Richards cautions: don't open your door to anyone you don't know WELL.

I've read other stories by David Bishop: to see their reviews, click the links below:

Who Murdered Garson Talmadge?

The Bijou – The Movie House of our Youth 
This is a very powerful short piece. David is obviously as much an old movie buff as “Very Special Agent Anthony DeNozzo” on NCIS! Drawing in the woman's old neighborhood, the deteriorating theatre … details give this piece a nice style. "I’ll be back," as they say. 

* * * * * * * * * * *  * * * *

Evolution of Insanity, by Haresh Daswani

This is a book that was suggested to me by a fellow reader and author at Goodreads. I confess it was one I read a bit, then put down, then went back to read a bit more.

I found this book very interesting, but also very hard to stay attentive to. The style is not typical of readings I have done, and while that intrigued me, it made it difficult to hold on to the thread of what the author was conveying. Perhaps a more erudite reader with sophisticated skills would gain more from this book.

I thank the author for making it available to me. I would rate this four of five stars.
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Friday, March 9, 2012

Smashwords: a Writer's Road to Self-Publishing

Self-publishing books has become a more popular choice these days. Once, it was called Vanity Press, and it was looked down upon by writers and readers who preferred dealing with well-established presses. Literary agents would be queried, manuscripts would be submitted, and authors and readers would wait, sometimes for months, to hear whether the manuscript had been accepted by a publisher. If the agent was successful in lobbying for the book, it would receive the publisher's promotion, advertising, and perhaps interviews of the author in major newspapers and book stores. Ah, the good old days that some recall: the chosen, the few. And the dreary days recalled by many who amassed a multitude of rejections, and the resulting disappointments.

But we live in a different world now. Authors can choose self-publishing and still hold their heads high, for the technology that makes this possible has a huge following: Kindles, Nooks, E-Readers ... and paperback books sold on-line by Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and independent booksellers. Some self-published authors have such a large following in the cyber world that they are eventually recognized and offered publishing deals with mainstream publishers. Some accept those contracts and soon discover smaller royalties, as the book sales now have to pay for a full staff at the publishing house. It seems the tide has turned, and self-publishing is gaining in popularity and choice. Readers have a much wider range of books to choose from, no longer limited by the selective eye of agents and editors. Writers have a larger job to perform, for they no longer just write the book, but they edit or find editors, they market or find marketers, and they promote or find promoters. Often, writers help to promote each other, and that is the main purpose of this blog, where I post reviews of books I've read.

Some of you may have noticed that most if not all of my reviews are five stars. Does that mean I'm "padding" the grade? Not at all. What it means is that I'm posting the reviews of the books I've enjoyed and believe others will enjoy. Books I've read that I haven't finished due to lack of interest, or I have finished but found the message lacking, don't appear on this blog with reviews. So, when you come here, you will find only the books and authors that I have enjoyed, and do truly recommend for your reading pleasure.

Here's a story that an author wrote last December. I read it then, and made some suggestions for editing it. The author followed through, and continued to work on it, checking in with others to receive feedback as well. And now she is ready to publish it again. It is a Christmas-flavored story, but carries a message that is universal to season and to people. You can read the story by going to Smashwords, a site that helps authors publish and promote their work. Smashwords has a rigorous publishing standard, and once it is met, the book will be made available to both Kindle and Nook readers. It is very challenging, and I have yet to succeed in meeting that standard with my books, and I applaud those who have.

Here are the reviews that Shani has received from readers of her work:

 First Review:
We all have a holiday story that means the world to us. what about the poinsettia’s do you have a story about them or do they mean anything to you? In this short story you will fall in love. You will learn that sometimes it’s not the gifts that mean the most. Its all about the poinsettia to some. What the poinsettia means in this book will melt your heart. I loved this book I wanted to cry in spot and had chills going down my back in others. Anyone of any age or holiday they have will love this story. I give it a 5 out of 5

A second reviewer

I loved this short story with the paranormal events happening to the grandma and her daughter and her granddaughter. It was cool to read about the Grandpa still watching after his loved ones even after passing on. I loved the amount of detail put into this short story and it is a short story that I would recommend to anyone. 5 stars

And my review:
I read this book when it was an early draft. It was much shorter, and a little choppier. The author took my recommendations, and the recommendations of others, and continued to work at it. Draft after draft followed, until the full story emerged, with additional characters and settings to elaborate and extend the warmth and sentiment of the story. While no author is ever truly satisfied with their own work, and we always want to tinker a bit more, there comes a time when the story needs to be told, and the message needs to be shared.
This story has reached that point, and is asking to be read and appreciated. Five Stars, Shani!

You can read this story by going to Smashwords and selecting a format that suits you as the reader. You can read it in Kindle format, Nook format, or PDF on your computer. There are many more formats that I am not familiar with, but you may recognize and want to choose. Here is the link:


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Thursday, March 8, 2012

Just a Few Thoughts Midweek

X Class Solar Flare Sends ‘Shockwaves’ on The ...X Class Solar Flare Sends ‘Shockwaves’ on The Sun [hd video] (Photo credit: NASA Goddard Photo and Video)March is a very long month in the classroom. It sits between February vacation and April vacation, and is the only month without a day off for a holiday. But often, we would have a snow day that relieved the heavy calendar. I was known in our school as the one who loved snow, loved cold weather, and loved surprise holidays. Most in the middle of winter yearned for warmer weather, sunny days, and heat. I hid from the heat, from the bright sunlight, and particularly from the humidity that accompanied those days. To each his own.

Since my retirement last June, I have not felt the need for an unexpected day off provided by Mother Nature. This winter has been very odd ... it is sixty-six degrees today, and I hear the sun is in a very active phase, with sunspots releasing  particles that travel millions of miles per hour.

Boston's Museum of ScienceBoston's Museum of Science
I remember a school field trip to the Boston Museum of Science, during which we were treated to a video of sunspots and flares. I was struck with the similarity of sun flares and multiple sclerosis brain flares. We were told that the sun flares interrupted our satellites' transmissions, and could impact wireless communication systems here on earth. I knew that flares, or inflammations, in my brain could interrupt nerve messages, and could impact any part of my body's functioning, sending confused messages from brain to muscles.

Still resisting the diagnosis of MS but doing my best to participate in fund raising for research, I am signed on for two MS walks this spring, one at the end of March, and one early in May.

But between those walks, I will spend a week in Bethesda Maryland at the National Institute of Health, participating in a seven year study of people with a family history of Parkinson's Disease.  Doctors conducting this study will monitor my blood, heart rate, brain activity, and reflex time. The visits to NIH happen once every eighteen months over the course of the study. I am, in that sense, a willing lab rat for their measurements and studies. The doctors are looking for early biomarkers that will help diagnoses of Parkinson's Disease to happen earlier in the progression of that disease. I still believe the symptoms I exhibit today are more like the early signs of  PD than the relapsing/remitting symptoms of MS. If I am right, I am in the right place to benefit from their study, and to help them to complete their study, and benefit future generations' diagnosis and earlier treatment of PD. And I can feel good about being a part of that.

That's where my thoughts have roamed today. More reading and reviewing ahead!

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Monday, March 5, 2012

June Shaw's Relative Danger, a novel of family and school murder

Relative Danger  by June Shaw

It's not easy being a relative ... adolescents would agree, in-laws would agree, and sometimes parents and grandparents even agree. June Shaw has written a mystery novel that involves the intricacies of three generations, three individuals, daughter, father and grandmother, coming together to celebrate a life event: high school graduation.

There is no mother in the picture; Nancy died several years before her daughter Kat reached high school age. Kat's dad, Roger, is still living a subdued life as a widower, and is now foreseeing what his home will be like when his daughter goes off to college. Roger's widowed mother, Cealie, comes to town to catch up with her son and granddaughter between her travels as a single woman who is finding herself.

When Cealie realizes that her granddaughter has stopped attending classes and may miss final exams, and is considering not attending the graduation ceremony at all, she is stunned. Cealie had made a death-bed promise to her daughter-in-law Nancy that she would see her granddaughter graduate, and up until now, Kat had been on the way to do so with honors and scholarships.  It doesn't take long for Cealie to find out that there has been a death at the high school, and that Kat seems deeply affected  by the circumstances of the young custodian's death, and preoccupied with and perhaps afraid of who might have caused that death.

Cealie struggles with her maternal feelings of protective love for both her son and granddaughter and her recent decision to live life as a single, independent woman. But to help return her granddaughter's confidence and scholarship, Cealie enters the high school as a substitute teacher. She finds a vastly different setting in the large crowded school, recognizing that clothing and manners have changed both students and faculty from her recollections of teaching in a small private school decades earlier. She observes the cold structure, the anger and rudeness, the frustration and resignation of senior staff and the hustle and bustle of a teacher's full day. She experiences attacks first on herself and then on another teacher; she also hears of the shooting death of a substitute teacher like herself, and determines to help the police find the person responsible for these acts in their effort to keep her granddaughter and other students safe.

June Shaw's characters are richly developed, whether they are main characters or secondary. Her description of physical attributes is clear, as is the point of view of a grandmother finding her way into her granddaughter's world. Cealie's relationship with her son hovers between sheltering him from what she sees happening and bolstering his own strength and involvement in Kat's life. She talks to herself, and talks to her houseplant, her beloved cactus named Minnie, trying to sort out the sketchy line she is walking. Her mixed messages, both those received and sent, emotionally resonate with readers who share the same family role.

CHICAGO - SEPTEMBER 28: Police Patrol at a gat...Cealie's life is further complicated by the presence of her former lover, Gil, a restauranteur with a Cajun flare whom Cealie still loves but does not want to settle down with. This tension creates another layer of mystery in this story, and Shaw brings all of the characters into it within their established roles. And  yet, with her family around her, Cealie still feels alone in dealing with the worry and angst, unwilling to share her concerns with Gil or with her son. And she feels that she must re-enter the dreaded building to determine how the death occurred, and who the responsible person is.

June Shaw's mystery remains unsolved until the very end, and her story engages the reader's feelings, no matter what the role of the reader in the family may be.  Five Stars for Shaw's Relative Danger!
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Sunday, March 4, 2012

A New Style from Morgan Mandel!

Morgan Mandel continues to offer books that engage readers, with character development that delights and is easy to follow, and plots that twist and turn right up to the end of the story. 

Girl of My Dreams is unlike Morgan Mandel's other novels ... a mystery, yes,  but no one dies in this one.  Instead, someone blossoms, from a nondescript but efficient administrative assistant to an eye-catching super model, surprisingly seductive as a contestant in a television production.

Her boss, the show's producer and director, is disappointed that he has lost her to the competition, and desperately tries to replace her with new assistants that cannot measure up to the job's demanding requirements, nor Jillian's quality. And Jillian, in her new identity as Veronica, struggles with the demands of a beauty queen's demanding role, trying desperately to lose the competition she slipped into to fill a last minute vacancy. Wishing only to return to  her former, subdued, quiet life style, she instead finds herself the most likely winner, and suddenly the hunted prey of a jealous competitor.

The crazed contestant who knows Jillian's true identity provides the opportunity for the story to become a murder mystery. There is murder in Nadia's background, and she makes more than one spectacular, show-stopping attempt on Jillian's life.

The men in the story go through their own metamorphosis, and their personality fluctuations confuse and disappoint Jillian/Veronica. Both men have shallow parenting in their childhood memories, contributing to their success-driven lifestyles. Jillian's parents were lovingly devoted to each other, leaving her with a goal of establishing such a relationship in her own life.

Morgan has reached out of her comfort zone of murder mystery to write a humorous, fast paced parody of beauty contestant competitions, with all the bells and whistles, including settings in a European palace, a tropical island  paradise, a fashion runway in Paris, dark alleys along a canal in Venice, a bikini-clad game of volleyball  on the beach,  and the dark back stage of a TV production.

Five stars for this engaging novel! And here are the links to my reviews of more Morgan Mandels books:
Two Wrongs

 Killer Career 

Forever Young
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