Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Threads of Suspicion by Dee Henderson



Evie Blackwell and the new team to solve cold cases are going from county to county to take on different unsolved cases. They add a new perspective on the cases and help put to rest what has happened to those who have disappeared. Evie and David, another investigator, have chosen two cases in the same area. One a missing college student and one a missing private investigator. Soon Evie finds evidence that something may have happened to the college student the night of a Triple M concert which happens to be David's fiance's band. David's case gets solved fairly quickly and then he and Evie are able to concentrate all of their efforts on keeping Maggie, David's fiance, safe and finding out what the connection between her band and the missing girl have in common.

Threads of Suspicion takes the reader on a step by step process of solving Evie and David's cold cases. At times I found this interesting and at other times I found it rather boring. The story seemed to plod along at a slow pace, but yet I still wanted to finish it to find out what happened. I think I enjoyed the different relationships better than I enjoyed the mystery of what happened in their cold cases. I did get a bit frustrated at Evie for still holding back on the man she is in love with. By the end of the book we are still left in the dark as to what she intends to answer the man who loves her(and honestly, I like the guy, but I thought she had more of a connection with Gabriel Thane from book one). David's relationship with Maggie isn't much better in that Maggie isn't a believer and David is. Again, we are left in the dark as to what happens in that relationship as well. So I'm assuming there will be another cold case to solve and that Evie and David and the rest of the team will be handy to solve them and hopefully we will get closure on their relationships. All in all it was a good read, and I am invested enough in the characters that I want to see what happens next. But, *whispering now* this still doesn't live up to this author's O'Malley series...shhhhhh, I didn't say that out loud!

Check out my review of the first Evie Blackwell book:

Traces of Guilt




Monday, April 17, 2017

Alexander and the Amazing Wide-Awake by Holly Schindler


Alexander is known throughout his school as an amazing inventor. He's created several wonderful inventions that make his fellow students school life easier. His newest invention is a desk-sifter. It helps his classmates clean out and organize their desks. But Alexander has a secret. He has help coming up with his invention ideas! So what happens when Alexander is asked to come up with an invention to help his sockball team win the championship and Alexander's secret weapon no longer works?

I think we all remember those pre-middle school years where we are trying to fit in and find our identity among our fellow students. Alexander thinks his identity/talent is lost. I love how one of his fellow students helps him find his way again. This story is lightly illustrated to help those reluctant readers identify with what is happening in the story. I love the discussion questions at the end of the book! I think this would be a perfect book club or reading group book for an elementary classroom. I'll be passing this one on to my grandkids knowing that they will enjoy it as much as I did!


Thursday, April 13, 2017

Guest Post by Author Annette Laing

I’m a Brit who lives in the Deep South, a former Californian (Yes, Northern and Southern), and an accidental author. Fourteen years ago, I was a professor starting to build a reputation as a scholar of early American history. But  right after I earned tenure, I had a midlife crisis.  I guess a normal person would have dealt with that by purchasing a convertible, or taking a hike through the Andes. My therapy was to start  a children’s time-travel program that was basically a complicated bit of theatre.
TimeShop, as I called it, was totally self-indulgent, because like many of my generation in the UK, I have always been fascinated by the WWII home front. So I ended up with a hundred kids running around a university conference center in the rural South, pretending to be in a small town in England in 1940.  Moving from room to room, the kids shopped with ration books, sheltered from an air raid, and, most entertaining of all, sparred with a shrill “foster mother”. This harridan housewife demanded they do all her chores, yelled at the kids (to their great amusement) and gossiped with the vicar while the kids swept her floors and made toilet paper from torn-up sheets of newspaper. Those kids who eavesdropped on that conversation made a startling discovery: The wicked foster mother was only 19, and was terrified for her husband, held prisoner of war by the Nazis.   My student Jackie, playing the housewife, and my other native Georgian undergrads improvised characters in period costume, gamely attempting to pass themselves off as Brits (with considerable success). I realized that I had found a way to reach not only the kids, but these student volunteers, most of whom were not history majors. Three years in, the Associated Press published a feature about us.
TimeShop was also the start of The Snipesville Chronicles. The program handed me one massive earworm of a time-travel story, and in the summer of 2006, that story started writing itself: Middle schoolers and siblings Hannah and Alex Dias arrive in little Snipesville from San Francisco, much as I had moved to small-town Georgia from Los Angeles. They meet Brandon Clark, whose family’s funeral home qualifies him for the elite of local African-American society, and also puts him in danger of being stuck in suffocating Snipesville for the rest of his life. Within an hour of meeting, the three kids find themselves without warning in World War II England, and mired in a massive clash of cultures. But why is this happening to them, and what on earth does it have to do with Snipesville? Those are the big questions of the book, and the series.
As the plot of Don’t Know Where, Don’t Know When evolved, it was driven largely by my characters, both the time travelers and the people they meet in the past. One character in particular has turned out to be an
unlikely smash hit with my readers: Elizabeth Devenish, the formidable middle-aged Englishwoman who fosters two of my time travelers, and whose forceful but kindly personality seems to speak to so many people.  It was moving to realize that I had based her on the no-nonsense World War II survivors who helped shape my postwar childhood. I even flew to England to visit the woman who most influenced the character of Mrs. Devenish, and just in time: She died six months later. Somehow, childhood memories had morphed and blended with my knowledge of wartime England, as well as with my experience of life for an outsider in modern rural Georgia.
The whole thing proved so personal, I was genuinely astonished by the delighted responses of my readers,  and also to discover that adults as well as kids and teens were reading and loving the book. Now I knew that I really did have a series.
But where would my time travelers land next? It was tempting to take them straight to colonial America, the period I know best, but I quickly realized that I had an awesome opportunity now to immerse myself in periods in British and American history that I know well, but normally had little chance to research or teach.
My love of the works of Charles Dickens, and my fascination with child labor in the Industrial Revolution,  American slavery, and all things Victorian, come through in A Different Day, A Different Destiny (The Snipesville Chronicles, Book 2)
In Book 2,  I was determined not to slip into formula. While the action in the first book took place in the fictitious English town of Balesworth,  I wrote this new story around three separate road trips, in which Hannah, Alex, and Brandon each deal alone with an alien past, before meeting at the first ever World’s Fair, the Great Exhibition, held in London in 1851. Along the way, they experience not only the challenges of 19th century travel, but also the horrors of industrialization and slavery. The research was fun: Not only spending time in archives in my Scottish hometown, but also visiting an Open Day at an iconic Victorian cemetery, complete with tea and cake. Only in England.
About this time, I began to realize that I was writing about the themes that interest me as a scholar: everyday life, race, class, and gender. Readers had praised Don’t Know Where, Don’t Know When for its humor. But how do you get any humor out of race, class, and gender without being incredibly tasteless? The answer, honestly, is in my time travelers’ incredulous responses to what they witness in the past. Through them, readers see the absurdity of trying to operate according to 21st century values in what might as well be alien worlds.
Look Ahead, Look Back (Book 3) brought me, finally, to my main stomping grounds, colonial America.  I
figured this would be a piece of cake.
It wasn’t.
Early on, as I plotted out the book, I imagined my character Hannah, sitting outside a hut in the woods, twisting Georgia wiregrass in her fingers.
I had no idea what I would have her do next.  None at all.
I thought about Hannah, who has a huge attitude. What would she do? I looked at her. She glanced over at a kettle boiling on a nearby tripod, and sniffed. Then she looked straight back at me, wrinkled her nose, and shrugged. She didn’t know, either. What was I going to do? There were no other buildings in view, or people. It was a remote setting. I’m not exactly an outdoors kind of person.
How were my modern characters going to stay busy, much less have an adventure, in this pre-modern setting? It was so . . . boring.
And then I remembered that it wasn’t, just like Snipesville itself was far more interesting than my characters had assumed. Apart from the real-life tensions among the diverse people of the backwoods of the mid-18th century that would inspire much of the story and dialogue, there was the fact that people had other lives, virtual ones, that focused on religion and the supernatural. How the heck did I ever forget that? I’m a historian of religion, for heavens’ sake. At that moment, I realized how the book would progress. To help it along, I not only read folklore, but even became more outdoorsy. How dedicated was I? Let’s put it this way: A visit to the Okefenokee Swamp and a too-close-for-comfort encounter with a five-foot alligator almost ended the series prematurely.
Writing a finale for the complex series that Snipesville had become was the greatest challenge of all, and
might explain why One Way or Another (The Snipesville Chronicles, Book 4) took me four years to write, by far the longest process of any of the books. This time I began with settings, themes (including the sinister segregation of a small town in 1906 Georgia), great characters, and some interesting premises from previous books, including the return of the much-loved Elizabeth Devenish from Don’t Know Where, Don’t Know When.  The tricky part?  Pulling all of it together in a way that also incorporated the conclusions I had been planning for years.
The end result was an ending that, I am told, made people gasp, and even cry. In a good way.
I, too, have laughed, gasped, and cried my way through The Snipesville Chronicles. It has been the most astonishing decade of my life, and I continue to be touched and overjoyed by readers’ continuing to discover and enjoy the product of one historian’s midlife crisis. Better than a Maserati? You bet.

Thank you so much Annette for writing such wonderful stories to share history with us! I will miss The Snipesville Chronicles, but will definitely look forward to your next time travel series.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

INTERVIEW with author Dr. Annette Laing

Welcome author and historian Dr. Annette Laing to My Favorite Pastime!


Annette Laing is a British native, an early American historian and former professor, a presenter of Non-Boring History in schools, and the author of The Snipesville Chronicles. She lives in Atlanta with her husband, teenage son, and demented dog.


 Did you know the ending of the Snipesville Chronicles when you started writing it years ago?


Maybe I shouldn’t admit this, but no, I had no clue!  Don’t Know Where, Don’t Know When (Book 1) was written about three kids who accidentally tap into a strange time-travel connection between a small town in England, and the small Southern town in which they live.  I wrote it without a clear destination in mind, and I only figured out where I was headed as I wrote Book 2 (A Different Day, A Different Destiny) From then on, I had to make sure I did not contradict what I had already written. That was weirdly fun. One thing I got wrong in the first book was the year in which British suffragettes began throwing rocks through shop windows to draw attention to their cause. While I was annoyed when I realized what I’d done, I was able to make a whole subplot out of my mistake in One Way or Another (Book 4) So that was cool.
Understanding how I would end the series was very emotional for me. It was like, “Huh, how did I not get this from the very beginning?” I’ve been thrilled by my readers’ reactions to the jaw-dropping conclusion. My hope is that many will want to re-read the series, knowing what they know now, because (honestly) I started dropping hints as soon as I knew, and I made sure that everything worked
with Don’t Know Where, Don’t Know When, too. I didn’t want the ending to come out of nowhere.

One Way Or Another is about double the size of the other books in the series, and you cut a lot of words from the first manuscript. How did you go about cutting? And were you tempted to split the book up into two or were you willing to keep it this long from the beginning?

I cut 80,000 words, and it’s still very long! Insane! Originally, there were supposed to be five books in the series, but, strangely, I don’t think that’s why it’s so long, because the last book was intended to be set in 1951, and I only used a few pages of material from it.
Another reason for the length is that I dropped the spare, episodic structure of the earlier volumes completely for this last book, going instead for a day-by-day chronicle, which gave me the chance to really immerse us all in the two worlds of the book: a frighteningly segregated small Southern town in an era of racial violence, when a new black middle class was struggling to figure out a way forward, and a complacent, suffocating middle-class household in an England that was  at the height of its power, and at the most unequal time in British history, when working-class people and women were starting to awaken to their lack of rights.
I was able to cut as much as I did because I trained as a journalist, and learned a very long time ago not to become too wedded to my words: I love to be edited by professionals, and don’t take it personally at all. When it’s me editing, as it was in making these cuts from the first draft, I am ruthless. Everything has to pass the “does it advance the plot?” test. Well, almost everything. Some bits that I could have dumped are also the most entertaining and provocative. Brandon’s meetings with W. E. B. Du Bois and Booker T. Washington, for example, show how the issues they raised in real life about black education are startlingly relevant to education today: Is education meant to be job training  for social advancement and social control, or is it important for its own sake to us as human beings, allowing us to have fulfilled lives? Now you can tell where I stand, as if it weren’t obvious from the start. The character of the Professor is, to some extent, my avatar, and when she said in Book 1 “Isn’t the experience itself the point?” she gave me away.

The character of Eric seemed like he was a total idiot about racism. I got that he was from England, but did you research the attitudes of the people of the times? Or is Eric just a character you gave this personality to?

I was raised in 1970s Britain, in a place that was overwhelmingly white, and moved to multicultural California in the 80s. Race as a subject has fascinated me all my life, including as a scholar of early America. Starting in Don’t Know Where, Don’t Know When, I tried hard to represent a typical range of whites’ views of race from twentieth-century Britain, based on both my study of history and my personal understanding. One thing I have noticed today on both sides of the Atlantic is that most people at some point label ourselves “not racist” and content ourselves with that, until and unless something jars us out of our complacency. That is certainly true of Eric. Having grown up in an overwhelmingly white Britain in the 1930s and 1940s, he had only known one black person in his life, who was himself raised by a white family. Eric had an horror of segregation, which he had read about, but he had never been exposed to it, nor did he know much about America, nor had he studied much history (he is more of a science type). So he set about trying to understand 1906 Snipesville in the only context he did understand, which was the society and values of postwar Britain, which put great emphasis on human decency and progress in the aftermath of war and the Holocaust. Eric means well, but he is clueless. Which I think is also true of me, by the way.

What drew you to studying, writing, and teaching about history? What or who inspired you?

Thanks to some excellent British teachers and the BBC, among other inspirations, I have always loved history books, documentaries, docudramas, and museums. But I haven’t always wanted to be a professional historian. From the age of seven, I wanted to be a newspaper reporter, and I worked nonstop on student publications from the age of 10 until I was 22, and editor of my college newspaper in California. Then I woke up one day realizing I didn’t want to be a journalist. It didn’t take long for me to realize that I wanted to teach and write history. I wanted an intellectual challenge, and I thought I could do a good job teaching. I also wanted to write for the public, as I made clear in my graduate school application. This was painfully naïve, since in those days, PhD programs had the single goal of producing future scholars, My grad school ignored that, and put me into its well-honed machine for churning out historians who write impossibly complex history for other historians. I do enjoy writing history—the mental stretch is bracing—but I didn’t find it half as rewarding as writing for regular folks. As a historian, I wasn’t especially productive (which is what happens when you work in a dysfunctional institution and also have a kid). But  I’m known in my field of early American history for an article called “Heathens and Infidels?” about African-American religion in the eighteenth century. I get some very kind fan mail from professors and grad students. To be honest, though, scholarly work is not where my heart lies. However, I am glad to have the chance to translate scholarly work for audiences as young as nine.

I noticed in this book Brandon being more "religious" than in the previous books. Why is this?

I always knew Brandon was an evangelical Christian, as are most people in a small Southern town. Black communities in towns like “Snipesville” are bound together through church, and while churches play social and political roles, these roles are never separable from religion. I did toy with the idea that Brandon would eventually distance himself from the faith of his childhood, but if that ever happens (and it may not) it won’t happen while he’s young. I also felt that the Dias siblings, as agnostics with a Catholic Christian background, were representative of a more secular outlook, and that I wanted to represent a person of faith interpreting the world through a different lens.  We’re so divided in America now, and it’s important to keep practicing empathy even when others don’t.
Although Brandon mentions prayer in Book 1, you’re correct that  he’s not as explicit about his faith as he is later. Time travel challenges his entire value system, and he finds himself in settings—just as a 19th century workhouse—that call for the word “godforsaken”. But Brandon draws confidence from his faith. As he sheds more and more of his naiveté in Look Ahead, Look Back (Book 3), set in the 18th century, he becomes increasingly invested in his Christian faith. In Book 4, confronted with the evil of racial segregation, he finds enormous courage in religion. It is not by accident that, landing in 1906 Snipesville, he finds sanctuary and community and light in the darkness when he enters a church.

Where do you go from Snipesville? Will you continue to write fictional stories?

Absolutely! Most women get their history from fiction, and I am convinced that fiction (or heavily dramatized non-fiction) is the best way to engage kids in history. Making social and cultural history accessible seems to be my life’s mission.  Scholars have not written for a wider audience for years now. When historians think of writing for the public, they think of highly-educated and influential people. I believe that if we still want to have a democracy, we need to find a way to reach everyone, and I don’t think that’s pie-in-the-sky. I’m proudest when people tell me that Snipesville not only entertains them, but makes them think. My next novel will again be time travel, and will be set in the American Revolution. It will be much shorter than One Way or Another!


If you haven't read the Snipesville Chronicles go grab your copies today! I thoroughly enjoyed every one of them!

Come back tomorrow for a guest post by author Dr. Annette Laing and find out how the Snipesville Chronicles evolved through the years.



Tuesday, April 11, 2017

One Way Or Another by Annette Laing


Hannah Dias has learned that she can make herself time travel. She misses Mrs. Devenish so much that she transports herself into 1951 to find her. One problem though is she brings someone with her. Alex, Hannah's brother, has never liked their time travel adventures and he certainly isn't happy about it now. Hannah is so happy to see Mrs. D, but Mrs. Devenish's lack of excitement to see her makes Hannah hurt and angry. Hannah is then transported to the early 1900's Balesworth, and once again brings someone with her. She had been holding on to Alex, but Alex is nowhere to be found. Verity on the otherhand has come with her from 1951. Of course the professor is there to help them know what they are doing in that time period. Hannah is to become a maid in young Elizabeth Hughes(Devenish) home. She learns about the early suffragettes movement and she also learns many things about what made Mrs. Devenish who she is. Young Elizabeth is impetuous and headstrong. She also learns about the caste system of servants vs. elites. In the meantime Brandon has been transported to Snipesville, Georgia and has his own problems.

Brandon has been sent to 1905 Snipesville close to the time of the "We don't talk about that" incident. Slavery has been abolished for only 40 years and prejudices still run high. Snipesville is pretty much owned by a Mr. Hughes who fancies himself the leader or king of the whole town. Snipesville has always been a town filled with prejudices and rascism and Brandon is set right in the middle of all of the racial tension. The attitude of the times is that as long as a black person knows their place and keeps to it they are useful, but if anything happens anger and tension runs high and the blame all goes to the black citizens. Alex and Eric, now engaged to Verity in 1951, are transported to Snipesville as well. Brandon knows the ropes of rascism and even though he hates it he knows the history of what happens if a black person makes waves. Alex and Eric on the otherhand have no idea what it means to not be able to treat Brandon as an equal. Brandon feels that his job in traveling to this time period is to help establish a college for black people to further their education. He goes on a journey to raise money from some famous black people of the times, Booker T. Washington and W.E.B. Dubois. Two huge names in black history with two different views on education and the movement to end prejudice. In Snipesville Brandon, Alex and Eric get a firsthand look at rascism and the treatment of strangers in their small town that hasn't changed much in the 21st century where they live today.

This is the 4th and last book in The Snipesville Chronicles. It is also the longest! So much information is packed into this book. I liked the switching back and forth between Balesworth where Hannah and Verity were, to Snipesville where Brandon, Alex and Eric were. Both in or around 1905-1906. It was interesting and hard to read about the racial issues of the day. It seems like we have come so far from those times of segragation, but yet we as a country still deal with racial tensions. It boggles my mind, as it should, how people can treat someone of different color or ethnicity so cruelly. I think I could make many more observations on rascism in today's society, but that is not the point of my review. Let's just say that even though we have come a long way, there seems to still be a long way to go. I much preferred Hannah's part of the story which was dealing more with her relationship issues with the young Elizabeth Hughes. Yes, there were prejudicial issues involving class, and the Suffregette's movement getting into full swing, but I was definitely more interested in the relationships. It seems that Hannah has finally matured and she ended up not frustrating me as much as she has in the past. I was definitely glad to see that. Eric and Alex in Snipesville on the otherhand really got on my nerves how naive they were about racial history even as it was slapping them in the face and Brandon was practically yelling it from the rooftops to them! I loved how the whole Snipesville Chronicles was wrapped up, I'm not going to give any spoilers, but it was a twist learning about the Professor! All in all this was a great end to the series.


Come back to my blog tomorrow to read an interview with author and historian Dr. Annette Laing! 


Check out my reviews of the other books in the series:

Don't Know Where, Don't Know When

A Different Day, A Different Destiny

Look Ahead, Look Back


Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Geekerella by Ashley Poston

If you are a fan of fairytale retelling's then this is definitely a book for you! I thoroughly enjoyed this story.

Danielle lives with her step-mother and step-sisters. She works in a vegetarian food truck with Sage, a girl she barely talks to while at work. "Elle" writes a blog that criticizes the new actor portaying Starfield's new Prince Carmindor.

Darien Freeman is less than thrilled when his manager father signs him up to go to Excelsicon. Before he took the role as Prince Carmindor Darien was thrilled to attend the Excelsicon, but now with fans criticizing his ability to play their beloved Prince, Darien has no desire to go.

Danielle hasn't attended the con for years. Her father started the con and their would be too many memories of her parents if she attended. But this year Danielle is not only wanting to attend the con, she is also wanting to enter the Cosplay contest to win and attend the Cosplay Ball.  Maybe if she wins this will give Elle the chance she needs to get away from her overbearing step-mother and sisters.

I love fairytale retellings and really enjoyed Geekerella! I loved the characters in Geekerella. Elle's nerdishness was entertaining and the way she was treated by her steps had me wanting to climb through the pages to defend her. I loved Sage. She managed to worm her way into Elle's affections even though Elle had cut herself off from any relationships. Then there is Elle's texting buddy. I love that they were able to be there for each other even though they kept their true identities secret until the con. In typical Cinderella fashion everything doesn't work out as planned, but there is a Prince Charming and definitely a Happily Ever After to this story. I enjoyed it very much.

**Warning: There is some mild language in this book that may offend some readers**


Sunday, April 2, 2017

Murder at the Courthouse by A.H. Gabhart


I always seem to be starting a series in the middle or at least one book in. Murder at the Courthouse is the first book in the Hidden Springs series. I read the 2nd book 1st. Murder Comes by Mail and then I was able to get an ARC copy of the 3rd book that hasn't come out yet, Murder is no Accident. And then I finally read book number 1! I don't know why or how I manage to do that, but it just seems to happen. Anyway, here are my thoughts on Murder at the Courthouse, book 1 in the Hidden Springs Mysteries:

When a body turns up on the courthouse steps Deputy Sheriff Michael Keane must find out who killed the poor man and why. During the course of his investigation we are introduced to many eccentric characters that belong to Hidden Springs. Michael has his hands full when another murder occurs. Not only is Michael trying to find a murderer, but he is also trying to keep track of juvenile delinquent Anthony who's mother left years before. Add to that his possible relationship with pastor Karen and also his affection for his childhood friend Alexandria and Michael is one busy Deputy Sheriff. As Michael plods along solving the mystery we get a picture of how this small town has woven Michael into the man he is today. Will Michael be able to find the murderer before he/she commits another?

I really enjoyed going back to the beginning of the series and finding out more about Michael's life and reading more about the accident that caused him to lose his parents and his memory. I have to admit I figured out "who done it" pretty early on, it was kind of obvious, but I still enjoyed following Michael in solving the crime. I think the Hidden Spring Mystery series is a pretty solid series and I hope there will be plenty more installments to the series.