Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Outback Steakhouse Alice Springs Chicken

Image and recipe Blog Chef
I am always drooling over cooking videos posted on Facebook.  This time it was a chicken recipe using a mix of honey and mustard for the marinade, then baked with bacon and cheese on top.  However, in reading the notes, this was adapted from another recipe which had mushrooms in it and I seriously adore mushrooms.

As I had the name of the original, it didn't take long to find other options.  Some used regular yellow mustard, some used Dijon which I am guessing is the most authentic. Some used only Monterey Jack cheese, some a mix of Jack and Cheddar.  I decided to go with this version, but I didn't notice the change to Dijon Mustard which I actually like better. No worries it still tasted great.

As always, after perusing several recipes I made a few changes.  I followed the recipe up to putting the chicken in the baking dish, but went ahead and topped the breasts with the 2 slices of bacon and a pile of sauteed mushrooms. Then I covered with foil and baked for 25 minutes. At that time I uncovered and topped with the cheese and popped it back in until melted.  I also skipped the adding the Paprika and the Parsley.  It received rave reviews.

This recipe is easy and delicious.  It's a little heavier than the normal dinner fair I offer, but great for an occasional meal. It would also be a wonderful, filling choice for company and as an added bonus really looks great on the plate.

Enjoy!

= = = =

Outback Steakhouse Alice Springs Chicken

Ingredients:

½ C          Dijon mustard (can also use Yellow Mustard if you prefer it)
½ C          Honey
1 ½ tsps   Vegetable oil
½ tsp        Lemon juice
1 T           Vegetable oil
2 C           Fresh mushrooms (sliced)
2 T           Butter
Salt, Pepper, Paprika (optional)
8              Slices cooked bacon
1 C          Shredded Monterey Jack cheese
1 C          Shredded cheddar cheese
2 tsp        Fresh parsley (finely chopped) - Optional

Cooking Instructions:

In small bowl whisk together Dijon mustard, honey, 1 ½ teaspoons of oil and lemon juice. Add the chicken breasts into a large container. Pour about 2/3 of the honey mustard sauce over the chicken. Cover and refrigerate for about 2 hours. Cover the remaining honey mustard sauce, refrigerate and reserve until later.

In a small frying pan melt the butter. Add mushrooms and sauté until the mushrooms have reached your desired tenderness. Remove from heat.

Lightly grease a 9×13” baking dish. Heat 1 tablespoon of vegetable oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Remove chicken breasts from the marinade (discard the marinade) and season with salt, pepper and paprika. Add the chicken breasts to the pan and sear on both sides for 3-4 minutes or until golden brown. Place the chicken breasts into the baking dish. (NOTE - here is where I topped with the bacon and mushrooms and covered the dish in foil. In the final step below I only had to add the cheese.)

Place into the oven and bake at 350 degrees for 25-30 minutes or until the chicken is fully cooked. During the last few minutes of cooking top each chicken breast with mushrooms, 2 slices of bacon, ¼ cup Monterey jack, ¼ cup of cheddar. Bake until the cheese has melted.

Sprinkle each chicken breast with ½ teaspoon of parsley before serving. Serve with the refrigerated honey-mustard sauce (note - I drizzled a little on the individual servings instead).
(Makes 4 Servings)

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

The Ticket by Fred Shackelford

BOOK SPOTLIGHT

Synopsis -

Channing Booker, a compulsive gambler, drug abuser, and philanderer whose marriage is failing, finally gets lucky and wins the Mega Millions lottery. Expecting an imminent divorce, and hoping to hide his new fortune from his wife Susan, Channing devises a scheme to have a friend claim the $241-million jackpot and secretly return the money to Channing after the divorce is final. But Susan flees with all of her possessions, including the rare book in which Channing hid the winning lottery ticket.

With time running out before the lottery ticket expires, Channing launches a desperate search to find Susan, but she’s covered her tracks well, fearing his retribution. In need of money to fund her furtive new lifestyle, Susan begins selling off her worldly goods, including her rare books, unleashing a chain of events that puts not only her life in danger, but that of her new love as well…

Buy the Book: Amazon ~ Amazon UK ~ Barnes & Noble  Abe Books ~ ​Alibris ~ Black Opal Books  ~ Fiction  ~ DB ~ iTunes ~ Kobo ScribD ~ Smashwords ~ Wordery  Books-a-Million Add to Goodreads

Meet the Author -

Fred Shackelford is a Virginia attorney who lives on farmland that his great-great-grandfather purchased in 1817. Before writing his début novel The Ticket, he published Judges Say the Darndest Things, a collection of humorous excerpts from legal opinions. Fred is a graduate of the University of Virginia. The Ticket was a finalist for The Clue Awards from Chanticleer Book Reviews, a finalist for the National Indie Excellence Awards, and a quarterfinalist in the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award Contest.

Connect with the author: Website ~ Twitter ~ Facebook 


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Thursday, April 5, 2018

ICE by Lauren Carr (A Chris Matheson Cold Case Mystery)


The clues for a close-to-the-heart missing person’s case heat up when Chris Matheson starts chipping away at the ice on the cold case.

Synopsis - 

When Sandy Lipton and her unborn child disappear, the court of public opinion finds young Chris Matheson guilty. Decades later, the retired FBI agent returns home to discover that the cloud of suspicion cast over him and his family has never lifted. With the help of a team of fellow retired law enforcement officers, each a specialist in their own field of investigation, Chris Matheson starts chipping away at the ice on this cold case to uncover what had happened to Sandy and her baby and the clues are getting hot!

Lauren Carr has added a new series with the
​Chris Matheson Cold Case Mysteries!

Review - 

When you've read every single book by a favourite author, it's always an exciting day when they launch a new series. Such is the case with Lauren Carr and ICE.  All her previous book series centered around characters that were in some way connected. With the Chris Matheson Cold Case Mystery series we step into a whole new world.

Chris Matheson is a strong male character, a former FBI agent and a single dad of three girls. He moves home to the family farm to live with his mum after his dad dies so they can help each other. Due to circumstances, his return home is not easy.  Many years before Sandy Lipton, girl he went to high school with, had accused him of getting her pregnant. Shortly before giving birth she mysteriously disappeared.  While Chris denied any involvement with Sandy, there is no way to prove his innocence as she literally vanished into thin air.

Enter the Geezer Squad. Disguised as a book club, this group of retired professional men and women discreetly look into solving cold cases.  Chris Matheson is brought into the club not really knowing it was more than a book club, but he quickly becomes a part.  After he shares Sandy's story, the group decides to step in.

As the mystery surrounding the young teenager's disappearance slowly begins to unfold, the danger increases. Chris finds himself working closely with a member of the local police - Helen Clarke - his first love who broke his heart for reasons unknown. The suspects continue to multiply as the two find themselves drawn closer together, their passion reigniting.  The ending, when it comes, will surprise you.

ICE holds many of the elements Lauren Carr fans love about her books - strong, independent male and female characters, wonderful dogs full of character, a mystery that needs solving, a bit of humour and a good splash of danger.  However, this series has a bit of a darker flavour to it which I loved.  Not too much. Just enough to keep me turning those pages one after another.

Buy the Book: Amazon ~ Add to Goodreads

Meet The Author
Fab new behind the scenes author interview - HERE!
Previous Author Interview covering her journey to become a writer - HERE!
Lauren Carr is the international best-selling author of the Mac Faraday, Lovers in Crime, and Thorny Rose Mysteries—over twenty titles across three fast-paced mystery series filled with twists and turns!

Now, Lauren has added one more hit series to her list with the Chris Matheson Cold Case Mysteries. Set in the quaint West Virginia town of Harpers Ferry, Ice introduces Chris Matheson, a retired FBI agent, who joins forces with other law enforcement retirees to heat up those cold cases that keep them up at night.

Book reviewers and readers alike rave about how Lauren Carr’s seamlessly crosses genres to include mystery, suspense, crime fiction, police procedurals, romance, and humor.

​Lauren is a popular speaker who has made appearances at schools, youth groups, and on author panels at conventions. She lives with her husband, and three dogs on a mountain in Harpers Ferry, WV.

Connect with the author: Website  ~  Twitter  ~  Facebook  ~  Instagram


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Interview with Lauren Carr, Author of ICE (A Chris Matheson Cold Case Mystery)

Read a previous interview with Lauren Carr covering her journey to becoming an author HERE!


I have read all your books and reviewed many. Up to this point the characters in the different series have had a thread connecting them. With ICE you start from scratch with a whole new cast and direction. What inspired this new series and edgier story line?

Last year, I saw a documentary about a group of former classmates investigating the cold case of their teacher, who had gone missing, only to be found murdered months later. I was inspired by these women, all in their fifties and sixties, combining their talents to solve this cold case. I was working on another book then, so I just tucked the idea into the back of my mind. Every now and then I would bring it to the forefront and massage it for a while. I was very intrigued by the ensemble group of middle-aged detectives combining their talents to work on this case that kept them up at night—a complete departure from my other series.

The character of the protagonist, Chris Matheson came at about the same time. The storyline for ICE called for an ensemble cast—the Geezer Squad. But, I needed a character to be the anchor. The reader meets the Geezer Squad through Chris, who is an outsider because he’s a young law enforcement retiree. I myself have a few friends who either joined the military or went to work for the federal government right out of high school—making them eligible to retire in their early to mid-forties. Technically, Chris is able to join the Geezer Squad. But because of his youth, he’s an outsider who has a lot to learn.

Review - HERE!
After working with such a strong set of characters through over 20 books, was it hard or exhilarating (or both) to start at the very beginning with blank page for this new series? What was best about changing direction? what was hardest?

It was both hard and exhilarating at the same time. It was exhilarating to do something different. Don’t get me wrong. I love Mac Faraday and his family and friends. They have such great chemistry! I wouldn’t have gone in a different direction to create the Chris Matheson Cold Case Mysteries if I hadn’t been inspired to do so. Honestly, I did not wake up one morning and say, “I’m going to create a whole new series with all new characters.” It just happened.

But, once I started working on ICE, I faced the challenge of making Chris Matheson’s character different from Mac Faraday, Joshua Thornton, or any of the other male protagonists in my other three series. I did not want any readers to accuse me of taking Murphy Thornton, changing his name, and sticking him another series.

So I spent a lot of time with Chris before I started on ICE. Chris is notably gentler than my other male protagonists. He has to be due to his circumstances. He’s surrounded by women. He’s a single father to three little girls. He lives with his mother—a strong independent woman who recently lost her husband. Even their pets are female—until Sterling joins them.

He’s got the gentle hands of a loving father and son, but the heart of a fighter. 

While not heavy, this plot did feel a bit darker and edgier to me. Because you are so good at bringing these characters to life, I assume you get drawn into the book's mood as you write. At the end of your writing day, how do you put aside that edgier world and let go? What do you do to relax and have fun? 

Humor. I find humor in everything. Many readers have noted the humorous twists that I insert between the lines in my book. Maybe some would consider me warped in that way.

I remember shortly after my husband and I got married close to thirty years ago, my mother and stepfather visited us. The next morning, my mother said she had trouble sleeping because Jack and I had spent half of the night laughing. Not having sex—like most newlyweds, but laughing. She said it made her happy that we were such a joyful couple.

Three decades later, we still make each other laugh on a daily basis. Our son says we’re embarrassing. 


That’s something that I do strive for in every situation. No matter how dark or dire, I search for the humor in life. If you keep your eye out for it, you will find it. That humor, even just a touch of it, is what makes things look a little bit better.

I also strive to inject that in my mysteries. Even though murder mysteries are by nature a dark subject, the humor helps to lighten things just a tad to hopefully brighten up my readers’ days. 

Every title of yours I have read has at least one pet full of personality as a part of the cast. Each is unique. Do you spend as much time developing their personalities as you do the human characters in your books? 

Yes. I have learned that animals are like people. Each one has their own separate personality and quirks. Readers may assume that the things that the animals do in my books are mostly from my active imagination, but that’s not true. Everything that the critters do in my books have been done by real live animals—including Sterling using a low hanging branch as a swing to take him on a ride. A reader sent a YouTube video of a police canine doing that.

In the Chris Matheson Cold Case Mysteries, Sterling is based on my new German Shepherd, who is the nephew of the real Gnarly, who passed away a little over a year ago of cancer. I did spend a lot of time studying Sterling, who is indeed smart like his uncle. But, he’s also a loveable goof-ball. That’s what I wanted to emphasize in ICE. 


Looking back through all of the strong female characters you have created, do you see parts of your personality reflected in any of these characters? I'd love to hear a few examples.

There are bits of me in every one of my main female characters—some real, some fantasy.

For example, the character of Helen is a bright, successful, pretty, police lieutenant. However, underneath it all, she is very insecure. She feels like a fraud because of the childhood that she had kept secret from Chris. Even she notes that over thirty years later, after everything that she had overcome and achieved, she still feels like damaged goods—like she’s not good enough for Chris.

I haven’t endured the horrible background that Helen had. But I did grow up a poor farm girl, and was the first person in my family to go to college. There has been a part of me that made me feel like a fraud—all because of things that are basically ancient history. It was the sense of vulnerability that Helen kept hidden from Chris, and eventually was forced to reveal to him, I wanted to bring out in Helen.

The character of Doris Matheson, Chris’s mother, ended up being a big surprise for me. I discovered while proofreading ICE, that her character is very much like my mother, who passed away last September. I did not realize that while I was writing the book or even going through the edits. It was while proofreading it that I was struck by the dialogue between her and Chris. The biting, witty, and loving tone between the mother and son was the same as what I shared with my mother. It was almost like I was channeling that special relationship we shared.

As a fellow author I am always astounded at how prolific you are. What tips do you have for those of us that struggle to get new works out regularly?

I treat my writing like a job. It’s a job I love, but it is still a job.


I keep a regular schedule. The mornings are devoted to “business.” That is social media, answering emails, and book promotion. The afternoons are spent writing. If I’m on a real roll, I’ll write in the evening, too. Or, I may do research.

I set deadlines for myself and fight tooth and nail to stick to them. I have two projects going at any one time. Right now, I am working on interviews and guest posts for the ICE tour, writing the next Thorny Rose Mystery, and mentally plotting the next Mac Faraday Mystery.

My situation does allow me to be flexible, but I still treat myself like an employee. If I miss a deadline, I’ll beat myself up like a slave-driving boss. 

I think I read you have another title in the works due out in the fall. Can you please share a teaser about your next project?

I am working on two books that I expect to be released early summer and another this fall.

Look for Murder by Perfection, the third Thorny Rose Mystery, early this summer.

Frustrated with their busy schedules, Murphy Thornton and Jessica Faraday attempt to find togetherness taking a couple’s gourmet cooking course at the Stepford Kitchen Studio. Successful Chef Natalie Stepford is the model of today’s modern woman—perfect in looks, home, and business.

When Natalie ends up dead, the Thorny Rose detectives peel back the layers of Natalie Stepford’s life to discover that the pursuit of perfection can be deadly.

But wait! There’s more! Look for a Mac Faraday Mystery this fall! The next installment in the Mac Faraday Mysteries will be coming out just in time for Christmas - A Murder for Christmas (working title).

Connect with the author: Website  ~  Twitter  ~  Facebook  ~  Instagram


Tuesday, March 20, 2018

From Liberty to Magnolia: In Search of the American Dream by Janice S. Ellis, PhD

Synopsis - 

From Liberty to Magnolia: In Search of the American Dream vividly recounts the journey of an African-American woman from rural, segregated Mississippi through academia, corporate America, and politics. It is the story of how she triumphed even when, more often than not, the ugly realities of racism and sexism tried to deter her.

This book tells the broader story, too, of how her life epitomizes what the Civil Rights Act and Equal Rights Amendment have meant and have not meant for blacks and women as she has lived through their maturation during the last 50 years. What better time than now to examine how these two seminal and defining events played out in the life of an ordinary African-American woman who believed in all of America s promises?

What better moment than today to look deeply at the life of a woman who prepared herself and worked tirelessly to achieve her goals only to realize that many lay beyond her reach and that of most women and most blacks. From Liberty to Magnolia shows readers, especially aspiring women and minorities with whom her story will have special resonance how to navigate and ultimately embrace the challenges at every major crossroads and be triumphant.

A Discussion Guide is included for use by book clubs, classes, and group discussions.

Review - 

I recently wrote a piece about how important it is for stories to be told by the people who lived them rather than by outside spectators.  This book is a perfect example. When the voice comes from the author's own life, the story has so much more truth and impact.

In the beginning, author Janice S. Ellis takes us back to her childhood where it all began on a farm in rural segregated Mississippi.  The personal experiences she shares as a young black child helps open a small window into what it is like to face racial discrimination.  This time in history comes alive through the stories shared of  her life, her family, her friends and her community during this shameful time in history. One schools mate's father was castrated. Another killed. Why? Because they were trying to register black voters.

After leaving home, we follow her along her driven journey to earn an education, have a family, get a good job and make a real difference in the world. All along the way are personal stories that highlight the influences of the time both socially and politically. From the lows of an abusive marriage to the highs of developing an economic program for a city and presenting it on an international stage, she does a wonderful job of bringing her story to life. And woven into this journey is her struggle trying to achieve success during a time when it was still thought women belonged in the home.

The author acknowledges how strong her drive to succeed was from a young age - which at one point had her juggling graduate school, working 2 jobs, raising her sons and writing commentary for a local radio, all on 4 hours sleep a night - as well as what a positive influence it was on her early life that her parents actually owned the farm they worked instead of having to work the fields of others.

I really enjoyed reading this title. The only part I found myself skipping through was a full chapter devoted to one of her major influences. While it was interesting, it seemed a distraction from the broader story being told.

Buy the Book: Amazon ~ Barnes and Noble ~ Add to Goodreads


Meet The Author -

Janice Ellis, Ph.D, has been an executive throughout her career, first in government, then in a large pharmaceutical company, later as President and CEO of her own marketing firm, and finally as President and CEO of a bi-state non-profit child advocacy agency. Along with those positions, she has been writing columns for four decades on race, politics, education, and other social issues. They have appeared in a major metropolitan daily newspaper, The Kansas City Star; a major metropolitan business journal, The Milwaukee Business Journal; and for community newspapers The Milwaukee Courier, The Kansas City Globe, and The Kansas City Call. She began her career writing and delivering radio commentary for two years for one of the largest ABC radio affiliates in Wisconsin. Later in her career she wrote and delivered a two-minute spot on the two largest Arbitron-rated radio stations in the Greater Kansas City area. She has also written for several national trade publications, focusing on healthcare and the pharmaceutical industry.

Dr. Ellis published an online magazine, USAonRace.com, for seven years dedicated to increasing understanding across race and ethnicity, in which she analyzed race and equality issues in America. The website continues to attract thousands of visitors per year. The site also has a vibrant Facebook page with fans numbering in the thousands. Five years ago, Dr. Ellis launched a companion site, RaceReport.com, which aggregates news about race relations, racism, and discrimination from across the United States and around the world daily. Dr. Ellis also has her own website, JaniceSEllis.com, which houses a collection of her writings and where she continues to write about race inequality, gender inequality, politics, education, and other issues related to the inalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

Janice Ellis, a native daughter of Mississippi, grew up and came of age during the height of the Civil Rights Movement during the 1960s. Born and reared on a small cotton farm, she was influenced by two converging forces that would set the course of her life. The first was the fear and terror felt by blacks because of their seeking to exercise the right to vote along with other rights and privileges afforded to whites. The second was her love of books, the power of words, and her exposure to renowned columnists, Eric Sevareid and Walter Lippmann, whose work solidified her belief that the wise use of words is what advances the good society.

Janice Ellis became determined to take a stand, and not accept and allow the conditions of that farm life, or the strictures of oppressive racial segregation and entrenched sexism limit what she could become. She became determined to use whatever talents God had blessed her with and the power of words to help improve the human condition. FROM LIBERTY TO MAGNOLIA is her first book.

Connect with the author: Website ~ Twitter  ~ Facebook

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Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Waking Isabella: Because beauty can't sleep forever by Melissa Muldoon

Waking Isabella is a story about uncovering hidden beauty that, over time, has been lost, erased, or suppressed. 

Synopsis -

It also weaves together several love stories as well as a few mysteries. Nora, an assistant researcher, is a catalyst for resolving the puzzle of a painting that has been missing for decades. Set in Arezzo, a small Tuscan town, the plot unfolds against the backdrop of the city’s antique trade and the fanfare and pageantry of its medieval jousting festival. While filming a documentary about Isabella de’ Medici—the Renaissance princess who was murdered by her husband—Nora begins to connect with the lives of two remarkable women from the past. Unraveling the stories of Isabella, the daughter of a fifteenth-century Tuscan duke, and Margherita, a young girl trying to survive the war in Nazi-occupied Italy, Nora begins to question the choices that have shaped her own life up to this point. As she does, hidden beauty is awakened deep inside of her, and she discovers the keys to her creativity and happiness. It is a story of love and deceit, forgeries and masterpieces—all held together by the allure and intrigue of a beautiful Tuscan ghost.

Review -
Waking Isabella is the second fiction novel by author Melissa Muldoon that embraces her love of Italy including its culture, history, food and art. 

There are two main characters at the very center of this story who live at different times. First is Nora, an academic who has recently divorced and decided to revisit Italy to film a documentary on a Renaissance princess she has been researching. From the past is the princess - Isabella - who meets her end at the hands of her husband. There are also many other wonderful characters to be found that are crucial to this tale, but these two carry the main plot.

Waking Isabella moves seamlessly from present to past and back, slowly revealing the story line by peeling back one layer at a time. Nora and Isabella's stories are in many ways parallel journeys through bad marriages as well as finding love with another. As Isabella lives in a different time, her love has to stay a clandestine affair. Divorce was not an option  For Nora in the present, it is a new relationship post-divorce with an antique dealer in Italy where she is staying.

I love the way the author's writing takes the reader between past and present so seamlessly it feels like they are happening side by side.  I also enjoyed the chance to learn about Italian history during several eras -  the Renaissance, the German occupation and the current day.  However, this isn't a history lesson.  Over the course of the book the past and present story lines draw closer and closer until they meet in an ending that is the perfect period to this tale.

Waking Isabella is a story of passion, love, grief and redemption that is built upon the stories of the characters we meet - their pasts, their secrets, their insecurities and their passions. Kudos to the author on a well crafted story

Buy the Book: Amazon  ~ Kobo ~ Barnes & Noble Book Depository  ~ Books a Million  ~ IndieBound  ~ Indigo  ~ Add to Goodreads


Meet the Author - 

Fab behind the scenes author interview - HERE!

Melissa Muldoon is the Studentessa Matta—the crazy linguist! In Italian, “matta” means “crazy” or “impassioned.” Melissa has a B.A. in fine arts, art history and European history from Knox College, a liberal arts college in Galesburg, Illinois, as well as a master’s degree in art history from the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana. She has also studied painting and art history in Florence.

Melissa promotes the study of Italian language and culture through her dual-language blog, Studentessa Matta (studentessamatta.com). Melissa began the Matta blog to improve her command of the language and to connect with other language learners. It has since grown to include a podcast, “Tutti Matti per l’Italiano,” and the Studentessa Matta YouTube channel. Melissa also created Matta Italian Language Immersion Tours, which she co-leads with Italian partners in Italy.

Waking Isabella is Melissa’s second novel and follows Dreaming Sophia, published in 2016. In this new novel about Italy, the reader is taken on another art history adventure, inspired by Melissa’s experiences living and traveling in Italy, specifically Arezzo, as well as her familiarity with the language and art. For more information about Waking Isabella and links to Melissa’s blogs and social media sites, visit www.MelissaMuldoon.com.

As a student, Melissa lived in Florence with an Italian family. She studied art history and painting and took beginner Italian classes. When she returned home, she threw away her Italian dictionary, assuming she’d never need it again, but after launching a successful design career and starting a family, she realized something was missing in her life. That “thing” was the connection she had made with Italy and the friends who live there. Living in Florence was indeed a life-changing event. Wanting to reconnect with Italy, she decided to start learning the language again from scratch. As if indeed possessed by an Italian muse, she bought a new Italian dictionary and began her journey to fluency—a path that has led her back to Italy many times and enriched her life in countless ways. Now, many dictionaries and grammar books later, she dedicates her time to promoting Italian language studies, further travels in Italy, and sharing her stories and insights about Italy with others. When Melissa is not traveling in Italy, she lives in the San Francisco Bay Area.

Melissa designed and illustrated the cover art for Waking Isabella and Dreaming Sophia. She also curates the Dreaming Sophia blog and Pinterest site: The Art of Loving Italy. Please visit the Pinterest page for pictures of Arezzo, the Giostra del Saracino, and all the places we go in Italy in both books. Visit MelissaMuldoon.com for more information about immersion trips to learn the language with Melissa in Italy, as well as the Studentessa Matta blog for practice and tips to learn the Italian language.

Connect with Melissa: Website ~ Twitter ~  Facebook ~ Pinterest ~ Instagram ~ Youtube

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Interview with Melissa Muldoon, Author of Waking Isabella: Because beauty can't sleep forever

Can you share a bit about your journey to becoming a writer/published author? Was it a dream from childhood or something you embraced at a later age?

Ciao Marilyn

My decision to learn the Italian language ultimately led to my writing career so that I could incorporate my love for Italy and my passion for art history first through my blog and now in fictional form to engage more readers.

I have always considered myself an artist and writer. When I was little, I used to write fanciful stories, and I kept lots of personal diaries. From the age of 10 or so, I also kept loads of sketchbooks in which I drew everything I saw. In college, I began gravitating more and more toward a career in the arts and I studied both painting and Art history in Florence. I went to Italy primarily because of my passion for the arts, but wasn’t all that interested in learning the language. Upon completion of Grad School with a Masters in Art History I thought about teaching but decided instead to become a graphic designer and for years have run my own firm.

Over time, however, I began to miss Italy very much and regretted not having learned the language well. So, I started focusing on becoming fluent. A few years after that decision, I decided to combine my graphic skills, my Italian language skills and my writing skills and began the Studentessa Matta blog where I write in Italian and English to promote the study of language and culture. The blog is mostly composed of non-fiction articles, and I write about everything from language learning tips to Italian music to interesting Italian festivals and holidays.

After starting my blog seven years ago, it took another couple of years, but then I got the crazy idea to go a step further and write a novel. Since publishing my first novel “Dreaming Sophia” I've been hooked on writing novels. I love creating worlds and inventing people to populate them. I find it to be a very creative process, not only through writing but also in the design of the books together as well. I illustrate my covers and layout my book interiors.

Read Review HERE!
Where did the inspiration for the storyline in Waking Isabella come from? 

After finishing my debut novel "Dreaming Sophia" which in some ways is autobiographical and tells the story of a young woman – an artist and how she ends up in Florence Italy – I knew I wanted to write another story. In the first book, my protagonist Sophia meets important personalities from Italy's history – poets, writers, movie stars, and artists – in her daydreams.

For my second book "Waking Isabella," again I wanted to explore art and historical themes but also wanted the story to involve a bit of a mystery as well. As I have recently been spending a lot of time in Arezzo Italy, a small hill town in Tuscany leading small group language immersion programs I thought it would be a perfect setting. Not only could I take the reader to a city, not many people have heard of, but I could tell them about Arezzo's unique jousting festival, antique fair as well the city’s traditions and a bit of its history. What pulled the entire story together for me, however, was an encounter I had with Isabella de' Medici's portrait that I ran into one day a museum in Arezzo. I was intrigued by the look in the Medici Princesses' eyes, and when I started doing a bit of research about her, I knew Isabella would be a perfect character to create a story around.

How about the inspiration for the people we meet in this? Can we find parts of you in the main female characters of Nora or Isabella?

I think all writers put a bit of themselves in their characters. At the beginning of the story, Nora is a bit depressed and longs to know if she has made the right choices and wonders about the life she didn't choose. I think we can all relate to that feeling and wonder about the experiences we might have had if we had studied something different, selected a job in another city, taken that trip we turned down, lived in another country, been braver and tried something that scared us, or perhaps even married a different person. But I think the real message is: it is never too late. We can follow our dreams and our hearts and take chances. We can always make a new decision or choice that will change the course of our lives. We don’t have to settle for ordinary. I certainly changed my own game plan and the direction of my life based on my decision to learn Italian!

As for Isabella and Margherita, I’m quite drawn to both these characters and had a lot of fun writing their scenes. I think they must have been quite a remarkable women and I admire them for standing out, daring to take risks, being an independent women and a non-conformists. I would like to think I have some of those qualities too.

This book starts in the distant past, then continues in the future with flashbacks occurring occasionally. How hard was it to keep track of the 2 parallel history lines and to blend them smoothly into one story?

I like to incorporate scenes from the past because it is what fascinates me the most about fiction writing. But I think to keep a contemporary reader onboard with the story it is also necessary to create a modern protagonist.

In my first novel "Dreaming Sophia" I used Sophia's daydreams as a means for her to dip back in time and visit with characters from a different period. In "Waking Isabella," I use the fact that Nora is an empath and very sensitive to the feelings of others as the vehicle through which she can channel thoughts and feelings not only of those around her, but also the energy of personalities from a previous eras.

In “Waking Isabella” it was necessary for the reader get to know Isabella's character personally, so that they would have a greater appreciation for the story or her missing painting in the twentieth-century and why it was important for Nora to find it and bring her back to life. It was also necessary to develop Margherita's character and her storyline as it was essential to understanding how and why the painting went missing in the first place. For me, it wasn't hard to jump back in time and let the voices of Margherita and Isabella chime in throughout the book. As I wrote, I could well imagine what they had to say! In fact, I had the most fun writing the scenes that take place in the fifteenth-century and those that took place in the 1940s during WWII. 

How do you organize your time when working on a new book - daily writing time, when inspiration strikes or ?

When I begin to write a novel, it is an all-consuming process. Sometimes I start early in the morning and write all day long and well into the night. I work all week long and also on the weekends. It never stops. I get entirely drawn into the plot the characters and envisioning the scenes and making sure everything is hanging together. I begin with a well-detailed outline. Before that I work for several months reading books, watching films, and doing research on everything from the kind of hat that was worn in 1940 to emailing a jouster in Arezzo and asking detailed questions about the rules of the game. Once I have started writing and have my first draft, I begin all over again, filling in conversations and refining details and enhancing scenes.

When I'm doing other things during the day like working, answering emails and writing articles for my blog, or when I think I am relaxing, listening to music or walking the dogs at night, I'm still always thinking about the story line. Often I will abruptly drop what I'm doing to write things down or work on a dialogue or add some detail to a scene. I have also been known to wake up from in the middle of the night and jump up and turn on the computer and start writing because something has come to me that I need to get down. It's an addictive, invigorating, frustrating and a joyful process to say the least.

What kind of research was necessary to keep the places and historical references in Waking Isabella as accurate as possible?

It was essential to research Isabella de' Medici well. I wanted the reader to come to understand and appreciate her as I had. So, I read many books about her. I also visited Cerreto Guidi in Italy where she was murdered. I, like the character Nora in "Waking Isabella," had a delightful conversation with the museum guard about Isabella. I wanted the story to be accurate, but there are a few places where I took a few liberties, and at the end of the story I make some notations where I fabricated a few things. For the most part, however, to the best of my knowledge events played out as I have written them.

It was also imperative to me that the reader has a sense of events that occurred during the World War II years. Often, these injustices and tragedies aren't as evident, but just the same intolerable.

As an author - what do you enjoy most about writing process? What feels like a chore?


I enjoy the moments when my fingers just fly over the keyboard, and it seems like the characters have come to life and are guiding my words. Those moments when ideas come to me effortlessly, scene descriptions seem to write themselves, and I have these little ah-ha moments when I make exciting connections between characters and things just seem to fit together beautifully. Those are great days.

And then there are those days where it feels like you are pulling teeth, none of your characters want to cooperate with you. You write for an hour and think you have perfected a scene. And then you look back, and it isn't the way you saw it in your head, and you swear the words began to jump around on the page and re-write themselves (not to your liking) when your back was turned, and you were making more coffee.

As this is your 2nd book, do you find the process of finding new storyline ideas and characters gets harder or easier with each new title?

I think book two (Waking Isabella) was much easier to write. Book one (Dreaming Sophia) was super personal. I was riding a wave of ideas and let the writing take me where it wanted me to go, which it turned out was a bit of a circuitous route and I re-wrote and re-edited the story for many months. But, it was a good thing and wasn’t time wasted. The story evolved and matured as it was supposed to and in the process I learned a lot — not only about the process of writing, editing and developing a story but also the design and production of a novel and how to self-publish. After blazing my own trail I had a lot of knowledge in my head, and I couldn't let it go to waste so decided to begin right away with a second book.

So, "Waking Isabella," even though it involved a mystery — that required more research and finesse to explain it clearly to an audience who perhaps isn't knowledgeable about the time periods, settings, the town of Arezzo and its traditions as well as the challenges faced by the diverse group of characters — from the beginning followed a more straightforward progression from start to finish, and I had a clearer idea of how the story was going to play out.

When you're not working at work or writing a new book, what do you like to do to relax?

I like speaking in Italian! I love grabbing a coffee and chatting away with my Italian friends and hosting Italian meetup groups. I live in a little Italian world of my own making here in San Francisco. I listen to Italian music, watch Italian films, read Italian books. And when I'm not working on a book or writing articles for my blog, I'm illustrating, drawing, and painting. And when I'm not doing that, I'm traveling in Italy. I organize small groups to learn the language and this year I will spend two months in Italy in Montepulciano in the spring, and I return to Arezzo for the June joust and again in September.

What can readers expect next from you?

As I was completing "Waking Isabella" a new idea for a novel came to me. I like the way the first two books developed with contemporary protagonists and the stories of how they make their way to Italy as well as developing art and historical themes to pull the contemporary stories together. I want readers to know that art can “talk” to them if they take the time to listen. So, in this tradition, I am working on a third book that will be called "Avenging Artemisia" which will focus on the story of the first important female artist – Artemisia Gentileschi – who flourished during the Baroque period and she too will be paired with a contemporary protagonist and the story will involve a bit of time travel. Interestingly enough, as in the first two books, the Medici family in Florence will also play a part.

This coming year you will also find me in Italy in June in Montepulciano with my language group and after that in Arezzo where I will be promoting “Waking Isabella” in the town where the story takes place. I look forward to participating also in the June joust that occurs at night. Then in September I will return again to Arezzo for my fall language program and of course the fall joust. I am a fan after all! You can also find me on the StudentessaMatta.com blog writing about Italy and language learning.

Grazie! Melissa

Connect with Melissa:Website ~ Twitter ~  Facebook ~ Pinterest ~ Instagram ~ Youtube

Thursday, February 15, 2018

The Company Files: 1. The Good Man by Gabriel Valjan

Synopsis - 

In 1948, Vienna was divided among four powers: France, the Soviet Union, the United Kingdom, and the United States. Jack Marshall had served with Walker during the war, and now, working together for The Company, they are tasked to do the inconceivable. Could former Nazis really be recruited to assist the U.S. in the atomic race? As their team moves forward, they quickly discover they are not the only ones looking for these men. And the others in the search may just have the objective of murder.

In this tale of historical noir, of corruption and deceit, no one is who they say they are. Who is The Good Man in a world where an enemy may be a friend, an ally may be the enemy, and governments deny everything?

Review - 

I was fortunate to have a chance to review author Gabriel Valjan's 4-book Roma series in 2015 (review links below) and enjoyed it immensely, so I jumped a the chance to review his latest offering The Company Files: 1. The Good Man.  This new fiction still offers intrigue, suspense and danger, but it's a big departure in terms of setting and plot.

The story opens in post-war Vienna. Countries that stood against the Nazis are all present here, each with their own secret agendas that are often at odds with the goals of other countries.  While the story follows several characters, the ones that rise to the top for me are: Jack Marshall (company station chief), Walker (a soldier who fought alongside Jack and now hired by him) and Sheldon (a tailor and former Auschwitz detainee who they think is offing former Nazis).  On the female are Leslie (company analyst under Jack who might not be what she seems) and Tania (a Russia refugee Sheldon rescues and tries to protect who might also have surprises within).

The Company's goal is to find Nazis who might have information the U.S. could find useful. If one is found, they might be secretly exonerated and the information they hold used to keep America at the top globally. Sheldon's  suspected war against former Nazis could interfere with that goal in certain circumstances. Next comes Whittaker who has gone missing and Mr. Meeks from Washington whose actions begin to ring alarm bells. Are they patriots or traitors?

As the plot deepens, we are taken further and further into the underworld surrounding a post-war country.  As each step is taken, who is friend and who is foe becomes harder to discern and the truth becomes more and more elusive.  Who will survive to the end? Who will prove trustworthy?

The Good Man is a great read filled with twists, turns, thrills, mystery, danger, suspense and in the end a small dash of romance. A great read.

Buy the Book: Amazon ~ Add to Goodreads

Meet The Author - 

Gabriel Valjan is the author of The Roma Series from Winter Goose Publishing. He lives in Boston, Massachusetts, where he enjoys the local restaurants, and his two cats, Squeak and Squawk, keep him honest to the story on the screen.

Connect With the Author Website Twitter Facebook

My Roma Series Reviews - 

Roma Underground - Wasp's Nest - Threading the Needle - Turning to Stone


  
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Friday, February 9, 2018

Necessities (Book #4 in the Donnie Ray Cuinn series) by Boyd Taylor

Check out my review of other books in this series!
Synopsis -

Donnie Ray Cuinn returns to Austin to defend a war hero accused of murder. David Lewis lost both legs in Iraq, but he has overcome his nightmares and his disabilities by sheer willpower. He has learned to run and to box and is a successful newspaperman with a beautiful wife and son. Now the nightmares have returned and he must stand trial for murder. With twists that never seem to end, this gripping legal thriller is filled with suspense and indelibly drawn characters dealing with love and betrayal.

Review -

This book was also a surprise as the first half was told from the perspective of David Lewis - a character Donnie met in a previous book.  It steps back a bit in timeline, retelling parts from previous books from this different perspective, then heads into new territory.

David Lewis is a veteran missing both legs who has driven himself hard to make sure his disabilities don't hold him back in any way. One day he is approached by an beautiful, rich woman he used to go to school with. She wants him to be her husband and produce the grandchild her wealthy father so desires.  None of the other siblings have managed it. He finds himself very attracted to her and decides this is a life he can embrace, even with the no divorce clause.

Unfortunately, after his wife gives birth to their one and only son, she wants to live very separate lives.  In public he is required to step into the required role of dutiful husband in a very happy relationship - something he pulls of despite his growing dissatisfaction.  He is encouraged to enjoy his pleasures in other places as long as he is discreet.  His work both on the family media empire as well as a liberal newspaper he purchased with his wife though, brings him great success and professional satisfaction.

Then one day everything changes.  His father in law believes there is a dire threat against the family and sends David to protect his wife and bring her home. Unfortunately, the situation stirs up his wartime nightmares. In response he fires and kills an innocent.  Even though Donnie Cuinn has no experience at this type of trial, David has complete trust in his abilities and refuses to trust anyone else.  Can Donnie find a way to prove his innocence.

A great read with a fabulous plot twist at the end. Not all is as it seems!  You'll have to read to find out.

Buy the Books: Amazon ~ Barnes & Noble ~ Add to Goodreads



Meet The Author -

Check out a fab behind the scenes interview HERE!

BOYD TAYLOR lives in Austin, Texas with his wife and their Havanese dog Toby. Necessities is the fourth novel in the Donnie Ray Cuinn series. In a former life, Boyd was a lawyer and a corporate officer. A native of Temple, Texas, he graduated from the University of Texas at Austin with a B.A. in government and an LL.B. from the law school.

Boyd's first novel "Hero" was prescient in its story about fake news. His second novel, "The Antelope Play," dealt with drug trafficking in the Texas Panhandle, an unfortunately accurate forecast. The third, "The Monkey House", involved commercial development of a large green space in the center of Austin, all too familiar to Austin residents. Whether his upcoming novel "Necessities" predicts future events with the accuracy of the earlier books remains to be seen.

Connect with the Author: Website ~ Facebook



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Saturday, February 3, 2018

Interview With Evy Journey, Author of Sugar and Spice and All Those Lies

To read a previous interview with Evy Journey covering her journey to writing & more click HERE!
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Something I forgot to ask in the last interview makes a great starting question here. While there are bits of intrigue, cooking and other themes included in your storylines, they are wrapped around the main focus which is Romance. As a writer, why did you chose to write in this genre.

I don’t think my latest book fits neatly into the romance genre. At least one romance blogger/reviewer says romance is secondary in this novel. And some, expecting the usual trajectory of this genre, have been disappointed. I think it’s because the story does not conform with some tropes they expected. The sexy billionaire bad boy doesn’t get the girl, for instance. You could go further and say that, as far as that particular pairing is concerned, there isn’t a happy-ever-after. I intended to subvert a few expectations from the get-go. I turn the tables on another trope. The bad guy usually commits the crimes. In Sugar and Spice and All Those Lies, the crimes are perpetrated by the heroine’s close friends. But that’s real life—stats show victims often know their assailants well.

It’s also real life that love is a big concern among the age group I write about. My books, though, are cross-genre, with more than a soupçon of mystery/thriller and an emphasis on character development that lends a literary flavor. There’s no one category you can snugly fit them into. So I choose a vague genre— women’s fiction. And this is okay. The focus is the heroine’s viewpoint, her growth, and what loving means to her. In romance, the alpha hero is front and center, even when the POV is the heroine’s.

This is the sixth book you've published. How does the journey to publication with each new title chang​e. Does it get easier or harder?

Review HERE!
Writing gets easier, but because I’m compulsive and try not to repeat myself, I struggle occasionally. Promotion and marketing have always been hard, though. When you think you’ve learned techniques that sell, the marketing landscape changes, maybe because there really is no science to it. And very little data. The book business remains in a state of flux.

Please share a bit about where you found the inspiration for the storyline and characters in Sugar and Spice and All Those Lies.

I love to eat and I live in an area where the first gourmet ghetto sprang up in the seventies. If the name Alice Waters rings a bell, then you know what I mean. The San Francisco Bay Area is a foodie paradise. Of the 14 three-star Michelin restaurants in the US listed in Wikipedia, half are in the Bay Area. You can stumble on ethnic restaurants—which greatly enrich local cuisine—nearly everywhere.

More a propos, the oft-mentioned but absent grandfather of the heroine is a French chef who has an artisanal French deli. He’s based on a real person. It was while walking out of his deli carrying my purchases in vacuum-sealed bags that I got my inspiration and the hazy first outlines of the story. He remains alive and well with his Chinese American wife and their now grown-up kids. They were young children when I first saw them.


The idea of love at first sight is embraced in this latest book. Do you believe in love at first sight in real life?  Has it ever happened to you or someone you know?

Ah, love! Can it hit you at that first shy glance? If you remember, Gina, the heroine, discounts this idea. She calls it lust at first sight. And if you read research studies, which I still do (I always ask: Who says this and what’s the evidence?), you’ll learn she’s right. The trouble is too many of us cannot distinguish lust from love. If you care to know a bit more about this, read my short article.

So, have I had lust at first sight? No, some tingling, yes. My trouble is I think too much.


In looking back over the 6 books you have written, what elements of you can be found scattered throughout the characters of the heroines you create?

Apart from love of food? And love of music like that of the heroine in Hello Agnieszka?

The female protagonist’s interiority. My heroines all have rich inner lives. Sometimes, they even talk about it like Elise in Hello My Love when she says, “Our inner life is what makes us human and, to me, it’s even more important for the way we live now.”

She is voicing my thoughts. The overt passivity of thinking doesn’t appeal to many modern readers, however. We prefer action and excitement. Maybe interiority is important to me, at least partly, because of my training which I share (somewhat) with the heroine of Welcome Reluctant Stranger. Leilani is a clinical psychologist, while I trained more in the theoretical/research area of psychology.

You've called yourself an "Adventurous Foodie." Can you share one of your favourite taste experiences?  Where did you experience it and what was the food treat?

Only one? I remember many. My most vivid first memory, though, is of steaming black rice rolls sprinkled with brown sugar and freshly-grated coconut, served on fresh banana leaves. The fragrance, the contrasting textures, the cool and hot, the sweet caramelly sugar and the rich, creamy, chewy coconut sinking into sticky Jasmine-scented black rice. Imagine how that hits a three-year old, standing outside an old Spanish-era Catholic church after midnight mass on Christmas eve. Shivering in the humid tropical breezes from an ocean only a mile away.

On your website under blog you list 2 headings - Love, Life, Small things and A Writer's Life.  How do they differ?

Writer’s Life is chiefly about my thoughts on writing. Love, Life, and Small Things is much more about those topics. Many times, of course, the categories intersect—how can they not since writing is what I do? So several posts are classified under both.

I love ending with this question, "What's Next?" Do you have new book in development or ??????????????

I want my next novel to be about an artist, a painter. Art is one of my other loves, apart from writing and my family. I’m toying with the idea of a historical novel, using material from an art history paper I once wrote on illuminated manuscripts—the first illustrated books inscribed on paper (vellum actually). Or I could write parallel stories, one set in medieval times and the other in the present when illustrated manuscripts have morphed into comic books or graphic novels. This book would be much more demanding and would take longer to write.

I’ll end by saying you have the best, most original author interview questions. Thank you for that.

Connect with the author: Website ~ Twitter ~ Facebook ~ Pinterest  

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