Not Without My Father: A Review and A Memory Made

NWMF_AmazonBuyImageTwo weeks ago, I celebrated opening day at Kimball Farm with two women I am consistently delighted to have in my writing village. When I found out that Andra Watkins was going to be doing some book events in central MA, I more or less badgered her into meeting up with me, despite a punishing schedule, because the best ice cream I have ever eaten was going to be available for the first time this season on that very day in the very town where she was presenting!

Opportunity knocks, friends, but you have to let it in. Especially if Opportunity is carrying a cup of Kahlua Chunk ice cream that could feed a platoon.

Lisa Kramer (who is that friend who will show up for your stuff) joined us on that brilliant Thursday to stand in line and laugh for an hour, and then scarf down delicious frozen dairy perfection, and I left feeling buoyed. Because friends. Fellow authors. Ice cream.

And a freshly signed copy of Andra’s memoir, Not Without My Father: One Woman’s 444-Mile Walk of the Natchez Trace.

I had – until last night – three favorite memoirs. Stephen King’s On Writing, Sophie Morgan’s Diary of a Submissive, and Kristin Kimball’s The Dirty Life. Words, sex, and farming. What did they have in common that spoke to me? A love story. And yes, I consider On Writing to be a love story.

Seems now I have a fourth.

Not Without My Father is a love story, too. A child’s love story. What begins as a publicity stunt for a talented and ambitious novelist becomes a love song to making the moments of your life count with the people most important to you.

Andra is a storytelling daughter of a story teller, and she gives space on her pages for both her own and her father’s voices. We accompany her on her journey from Natchez to Nashville, along 442 miles of physical misery, hilarity, fear, and transcendent joy. Framed around the music that kept her company on the road, Andra’s chapters unfold like the pages of a map, and like the unfolding reveal of the trail ahead, Andra’s vision lengthens from simply meeting her mile goal to living a life less ordinary with her aging parents.

This is not to say that Not Without My Father is a tender, gentle tale of a family’s journey. Andra presents herself to her readers as she is, shredded feet and exhaustion included. It’s grim, funny, sometimes awkward, and not shy about bodily fluids. It’s also incredibly sweet.

By the end of the story, she not only discovers more of who she is, she sees more of who her father is, who her parents are, and who they are together. She has made memories with them that will keep them with her long after they’re gone, and she urges us – her readers – to do the same.

It wasn’t until I sat down to explain why I loved this book, that I realized I’d made a memory just by insisting that Andra bring me a copy to buy and get some seriously good ice cream on a sunny spring day. Sometimes, it takes a five week journey to make the memories, but sometimes it’s just being in a lovely moment with friends, and I thank her for reminding me of that.

**I bought my copy of Not Without My Father: One Woman’s 444-Mile Walk of the Natchez Trace with my own money, directly from the author. All opinions are entirely my own.

Stranger At Sunset: Interview with Author Eden Baylee

Stranger at SunsetA treat for you today! One of my very favorite authors, Eden Baylee, is here to open up to us about her 2014 release — her first full-length novel — Stranger At Sunset. Many of you already know I am a devoted Eden Baylee reader. Her erotica is smart, clever, and sexy. Eden understands that the mind is one hell of an erogenous zone. Ms. Baylee is, however, a Jill of Many Genres: Stranger at Sunset, a psychological thriller set in Jamaica, is a slow-burning study of murder, loyalty, and the bonds formed between strangers in paradise.

Ladies and Gentlemen, Eden Baylee…

Hi Cam! Thanks so much for having me on your great blog. Always great to visit with you and your readers.

CDG: Stranger at Sunset is a departure, both in genre and in scope, from your previous work. Were there unexpected challenges during your process?

e.b.: Yes, Stranger at Sunset was a huge departure for me. I had never written a full length novel before. Given that, the biggest challenge was in the planning, which is not my strong suit. I love to just ‘pants’ it, but that wasn’t possible with this book, especially since it is the first of a trilogy, and there are threads of it that must carry forward to the next two books.

Aside from this, it was challenging to have many more characters in a story than I’m used to writing. I seem to have problems assigning names to characters. The name of my protagonist, Dr. Kate Hampton, was not an issue, but some of the minor characters gave me more trouble. Names resonate differently for me, so it was important that I got them right. At one point, I changed a character’s name halfway through the book, but in some places, she still went by her old name. Thank goodness for my editor who caught these errors!

CDG: On the flip side of the first question, What was an unexpected pleasure found during the writing of your first novel?

e.b.: Well, it was such a pleasure and a relief to get over the 25K-word hurdle. Previously, that was about the longest novella I had written. Short stories and novellas in the erotic romance genre came easily to me, probably because I saw the entire story in front of me. For the most part, those stories did not contain intricate plot lines veering in different directions.

I’m not a wordy writer who goes into huge descriptions about settings, characters’ appearances, and so on. I certainly didn’t want to do that for the sake of meeting a word count. As my first novel, it was important for me to use word count as a guide only. Ultimately, I had to ensure that all the words were integral to the story, not just fillers.

CDG: The heroine, Kate Hampton, is a strong woman — smart and cool — but with a lot of her own internal damage to bring to the events of the novel. You always write strong women who know their own mind, what sets Kate apart from some of the other heroines you’ve written?

e.b.: You are so right about Kate Hampton, Cam. She is smart and cool, and yet, she is not invincible. I think that makes her relatable to readers, though she is more damaged than other heroines I’ve written. Part of it has to do with the genre. Stranger at Sunset is a mystery/suspense novel with an element of romance. The focus is different than writing about a woman whose goal is to be in a romantic relationship, and all the angst that goes along with that.

The mystery of the novel unravels slowly, and the mystery of Kate even slower. She is an enigma, whom some readers have loved and others have not. Regardless, she is someone who has deep passions and strong convictions. You may agree or disagree with what she does, but I don’t believe readers will be bored by her. More of her history surfaces in the upcoming books, which will provide clues to why she is who she is.

CDG: The workings of the mind, the conflict between desire and rationality, what drives human behavior, all of that can be found in your previous novellas and stories as well, but in Stranger at Sunset, those things come to the forefront. Have you always been interested in psychology?

e.b.: Yes, absolutely. Psychology is something I studied and would have loved to pursue professionally, but I didn’t have the temperament for it. I became too attached to the subject, and it was impossible to help someone unless I remained objective. It was good to learn this about myself at an early age, as although I may have made a great therapist because I was empathetic, I would’ve been a train wreck in my own life.

The motivation of people and their duality, which I perceive exists in all of us continue to fascinate me. Psychology texts and study papers are fun reading, and my outlet for this interest is in my writing.

CDG: I was pleased to see a teaser chapter for another Kate Hampton book. What other projects are you working on these days?

e.b.: I’m working on several projects. I have an anthology currently available called Triptychs written with many other authors. It’s an interesting concept based on short stories inspired by photographs. I am also writing a novella that will be announced shortly, but not by me, so there is a bit of mystery with that one!

Well, I’m intrigued! Want more? Pick up your copy of Stranger at Sunset now and find Eden everywhere:
website | twitter | facebook | goodreads | linkedin | pinterest | amazon

The Trouble With Henry: A Review

Reading. It’s like a revelation. It IS a revelation. I have devoured two novels in the span of five days, and it’s euphoric. I haven’t read like this in so long. I’ve been so busy with writing and editing books and meeting publishing deadlines. Now that I have a lull, the stack of books on my nightstand refuses to be slighted.

Sunday morning, I finished The Trouble With Henry, by Shelton Keys Dunning.

TroubleHenryCoverHell hath no fury like a telepath scorned…

Sy Freitag and Brian Kirby are an unlikely partnership in the best spirit of the genre: a beautiful, European-expat billionaire, and a straight-shooting, working-class FBI agent thrown together by a hostage situation, reunited by a murder/art-heist investigation, and bound by the deepening feelings and trust that blossoms between them over the course of this well-paced whodunit. Brian knows how to work a case. Sy can read minds. It’s only a matter of time, patience, and a little luck before they solve the intertwined mysteries surrounding Sy’s husband’s death.

What makes The Trouble With Henry stand out is the author’s wonderfully researched, carefully structured prose, and the humanity and dimension that are woven into her characters. Sy and Brian are reminiscent of Scully and Mulder or Bones and Booth without being derivative. Ms. Dunning embraces the tropes of the detective genre, giving them a kiss of magical realism, a spark of passion, and a taste of wry humor all her own.

About Shelton Keys Dunning

ShelKDunningShelton Keys Dunning has been passionate about reading and writing since she knew words existed. She loves the escape from reality that both afford. In her spare time, she knits poorly, takes out-of-focus pictures, runs from spiders, and grows weeds in the dirt. Her husband laughs at and with her every chance he gets. Together they live with a tortoise-shell cat named Whiskey, and dream impossible dreams.

I’ve long been a fan of Shelton Keys Dunning’s writing, and am privileged to have called her a colleague at Write on Edge/The Red Dress Club. I received my copy of The Trouble With Henry as a gift from the author, but my opinions are entirely mine.

A Poison Tree: A Review

APoisonTreeSomewhere in the vicinity of a year ago, John Dolan graciously offered me a review copy of his third novel in the Time, Blood and Karma series: A Poison Tree. Long-time readers here might recall that Mr. Dolan’s hero, David Braddock, has a devious way of burrowing under my skin.

I am quite grateful that John continues to string me along with free tastes of literary crack. It’s like he knows…

I promptly showed my gratitude by not being able to tuck in and devour his novel until a year later. I am amazing like that. (Just goes to show that I do follow through, if you’re patient.)

A Poison Tree is quite different from Everyone Burns and Hungry Ghosts, for all that it also centers around the life and times of one David Braddock. While the first two books follow his adventures as a widower, ex-pat, film-noir-worthy anti-hero in Thailand, this third novel returns to Braddock’s married life, a decade before, in England.

(Strong hint: go grab John’s twisted, grimly funny short story Jim Fosse’s Expense Claim prior to the read. It’s a savory little amuse bouche before this main course.)

Opening with an unexpected and shocking proposition, John Dolan builds a simmering, quietly compelling thriller, tangling the lives of a car showroom manager, his wife, his sister-in-law, a prostitute, a vicar, and a psychopath. When the crisis comes, all is not as it seems. Suspicion, passion, infidelity, and murder, all doled out with Mr. Dolan’s trademark wit and intelligent prose.

I finished the last third of the book in one big bite, staying up far too late and scolding the author via Twitter for keeping me up. He was unrepentant. I love that.

You can read these books independently of one another, but I suggest you gobble up the whole series, and either begin here, with A Poison Tree, and then read books 1 and 2, or start with the first.

About John Dolan:

“Makes a living by travelling, talking a lot and sometimes writing stuff down. Galericulate author, polymath and occasional smarty-pants.”

John Dolan hails from a small town in the North-East of England. Before turning to writing, his career encompassed law and finance. He has run businesses in Europe, South and Central America, Africa and Asia. He and his wife Fiona currently divide their time between Thailand and the UK.

His novels Everyone Burns and Hungry Ghosts are the first two books in the Time, Blood and Karma series.

Time, Blood and Karma #1Time, Blood and Karma #2

When time permits, John maintains a literary blog Galericulate (‘hidden under a hat’) which contains book reviews, author interviews, random scribblings and other such nonsense:

You can also find him on Twitter and Google+.

Thank you to John for the review copy of his book. My thoughts are entirely my own, even if they border on fangirlish, and abuse far too many food-related metaphors.