Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Guest Post & Giveaway: Searching for Irene by Marlene Bateman

Marlene Bateman's latest Historical Romance novel is on tour. Check out the author's tips on writing, and enter to win a physical copy of the book.

Release date: July 1st 2017
Publisher: Covenant Communications
Purchase: Amazon

Synopsis via GoodReads:
What happened to Irene?

When Anna Coughlin, a modern 1920’s woman, travels to the secluded hills of Virginia to work for wealthy Lawrence Richardson, she discovers that the previous secretary, Irene, mysteriously disappeared a few weeks ago. Upon arriving at the castle-like mansion to begin working, Anna finds that Lawrence’s handsome, but antagonistic son, Tyler, wants nothing more than to have her gone. And he isn’t the only one.

A series of frightening incidents ensnare Anna in a maze of intrigue as she sets out to find the truth behind Irene’s disappearance. She is helped—and often hindered—by the temperamental Tyler Richardson, who—despite her best intentions—begins to steal her heart. 

But even as Anna begins to uncover dark secrets in a troubled household, she must continue to hide a significant one of her own. Then, her life is threatened, leaving Anna to wonder if she’ll be able to unravel the mystery before she disappears as mysteriously as the unfortunate Irene.

How to Improve Your Writing Style
by Marlene Bateman
Author of Searching for Irene

There are many elements of good writing but perhaps one of the least understood is style. What is style? Style is not what you write but how you write. Voltaire said, “Every style that is not boring is a good one.”  But how do you improve something as nebulous as style? Over time, I’ve come up with some simple things that can enhance anyone’s writing style.
1.       The smaller the number of words you use to contain a thought or an image, the more impact it will have.  Let me give you an example: “Lee was a mean woman.” It’s always better to be more specific, such as; “Lee was a shrew.” Another example; “He passed away early in the morning, and people all over America cried.” A much better way to say that is; “He died at dawn and the nation wept.” You don’t want to put extra words in a sentence for the same reason you don’t tape two windshield wipers to the windshield of your car: they wouldn’t serve any purpose and they would get in the way.
2.           Be wary of adverbs. Adverbs usually only crop up when you use a weak verb and need to boost it. You can use them, but be SURE they are needed. Most aren’t.
3.          Use strong verbs that are active, vivid, specific and familiar.  One example of poor use of a verb is; Buster ate his dog treats quickly. It would be much better to say; Buster gobbled his dog treats.  Don’t use weak general verbs like walk, cry, fall, and touch if the situation calls for plod, weep, collapse, and caress.
4.     Make tension fuel your plot. Without tension, there is no plot.  Remember, whenever the protagonist’s intention is denied, the effect is tension, which readers LOVE.

5.           Create tension through opposition.  The role of the antagonist is to thwart the intention of the protagonist. Readers will be bored if you make things easy for your protagonist.

6.            Make tension grow as opposition increases.  Tension is a result of a chain of cause and effect, which builds and produces conflict and tension. This chain is necessary to keep the story going.  Every time something happens, the stakes grow larger and the action snowballs.

7.            Make change the point of your storyWe expect events to affect the main character in such a way as to force a change in his/her personality.  Your main character should be a different person at the end of the book than he was at the beginning.

8.            When something happens, make sure it’s important.  Plot is your compass and gives you a general idea of the direction you’re headed. If you write something that is specifically related to the advancement of the plot, keep it. If it doesn’t advance the plot, chuck it. 

9.            Make the causal look casual.  Everything in your writing has a reason, a cause that leads to an effect, which in turn becomes the next cause. For example; If a shotgun is necessary, show it well before it is needed. Make the appearance of the shotgun casual—show it in a way that the reader almost doesn’t notice. Then later, when a gun is called for, readers will remember seeing one earlier.

10.        Make sure your lead character performs the central action of the climax. Keep the main character on center stage with the action. And remember that your main character should act, not be acted upon.

11.      Show, don’t tell.  Showing means creating a picture for the reader.  You can say a person seemed impatient, but it’s better to show that by saying, “She looked at her watch constantly,” or have her ask, “Are you almost done?”
12.        Use a thesaurus to look up words that are colorful and precise and mean exactly what you want to say.  Writing gets more interesting as it acquires precision, not length. You know thousands of words, but they don’t always rise to the surface of your brain. Adjectives are not efficient and should not be your first choice.  William Strunk said that adjectives are “the leeches that infest the pond of prose, sucking the blood of words.”  Turn adjectives into verbs whenever possible.  For example, turn impatient into “looked at his watch” or “tapped her foot.” The best thing to do is replace words, not modify them.  Replace house with mansion, cottage, hovel, or duplex.
13.        Avoid clichĂ©s.  They’re tiresome. It takes work to come up with fresh ideas, but it’s worth it.
14.        Appeal to the senses.  Bring your writing alive with the sounds, the smells, the flavors, and the peculiar tactile sensations that come from textures and temperature and motion.  Remind the reader that the world sparkles, roars, and sometimes stinks. The senses are touchstones for the reader.  Don’t say it was noisy at the baseball game.  Mention the crack of a bat, the whizzing of a fast ball, the roar of the crowd, and the heckling from the bleachers.
15.     Say things in a positive way.  Show readers what you want them to see, not what you don’t want them so see. Here are some examples; Do not say, “He was not a generous man,” say, “He was a miser.”  Do not say; “The painting it did not have any flaws,” say, “It was a masterpiece.”  Do not say, Phil was not a graceful person,” say, “Phil was a klutz.”
16.        Put emphatic words at the end.  Emphasis tends to flow to the end of a sentence, so if there is one word or phrase you want to say a little louder, put it at the end.  This is especially important when you are trying to be humorous.
17.      Keep it simple but don’t confuse simple with dull.  Write in a simple, direct, unpretentious way—with every sentence an arrow aimed at exactly what it means to say.  Remember you are trying to do one thing; tell a story.

About the Author
Marlene Bateman

Marlene Bateman Sullivan grew up in Utah, and graduated from the University of Utah with a Bachelor's degree in English. She is married to Kelly R. Sullivan and they live in North Salt Lake, Utah with their two dogs and four cats. Marlene has been published extensively in magazines and newspapers and wrote the best-selling romance/suspense novel, Light on Fire Island. She has written three other mysteries: Motive for Murder, A Death in the Family, and Crooked House, as well as the romance, For Sale by Owner.

Marlene has also written a number of LDS, non-fiction books: Latter-day Saint Heroes and Heroines, And There Were Angels Among Them, Visit’s from Beyond the Veil, By the Ministering of Angels, Brigham’s Boys, Heroes of Faith, Gaze into Heaven; Near-death Experiences in Early Church History, and The Magnificent World of Spirits; Eyewitness Accounts of Where We Go When We Die.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Review: Walking with Miss Millie by Tamara Bundy

Release date: July 4th 2017
Publisher: Nancy Paulsen Books/Penguin
Purchase: Amazon | B&N

Synopsis via Goodreads:
A poignant middle grade debut about the friendship between a white girl and an elderly black woman in the 1960s South

Alice is angry at having to move to Rainbow, Georgia—a too small, too hot, dried-up place she’s sure will never feel like home. Then she gets put in charge of walking her elderly neighbor’s dog. But Clarence won’t budge without Miss Millie, so Alice and Miss Millie walk him together. Strolling with Miss Millie quickly becomes the highlight of Alice’s day, as she learns about the town’s past and meets a mix of its catty and kind residents. As the two become confidantes, Alice is finally able to express her heartache over her father’s desertion; and when Miss Millie tells her family story, Alice begins to understand the shameful history of Segregation, and recognize the racism they need to fight against. Navigating the neighborhood with Miss Millie gives Alice new perspective, the wisdom to move on from her anger, and even enables her to laugh again.

Tamara Bundy’s beautifully written story reminds readers that there is nothing like friendship to lighten one’s load, and make anyplace a home.

*I received a finished hardcopy of the book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

I've been trying to read more middle grade books this year because I do like the genre and sometimes I just want to re-experience seeing things through the eyes of a child. Walking with Miss Millie is the debut novel of Tamara Bundy and I'm glad that I got the chance to read it because I ended up liking the story.

Ten-year-old Alice is angry that her mother has uprooted her and Eddie, her little brother, and is moving them to the small town of Rainbow to better take care of Alice's grandmother. It's easy for readers to say Alice is selfish and should understand the situation, but you have to keep her age in mind and realize that this is a child leaving behind friends, the only home she's known, and a life she was used to and felt safe in. Not only that, but her parents were going through something and her father had pretty much turned his back on them. But for most of the story, Alice remains hopeful that he will come for his family, swoop up everybody and take them back to their home. So in the meantime, she works on collecting items that will remind her parents, specifically her father, of their love for each other, all while walking with Miss Millie and her dog. 

It was so funny how Alice came to walking with her neighbor. The thing with the phone is actually new to me and I'm glad they don't do that anymore. My gosh, I can't even imagine having a conversation that might not be for anyone else's ears and my neighbor is listening in on the call. Yikes. Anyway, it was an innocent mistake on Alice's part but her mom insisted that she find a way to make it up to Miss Millie, and so the young girl is asked to walk the old dog, Clarence. However, Clarence refuses to be taken by Alice alone, understandable because trust needs to be built, so in turn, Miss Millie starts walking with them just until her dog becomes comfortable with Alice. 

Their walks turned out to be rather informative, not only for little Alice but also for me. The things Miss Millie had endured were just heartbreaking. She'd lost so much, and every time she shared a painful story it made me even more upset that racism still exists today! I looked forward to the next walk like Alice and loved the bond these two characters had established, a black woman of old age and a white girl at only ten, in a time and community that still wasn't all accepting of them being friends.

While Alice is growing fond of Miss Millie and Clarence, she fights to hold on to the belief that their current situation is temporary and she's still waiting for her father, no matter how life proved otherwise. She didn't want to allow herself to start liking this new town and its few nice people like her neighbor, the interesting character Pam and her brother that wasn't as mean as other members of their family. But as her father started to disappoint her more and more and the truth became too obvious to ignore, Alice finally came to the realization that she was at home with her grandmother and mother, and even with Miss Millie. In fact, I think her old neighbor played a big part in helping Alice see things clearly and learning to understand that life is tough and sometimes you just have to make the best of the situation. I thought it was amazing that such a young girl could grow so much mentally and at times turned out to be way more mature than some of the people in Rainbow. 

Aside from the friendship between Miss Millie and Alice, I also liked Pam's character and the way she connected with Eddie. She tried her best to communicate with him and even went as far as to learn sign language. Not many people would make such a nice attempt and it's sad that Alice tried to push her away earlier, but I got why she did that and was happy when she started to let Pam in. In regards to the mom, I would have loved for her to be in the story more. It's really sad what's happening to the grandmother but Alice's mom is a great daughter and she did a good job with Alice and her brother. 

To conclude, Walking with Miss Millie is a great story with youthful writing and interesting main characters. I loved how it's not only depicting an unlikely friendship in a time where that didn't happen a lot, but I also like that you can learn from the story and possibly use a character like ten-year-old Alice to inspire change in your life and others. 

About the Author
Tamara Bundy is a high school English teacher with a Master’s degree in writing, and is a former columnist for the Cincinnati Post (her regular column on being a mom also appeared on EWTN global Catholic radio). Walking Miss Millie is her debut novel. She lives in Cincinnati, Ohio. 

Friday, July 14, 2017

Behind the Pages #31: Tamara Bundy talks her debut novel 'Walking with Miss Millie' + Giveaway

Hey, guys! I'm finally back with another Behind the Pages feature, and I'm pleased that it is a debut author this time around, which also happens to be the first interview on the blog since the start of 2017. Tamara Bundy has recently debuted her middle-grade novel, Walking with Miss Millie (a book that I liked by the way), and I'm happy that I had the opportunity to discuss the book and more with her. Not only that, Penguin Random House is contributing a copy of the book to one lucky winner from the U.S. So continue below for the interview and giveaway.

Thanks for taking the time, Tamara. Where are you from and at what point in your life did you realize you wanted to become an author.
I grew up in Hilliard, Ohio (a suburb of Columbus-the same place my main character, Alice, wants to return to). I fell in love with the play of words from Dr. Seuss by the age of seven. I loved rhythm and rhyme and began to write poetry.  The first time someone said I was a good writer, I was hooked and wanted to write ever since. 

Who are some of your biggest influences in literature?
Of course, I loved Dr. Seuss, who taught me words can be both fun and meaningful. As I grew, I enjoyed Judy Blume who could tell a story like she was your best friend, Madeleine L’ Engle whose imagination both scared and entertained me and Shel Silverstein whose poetry made me laugh and cry. But I also won’t underestimate the impact my Archie comic books had on my desire to tell a story. 

How has being an English teacher and former columnist for the Cincinnati Post affected your writing?
Writing a weekly column was great discipline for just writing.  It didn’t matter if you felt inspired or not –if your column was due on Monday, you’d better have it written by Sunday. It was great practice for not choking under deadlines. As a teacher, I get to see the impact good books have on students. I see the light bulb of understanding go off, I hear the big football playing tough guy sniffling at the end of Of Mice and Men. It never gets old. And when I think of students getting my own books in a classroom, it makes me so happy. But I also know how diverse students are, how complicated their lives are. I always want to honor that –to really make it worth their time to read my books. 

Congratulations on your debut, ‘Walking with Miss Millie’. What inspired the story and why set it in the 1960’s? 
When my own daughter was in middle school, and feeling like she had no friends, she began walking the elderly neighbor’s dog. However, the dog refused to walk with just my daughter, so the neighbor lady went along too. It stayed that way and became a unique and lovely friendship. I knew I wanted to tell that story, but seeing what was going on in the world with matters of race, I wanted to write something that might help students understand each other. I wanted people to see how far we’ve come –and how far we need to go. That’s when I decided it would be a richer story if it took place in the 60’s and the two characters were different races.

Were there moments where the story felt challenging for you to write or you felt nervous about creating these characters? 
Maybe I should have been nervous, since I eventually found out that it is tricky to write outside your race, but I felt my character, Miss Millie, whispering in my ear the whole time. The story unfolded so naturally, the only challenge was wanting so hard to do her justice –I needed the world to love her as much as I did.

What are you hoping readers will take from the friendship between Alice and Miss Millie, a young white girl and an elderly black woman? 
For one thing, I hope they realize that friendships come in many shapes, sizes and appearances. For another, I want them to understand that you can’t know what someone is going through until you walk in their shoes (or at least with them for a while).

Once you finished the story, how did you celebrate your debut?
This novel was a part of my writing life for so many years, I don’t think I fully understood what “finished” was. But I celebrated every step of it –getting an agent (the amazing Steven Chudney), getting a book deal (the legendary Nancy Paulsen), seeing the first ARC (Advanced Reader Copy), the first hardcover --I celebrated it all!

What’s next now that ‘Walking with Miss Millie’ is out in the world? 
I love the loving feedback I am getting. I swear it never ceases to touch me to read someone’s review who cried and laughed and felt the same love I felt for my characters. And while I am enjoying and celebrating that, I am also working on my second Middle Grade novel that Nancy Paulsen bought for a 2019 release.

Will you stick to Middle Grade or do you have plans on writing Coming of Age or Adult Fiction in the future? 
I loved teaching high school students and I might write YA someday, but I am crazy about the possibilities of Middle Grade historical fiction right now-there’s so many stories to tell. But remember how much I loved Dr. Seuss? You might just see some picture books from me one day…

Thanks again for the interview, Tamara. Any tips for aspiring writers? 
The best advice I have is to write because you love it. If you only write to get a book deal, you will spend so much time frustrated and feeling like a failure. But if you write because you have a story to tell, you will always be a success as long as you tell the story you are meant to tell. Make writer friends, follow writers you admire on social media and read their stories. Follow agents you are interested in. Read, read, read and write, write write. And never, never, never give up.

More About the Author
Tamara Bundy is a high school English teacher with a Master’s degree in writing, and is a former columnist for the Cincinnati Post (her regular column on being a mom also appeared on EWTN global Catholic radio). Walking Miss Millie is her debut novel. She lives in Cincinnati, Ohio. 

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Review: Royally Romanov by Teri Wilson

Series: The Royals #2
Release date: July 17th 2017
Publisher: Simon & Schuster Pocket Star
Purchase: Amazon 

Synopsis via Goodreads:

In this charming modern day retelling of the 1956 classic Anastasia, a museum curator falls for a mysterious man who may or may not be a long lost heir to Russia’s imperial Romanov dynasty.

Finley Abbot is organizing the most prestigious art exhibit of her career at the Louvre museum—a retrospective of art from the House of Romanov. But the sudden appearance of Maxim Romanov threatens to turn her into the biggest laughingstock of the art world. When she finds herself falling in love, she realizes there’s even more at stake than her career. How can she trust a man with her whole world when he can’t remember a thing about his past?

After suffering a violent blow to the head, Maxim’s only clue to his identity is a notebook containing carefully researched documentation in his own handwriting indicating that he is the sole surviving descendant of the Grand Duchess Anastasia, previously thought dead in the murder of her family during Russia’s Bolshevik revolution. His struggle to put the mysterious pieces of his past back together leads him to Finley. At first, she’s convinced Maxim is nothing but a con artist. But there’s something undeniably captivating about the beautiful, brooding man who claims to be searching for his identity—something Finley can’t quite bring herself to resist. When he reveals a secret about one of the imperial FabergĂ© eggs in the collection, she accepts he may actually be telling the truth. But as soon as Finley and Maxim act on their feelings for one another, Maxim is confronted with evidence that calls into question everything he’s begun to believe about himself.

*Publisher provided ebook in exchange for an honest review.

I haven't read the first book in the Royals series, but I noticed that each has different main characters and when I saw that Royally Romanov is a retelling of Anastasia, I became eager to start it.

The story begins with Maxim in the hospital and we quickly get the gist that he doesn't remember who hit him or why. Things move at a fast pace but not so much that you can't keep up with the characters, and I did manage to warm up to them easily. Maxim came off as a nice guy that just wanted to understand what was going on and Finley was working hard to move up in her career at the museum and let go of what she'd experienced back in the states.

Loved the Paris setting; I could picture the scenes so vividly even with the slightest detail given. And Finley's job sounds so cool. I found it amazing that she was involved in the collecting of historical pieces that had once been forgotten. When Maxim approached her, I knew there must have been something prior to his incident that would have led him to Finley. But it was interesting how she connected immediately and related with him on an intense level based on her own terrifying experience. She was hesitant to trust him at first, which is understandable considering he was a person of interest to the police and the fact that there had been other con artists in the past that have tried to come off as having ties to the Romanov line. But she simply could not stay away and just had to know the truth, in spite of the warnings from her superior at the museum.

The mystery surrounding Maxim was the biggest part of the story and what kept me so interested. I liked the items that came about and the information learned at the cathedral. However, things started to unravel rather quickly toward the end, and I also felt like their feelings for each other intensified too fast, but I wasn't bothered by that too much as I wanted to know if Maxim truly was connected to Anastasia and the identity of the person who had struck him. I learned the answer to both but after that was cleared up, the story didn't seem to end right. At least not for me. I feel like more was needed in regards to Maxim's character and what was next for him.

To conclude, Royally Romanov is a good story with an interesting twist on a classic and a subtle mystery that will hold your attention. Although I had a few minor issues, I still liked it for the most part.

Teri WilsonAbout the Author

Teri Wilson is a romance novelist for Harlequin, Pocket Books and Tule Publishing. Her novels UNLEASHING MR. DARCY and THE ART OF US are both now Hallmark Channel Original Movies, and she currently has two other films in development with the Hallmark Channel. Teri is also a contributing writer at and Teen Vogue, covering books, pop culture and everything royal. She's crazy about cute animals, vintage fashion and traveling.

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

CAN'T WAIT TO READ: Reign the Earth by A.C. Gaughen

Series: The Elementae #1
Release date: January 30th 2018
Publisher: Bloomsbury
Pre-order: Amazon

Synopsis via Goodreads:

Shalia is a proud daughter of the desert, but after years of devastating war with the adjoining kingdom, her people are desperate for peace. Willing to trade her freedom to ensure the safety of her family, Shalia becomes Queen of the Bonelands.

But she soon learns that her husband, Calix, is motivated only by his desire to exterminate the Elementae—mystical people who can control earth, wind, air, and fire. Even more unsettling are Shalia’s feelings for her husband’s brother, which unleash a power over the earth she never knew she possessed—a power that could get her killed. As rumors of a rebellion against Calix spread, Shalia must choose between the last chance for peace and her own future as an Elementae.

This intense, richly drawn high-fantasy by the author of Scarlet will hold readers spellbound.

A.C. GaughenAbout the Author
A. C. GAUGHEN is the author of ScarletLady Thief and Lion Heart. She serves on the board for the non-profit Boston GLOW, creating opportunities to encourage and engage teen girls in the Greater Boston area. She has a Masters in Creative Writing from St. Andrews University in Scotland and a Masters in Education from Harvard University.

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