Friday, March 27, 2020

Change, a poem by Nada Adel Sobhi

It's all around us
From the rising and setting
Of the mighty sun
To the trees
Shedding their leaves
– to even snakes
Shedding their skins –

Each changes and grows
Even the river that flows;
There is a power
To their change

So do our emotions
And moods
We shed the cold
For the warmth of spring
And the heat of summer

Is all around us
Sometimes expected
Other times not so much
And yet
We often resent it

It takes us out of our shell,
Our comfort zone, our routine,

But like the trees
We grow with every change
We open our eyes
To new challenges
To a new world

With every change
We mature a little,
Become a little wiser

It can be an opportunity
We just have to learn
To embrace it
And grow
A little wiser
Along the way

Photography by Mahmoud Mansi - Takhayyal Writing Prompt 105 

Written Friday, 27 March 2020 at 01:03
(During the Corona Virus Pandemic)

I originally wanted to keep this poem till April for National Poetry Month, but someone told me it was "perfect for this time" so I decided I'm celebrating National Poetry Month a little early :)  

This poem was inspired by the March 2020 writing prompt (Image above, photography by Mahmoud Mansi)

Monday, March 23, 2020

Write Your Book in a Flash by Dan Janal – Book Review

"No one cares how many words your book contains. They care about reading the right content."

Write Your Book in a Flash by Dan Janal is a great resource for anyone planning to write or working on a book but is struggling to finish a draft. Be it the first draft or later drafts. 

The book offers tons of tips and comes with a series of exercises to help you write. It's an easy read.

I'd recommend you read Janal's book either while writing your book or before you start. It's a reference-type-of-book. I have a book I want to write so I'm planning to reread Write Your Book in a Flash as I write it so I can apply the tips mentioned inside.

"Confused readers don't buy books."

Janal references a ton of books in his own. As a book mentoring coach, he's read a lot and therefore shares much of what he's learnt and what he has used to write his own books (he gives examples from his works and others').

The first important question Janal asks the reader, and potential author is: "Why do you want to write a book?"

While Write Your Book in a Flash primarily deals with writing non-fiction books, much of the advice can be applied to fiction. Tips like starting where you feel comfortable and how to edit your book are applicable to any type of writing; fiction, non-fiction, blog content, anything.

"People want information. They know they aren't reading literature. If you solve their problems, you're a hero. If you don't help them, you're a zero."

Some honest tough love there with the above quote but Janal is 100% right. As opposed to reading novels, short stories, and poetry, people reading non-fiction and self-help books have desires and ideas other than wanting to be entertained. They pick up a book because they want to learn something and/or solve a problem.

My problem? The getting-to-write part of writing books - whether fiction or non-fiction. The sitting down and getting started. I've picked up several hints from Janal's book for both categories.

One of the things I liked about Write Your Book in a Flash was Janal's promise in the first chapter that he would teach the reader how to "overcome procrastination and conquer your limiting beliefs so you can write and finish your book" and goes on to deliver on that.

One of my favorite pieces of advice in Write Your Book in a Flash is Janal saying "Don't get married to your title." As a copywriter, I know what it feels like when you write a title that just wows you and you try to stick to it but then things don't go as planned.

I like how Janal uses his own books as examples. Regarding the "don't get married to your title" advice, he says that Write Your Book in a Flash was originally named How to Create an Outline for Your Book.

"Ugh!" he says about his former title. "That title told me what the book was about but it wasn't catchy. It also didn't convey the benefit to readers. Why would they want to write an outline for their book?"

Here's another tip about writing titles: "To find out what your prospects think of your title, you must ask them."

I must note that it took me a while to start Janal's Write Your Book in a Flash, which I got as a review request last year, because I had this fear of reading self-help books. But I have overcome that fear (to an extent) and I'm working on reading more non-fiction books as a means of self-learning and self-development.

I like Dan Janal's brutal honesty in the book. As writers, we are often afraid of how we will be received or when simply tell others we're working on books. But Janal's honesty comes like a reality check. He's been there, done that, and he's giving you the important tips and the more important "don'ts."

"Who do you think is the worst person to ask for feedback? No, it's not your mother. The worst person to ask is YOU, because you are NOT the target buyer of your book."

See what I mean? :)

There are tons more tips and quotable bits in the book but that would make my review much longer.

So overall, I think Write Your Book in a Flash is a must must-read. It's a book you can easily read once, twice, or several times. Think of the book as your tutor before and while you're writing. I highly recommend it and plan on reading it again once I start working on my non-fiction book.

Overall rating for Write Your Book in a Flash by Dan Janal: 5 Stars

It's worth mentioning that Write Your Book in a Flash was one of my top books of 2019. There's a list that I just updated with the new review. (I finished reading the book in December 2019 but just posted it in March 2020).

Note: I received a free copy of Write Your Book in a Flash from the publisher in exchange for a review. This did not affect my review in any way.

Friday, March 20, 2020

Madam Tulip and the Serpent's Tree by David Ahern – Book Review

Book: Madam Tulip and the Serpent's Tree
(Book 4 in the Madam Tulip series)
Author: David Ahern
Publication date: 14 March 2020
Number of pages: 340
Genre: Paranormal, Cozy Mystery 
Publisher: Malin Press

"In our futures, nothing is fixed. All your palm can tell us is what you bring to this life. So much of what may happen will be chance. Only you can decide how to meet whatever fortune brings. Often, the seeker finds not an answer but a question."

Madam Tulip and the Serpent's Tree is the fourth book in the Madam Tulip mystery series by author David Ahern. The book is fun, fast-paced, and can be easily read as a standalone, which means you don't have to read other books in the series.

It's also my second read for Ahern and the series, having read book 1, Madam Tulip in March – but oh wow – 2018!

Unlike the first book, Madam Tulip and the Serpent's Tree doesn't quite involve a mystery but rather a missing person mystery. Also, the real action with regards to the mystery begins towards half the book. That said, I still enjoyed the setting and narration of the first 50% of the book.

"Tara clutched the phone like it would burst into tears and how like a baby if she dared put it down."

Irish-American actress Derry O'Donnell lives in Dublin and moonlights as Madam Tulip, a fortune teller who performs at parties and events. In this book, Derry's friend Bella, who has risen to some fame, offers Derry and their former Navy SEAL-turned-actor Bruce, the opportunity to do their own play before an audience. This is in collaboration with bar-owner Pat Kelly, who later turns out to be much more than just a bar-owner. Kelly agrees to Bella's proposal on condition that Derry do a Madam Tulip act at a popular singer's birthday party.

As Derry begins to meet and mingle with the music band's members and their entourage, she discovers that their main singer believed strongly in the words of a Shaman, a woman named Kira, while others feel distrustful of Kira. There is an overall sense of animosity towards Kira, who we never see in the book but get various viewpoints of from the different characters.

"So who hates Kira? Seems to me, everybody does."

One of the things I enjoy is Ahern's style. Madam Tulip and the Serpent's Tree is narrated in the third person but mainly from protagonist Derry O' Donnell's perspective. And Derry is super funny.

"Tara wore a dark pants suit of the kind worn by market researchers who stop you in the mall insisting you try a new kind of yoghurt guaranteed to make you lose weight and improve your dancing."

It's worth mentioning is the daughter of a seventh son so she may have a possible ability to see the future or at least read the tarot cards, which she does as Madam Tulip. So there's always this tiny paranormal aspect and feel to the Madam Tulip books.

I love how David Ahern's writing is so visual, in terms of imagery and similes. Not only visual, you can hear the characters, and feel all your senses working as you read.

"The silence was the silence of a crowd in the moments before a tennis player takes a match-winning serve, like a hundred people holding their breath."

Madam Tulip and the Serpent's Tree wasn't what I expected but it was an enjoyable read. Even when the plot itself isn't moving forward, there is lots of action taking place.

In addition to the mystery and Madam Tulip's role, we have Derry's father Jacko (which not surprisingly rhymes with wacko) and the constant family drama, the friendship between Derry and Bruce, and in this book the charismatic sax player Scandinavian Nils, whom Derry likes and the reader can't help but equally like. J

I must also note that the final scenes in Madam Tulip and the Serpent's Tree where everything was happening in the dark, like in movies where you're struggling to see what the actors are doing, was a bit vague for me. I had difficulty imagining it; and not because it was dark but because a lot was happening and it just wasn't clear. Still I enjoyed the book.

Overall rating: 4.5 stars

Note: I received a free advanced reader's copy (ARC) of Madam Tulip and the Serpent's Tree from its author David Ahern in exchange for an honest review. This did not in any way affect my review.

Follow David Ahern via FacebookTwitterGoodreadsAmazon, and his website.

Sunday, March 15, 2020

Spotlight & Excerpt for new fantasy anthology MERMAIDIA

A Limited Edition Anthology
Genre: Fantasy, Paranormal 

Love mermaids and all creatures aquatic? This limited time anthology is just for you! With more than 700 pages of captivating fiction, you’ll be enchanted by sirens, dive the depths with a mermaid, and fear whether the sea witch is friend or foe.

Mermaidia features stories from authors: 

Catherine Banks

Kai Ellory Viola

Mia Ellas

Anthea Sharp
Kristi Lea
LA Fox
Nicole Zoltack
Mara Amberly
Raine English
Margo Bond Collins
Sara Elizabeth
Mikayla Symonett
Tricia Schneider
Merrie Destefano
Bokerah Brumley
Rachel A. Marks
Pauline Creeden

Are you ready to dive in before your chance is lost forever? Then order this limited-edition collection of exclusive material from USA Today and award-winning authors.

Here are a few of the stories you can read in Mermaidia 

"Queen of the Island" by Bokerah Brumley
Fated to be together, Calder and his mate must overcome the evil nymph that would keep them apart.

"Seize the Storm" by Kristi Lea 
An Isyre hides from the hunters who killed her family, as far from any ocean as she can be. The fire mage who discovers her secrets has a few of his own. Can they trust each other to face their pasts.

"Touched by a Mermaid" by Raine English
secret society. A sea witch bent on revenge. An ancient world in peril.  

"Paranormal Maritime War" by Nicole Zoltack
stolen selkie skin just might start a war between the merfolk, the selkies, and the sirens.

"Racing the Clock" by Catherine Banks
"You will seduce the prince and convince him to give you his soul. If you fail, you will give me your soul for eternity."

"The Church of Moon and Sea" by Sara Elizabeth
She must choose between two loves – the sea or the land.

"Fury" by Merrie Destefano
To survive, she made a secret deal in the Underworld.

"Soul's Reef" - Kai Ellory Viola
mysterious phenomenon. A weird cult. Vaccines needed at the end of the universe - Captain Holloway just needs to get through the reefs.

"The Sea of Time and Stars" by Mara Amberly
"A woman watched from just above the water line, her sleek blue hair drifting in the water around her. One moment she was there and the next she was gone; so quickly I could’ve put it down to my imagination or a hallucination from my injuries."

Excerpt from"Fury" by Merri Destefano 

The palace corridors felt cold and hollow, my footsteps echoed off polished granite walls. From time to time, a familiar face nodded and spoke a greeting, but I never heard their words.  I felt like I was caught in a whirlpool.

Because no matter how far I walked, I couldn’t shake off the warmth of Riley’s kiss.
It didn’t make sense. She wasn’t my type. She was too young and too feisty and too much like me. I hated to admit it, but I preferred girls who were easy to manipulate and who weren’t all that bright.
Riley was neither one of those.
The sooner I got her out of Rìoghachd, the better. Then I could get back to my regular life. I pulled my shoulders back as I picked up my pace, walking faster, remembering how I used to spend my days and nights. Gambling with Sea Warriors who sank and plundered human ships. Taking midnight strolls through Scottish villages where the girls didn’t notice my blue skin. Dining at the King’s table from golden plates and drinking salty seawine from diamond-embellished goblets.
Everything about my life had been off-kilter since that wretched Selkie arrived.
It felt empty.
I hated it.

**Only 99 cents until March 8th! **

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Saturday, March 14, 2020

Lavender Blue Murder by Laura Childs – Book Review

Today is my stop on the blog tour for Lavender Blue Murder: A Tea Shop Mystery by Laura Childs.

I'm super excited to be on this tour because I've been wanting to read one of Laura's books. And I just have and I loved it. If this tea shop were real, I'd be one of the first to go! You'll love the dishes they serve and the book contains a few of the recipes mentioned at the end.

Today, I'm reviewing the 21st installment in the series. So, keep reading. Oh and don't forget to enter the giveaway!

Tea maven Theodosia Browning and her tea sommelier Drayton Conneley are guests at a bird hunt styled in the precise manner of an English shooting party. Which means elevenses (sloe gin fizzes), gun loaders, the drawing of pegs, fine looking bird dogs, and shooting costumes of tweed, herringbone, and suede.

But as gunshots explode like a riff of Black Cat firecrackers, another shot sounds too close for comfort to Theodosia and Drayton. Intrigued but worried, Theodosia wanders into the neighbor's lavender field where she discovers their host, Reginald Doyle, bleeding to death.

His wife, Meredith, is beside herself with grief and begs Theodosia and Drayton to stay the night. But Theodosia awakens at 2:00A.M. to find smoke in her room and the house on fire. As the fire department screams in and the investigating sheriff returns, Meredith again pleads with Theodosia for help.

As Theodosia investigates, fingers are pointed, secrets are uncovered, Reginald's daughter-in-law goes missing presumed drowned, and Meredith is determined to find answers via a séance. All the while Theodosia worries if she's made a mistake in inviting a prime suspect to her upscale Lavender Lady Tea.

Book Review of Lavender Blue Murder: Book 21 in The Tea Shop Mystery Series by Laura Childs

"Theodosia is rather skilled at crime solving… You could say she's Charleston's very own Nancy Drew."

Lavender Blue Murder is the 21st installment, yes you read that right, in the Tea Shop Mystery Series by Laura Childs. It's my first read in this cozy mystery series, which means it can easily be read as a standalone.

Theodosia Browning, owner of the Indigo Tea Shop, attends an English-themed hunting event organized by Reginald Doyle, who wounds up dead. And even though the police are investigating, Reginald's wife Meredith asks Theodosia to do her own investigation for this murder.

However, a fire and later a missing family member keep Theodosia and her tea sommelier and friend Drayton busy with both the needy Meredith and the list of suspects. Lots of people and lots of secrets and Theodosia has to trudge through them all.

"Actually. You're all suspects at this point."
Alex gasped. "You can't mean that!"

Lavender Blue Murder is narrated in the third person though the main perspective is that of the lead character Theodosia Browning, a fun and nosy sleuth.

One of the things I disliked a bit about Lavender Blue Murder was the repetition. Like when someone says something and you repeat it again as if you're not smart. Once was fine but I noticed this was done a few times during the course of the novel.

Also, the introduction of Burt Tidwell, the police chief, who is also the boss of Theodosia's boyfriend Pete Riley, came suddenly. I actually checked to see if he was mentioned before and if I had forgotten him (I read on Kindle) but he wasn't. So when his sudden entry was made I was surprised and confused. He literally barged into the story and the scene.

I liked how Theodosia is able to multitask the sleuthing, the Indigo Tea Shop, the demanding – and quite annoying – Meredith as well as find time to be with her friends.

I loved Drayton, the 60+ sommelier, who gets entangled in Theodosia's snooping and is her partner in solving the mysteries. He's formal and adorable. You can't help but love him.

"Just think," Drayton said. "All your suspects are gathered together in one place."
Theodosia nodded. "It's slightly reminiscent of a localed-room murder mystery, yes?"
Drayton gave a faint smile. "Agatha Christie."

Lavender Blue Murder is full of humor and some laugh-out-loud moments. Theodosia can be really funny sometimes, especially when she's pushing her luck.

"So this isn't a romantic dinner, after all? It's more a romantic warning?"

As with most mystery books, especially those that extend to over 10 books, there wasn't much character development. I felt that Theodosia was a well-developed character. There isn't any character growth but it's not something that affects the story.

Overall, I enjoyed my first read in Laura Child's Tea Shop Mystery Series. I'd definitely love to read more books in this series.

Overall rating: 4 stars

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Here's my exclusive interview with Laura Childs about the Tea Shop Mystery series.

About the Author

Laura Childs is the New York Times bestselling author of the Tea Shop Mysteries, Scrapbook Mysteries, and Cackleberry Club Mysteries. In her previous life she was CEO/Creative Director of her own marketing firm and authored several screenplays. She is married to a professor of Chinese art history, loves to travel, rides horses, enjoys fundraising for various non-profits, and has two Chinese Shar-Pei dogs.
Laura specializes in cozy mysteries that have the pace of a thriller (a thrillzy!) Her three series are:

The Tea Shop Mysteries – set in the historic district of Charleston and featuring Theodosia Browning, owner of the Indigo Tea Shop. Theodosia is a savvy entrepreneur, and pet mom to service dog Earl Grey. She’s also an intelligent, focused amateur sleuth who doesn’t rely on coincidences or inept police work to solve crimes. This charming series is highly atmospheric and rife with the history and mystery that is Charleston.

The Scrapbooking Mysteries – a slightly edgier series that take place in New Orleans. The main character, Carmela, owns Memory Mine scrapbooking shop in the French Quarter and is forever getting into trouble with her friend, Ava, who owns the Juju Voodoo shop. New Orleans’ spooky above-ground cemeteries, jazz clubs, bayous, and Mardi Gras madness make their presence known here!

The Cackleberry Club Mysteries – set in Kindred, a fictional town in the Midwest. In a rehabbed Spur station, Suzanne, Toni, and Petra, three semi-desperate, forty-plus women have launched the Cackleberry Club. Eggs are the morning specialty here and this cozy cafe even offers a book nook and yarn shop. Business is good but murder could lead to the cafe’s undoing! This series offers recipes, knitting, cake decorating, and a dash of spirituality.

Connect with Laura Childs via her Website and Facebook page.

Purchase Lavender Blue Murder via Amazon   B&N  Kobo   Google Play  IndieBound

Keep up with rest of the blog tour including more book reviews, spotlights, interviews and character interviews here.