Thursday, December 18, 2014

Review: The Christmas Tree


Julie Salamon

The Christmas Tree

By Julie Salamon
Random House, October 1996

About the Book

The Christmas Tree is the tale of a little girl named Anna, who is orphaned and sent to live in a convent. The lonely girl befriends, as only a child can, a tiny fir tree. Anna and Tree, as she calls him, grow up together, unlocking the secrets of friendship and sharing the wonders of nature. It is this same profound appreciation and love of nature that the grown-up Anna, now Sister Anthony, passes on to her students.

When Tree is threatened by a winter storm, Sister Anthony, by now an old woman, decides to give up her dearest friend, allowing him to become the most enjoyed and famous tree of all: the tree at Rockefeller Center in New York City.

A perennial holiday favorite, The Christmas Tree is about learning to love and, ultimately, being able to share that love with others.

My Review

What I like best about this feel-good Christmas story are the flashbacks. The chief gardener for Rockefeller Center narrates Julie Salamon’s The Christmas Tree. In his own words, this gardener tells of his search, his on-going, never-ending search for the tree. If he’s not looking for this year’s tree, his mind is already on finding next year’s tree. The book is about one special tree in particular, one that led to an ongoing friendship.

One day the narrator spots the tree from a helicopter. He learns it’s on the property of a convent. He goes and meets Sister Anthony, the nun who will decide if he can have the tree or not. They have more in common than he was expecting certainly. But she’s not ready or willing to part with the tree, called Tree.

Sister Anthony is a storyteller, and the narrator turns out to be a good listener. Over several years at least, he keeps coming back to visit with her and hear her stories. He has things to share as well. Through these sections, readers learn of Anna.

In the flashbacks, readers meet a young orphan named Anna who eventually came to be raised at the convent. Her story is very personal, and it reveals her affection, her connection to nature. The young girl as you’ve probably guessed is Sister Anthony herself.

I loved Anna. Her part in the story is what made it work for me. It was her connection with the tree—in the past and present—that kept me reading.

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Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Author Interview with Gayle Ridinger: Part II

Today I'm delighted to introduce you to Gayle Ridinger. She's the co-author of a new book that combines a treasure hunt with historical and contemporary storylines. Be sure to join us both days because she is giving away a copy of her new book THE SECRET PRICE OF HISTORY

Thanks for joining us again. What do you hope readers remember after your story ends?

We need to answer individually here. For Gayle: That affection and friendship remain as flames in our life, and idealism as a glowing ember. That an incredible life is always worth hearing about. That humor makes all of us fully human, and if we smile at these characters—Eleonora, Goffredo, and Sandor, but also Angie and Dardanoni—they will linger on in our minds like friends. For Paolo: the knowledge that food and drink are an essential enhancement to life even when things get desperate.


What surprised you most as you wrote your books?

What really hit us was the enthusiastic interest displayed by friends and acquaintances in the numerous real-life characters in our book—figures that most of them had never heard of. This pleasant surprise led us to create the kind of website that we did.

What’s next for you?

We’re beginning to talk about a novel set during the Restoration, immediately after Napoleon’s death. A myriad of secret societies in Europe sprang up in reaction; a story about an American who gets caught up in a spy ring during this period is starting to evolve in our minds.


Do you participate in author book signings or events? Where can readers find you?

So far we’ve done presentations and signings in Rome and at the Garibaldi-Meucci Museum in New York City, as well as for some Italian-American book clubs. Readers can always look up our book on Goodreads or contact us via our website (which couples settings and photos with excerpts from the book). 

What are you currently reading?

Gayle: Paolo Giordano and David Grossman. And I’ve just finished and enjoyed THE ORPHAN MASTER’S SON by Adam Johnson. Actually, I see in it some affinities with our book.

Paolo: Norwegian and Icelandic thrillers and CONGO by David Van Reybrouck.


Which of your books would you love to see turned into a movie?

THE SECRET PRICE OF HISTORY , for sure. Paolo, the ‘imaginator’ for much of the book (except the ancient past and ending—but no spoiler there about the whereabouts of the treasure) already saw it as a film while we were plotting it.

To be entered in the drawing for her book, be sure to answer the question in the rafflecopter below and click the button.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Gayle Ridinger is an American with family ties both to Italy and to the Civil War town of Gettysburg. After graduating in English from Oberlin College, she worked as a reporter in the Cleveland area before moving to Milan, Italy in 1981. She presently teaches English and translation techniques at an Italian university. She translated and co-edited  the bilingual anthology, ITALIAN POETRY 1950-1990 (Branden/Dante University Press, Boston, 1996), and her translation of SHAVINGS, prose poems by Camillo Sbarbaro, was published by Chelsea Editions, New York, in 2006. She received the “National Translation Prize” from the Italian Ministry of Culture in 1997, and was named Knight of the Star Order of Italian Solidarity by Italian President Carlo Azeglio Ciampi in 2003. 
Her children’s book, A STAR AT THE  BOTTOM OF THE SEA, has been published in five languages, including in the U.S. by Gareth Stevens. Her novel, THE SHADOW WIFE, the story of a strong-willed woman who substitutes her weak-willed twin sister struggling to get her life back on track, is available on Amazon.
             Her latest book, THE SECRET PRICE OF HISTORY, was co-authored with her husband Paolo Pochettino, a native of Milan, Italy, who for  years worked as an industrial manager in numerous countries. A long-time distance runner (with 8 marathons to his credit) as well as Himalayan mountain hiker and extensive world traveller, he has survived a plane hijacking and   revolts in Sudan and Yemen. Of Piedmontese background, he has always had a deep interest in the Italian Risorgimento and the bloody battles of his region.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Author Interview with Gayle Ridinger: Part I

Gayle Ridinger and Paolo Pochettino
Today I'm delighted to introduce you to Gayle Ridinger. She's the co-author of a new book that combines a treasure hunt with historical and contemporary storylines. Be sure to join us both days because she is giving away a copy of her new book THE SECRET PRICE OF HISTORY

Welcome to PASTimes! Thanks for joining us and sharing a bit about your writing world. Tell us about your latest book.

THE SECRET PRICE OF HISTORY is a cross between a modern crime story and a historical saga…or better, a 600-page gallop—sometimes entertaining and sometimes sobering—through the second half of the 1800s during the Italian Risorgimento and American Civil War, alternating with the breaking economic crisis of the summer of 2008. A gold medallion connected with an ancient treasure is the link between Angie in the present and her ancestor Eleonora in the past.


Tell us about your books. What drew you to write them?

Although this is Paolo’s first book, I have written others. Looking back, I’d say each was somehow linked to the life phase I was in at the time. My children’s book, A STAR AT THE  BOTTOM OF THE SEA, came from a lovely thought expressed by my daughter, then age 6, at the seaside. My novel THE SHADOW WIFE came out of a fascination with what a colleague of mine told me about her twin daughters coming of age, combined with the sense that we all have twin selves really—one stronger, more focused, and even more calculating than the other. And yet that’s the part which takes over from our dreaming other half and ‘gets things done’. As regards THE SECRET PRICE OF HISTORY, Paolo as a boy was so impressed by the true-life account of one of Garibaldi’s volunteer soldiers in the Italian struggle for unification that he began to harbor a deep wish to write an ‘almost-true’ novel that could match it in excitement. His enthusiasm was very contagious.


How did you get the idea for The Secret Price of History?

When Paolo approached me with the idea of the book, he already had in mind a young Italian-American protagonist (in the modern sub-plot) who finds herself in danger and courageously tries to get to the bottom of it. My contribution was to imagine that she had been shot in the arm during a re-enactment of the Battle of Gettysburg. My father’s family is from there, and I’d attended some as a child; my uncle had told me about a real-life incident of this sort involving a visiting Frenchman, and it had impressed me. As we proceeded with our story line, we did all that we could to make our treasure mystery different; during our five, highly enjoyable years of research, we found evidence to suggest a historically plausible legend for the treasure—which touches on the pagan religion of Mithraism, the Parsi trade routes from India to Europe, and the earliest proto-bankers in the West (specifically in Italy). As for the treasure itself, Paolo had seen displays of smaller hoards on his travels to India. Also, regarding our evil modern characters, he had heard about unspeakable facts and happenings in Africa. With the invention of the ending, then, the book took form.


What was the greatest challenge in writing this book?

Certainly, one challenge was how to keep up the book’s rhythm, alternating the two plots in a way that would keep readers hooked. Then there were all the re-writes to render in human, 3-D terms the historical figures who had become characters in our book. Keeping dates and places straight over a 50-year spread was also hard. And then there were those battle scenes to write—a first for me.

Be sure to come back tomorrow for the rest of the interview.

To be entered in the drawing for her book, be sure to answer the question in the rafflecopter below and click the button.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Gayle Ridinger is an American with family ties both to Italy and to the Civil War town of Gettysburg. After graduating in English from Oberlin College, she worked as a reporter in the Cleveland area before moving to Milan, Italy in 1981. She presently teaches English and translation techniques at an Italian university. She translated and co-edited  the bilingual anthology, ITALIAN POETRY 1950-1990 (Branden/Dante University Press, Boston, 1996), and her translation of SHAVINGS, prose poems by Camillo Sbarbaro, was published by Chelsea Editions, New York, in 2006. She received the “National Translation Prize” from the Italian Ministry of Culture in 1997, and was named Knight of the Star Order of Italian Solidarity by Italian President Carlo Azeglio Ciampi in 2003. 
Her children’s book, A STAR AT THE  BOTTOM OF THE SEA, has been published in five languages, including in the U.S. by Gareth Stevens. Her novel, THE SHADOW WIFE, the story of a strong-willed woman who substitutes her weak-willed twin sister struggling to get her life back on track, is available on Amazon.
             Her latest book, THE SECRET PRICE OF HISTORY, was co-authored with her husband Paolo Pochettino, a native of Milan, Italy, who for  years worked as an industrial manager in numerous countries. A long-time distance runner (with 8 marathons to his credit) as well as Himalayan mountain hiker and extensive world traveller, he has survived a plane hijacking and   revolts in Sudan and Yemen. Of Piedmontese background, he has always had a deep interest in the Italian Risorgimento and the bloody battles of his region.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Christmas Candy Cane Style


In my latest book, Where Treetops Glisten, the heroine in my novella works at a candy shop that opened in Lafayette, Indiana, in 1912. The name's changed (today it's McCords), but they still make the same Christmas candy canes the same way they were made a couple generations ago. Over the weekend the family and I went on one of the candy cane tours... and I flashed back to two Christmases ago, when I knew I'd be writing White Christmas and I knew my heroine would work at Glatz' Candy. But I didn't know how they made their famous candy canes.
Isn't the shop adorable? It has the best candy counter!

On a Saturday I was headed out to write for a couple hours. I foolishly headed to my normal writing spot -- the Panera in the Mall -- forgetting it was a Saturday in the beginning of December. I didn't even bother to park. 

Instead, I turned my car downtown and decided to work at the law firm. Only problem? No food. So I walked two blocks to McCords, trying to generate the courage to ask someone about the candy cane process. This may be hard to believe, but this author still feels like she's really sticking her neck when she tells people she's writing a book!


Trays of candy canes cooling. We didn't realize
until this time that they shrink as they cool.
As I walked up to the candy shop, I noticed a sign that said candy cane tours $2. Seriously? I ordered my taco salad and asked the clerk. Next thing I was hiking up two flights of stairs to the candy making floor. I. Was. In. Heaven. The stairwell has the most beautiful wood bannister and tin roof. Then you get to the candy floor and I took photos, videos and notes as the employees worked their magic with sugar, water, flavoring, and a tiny bit of coloring to make the candy canes. It was so fascinating that the next day I took the whole family.

Last week, we went again. The kids agree that McCords candy canes are the way candy canes are supposed to be. After watching employees make the sugary confection and twist the red and white together, we got to shape our candy canes. Too fun!

I felt a wee bit like Abigail Turner, the heroine in Where Treetops Glisten, as I twisted mine into a heart. And I think this just might become a new family Christmas tradition. 

The kids and I on our way up. Isn't the wood
beautiful? And you can just see the tin ceiling.
I hope you've enjoyed this peek into the sweet lengths authors will go to research a story. If only all of our research tasted this good when we were done! Scroll through the photos from our visit to the end for a video our local TV station took of the process. It's b-roll, and accurately shows how Abigail makes the candy canes in White Christmas.

And at the very end, be sure to enter the 8-author Christmas giveaway and one that I am running. Merry Christmas early!


Pulling the sugary concoction. It starts amber
colored and turns white as air is added.
Layering the red on bottom, white, and
then three thin stripes of red on top.

You can see the red stripes on top.
Very important: pulling the colors together
Twisting the candy cane.

gifts in giveaway It's easy to enter. Just use this form, but be sure to keep going for my extra giveaway!
  a Rafflecopter giveaway  And here's mine!
  a Rafflecopter giveaway

Friday, December 12, 2014

This Week's Winner!

The winner of Carole Brown's With Music in their Hearts is traveler! Congrats!


So glad to hear you all love history as much as we do! Have a wonderful weekend!


Cindy
www.cindyswriting.com

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Review: The Advent Bride




Mary Connealy

The Advent Bride

By Mary Connealy
Barbour, October 2014

About the Book

Melanie Douglas is alone on the Nebraska plains, teaching school to get by. She finds a unique box with hidden drawers to use over the advent season to engage a young boy in his schooling.

When Henry O’Keeffe sees a positive change in his son, he has to see for himself what this new teacher is doing.

My Review

I enjoyed reading The Advent Bride. Melanie Douglas, the heroine, is a teacher at a one-room school in Nebraska. The student who gives her the most trouble is a boy named Simon. When he’s in her classroom, she has trouble managing all her students.

For better or worse, she sees the potential in Simon. He is very bright. If he behaved, he might even be her best student academically.

She tries to talk to his father, Henry O’Keeffe, with mixed results. She worries about the boy’s home life and decides she’d rather have him with her after school than send him home alone. So she has a clever idea or two on how to keep him engaged after school. And that is where the advent box enters into the story!

I enjoyed this novella. It is a very light, Christmas-themed historical romance that is satisfying enough for what it is.

http://blbooks.blogspot.com/
http://zero-to-eight.blogspot.com/
http://operationreadbible.blogspot.com/

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Day 2 - Author Carole Brown Talks about her Love of Writing Suspence



Carole Brown not only has her award winning (RWA International Digital Awards finalist in Inspiration, Laurel Award finalist, Selah finalist; Genesis semi-finalist) debut novel, The Redemption of Caralynne Hayman, available for purchase now, but a companion book called West Virginia Scrapbook: From the Life of Caralynne Hayman, filled with tidbits of information about West Virginia, quotes, recipes from West Virginia and from Caralynne’s life, pictures and discussion questions for the novel.
 
November, 2013, the first book in her mystery series, Hog Insane, released. It’s a fun, lighthearted novel introducing the characters, Denton and Alex Davies. Look for the second book, Bat Crazy, late 2014 winter.
 
Released November 1, 2014, is the first book in a new WWII romantic suspense series: With Music In Their Hearts. Three red-headed sisters. Three spies. Three stories.
 
Besides being a member and active participant of many writing groups, Carole Brown enjoys mentoring beginning writers. She loves to weave suspense and tough topics into her books, along with a touch of romance and whimsy, and is always on the lookout for outstanding titles and catchy ideas. She and her husband reside in SE Ohio but have ministered and counseled nationally and internationally. Together, they enjoy their grandsons, traveling, gardening, good food, the simple life, and did she mention their grandsons?
 
Connect with her here:






She is also a part of several other blogs:


Barn Door Book Loft: http://www.barndoorbookloft.net/

Carol is giving away a copy of her new novel, With Music In Their Hearts. To enter the drawing, leave a comment answering the following question: What is it about history that fascinates you as a reader?
 
Welcome back, Carole. A reader once asked me this question, and I thought it was a good one. Is there ever a time when you feel like your work is truly finished and complete?

Never! I have to grit my teeth (so to speak) and quit.
 
Describe your workspace.

Oh, I’d love to! I have this big rounded table desk that my hubby sanded and refinished for me. It’s big enough that I can scatter papers and books and whatever else I want including two computers at times! I love it very much. I have candles near and books and pictures of my adorable grandsons and baskets, cups and seasonal decorations! One of my favorite places in our home. J
 
Describe your dream workspace.

I’ve got it, unless I could add more computers. Wouldn’t it be nice to have different WIPs on several computers? When you get tired (or blocked) on one story, scoot on over to another!
 
If you could be a character from your favorite historical novel, who would you be?

OH, dear. I don’t want to be someone else! If I could experience it for just a bit (no more than a couple hours, I suppose it would be fun to try one of Jane Austen’s protagonists or maybe have some adventure in Narnia or maybe I’d even choose to be one of YOUR characters, Tamera Lynn Kraft. Of course, doing all that traveling in Cindy Thomson’s books would be fun--but only if my hubby could figure in as the male heroine!! Lol

What is the biggest misconception the general public has about authors?

It’s easy to write a book! (Groan, shaking head!).  If only they knew. It takes time to plot and brainstorm, to write and push through mental blocks, to research and interview, to market and whatever else comes an author’s way.

But it is a life I love. It’s work, yes, but so very rewarding. I LOVE being an author! Thank you, God!
 
What is the biggest misconception beginning writers have about being published?

You’ve suddenly turned onto Easy Street. That you’ve been transported into “It’s a Wonderful Life!” Ha.
 
That doesn’t happen. You just signed an invisible contract for more work!

What would you like readers to gain from reading your book(s)?

Hmmm.

I think an overall theme would be to seek God’s will in our lives. As humans, it’s so easy to want to grasp the reins in our own hands and head off into our world thinking we have the answers, or not believing fully that God has the RIGHT answer for us! 

Thanks for joining us here on Novel PASTimes. Any final words for readers or writers?

As always, I’d love to encourage every writer to never quit! And to everyone of your readers: never give up. Whatever your dream, desire, or pursuit, seek God’s will, then dive in! He has the perfect journey for you.
 
Great Advice. Don't forget to leave a comment answering this question: What is it about history that fascinates you as a reader?