Friday, September 19, 2014

Winner of a FREE book!

This week's winner of Donis Casey's new novel Hell with the Lid Blown Off: An Alafair Tucker Mystery is Traveler! Congrats!

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Review: Duke

By Kirby Larson
Scholastic, August 2013

About the Book

With a war sweeping the world in 1944, Hobart “Hobie” Hanson’s father flies B-24s in Europe, his mother serves the Red Cross in their Seattle neighborhood, and his little sister knits socks for soldiers. But is the fifth-grader, as a popular war slogan suggests, doing all he can?

When Hobie hears about the Dogs for Defense program, he “enlists” his beloved pet, Duke, to serve with the armed forces. Instantly regretting his decision, Hobie tries to retrieve his dog as he also contends with his father’s uncertain fate, constant insults from the school bully, and risking his friendship with a new student of German descent.

Letters sent from Duke (and his trainer, of course) provide updates on the canine and insight into this little-known band of four-legged soldiers. Larson captures the time period with pop-culture references, such as the Hop Harrigan radio program, as well as with the war efforts back home, such as saving cooking fat to make explosives. A good example of how bravery comes in all shapes, sizes—and breeds.

My Review

I really enjoyed Kirby Larson’s newest novel. Duke is set in 1944 and 1945. Hobie Hanson, our narrator, has a dog he loves and adores. Duke is his very best friend in the world. Hobie doesn”t have that many friends; Scooter has just left town with his family because of the war. Max Klein is a new kid in his class, but Hobie doesn”t know if he has friend potential. Especially since the other kids in his class have chosen to pick on him.

Some days Hobie thinks it might be better to have no friends than to team up with the loser kid. So early in the novel, he makes the hardest decision of his young life. It is a decision that haunts him, a decision that changes everything. He decides to loan Duke to the army as a recruit in their K-9 division. It breaks his heart; it breaks his sister June’s heart. But there is a small part of him that knows it is the right thing to do, the brave thing, the selfless thing.

I loved reading about Hobie’s life at school, at home, and on the baseball field. I loved reading all the letters. His father, who is a pilot, writes when he can, as does Duke. I loved the historical details, loved getting a sense of what it was like to be a kid during the war. I thought the family details were great too. I really liked Hobie and June and their mom! I liked his growing friendship with Max as well. It is a complicated relationship, but, I think Hobie becomes a better person by the end of the novel.

I would definitely recommend this one!

 Becky’s Book Reviews
Operation Actually Read Bible

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Interview with Donis Casey Day 2

Welcome to day 2 of our interview with Donis Casey, author of the Alafair Tucker Mysteries.

Donis is giving away a copy of her new novel Hell with the Lid Blown Off: An Alafair Tucker Mystery to anyone who leaves a comment answering one of these questions:

Alafair Tucker has eight daughters. Four of them are spoken for. Name any son-in-law or fiance`. --OR-- Six of the Alafair Tucker books take place around her home outside of Boynton, OK. In the other two novels Alafair travels to another city. What is the title of one of the travel novels, or what city does she travel to?  Answers can be found by reading the book pages on my website.

Donis, what are you working on now?

I'm working on the eighth Alafair Tucker Mystery. The series began in 1912 and each book moves forward in time as Alafair raises her large brood and one by one the children take their places in the world. In the eighth book, we have reached 1917, and the onset of World War I. Alafair has been trying to ignore the implications of the war that has been going on in Europe for the previous three years, but now the United States has gotten into it, and Alafair has one son of draft age and one son who may be a bit too young, but is itching to fight. Whether she likes it or not, the great events of the world have landed on her doorstep.

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?


But it does get done. I don't know how.

Here's how I write:  I usually start out with a juicy idea for a murder. For a couple of days thereafter, I ponder on what interesting and unlikely person may have committed this murder. Then I think about the setting and which characters will be involved. I do some research on what was happening in that place at that time, which always gives me some really interesting story elements.

Then I sit down at the computer and go, go, go. I never end up where I thought I would. I never go in the direction I planned. The story goes where it will and the characters behave however they darn well please. I have been known to be reading on the screen the words that my flying fingers are typing and exclaim, "holy moley!", because I had no idea that was going to happen before it did. Sometimes I get lost and am unable to figure out where I'm going or how I got there. Often I get horribly stuck. But I keep typing, even if I'm spending days typing nothing but hogswollop, because suddenly I realize that the hogswollop has given way to deathless prose, and I pound my forehead on the desk, because I don't have a clue how I did it. And then one day I come to the end, and lo and behold, I have a first draft.

At this point, I usually show the book to my husband, Don, whose opinion I trust. He is very good to point out glaring errors. If he offers an opinion that I don't necessarily agree with, I feel comfortable blowing him off (though I admit I rarely do.) Then I go over the book about a dozen times and move this section from here to there, and change this word to that, and have this character do this instead of that and remove this guy altogether. Finally, I simply must send the MS to my editor, and besides, I can't stand to look at it any more. I make whatever changes she suggests, because she is very good and by this point I have completely lost any objectivity about the thing whatsoever.

Then, eight to ten months later, the book comes out. I look at it with fresh eyes and say, "damn, this isn't bad!" Once again, everything turns out all right.

Describe your workspace. (Include a photo if you’d like.)

I work in my office, an open room off of our living room. Here is the chair and desk.
Here is a photo of me at the desk, all gussied up for the picture.
Here is what I really look like while working on a novel (photo-Workspace3)

Describe your dream workspace.

High on a cliff in a many-windowed atelier facing Lake Cuomo in northern Italy. Next door to George Cloony's place.

If you could be a character from your favorite historical novel, who would you be?

Brother Cadfael. A Benedictine monk and ex-soldier who has led an exciting and eventful life but now has found his perfect calling. He is content, wise, busy, and useful.

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

No one who hasn't tried it seems to understand how really difficult it is, or how time-consuming.

What is the biggest misconception beginning writers have about being published?

How much time, money, and effort most authors have to put into the promotion and marketing of their work, whether they signed with a traditional house or are self-published. I’ve heard some aspiring authors say, "if I could just get this one book published, I’d be happy."  But let me tell you, once that one book does get published, it’s very hard not to get sucked into the vortex. Writing a book is incredibly hard work. If you manage to get your book published, well, by gum, you want as many people as possible to read it. It’s insidious.

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

I never set out to deliver a message or make a statement when I write.  I just want to tell a ripping yarn and engage the reader in the lives of these people I've come to love. I believe that once a book is out of the author's hands, it is no longer hers, it's the reader's. However, I'm often taken aback by the meaning readers see in these stories and how touched they often say they are. I didn't realize how deep I am!

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

The Alafair Tucker series is entirely different from anything I had ever written before.  All the books and stories I had written before Alafair had to do with cool people, usually unmarried, childless professionals, often scientists, always intellectuals, mostly messed up and angst ridden.
But the time I found Alafair Tucker I couldn’t care less about cool. If there is a less-hip subject that the life of woman in her 40s who lives with her husband and ten children on a  horse farm outside of Boynton, OK, in the 1910s I don't know what it is. But for the first time in my fiction writing career, I had immediate success with Alafair’s first novel, The Old Buzzard Had It Coming. Why it couldn’t have happened when I was young and thin and beautiful I don’t know, but I suppose we come to our authentic place in our own time.
Remember to leave a comment to win a copy of Donis' latest novel. Answer this question:
Alafair Tucker has eight daughters. Four of them are spoken for. Name any son-in-law or fiance`. --OR-- Six of the Alafair Tucker books take place around her home outside of Boynton, OK. In the other two novels Alafair travels to another city. What is the title of one of the travel novels, or what city does she travel to?  Answers can be found by reading the book pages on my website.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Interview with Donis Casey Day 1

Today we welcome Donis Casey, author of seven Alafair Tucker Mysteries.
The award-winning series, featuring the sleuthing mother of ten children, is set in Oklahoma and Arizona during the booming 1910s. Donis is a former teacher, academic librarian, and entrepreneur. Her first novel, The Old Buzzard Had It Coming, was named an Oklahoma Centennial Book. Donis lives in Tempe, Arizona. Readers can enjoy the first chapter of each book on her web site at

Donis is giving away a copy of her new novel Hell with the Lid Blown Off: An Alafair Tucker Mystery to anyone who leaves a comment today or tomorrow answering one of these questions:

Alafair Tucker has eight daughters. Four of them are spoken for. Name any son-in-law or fiance`. --OR-- Six of the Alafair Tucker books take place around her home outside of Boynton, OK. In the other two novels Alafair travels to another city. What is the title of one of the travel novels, or what city does she travel to?  Answers can be found by reading the book pages on my website.


Welcome to PASTimes. Tell us a little about what you write.
I write a historical mystery series featuring Alafair Tucker, a woman in her early forties who lives with her husband Shaw and their ten children on a prosperous farm in Muskogee County, Oklahoma, during the booming 1910s.  She never sets out to solve murders, but all those pesky kids keep getting involved in unsavory situations, and need their mother to help get them out of trouble.  Fortunately, Alafair is the kind of woman who will do anything, legal or not so legal, for her kids.

But how, you may ask, can a farm wife and mother of ten solve murder mysteries? After all, she has to fix dinner. She doesn’t have the freedom or the inclination to go about gathering forensic evidence.  She leads a life that is so busy that it wouldn’t be realistic if she could easily drop everything on a whim and go off to gather clues. But Alafair knows everybody in the county and doesn’t have a second thought about worming information out of anybody who crosses her path.  She has her army of grown and half-grown children to snoop for her.  She knows the postmistress, the neighbors, and the ladies at church; a web of women who are willing to help her.  Her information network is better than the sheriff’s. She has a way of knowing things about people, too, almost a sixth sense that comes from having so many children. She doesn’t believe for a minute that being loving makes her weak or vulnerable. Love gives her teeth and claws. It makes her dangerous. It makes her a remarkable sleuth.

Are you a full-time writer or do you hold a day job? What is the biggest challenge/obstacle you face in protecting your writing time?

I am a full-time writer, but I am only able to write full time because I reached a point where I could "retire". I did hold a day job and write in my spare time for most of my adult life. I don't have children at home and I have a husband who encourages my avocation and is perfectly willing and able to take care of himself, so the biggest obstacle I face in protecting my writing time lies not in my circumstance, but in myself. It's far too easy for me to become bogged down in public relations activities and promotion. I can spend hours writing blog entries, my own and guest blogs for others, working on social media, accepting every invitation to speak and every opportunity (I can afford) to attend conferences. Writing is a job, and I find that I must set aside a certain amount of time to write every day without fail, just in the same way I had to report to work in my salary-earning days. Do not even think of getting online before producing your work, Donis, I tell myself, for that way lies folly.

What historical time periods interest you the most and how have you immersed yourself in a particular time period?

I love historical novels and will read and enjoy a good story set in any place at any time you care to mention. I love to time travel, to go to a place and live there for a while. I want to immerse myself in that world and know what it was like to be a citizen of that civilization. But when I decided to write a historical mystery myself, I wanted to choose a time and place and people I know well so that I can invite the reader into their world and let her walk around in their shoes for a while.

Before I started the first Alafair book, I decided to write a family genealogy for my siblings as a Christmas present. In the course of the research, I ran across stories and anecdotes about ancestors, which led me to remember stories my grandparents and parents had told me about their parents and grandparents, and life on the farm. I began questioning my mother, and then to write down my own memories. When I shared my stories with my husband, he began to reminisce about his (extremely colorful) Oklahoma pioneering family. This led me to begin questioning his siblings. At the end of the process, I had a book length genealogy packed with stories from the French and Indian wars, the Revolution, the Civil War, World Wars I and II, ambushes, murders, adoptions, divorces and adultery — settlers and Indians, massacres, poisonings, axings, shootings, drownings, and smashing people in the head with beer bottles.
I chose to set my series in the 1910s, because at that time Oklahoma was the fastest growing state in the Union, full of opportunities. Fortunes were to be made, in land, cattle, and oil. The cities were brand new and cutting edge modern, yet it was still the Wild West, full of cowboys and Indians, cattle barons and Socialists. Oklahoma was boisterous, roiling, and exciting in the early part of the 20th Century.
I decided that I wanted to take the opportunity to try and evoke not just the events of the time, but the smells, the tastes, the sound, the hot and cold of it — the daily one-foot-in-front-of-the-other life of a farm wife with ten children. I love the language, too. One of my uncles walked into our house one day and said, “What in the cat hair is going on?” How could I let that fade into oblivion?
I plumbed my own memory as well as interviewed many relatives. Many of the details of farm life come from my mother, such as using kerosine-soaked corn cobs to start a fire. Many of the incidents related actually happened, both in my family and my husband’s (the less savory ones, he points out).

Introduce us briefly to the main characters in your most recent book.

Alafair Tucker is the busy mother of ten living children, running the domestic side of a successful farm and sharing a loving supportive relationship with her husband Shaw, children, in-laws and neighbors. In Hell With the Lid Blown Off (June 2014), Alafair's middle daughter Ruth has just turned seventeen, and is preparing to go off to study music at a conservatory in Muskogee. This fact causes a great deal of consternation to young Deputy Trenton Calder, who has surprised himself by falling in love with this sweet and lively young woman whom he has known since she was a little girl.
In the summer of 1916, a big twister brings destruction to the land around Boynton OK.  Alafair's family and neighbors are not spared the ruin and grief spread by the storm.  But no one, not even his own mother, is going to mourn for Jubal Beldon, who made it his business to know the ugly secrets of everyone in town. It doesn’t matter if Jubal’s insinuations are true or not. In a small town like Boynton, rumor is as damaging as fact.
When it becomes apparent that Jubal was already dead when the storm hit, Sheriff Scott Tucker, cousin to Alafair's husband, immediately suspects that he was murdered. And considering that the victim is the evil Jubal Beldon, there are dozens of potential killers to investigate. As Scott and his deputy Trenton Calder look into the circumstances surrounding Jubal’s demise, it begins to look like the prime suspect may be someone very dear to the widow Beckie MacKenzie, the beloved music teacher and mentor of Alafair’s daughter Ruth. Ruth fears that the secrets exposed by the investigation are going to cause more damage to her friend’s life than the tornado. Alafair has her own suspicions about how Jubal Beldon came to die, and the reason may hit very close to home.

Don't miss the continuation of this interview tomorrow. Remember to leave a comment answering the following question to win a copy of Hell With the Lid Blown Off:

Alafair Tucker has eight daughters. Four of them are spoken for. Name any son-in-law or fiance`. --OR-- Six of the Alafair Tucker books take place around her home outside of Boynton, OK. In the other two novels Alafair travels to another city. What is the title of one of the travel novels, or what city does she travel to?  Answers can be found by reading the book pages on my website.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Hey, Why'd You Write That?

Have you ever wondered about the story behind the story you just read? There always is one. Every author writes from some kind of inspiration, every good one anyway.

Author's Notes

Most novels these days have these sections where you can learn about the author's motivation, details about the historical content, admissions of places where the author fudged the historical facts. If you normally skip these, don't. You'll probably find out something you didn't know and find tidbits that will enrich your enjoyment of the novel.

I went to my shelf and pulled down a few old favorites to use as examples. 

Historical Perspective

From Liz Curtis Higgs's Here Burns My Candle:
"Lord Mark Kerr--pronounced "care" with a wee roll to the r--played an interesting role in the '45. After Sir John Cope and his troops were humiliated at Gladsmuir, Sir John supposedly fled to Berwick, the northernmost town in England. Lord Mark greeted him with the wry observation that Sir John was the first general in Europe to bring news of his own defeat. Whether the tale is true or simply a Jacobite fable meant to discredit Sir John, the story has stuck to this day, thanks to one verse of the popular Jacobite song "Hey Johnnie Cope":
 Says Lord Mark Car, "Ye are na blate;
To bring us the news o' your ain defeat;
I think you deserve the back o' the gate,
Get out o' my sight this morning.""

Inspiration for Life

My version of Betty Smith's A Tree Grows in Brooklyn has included in the back an article she had written for This Week magazine called, "Fall in Love with Life: A Piece by Betty Smith". The whole article is worth sharing, but for now I'll only include a bit:

"When I wept childish tears as they cut down the only tree in our tenement yard, I knew I would plant a tree everywhere I lived...I came to a clear conclusion, and it is a universal one: To live, to struggle, to be in love with life--in love with all life holds, joyful or sorrowful--is fulfillment. The fullness of life is open to all of us."

History Can Hopefully Repeat Itself

From Stephen Lawhead's Scarlet:

"We who live in 'Christian' countries that have become largely post-Christian may have some difficulty appreciating the depth of passion aroused by the changes introduced to the English church by the Normans. We have only to look at the present turmoil resulting from conflict between religious powers in certain parts of the world to appreciate just how violent these struggles can become...Yet, it is worth pointing out that in the medieval world, when disease and death were constant, grim companions and the grave an all-too-likely prognosis for everything from toothache to plague, the church with its promise of eternal salvation was the solitary hope and ultimate sanctuary for those who lived beneath its sheltering wings: virtually every man, woman, and child alive in the land."

What's something you've learned from reading authors' notes? 

Author Cindy Thomson's newest book in the Ellis Island series, Annie's Stories, released this summer from Tyndale House Publishers. Her newest venture is offering paid critiques. See Turn the Page, here.

Friday, September 12, 2014

This Week's Winner and Talking About Travel!

Thanks to the generosity of author Christine Lindsay, the winner of a print copy of Captured by Moonlight and an ebook of Veiled at Midnight is petite!

We've been talking a lot lately on the blog about travel. Where is the most unique place you've traveled to, near or far?

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Review: Timebound

By Rysa Walker
Skyscape, January 2014

About the Book

When Kate Pierce-Keller’s grandmother gives her a strange blue medallion and speaks of time travel, sixteen-year-old Kate assumes the old woman is delusional. But it all becomes horrifyingly real when a murder in the past destroys the foundation of Kate’s present-day life. Suddenly, that medallion is the only thing protecting Kate from blinking out of existence.

Kate learns that the 1893 killing is part of something much more sinister, and her genetic ability to time travel makes Kate the only one who can fix the future. Risking everything, she travels back in time to the Chicago World’s Fair to try to prevent the murder and the chain of events that follows.

Changing the timeline comes with a personal cost: If Kate succeeds, the boy she loves will have no memory of her existence. And regardless of her motives, does Kate have the right to manipulate the fate of the entire world?

My Review

This book absolutely blew me away. I spent days afterwards just going through all the plot intricacies in my mind. I can’t say that I caught every subtlety Walker wove into the story, but I can promise you that the ride is so amazing you won’t mind a few hiccups of confusion.

The love stories, the bond between Katherine and Kate, Kate’s witty, irreverent humor—it’s all brilliant. Very well written and totally captivating, this story will stay with you for weeks after you finish it. Don’t let the young adult label mislead you. This is a story at its best—filled with all the emotion, suspense, and triumph a reader wants. This is one you cannot miss.

Time’s Edge, the continuation of Kate’s story, is due to be released October 2014.

Rebecca Henderson Palmer