A Few Quick Questions With…Brian VanDongen

This post is a team effort: the good people over at iREAD Book Tours provided the questions, Brian VanDongen provided the answers, I provided the . . . er, well, intro? I really want to read this book after reading this, hopefully you have the same reaction.

What made you write a book about play?
I feel that there is a “play deficit” in today’s society. For children, with the reduction of recess in schools in favor of more classroom time to focus on standardized testing and the increased “professionalization” of youth sports, free play is diminishing. As a recreation professional, I know the value that free play has on everyone’s life. I wrote this book to try to reframe the value of play and provide helpful stories and tips on how to live more playfully, and why living playfully will help people live a better life.
How did you get those stories about play for the book?
Fortunately, there are a lot of great organizations and initiatives for play across the country and around the globe. These organizations are very willing to share their stories and successes, because they want people to live more playfully, too!
Did you have a favorite story you came across during your research?
Wow, that’s a tough question. All the stories are great in their own right. I particularly enjoyed learning about an exhibit in the Children’s Museum of the Lowcountry, where children used real tools to build things. I’m sure you’re thinking, “real tools for kids!? Wouldn’t someone get hurt?” Well, yes, but it may not be who you think!
Seems dangerous.
As I note in the book, in two chapters, there’s a difference between risky play and dangerous play. But through risky play, children learn how to assess and manage risk, a key adult, real-world skill.
Do you have a favorite place to play?
Being in New Jersey, it’s easy to find places to play. We have mountain ranges with beautiful trails (including part of the Appalachian Trail) and gorgeous beaches. You’re not far from a place to play. Of course, the world can be your playground if you look hard enough!

Read the book in question, Play to Live: Life Skills and Joy Through the Natural Talent to Play by Brian VanDongen.

My thanks to iREAD Book Tours for the invitation to participate in this tour and the materials they provided.

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GUEST POST: A Cunning Plan by Andrew J. Harvey

As usual, I can’t hear that phrase without thinking of Baldrick and Blackadder…which, actually, is kind of fitting given where Andrew J. Harvey goes with his. I enjoyed this, hope you do to:

A Cunning Plan

It was during the process of developing the trailer for my Alternate History novel, Nightfall, the first book in my Clemhorn Trilogy, that I was shocked to discover how badly I had underestimated the general public’s knowledge of history.

I have always been interested in history, even taking one unit at University when I was studying there, and had perhaps foolishly believed that like myself, people were interested in the past. Particularly given George Santayana’s warning that: “those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” Given the myriad mistakes and failings that humans are so susceptible too, the blindness to history’s lessons seems particularly dangerous to me.

I was realistic enough to understand that it was unlikely that most people would have, as I did, entire bookshelves filled with history books, and the occasional alternate history novel, but I did at least expect that one or two history books would be displayed somewhere. As I said, I was quickly disabused of this while testing the book trailer for Nightfall, with the following teaser:

In 1884 the world stood on the verge of war. Once again the Russian and British Empires faced each other across the Mississippi.

And discovered that the person I was speaking to had no idea that in our own history the Russian and British Empires had never, ever faced each other in America, let alone across the Mississippi.

This resulted in the following rewrite:

In 1884, in a history very different from our own, the world stood on the verge of war …

As an aficionado and writer of Alternate History this was particularly disappointing given that Alternate History is a genre of fiction where stories are set in worlds in which one or more historical events unfold differently from how it did in our world. It is better appreciated with at least some modicum of how the historical event the author is writing about actually unfolded in our own reality.

But I now have a cunning plan, and hope that anyone reading Nightfall will be interested enough to investigate how some of the alternate histories I portray in the novel actually played out in our history (hint in Nightfall the Mainline split from our own when in 1451 the Serbian Emperor Uros III captures Constantinople, triggering a Serbian rather than Italian renaissance). And of course if they continue to read the series, they continue to meet other alternates, and with fifty-four lines making up the Cross-Temporal Empire there’s more than enough to keep a reader delving into all sorts of histories for quite some time.

Along these lines I leave you with a paraphrasing of George Santayana’s words, that is: “those who cannot remember the past may be brought to appreciate it by the ‘what ifs’ posed by alternate history.”

Read the novel that’s part of this cunning plan, Nightfall by Andrew J.Harvey.

My thanks to iREAD Book Tours for the invitation to participate in this tour and the materials they provided.

Death at the Dakota by M.K. Graff: A pleasant little near-cozy mystery/romance that’s sure to earn some fans

 Death at the Dakota Death at the Dakota

by M.K. Graff
Series: Trudy Genova Manhattan Mysteries, #2

eARC, 336 pg.
Bridle Path Press, 2019

Read: April 29 – May 1, 2019


So Trudy Genova, a nurse turned TV medical advisor, is acting as the on-set medical staff for a made-for-TV movie. She’s primarily supposed to be keeping an eye on the star to help with her undisclosed pregnancy, but she’s available for everyone. Things are going swimmingly for her on set, everything seems fine with the pregnancy, etc. Until towards the end of shooting, the star doesn’t come back from lunch and isn’t seen for a couple of days. Not long afterward, another member of the cast ends up murdered. Trudy, a would-be mystery novelist, has a Nancy Drew streak compelling her to look into both the disappearance and murder on her own.

Meanwhile, the NYPD Detective she met in the first volume of the series and has been dating, Ned O’Malley and his partner have caught a pretty grizzly murder on top of the string of burglaries they’re investigating. The murder investigation soon turns to a wealthy family and their potential prodigal son. They’re also tasked with the missing person’s case (and then the murder) giving plenty of opportunity for Trudy’s antics to be discovered and disapproved of. Although the fruits of her time are used by the same detective that doesn’t want her getting them.

Either storyline would be enough for a novel, but combining the two of them is a pretty strong move that allows Graff to keep things moving and see these characters in very different worlds. Trudy’s chapters are told in 1st person and have a strong sense of immediacy. Ned’s chapters are in the third person. The change in voice is subtle, but it’s there, and adds to the effect of telling the two stories in the same book. It’s like getting two S. J. Rozan Lydia Chin/Bill Smith novels mixed together. For me, the Ned chapters are the most appealing part of the book — as are his cases. But this is the Trudy Genova series, and the weight of the book falls on her adventures (and I think most readers will find her chapters more appealing)

I had a few issues that I can’t not mention in the interests of full disclosure. I’m not opposed to the characters in mystery novels I enjoy having a love life, and even spending a lot of the book talking and thinking about their significant others (or potential significant others). Robert B. Parker was too formative for me to have a problem with that — and I’ve seen it done well too often since then to really have a problem with the idea (from noir to cozies and all stops in between). But here the romance story was a touch too much for my taste, I don’t need all the space devoted to Trudy’s angst over the right wardrobe for her romantic evening and so on. But that’s me, I can see a lot of readers loving it.

Dialogue isn’t Graff’s forte, too often it seems like she learned dialogue writing from Law & Order or Blue Bloods — particularly the more cop-talk passages. For example, lead detective to his partner: “Sometimes people don’t want to get involved, worried about testifying to what they saw.” Because his partner somehow made detective in one of the most competitive departments in the world without noticing that. The sports banter the two detectives reads like someone who knows nothing about baseball imagining what fans saying to each other. As long as you think of this as a TV procedural, you can get through this kind of thing without too much bother beyond a quick eye-roll. But novel dialogue should be better than that — if you feel you have to hold your audience’s hand that much, move those observations to interior monologue.

I think the writing could be a little tighter, another grammar pass would be a good idea, and there were a few too many awkwardly phrased sentences for me to not mention it. When I find myself quoting Inigo Montoya, “… that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.” repeatedly, I’m taken out of the story — forced to analyze rather than just enjoy. Especially when I’m bothered enough that I have to stop and look something up just to see who’s right, the author or me. These technical matters didn’t ruin the novel for me, but it certainly detracted from my appreciation. I’ve had a run lately of novels ruined by style and technique, and that wasn’t the case here — I didn’t once regret reading this (what a nice change), I just wish Graff had done better by her own work.

Yes, this is a sequel, but it’s easy to read as a stand-alone — you’ll pick up everything you need to know. It’s completely accessible for anyone who hasn’t read the first — but people who dig this will undoubtedly enjoy Trudy’s previous adventure. This was a fine little mystery novel with some fun characters. Ultimately, it’s not really my thing — but I can think of a half-dozen people in my immediate circle who’ll really enjoy this and will want more (some of whom I buy books for occasionally, and think I will make gifts of this). Whatever problems I had with character or writing are forgivable and easily passed over — the characters and writing have a charm and it was a pleasant read. I’m not saying I wouldn’t read more Graff or Trudy, I’m sure I’d have a pretty good time. I’m just not going to rush out and look for them.

—–

3 Stars
My thanks to damppebbles blog tours for the invitation to participate in this tour and the materials they provided.

EXCERPT from Searching for Sylvia by Joanna Stephen-Ward: ‘Right, this is it then. . . The end.’

Ravenscroft was Tordorrach’s nearest neighbour. Hoping the owners, Matthew and Coral Fulham, would be more civil than Shamus had been Paul drove out to see them. After witnessing the dire poverty of Shamus and Mary he wore no tie, and a shirt that didn’t need cuff links. Their house was freshly painted and had solar panels, so he assumed they had survived the hard times. Given the state of the two homesteads he was perplexed that Noël had chosen to buy Tordorrach rather than Ravenscroft.

A woman came onto the veranda carrying a basket full of washing. His spirits flagged when he saw her expression.

He smiled. ‘Hello, I’m Paul Knight, a solicitor from – ’

‘Matt! Matt!’ she shouted. Her voice was panic-stricken.

Before he could attempt to reassure her, a man came round from the back of the house holding a spade. His hands were dirty and his face and arms were powdered with red dust.

‘It’s a solicitor – ’

Before Paul could apologise for interrupting his gardening Matthew threw down his spade and rushed into the house. Paul’s bemusement turned to fear when he came out holding a revolver.

He looked straight at Paul. ‘Right, this is it then,’ he said quietly. ‘The end.’ ‘First I’m going to shoot my wife. Then I’m going to shoot myself. Do you like animals?’

Paul was too stunned to do anything other than nod.

‘Good. Because we have two cows, three horses and some hens. I don’t want them to suffer. You can shoot them yourself or call a vet. Or give them to the neighbours.’

Paul dropped his briefcase and held out his hands. ‘Mr Fulham, why – ’

‘You ask me why? You know why. It’s because of your type – you greedy lawyers and bankers, that we’re losing the lot.’

‘I’m not here to get money – it’s – ’

Coral’s eyes shone with tears. ‘Why then? More threats from the banks?’

‘No. I’ve got good news – please will you listen?’

Matthew lowered the revolver. ‘What good news? You’re sure not here to give us money.’

‘In a way I am.’

Coral’s expression was dubious. ‘What?’

‘Tordorrach has been sold – ’

The hope that had wavered in Matthew’s eyes, dimmed. ‘Well that’s good for Shamus – can’t see that it’s good for us.’

‘How come he can sell that tip?’ Coral burst out bitterly.

‘I don’t know – your house is much better, but it’s still good news for you.’ The wind blew a cloud of dry earth in his face. ‘Can I come inside and explain?’

‘No. Tell us what the good news is,’ demanded Matthew.

‘I don’t think there is any good news,’ said Coral. ‘He’s stalling. He’s come to evict us and once he’s inside – ’

His eyes were gritty with dust, but worried that Matthew would raise his revolver again Paul got to the point. ‘The buyers of Tordorrach want to employ a manager. Shamus turned it down so they asked me to offer it to you – or another near neighbour.’

They looked incredulous.

Paul picked up his briefcase. ‘I’ve got all the papers in here. Are you interested in the proposal?’
Coral put down the washing basket and wiped away her tears. ‘Come inside. Would you like some tea?’ Her tone was more friendly, but they both looked wary.

Because of their hardship Paul was about to decline, but knew if they accepted Noël Carlyle’s offer they would no longer be poor. He picked up his briefcase. ‘Thank you,’ he said. He took out his handkerchief and wiped his face. He wished he could splash water on his eyes, but owing to the scarcity of water, he didn’t ask, just blinked.

The inside of the house showed no sign of poverty, which given their desperation, confused Paul. Even Shamus hadn’t been suicidal. On their way to the kitchen he saw a study with a flat screen computer that looked new, the furniture in the rooms he passed looked comfortable, the units in the kitchen were in good condition, everything was clean and tidy, and neither Coral or Matt’s clothing was threadbare, although it was faded.

Read the rest in Searching for Sylvia by Joanna Stephen-Ward .


My thanks to Bloodhound Books for the invitation to participate in this tour and the materials they provided.

GUEST POST: My Writing Day by Patricia Dixon

I feel very lucky to be a full-time writer. My day is my own and I have unlimited access to the telly, the internet and the fridge but nevertheless I stick to a routine which doesn’t allow for lazy lie-ins.

It would be so easy to meander through the day in my slippers and dressing gown but I still have a house and business to run, and a dodgy ticker that I’m determined won’t pack in just yet. This is why I am up at 7.30am and during two cups of coffee (nothing happens before that) I check emails and messages before heading downstairs to the gym. Depending on how enthusiastic I’m feeling, I exercise for at least thirty minutes while watching Sky News – I like to know what’s going on in the world.

Once this task is completed I embark on another – my housework. It has become something of a ritual because I truly cannot function in an untidy house or room. After that I usually prepare dinner (or defrost something) as this way I can write straight through and my husband doesn’t starve because I often lose track of time. Before you ask no, he doesn’t cook, he’s terrible at it and makes a big mess!

I try to be at my desk by 10am and here, I have another self-imposed rule – abstinence, which is applied to social media. Facebook is a curse and it only takes one peep to lure me in and then I’m hooked, chatting and commenting.

Once I’ve clocked off for the evening which is usually around 7pm I catch up on the day’s events and chat with my booky friends.

Over the years I’ve been quite nomadic in my choice of writing-space. I began up in the attic and although it was peaceful, I felt rather isolated. It’s a very long way from the kettle and human life. My next choice was the kitchen but here, despite being within arm’s reach of the biscuit tin I was disturbed by visitors who had the same effect as Facebook, coercing me into chatting and drinking cups of tea. After extracting myself from the room of many temptations I tried the lounge but the comfy chair and the open fire made me nod off so now, I’m firmly ensconced in the dining room.

My husband also works from home and my desk looks onto his workshop so I can keep an eye on him. I’m his secretary and bookkeeper, bringer of brews and biscuits and the harridan who bangs on the window and tells him to come inside for food, put a jumper on or take the bins out.

Occasionally I’m on school-run duty and I look forward to a break in routine and a few hours with Harry, our grandson. At some point during the latter end of the week I escape to the supermarket where I take absolutely ages – it’s like my big day out. I’ve been going to the same one for thirty years and know most of the lovely staff so have a good natter.

I rarely write on Saturdays because our grandson is here for the day. I sometimes take Sunday off, unless I am editing or on a roll. The only downside to this writing lark is sitting still, especially in winter because we live in a rambling Victorian house that can be very cold and I frequently get cramp and frostbite (a slight exaggeration) so I’ve been known to write wearing a bobble hat, woolly socks and UGG boots, and two jumpers.

Now you know what goes on in the unglamorous world of Trish the Writer and although it’s not exactly rock and roll, for me it’s the best job in the world ♥

Read the novel that was produced by these days, Rosy and Ruby by Patricia Dixon.

My thanks to Bloodhound Books for the invitation to participate in this tour and the materials they provided.

BOOK SPOTLIGHT: Rosy and Ruby by Patricia Dixon

Today I’m glad to welcome the Book Tour for Rosy and Ruby by Patricia Dixon. Along with this spotlight post, I’m happy to present a Guest Post from Dixon here in a bit.

Book Details:

Book Title: Rosy and Ruby by Patricia Dixon
Publisher: Bombshell Books
Release date: April 25, 2019
Format: eBook
Length: 387 pages

Book Blurb:

Ruby lives one-step away from poverty on a rundown, crime infested estate in Manchester, with Stella, her feckless, self centred a mother.

In the quiet suburbs of Cheshire Rosie, Ruby’s cousin, leads a charmed, middle class existence but feels suffocated by her domineering mother Doreen.

Although Stella and Doreen have little in common, they share the inability to show the love and loyalty that their daughters deserve.

Meanwhile, Olivia, a member of the elite Cheshire set, is aloof and distant, rattling around in her sprawling mansion, attending charity functions and hosting infamous bridge nights.

Her errant son Marcus lives his life in the fast lane, maximising the perks of the family firm whilst enjoying his jet setting bachelor existence, well away from the watchful eyes of his disapproving mother.

But when Ruby meets Marcus her life begins to crumble and one by one the secrets she has kept are exposed.

Can Rosie and Ruby’s bond survive? And in Ruby’s hour of need, will her cousin keep her promise, and come to her rescue?

About Patricia Dixon:

Patricia DixonPatricia Dixon was born in Manchester where she still lives with her husband. They have two grown up children and one grandson.

Ignoring her high school reports and possibly sound advice from teachers, Patricia shunned the world of academia and instead, stubbornly pursued a career in fashion. Once the sparkle of London life wore off she returned north and embarked on a new adventure, that of motherhood.

Now, almost thirty years later she has acquiesced to the wise words of her elders and turned her hand to writing. Patricia has written a total of eight novels, the latest is due for release in March 2019.

Patricia Dixon’s Social Media:

Amazon Author Page ~ Twitter ~ Facebook

My thanks to Bloodhound Books for the invitation to participate in this tour and the materials they provided.

GUEST POST: My Favorite Space Operas (TV shows and Movies) by Russ Colchamiro

Since my novel CROSSLINE falls under the category of ‘space opera,’ the Irresponsible Reader has asked me to rank my top 10 favorite space opera TV shows and movies (I went to 15 – hey! My list!).

Before I dive in, I recognize that some of my entries may not be entirely space ‘opera,’ but, again, it’s my list, and this is how I’m doing it. Second, as expected, there’s a bunch of Star Wars and Star Trek on here.

And finally, my list is about the movies and TV shows I enjoyed the most, regardless of whether they were the technically the ‘best.’

Anyway… here goes*:

THE HOLY GRAILS
For me, the conversation begins and ends with these two movies, which to my space opera-loving eyes, hold up great after all these years. In fact, last summer I got to see Wrath of Kahn on the big screen (my first time seeing it this way since it first came out!), followed by a live Q&A with Captain Kirk himself, William Shatner. Absolutely awesome.

  • Star Trek: The Wrath of Kahn
  • The Empire Strikes Back

CINEMATIC DELIGHTS
Where I’d rank any of these solely depends on how I’m feeling at the moment, and the mood I’m in (and there are other good movies out there, too), but if I had to pick, these are the ones I go back to time and again. Including the re-releases, I think I saw Star Wars on the big screen at least a dozen times. And Aliens? Whoa. I haven’t seen it in a while, but it’ll forever go down as one of my favorite blow-me-away movies ever.

  • Star Wars
  • Rogue One
  • Star Trek: First Contact
  • Aliens

TV TALES
As far as TV space opera goes, the BSG remake and The Expanse have a lot in common, in that both have a hardcore military slant. They’re both great, with one my caveat that the final eps of BSG fell far short of its otherwise brilliant run. And The Expanse is still going, so only time will tell if the quality keeps up. The three Star Treks I have here are all great to me, in slightly different ways, accept that the original took a little bit to find its footing, and Next Gen was a semi disaster the first two seasons. And then, of course, Deep Space Nine is basically a carbon copy of Babylon 5 with more seasons and a bigger budget. Still, give me any of these shows, and I’m happy as a clam. And I’m proud to say that my 8-year twins—my ninjas—are starting to watch them, too!

  • Battlestar Galactica (remake)
  • The Expanse
  • Babylon 5
  • Star Trek: Next Generation
  • Star Trek: The Original Series
  • Star Trek: Deep Space Nine

PURE FUN
These three movies to me all belong in the same general sub-category. They’re all fun (and sometimes darn cheesy!), but ultimately leave me with a smile on my face. Get the popcorn out and let’s have a blast!

  • Flash Gordon
  • Galaxy Quest
  • The Last Starfighter

*Note: I did not include Doctor Who on my list because I haven’t seen enough of it to form an opinion, nor did I include Firefly, only because it didn’t last long enough. And while I recognize that Guardians of the Galaxy is a quality movie, it just isn’t one of my favorites.

Read the novel that was inspired (in part) by this list, Crossline by Russ Colchamiro.

My thanks to Lola’s Blog Tours for the opportunity to participate in this tour and the materials (including the book) they provided.

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