Monday, February 29, 2016

Books We Love's Tantalizing Talent ~ Author Joan Donaldson-Yarmey

       I was born in New Westminster, B.C., Canada, and raised in Edmonton, Alberta. While raising my own family, over the years I also worked as a bartender, hotel maid, cashier, bank teller, bookkeeper, printing press operator, meat wrapper, gold prospector, warehouse shipper, house renovator and nursing attendant. I also began my writing career. But I don't write in just one genre. Sometimes I have a story idea, write the manuscript and then decide what genre it fits. My past writing has consisted of historical and travel articles, seven travel books, four mystery novels, and two science fiction novels.
       I was taught in school that Canada doesn't really have an exciting history. Right now I am trying to dispel that myth by writing Canadian historical for young adults/adults, the first two of which are: West to the Bay and West to Grande Portage.

       My mystery novels are Illegally Dead, The Only Shadow In The House, and Whistler's Murder all in The Travelling Detective Series (boxed set), and the stand alone novel Gold Fever. My science fiction novels are The Criminal Streak and Betrayed in my Cry of the Guilty-Silence of the Innocent series.

       I love change so I have moved over thirty times in my life, living in various places throughout Alberta and B.C. I now reside on an acreage on Vancouver Island with my husband and three cats.

West to the Bay

In 1750, Thomas Gunn, along with three friends, join the Hudson's Bay Company and sail from Stromness on the Orkney Islands of northern Scotland to York Factory fort on Hudson's Bay. They believe they are starting a new and exciting life in what is called Rupert's Land, but tragedy follows them, striking for the first time on the ship. At the fort Thomas finds his older brother, Edward, who had joined four years earlier. He also meets Little Bird, sister of Edward's wife, and her family.

During the first year Thomas takes part in the goose and duck hunts, the fishing, the woodcutting, Guy Fawkes Day, the Christmas celebrations, and the burial of a friend. He also deals with the snowfall, the cold, the boredom, and a suicide, and learns how to survive in the lonely and sometimes inhospitable land.


West to Grande Portage
On his sixteenth birthday Phillippe Chabot is told that his brother-in-law has hired him to be a voyageur. He will be paddling west from Montreal to Grade Portage to trade supplies with the Indians for furs. He is overjoyed and receives all the appropriate clothing from his family as birthday gifts, even a tobacco pouch.

As the loaded canoe brigade gets ready to leave, his cousin, Jeanne, accepts the proposal of marriage yelled at her by the clerk who is going along to keep track of the trading.

Unfortunately, disaster strikes the brigade as the men paddle the rivers, make their portages, and get onto the sometimes violent and unforgiving Lake Superior. In Montreal, the city is ravished by a fire and many residents perish before it is extinguished.

Joan Donaldson-Yarmey

The Schuyler Sisters


Seen from a certain angle, the Schuyler girls were fairy tale princesses. They had white wigs, French dresses and a daddy who owned most of upstate New York. They had other identities, too, as frontier girls, occasionally in peril because their father’s kingdom really was land which had once belonged to the first people who'd come here. This backstory is a familiar feature of the early days of America, how plantations--that obscuring euphemism--took root, their aim to "tame"  (harvest) all they could get from a bountiful "wilderness.” 

That's not the foreground of my stories. The girls are. They drew my  interest particularly because I'm deprived--an only child. I've had to research the experience of siblings. As I read about the life that these girls lived, I realized that Margaret, Elizabeth and Angelica literally grew up together. Dutch ladies they were, but you could almost call them "Irish triplets", these same sex sibs born bam-bam-bam in 1756, 1757, and 1758. How could they not be emotionally entwined?

Back to the fairy tale idea. As it happened, these Schuyler girls each grew up and each one married a handsome prince.

Margaret was the youngest and the last to be married. She chose a life in the old-time Hudson Valley Dutch style, which, by that time, was already passing away. She married a van Rensselaer—her cousin, a boy she’d known all her life, whose family owned "the other half of upstate."  Land was the basis for her husband's wealth, though this, i8n the next generation would prove impossible to keep.  It was a safe and well-nigh predictable marriage--even though her father was, as usual, incensed because it began with an elopement--so romantic it was almost de rigueur for any spirited 18th century lady of fashion.
 Margaret Schuyler van Rensselaer

Elizabeth, the middle sister, married a wanderer, a fortune-seeker, a self-taught knight in shining armor who sometimes, like Sir Lancelot, went completely mad. Her life overflowed with drama, and she was nowhere near as materially comfortable or secure as the other two sisters, but she always knew who she was: her husband's "Queen Bess." She bore eight children and raised every one in a time where this wasn't a given. She lived almost until the Civil War, still standing by her man and his reputation fifty years after death had parted them.

 Elizabeth Schuyler Hamilton "Betsy"
Angelica was, by all accounts, "the fairest of them all." She picked for herself a dashing lord of the material world, a buccaneer with a credible alias as an English gentleman. Her daring husband knew how to conduct a lady out an upstairs window and down a ladder in the middle of the night, away to a forbidden marriage. After the romance was over, he became a businessman with the stamina to write insurance all day and gamble all night. With his position and money, he took Angelica to London, and to Paris where her wit and beauty enchanted royals as well as the brilliant and the notorious.

Angelica Schuyler Church
Of these ladies, I’d imagine that only Betsy would ever have stood before a blackened, cavernous fireplace with a stick of wood or a ladle in hand, directing the business of her kitchen. The complex odors of a wood fire, which seem to us moderns like camping, would have filled the room and saturated clothing. Mrs. Hamilton wouldn't have worn her good dresses down in the cookshop, barely even for a visit. A certain amount of greasy smoke would have been everywhere, necessitating a spring cleaning that ended with a white washing. There was little of the new stove technology in her world, except, perhaps, in the better city homes she shared with her husband in Philadelphia and New York.


Like the English great houses, these early American “mansions” would not have been in a rush to modernize. The best they could do was to create a wing to house a kitchen, often a one story addition to the back of the house. In the cities, the kitchen would be down stairs--way downstairs!

There were plenty of hands—labor both slave and free—and plenty of fuel, for the menfolk are busy chopping down the great northeastern boreal forest, consuming it for building and energy, for shipping and industry. She might not have dirtied her hands scrubbing the floors, but she’d know how it should be done, and she wouldn’t hesitate to explain it to you while you worked on your knees before her. She wasn’t retiring, although she probably wasn’t taller than five feet. Nothing shy about this lady within the confines of her home; she was a Leo and a Schuyler, too, after all.

The Grange, NY, NY
Alexander Hamilton's final home
Upon which he spent entirely too much money.

Theirs is a delightful family/historical story, three women living through such a profound transition. I only wonder that it hasn't been retold more. It's been an honor and a delight to attempt to try.

~~Juliet Waldron

Sunday, February 28, 2016

Books We Love Launching its St. Patrick's Day Contest

It's Time for The Wearing of the Green.
Books We Love has made a deal
with this guy. Click the Pot of Gold.
Enter our contest to win some
of his hidden Gold.

2015 United States Proof Set

  2016 Canadian Mint Set


  One Print Copy of A Master Passion by Juliet Waldron
 featuring Alexander Hamilton, The US First Secretary of the Treasury

One Print Copy of West to the Bay by Joan Donaldson-Yarmey
featuring the Hudson's Bay Company and their recruits from the British Isles


Cowboys and the Wild Wild West by Connie Vines

I love my tech toys but I am also a history buff.

I thought I’d share some interesting findings.  Since I spent summers in Texas as a child, I had inside information on several facts.  The other snippets came from watching the History channel and reading a multitude of historical documents.  The information is in parentheses are my personal discoveries.

Feral camels once roamed the plains of Texas.

The U.S. Camel Corps was established in 1856 at Camp Verde, Texas. Reasoning that the arid southwest was a lot like the deserts of Egypt, the Army imported 66 camels from the Middle East. Despite the animals’ more objectionable qualities—they spat, regurgitated and defied orders—the experiment was generally deemed a success. (Camels can kick side-ways with all four feet.)  The Civil War curtailed the experiment and Confederates captured Camp Verde. After the war, most of the camels were sold (some to Ringling Brothers’ circus) and others escaped into the wild. The last reported sighting of a feral camel came out of Texas in 1941. Presumably, no lingering descendants of the Camel Corps’ members remain alive today.

Billy the Kid wasn’t left-handed.

A famous tintype photograph of Billy the Kid shows him with a gun belt on his left side. For years, the portrait fueled assumptions that the outlaw, born William Bonney, was left-handed. However, most tintype cameras produced a negative image that appeared positive once it was developed, meaning the  result was the reverse of reality. There’s another reason we know Billy the Kid was thus a right handed. His Winchester Model 1873 lever-action rifle--Winchester only made 1873s that load on the right.

The famed gunfight at the O.K. Corral wasn’t much of a shootout and didn’t take place at the O.K. Corral.

One of the most famous gunfights in history—the shootout between the three Earp brothers (Morgan, Virgil and Wyatt), Doc Holliday, Billy Claireborne, the two Clanton brothers (Billy and Ike) and the two McLaury brothers (Frank and Tom)—didn’t amount to time-frame often depicted on the Silver Screen. Despite the involvement of eight people, the gunfight only lasted about 30 seconds. Furthermore, the shootout didn’t take place within the O.K. Corral at all. Instead, all the shooting occurred near the current intersection of Third Street and Fremont Street in Tombstone, Arizona, which is behind the corral itself. (I have visited the area.  Tombstone is brutally hot in the summer. The incest large. ) Bloodshed made up for the brevity.  Three of the lawmen were injured and three of the cowboys killed.

The Long Branch Saloon of “Gunsmoke” fame really did exist in Dodge City

Anyone who watched the television show “Gunsmoke” is well acquainted with Miss Kitty’s Long Branch Saloon of Dodge City, Kansas. What viewers may not have realized is that the Long Branch really did exist. No one knows exactly what year it was established, but the original saloon burned down in the great Front Street fire of 1885. The saloon was later resurrected and now serves as a tourist attraction featuring a reproduction bar with live entertainment. According to the Boot Hill Museum, the original Long Branch Saloon served milk, tea, lemonade, sarsaparilla, alcohol and beer.

What did Cowboy really eat?

Cowboy food used a limited number of ingredients, partly because imported foods were expensive and partly because they needed food that kept well on the cattle trail. Coffee was an essential part of breakfast, which was large and high in fats and protein. Lunch was commonly beans, and dinner generally included something sweet like vinegar pie or apple dumplings. Because a large percentage of cowboys were of Mexican origin, spices and flavorings of that cuisine were popular.
Cowboys loved "mountain oysters," sliced and fried calf testicles. These were harvested in the spring when preadolescent bulls were castrated so they would be steers. (Served with horseradish sauce and are very tasty).

The Wild West was Wild.

But when it comes to Western Romance--it's all about the booths, Stetson, and the cowboy who wears them.

Happy Reading,

Connie Vines

Saturday, February 27, 2016

Evolution and morphing of a manuscript - by Vijaya Schartz

Getting to the end of writing DAMSEL OF THE HAWK (scheduled for release April 20, 2016), I cannot help but look back upon my first brainstorming sessions for the plot of this book. How it evolved since then amazes me. Then again, it happens with all the books we write. The semi-finished product as I near "the end" goes far beyond my expectations. It's a good thing.

I know many writers write from a rough draft. I never could. When I tried, I had to throw it away and start the novel again from the beginning without looking at the draft. Although I'm a plotter, my plot is never set and constantly evolves with the characters' reactions as the story unfolds. New villains appear out of the shadows, creating different conflicts and changing the backdrop and the course of the story. As I research minor details, better ideas come along and change everything again. Characters are forced to deal with unforeseen situations. The black moment is not what I predicted at all. Until the denouement, I do not know what the theme of the story is. That's what keeps me writing, what keeps me intrigued, what keeps me excited about my characters, what keeps the story alive in my mind, brimming with possibilities.

As I discover the heart of my story, that's usually when the final title comes to me. This book had several working titles in the six months it took to write it, none of them worthy of mention. Damsel of the Hawk appealed to me because of its medieval feel, and the tight connection to the heroine and her circumstances. This is also when I start looking for images to inspire the cover designer for the cover. I've been blessed for this Curse of the Lost Isle series:


The inability to write from a complete draft is what prevents me to participate in events like NANOWRIMO. That draft written in a month would be of no use to me. So I write my novels from a rough outline, ten pages or less, one paragraph per expected chapter, with the beginning, the main scenes, the major plot twists, and the expected ending. I leave plenty of room for change, to implement new ideas as they come, adding more chapters to the outline. Often, it means I have to go back to the beginning and add or rewrite several scenes to accommodate a new plot line, introduce a new character, give the reader clues, or foreshadow a future plot twist. It works for me. I don't mind rewriting as I write.

Then, when I have a complete story with all its intricacies and its nuances, comes the real work, the polishing, the fleshing out, the recasting of every scene to make it part of the whole. Emphasizing the theme, adding emotion, polishing the action scenes, the love scenes, making the reader part of the story by adding more setting and sensory details... That's usually the last month in my novel writing process.

Can you tell I love writing? Well, I do.

Curse of the Lost Isle Book 7 (standalone)
Available for pre-order in early March:

1204 AD - Meliora, immortal Fae and legendary damsel of Hawk Castle, grants gold and wishes on Mount Ararat, but must forever remain chaste. When Spartak, a Kipchak warrior gravely wounded in Constantinople, requests sanctuary, she breaks the rule to save his life. The fierce, warrior prince stirs in her forbidden passions. Captivated, Spartak will not bow to superstition. Despite tribal opposition, he wants her as his queen. Should Meliora renounce true love, or  embrace it and trigger a sinister curse... and the wrath of the Goddess? Meanwhile, a thwarted knight and his greedy band of Crusaders have vowed to steal her Pagan gold and burn her at the stake...

In the meantime, catch up with the Curse of the Lost Isle series at:

 Vijaya Schartz
 Blasters, Swords, Romance with a Kick

Friday, February 26, 2016

Where does the love for our country spring from? Tricia McGill

My latest release can be bought here.
I sit and watch the evening news and my heart bleeds when I see so many displaced people seeking refuge in Europe and elsewhere; fleeing a war that they had no part in, only to be shunned by some people simply because they seek a better life for their children. They have little hope of returning to the land of their birth, and this leads me to wonder exactly how they feel inside. I can’t imagine what I would do if I had to choose a few of my treasured belongings—enough to cram into one or two bags—and leave all that I love behind.

My husband and I and two of my sisters with their husbands came to Australia seeking a better life in a free land. Admittedly I came mainly to join my three sisters who already lived here, but it was also because we were offered a better life in a prosperous country. And it has been a better life, and for me in particular a fulfilling one. No wonder I say I have been blessed. That’s not to say I didn’t love my early days in England. But the weird part is that I have an affinity with Australia that is probably much stronger than the one I had for the land of my birth.

Australia has been kind to me in so many ways. At times I can be brought to tears at the sheer beauty to be found in some parts, and wonder at this odd love I have for my adoptive country. Recently I watched a show on my TV that disappointed me in so many ways. Which was stupid, when you come to think about it, as the comments that annoyed me were made about Australia and not about me personally. So why should I get so upset when an outsider criticizes things that I have no control over?

This program featured a well-liked Australian. I happen to like his shows so that is why I watched this one. But, it turned out that he had brought his two English sidekicks from his show produced in England, and the idea was to show them the “real” Australia. Sorry, but bringing two Poms out and taking them on a road trip from Darwin to Sydney down the red center of our country was not showing them the true beauty of the landscape (just my opinion). They constantly complained about the flies. Well, if you travel the outback in the hottest part of the year in a small camper-van, you are going to encounter flies, and there is such a thing as insect repellent that works really well. The side trips they had to endure was not my idea of a great road trip. Wild pig hunting? Not a pastime I would chose if I was showing off my beautiful country and its strange habits. Enough said.

For years my husband and I left chilly Victoria around July/August, hitched our caravan to our car, and set off on a 3 month jaunt around the country. We have circled Australia, taken the inland road right up the middle, driven across the Nullarbor Plain, let me see—four times, traveled up the east coast innumerable times, been to Uluru (Ayers Rock) driven across the Sydney Harbour Bridge countless times, and to be honest, there are only a few places in Australia that I haven’t seen. And, a lot of my writing got done during the stop-overs. My husband was a keen fisherman so I have traversed many miles of the country in search of good fishing spots, tramped many beaches that were so isolated I doubt I trod in any other person’s footprints.

A while back there was a discussion in our author’s group about the movie Red Dog, well I sat in front of his statue in Dampier a long time before he became world famous. I’ve touched a dolphin at Monkey Mia in northern WA, seen platypus swimming peacefully in Tasmania, hand fed wallabies, been close to an echidna, and all in their natural habitat, not in a zoo. I’ve slept in a haunted house in Strahan Tasmania, stood inside an enormous tree in Walpole right up the top of the country. When I see a motor home or caravan on the road I still get a lump in my throat and wonder where these lucky people are off to, and wish I was tagging along. I fear my traveling days are well and truly over, although my friend and I are planning another trip across to my second favorite state, Tasmania, in the near future.

This post was brought about as last evening I watched a show about an Aboriginal man who has made good in this country. He revisited the town where he grew up, and was explaining the affinity his people have for the land. And I can truly understand this, as although I wasn’t born here, I have such a love for this land it is difficult to explain. And I thank Fate, or whatever had a hand in my destiny, that I found such a haven.
All of my contemporary romances are set here, don’t ask me why, but it never occurred to me to set them anywhere else.
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Wednesday, February 24, 2016

A Great Book canTransform us, by Sandy Semerad

I once heard a teacher say, To Kill a Mockingbird teaches us about equality and has the ability to change us. I believe that's true. 

          This great book has certainly changed me, and after I heard the news of Harper Lee’s death at 89, I thought about the power of her masterpiece.

“Did you hear Harper Lee has passed,” I asked Hubby Larry.

“Yes,” he said, and our conversation segued into Lee’s wonderful novel.

Why did she name it To Kill a Mockingbird?” Larry asked.

I've heard she originally called it, Atticus,” I said, “But she changed the name before it was published. There’s a mockingbird reference in the book.”

“What does it say?”

I had to unearth my copy of Mockingbird to answer his question. Here’s part of the quote, inspiring the title:

“Atticus said to Jem one day, ‘Remember it’s a sin to kill a mockingbird.’ That was the only time I ever heard Atticus say it was a sin to do something, and I asked Miss Maudie about it. 'Your father’s right,' she said. 'Mockingbirds don’t do one thing except make music for us to enjoy. They don’t eat up people’s gardens, don’t nest in corn cribs, they don’t do one thing but sing their hearts out for us. That’s why it’s a sin to kill a mockingbird.' "

Flipping through the pages, I found myself identifying with the gutsy Scout as I had as a child, and I wished I’d been able to know the author who wrote such a trans-formative novel.

I've worked on many projects for the chamber of commerce in Monroeville, Alabama, Harper Lee’s hometown, for more than 20 years, but somehow we never crossed paths.

A few months ago, I visited the assisted-living facility where Lee resided. I was going to a business meeting there and hoped I’d get a glimpse of the reclusive Lee. As I walked into the facility, a security guard stopped me.

“Who are you here to see?” he asked in a stern voice.

After I told him, he ushered me into the administrator’s office.

As I was leaving, I spotted the guard again. “Do you stop everyone who comes in here?” I asked.

“It’s my job to guard Miss Lee, to make sure she isn’t bothered. You wouldn't believe the schemes people use. They’ll say or do anything to try to get their books signed or get an interview with Miss Lee.” She rarely ventures outside, he said.

I told him I’d recently read the long-awaited second book, Go Set a Watchman, which features a grown up Scout and a somewhat racially prejudiced Atticus.
I much preferred the inspirational Atticus in Mockingbird, I said. I always cry at the courtroom scene in TKAM. You probably know the one. Atticus Finch is walking out of the courtroom after hearing his client, Tom Robinson, has been found guilty. Scout and her brother Jem are sitting in the balcony, among members of the black community. The Reverend Sykes, a local black leader, tells Scout, "Miss Jean Louise. Stand up. Your father's passin'."
Amazing when you think about it, so much talent in such a small Alabama town, population is now around 7,000. I love going there and during my recent trip, my sister Alice Kay, who lives in Idaho, wanted to accompany me.
“I haven’t been to Monroeville in 30 years,” she said. She wanted to tour the town, the courthouse and museum, and we did.
Unfortunately, one of Monroeville’s finest restaurants, the Prop and Gavel, owned by Tanja Carter, Lee’s attorney and friend, was closed, due to the tragic death of Tanja’s husband. He was killed when his single-engine aircraft crashed, taking off from Missoula International Airport in Montana.
“Tanja found the draft of Go Set a Watchman, the parent book of Mockingbird,” I told AK.  Alice Kay wanted to read Watchman, so I bought her a copy.
“I want it autographed,” she said.
“That’s impossible,” I told her. “Only Harper Lee’s closest friends are allowed to see her, and she is no longer autographing books.”
At the bookstore, AK and I spotted a signed copy of To Kill a Mockingbird. The steep price was much more than either of us planned to spend, but I’m sure someone will eventually pay that amount for an autographed copy of this masterpiece that earned a Pulitzer Prize and continues to be a bestseller, second only to the Bible, it has been reported.
The movie adaptation won Academy Awards in 1962. Gregory Peck won for best actor. Lee gave Peck her father's pocket watch, a friend in Monroeville said.

          Lee dedicated Mockingbird to her sister Alice Finch Lee, who lived to be 103, and their father Amasa Lee. He once defended two black men hanged in 1919 for murdering a white shopkeeper in Monroeville.
In 1934, when Nelle Harper Lee was only eight, a black man (Walter Lett) was tried in Monroeville for allegedly raping a white woman. Lett was sentenced to death until a group of progressive white citizens had his ruling reduced to life. The character Tom Robinson in Mockingbird is thought to be patterned after Lett.

Through the years, I've heard a few people say they think Truman Capote wrote Mockingbird. These accusations are false, which I discovered after reading Capote’s letters at the Monroe County Courthouse. In one of those letters, Capote writes about Lee authoring the book and compliments her skill as a writer.

It is widely known Lee helped Capote interview and type notes for In Cold Blood. She and Capote were childhood friends in the 1930s. Capote spent his summers with his cousins in a house next to where Lee grew up. (The character Dill in Mockingbird is Capote).

Both houses have since been torn down, but there’s a plaque, marking where Capote stayed. Lee would not allow a plaque on the property where she once lived.

The homes were located about two blocks from the old courthouse, which is now a museum. (The courthouse is in the center of town square).

In memory of Nelle Harper Lee, I’d like to share a few facts about her. She was born in Monroeville on April 28, 1926, the youngest of five children. Her father’s name was Amasa Coleman (A.C.) Lee. Her mother was Frances Cunningham Finch. Amasa, unlike Atticus, was not a widower. Lee's mother was termed mentally ill. So Harper Lee and her siblings were raised by their father.
Her longtime friend, Truman Capote’s real name was Truman Persons. He was two years older than Lee. Truman spent his summers in Monroeville, and during that time, he and Lee became close friends. Lee’s father recognized Lee’s creativity and gave her an Underwood typewriter.
She earned a degree in English from Huntington College in Montgomery, Alabama and was an exchange student at Oxford for a short while. She attended law school for two years at the University of Alabama, but dropped out to pursue a writing career.

She moved to New York, where Truman Persons, then Capote, had become a well-known writer. While in New York, two of Capote’s friends made it possible for Lee to quit her job as an airline reservations clerk and write full time.

These generous friends--famous Broadway lyricist Michael Brown and his wife, Joy Williams, a ballet dancer--gave Lee a Christmas present, paying all of her expenses for a year to write whatever she wanted, but it took  Lee two years to write Mockingbird, I was told. The publisher said it might not sell more than a few thousand copies, but upon publication in July 1960, the book became a best-seller and continues to sell millions each year.

It is estimated she earned and continues to earn royalties of more than $9,000 a day. However, her fortune never influenced her life. 

She lived like a spartan. Before she moved into the assisted living facility, she had no air conditioning or television set, until a caretaker demanded them, I was told.

She never married and had no children, but she birthed a great book that I believe changed lives and has certainly inspired me to write, not simply to entertain, but to transform with words. For that I’m thankful. 

Below are three of my novels. I'd love for you to check them out.

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