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Mailbox Monday #308

Mailbox Monday, created by Marcia at To Be Continued, formerly The Printed Page, has a permanent home at its own blog.

To check out what everyone has received over the last week, visit the blog and check out the links.  Leave yours too.

Also, each week, Leslie, Vicki, and I will share the Books that Caught Our Eye from everyone’s weekly links.

Here’s what I received:

Free e-books:

1.  A Long Christmas by Michelle Read

Can true love be found at Christmas?

What if Emily never went to the nineteenth century?

What if William went to the twenty-first century instead?

A twist on the original Centuries of Love Trilogy sees William waking up at Christmas in 2012.

Confused by this new modern era and why he has been brought here, he is soon relieved to find his wife, Emily, but is shocked when she doesn’t know who he is.

On discovering the nineteenth century tradition of kissing your true love by midnight on Twelfth Night or lose them forever, he realises it’s a race against time to make Emily fall in love with him all over again.

2.  Mansfield Ranch by Jenni James

Does true love really prevail?

All Lilly Price has ever known is living in the shadow of her widely successful foster family. But when a twist of fate deals Lilly the hand of Harrison Crawford, the most popular guy in Bloomfield, NM, everything flips upside down.

Sean Benally is a hard worker, he’s funny, he’s generous, and he’s kind. He’s also the most amazing guy Lilly has ever known. And she’s totally fallen in love with him. But he’s her foster brother…

Now she must choose between the unavailable love of her life — or the guy who promises to be available forever.

3.  Jane Austen and the Archangel by Pamela Aares

What’s to be done with an angel who breaks the rules? Introduce him to a woman known for her propriety, of course.

Until then, passion had lived only on the page…

Jane Austen hasn’t written a creative word in months. She secretly fears she may not have it in her to write a single word more about love. Yet when the mysterious Michael Grace appears on her doorstep, she’s cast into a world of emotion beyond even her wildest imaginings. Though she fears he might be a spy, she enlists his help to find her friend’s fiancé, missing in the Peninsular War. But Michael isn’t what he seems, and the passion and doubts he ignites turn everything Jane trusts upside down. What Jane doesn’t know is that her mystery man is an angel. One who’s never failed to get what he goes after.

Some rules just beg to be broken…

4. Mrs. Tuesday’s Departure by Suzanne Elizabeth Anderson

A heart-wrenching historical novel spanning seventy years, two continents, and a an imagined story that holds the power to create a safe future for a young girl. This page-turning family saga soars to a breathtaking ending that redefines the meaning of love.

When Natalie and Anna, sisters and life-long rivals, hide an abandoned child from the Nazis, their struggle re-opens a star-crossed love triangle, threatening their safety and testing the bonds of their loyalty.

Hungary’s fragile alliance with Germany insured that Natalie, a best selling children’s book author, and her family would be safe as World War Two raged through Europe. The Holocaust that has only been whispered about until now becomes a terrible reality for every Jewish family or those who hide Jews.

Beautiful but troubled Anna, a poet and university professor is losing her tenuous hold on reality, re-igniting a dangerous sibling rivalry that began in childhood. The streets of Budapest echo with the pounding boots of Nazi soldiers. Danger creeps to the doorstep where the sisters’ disintegrating relationship threatens to expose the child they are trying to protect. In one night, Anna’s rash behavior destroys their carefully made plans of escape, and Natalie is presented with a desperate choice. Interwoven with Natalie and Anna’s story, is Mila’s. The abandoned child whose future Natalie lovingly imagines in a story about an old woman named Mrs. Tuesday. Mrs. Tuesday’s Departure is an inspirational historical novel spanning two generations and exploring the unbreakable bonds of sisters.

5. Jane, Actually by Jennifer Petkus

With the invention of the AfterNet, death isn’t quite the end to a literary career it once was, and Jane Austen, the grande dame of English literature, is poised for a comeback with the publication of Sanditon, the book she was writing upon her death in 1817. But how does a disembodied author sign autographs and appear on talk shows? With the aid of Mary Crawford, a struggling acting student who plays the role of the Regency author who wrote Pride and Prejudice and Emma and Sense and Sensibility. But Austen discovers her second chance at a literary career also gives her a second chance at happiness and possibly even … love.

6.  Emma and Elizabeth by Ann Mychal

Once heiress to a large estate, Emma Watson, now penniless, is thrown back into the arms of the family she has not seen for fourteen years when Mrs Turner, her widowed guardian, accepts an offer of marriage from Captain O’Brien. On the eve of the first assembly of the season, Emma returns unexpectedly to Stanton, her family home.

Interest in the newcomer is heightened when Emma becomes the object of attention at the ball; admired by Lord Osborne, Tom Musgrave and Mr Howard, Emma’s debut at the local assembly seems nothing less than a triumph. But once her potential suitors are acquainted with the facts, will her lack of fortune make a difference?

Emma receives a mixed welcome at home, but finds a true friend in her eldest sister, Elizabeth. However, when duty to the family is tested to its limit, one sister is obliged to sacrifice her own happiness to ensure the happiness of the other.

Purchased:

7. Cozy Christmas Capers: Holiday Short Story Collection by Gemma Halliday, Janel Gradowski, etc.

19 holiday short stories by 19 New York Times, USA Today and award winning authors! Enjoy these tales of mystery, romance, and laughter amid the backdrop of pine tress, gingerbread men, and Santas galore! The perfect short bites for cozying up by the fire with a cup of cocoa…or waiting in line at gift wrapping!

 

For Review Consideration:

8. The History of Rock ‘n’ Roll in Ten Songs by Greil Marcus, narrated by Henry Rollins from Audible.

Unlike all previous versions of rock ’n’ roll history, this book omits almost every iconic performer and ignores the storied events and turning points that everyone knows. Instead, in a daring stroke, Greil Marcus selects ten songs recorded between 1956 and 2008, then proceeds to dramatize how each embodies rock ’n’ roll as a thing in itself, in the story it tells, inhabits, and acts out—a new language, something new under the sun.

“Transmission” by Joy Division. “All I Could Do Was Cry” by Etta James and then Beyoncé. “To Know Him Is to Love Him,” first by the Teddy Bears and almost half a century later by Amy Winehouse. In Marcus’s hands these and other songs tell the story of the music, which is, at bottom, the story of the desire for freedom in all its unruly and liberating glory. Slipping the constraints of chronology, Marcus braids together past and present, holding up to the light the ways that these striking songs fall through time and circumstance, gaining momentum and meaning, astonishing us by upending our presumptions and prejudices. This book, by a founder of contemporary rock criticism—and its most gifted and incisive practitioner—is destined to become an enduring classic.

9. Scent of Butterflies by Dora Levy Mossanen from Sourcebooks and TLC Book Tours.

Such audacity she has, Soraya, a woman who dares to break free of the diamond-studded leash of her culture. A woman who refuses to accept the devastating betrayal her husband has perpetrated. A woman who refuses to forgive her best friend.

Soraya turns her back on Iran, fleeing to America to plot her intricate revenge. The Shah has fallen, her country is in turmoil, her marriage has crumbled, and she is unraveling. The cruel and intimate blow her husband has dealt her awakens an obsessive streak that explodes in the heated world of Los Angeles.

Yet the secret Soraya discovers proves far more devastating than anything she had imagined, unleashing a whirlwind of unexpected events that will leave the reader breathless.

What did you receive?

Who Are Your Auto-Buy Authors?

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Hello everyone! The holidays are nearly here, but I have a treat for you! If you haven’t liked the Savvy Verse & Wit Facebook page yet, go do it now.

Beginning Dec. 12 (sometime this afternoon the first pick will be revealed), I’ll reveal one of the books on my Best of 2014 book list, through Dec. 24.

That’s one book from the list per day, with a tidbit about why I loved the book and a link to where you can buy it.

Today, I wanted to talk about those authors we love so much that we buy their books automatically no matter what the subject.  I used to have just a few of those authors, but my list is now growing!  I thought today would be a good day to share not only the older ones on the list, but also the newer ones that have joined the ranks.

My previous list:

  1. Yusef Komunyakaa
  2. Tim O’Brien
  3. Stephen King
  4. Anita Shreve
  5. Amy Tan
  6. Isabel Allende
  7. James Patterson
  8. Anne Rice
  9. Mary Oliver
  10. Billy Collins

My additions to the list:

  1. Beth Kephart
  2. Jeannine Hall Gailey
  3. Jane Odiwe
  4. Syrie James
  5. Abigail Reynolds
  6. Karen White
  7. Beth Hoffman
  8. Jill Mansell
  9. Janel Gradowski
  10. Diana Raab
  11. C.W. Gortner
  12. John Shors

I find it interesting that there are many more female authors being added to my auto-buy list. 

I’m not really sure why so many great female authors are being added to my auto-buy list these days.  It isn’t that I haven’t read some great male authors, but perhaps I need to read more of them to get a true sense of their work and whether I want to buy it automatically no matter the subject.

Do you have auto-buy authors? Who are they?  What attracts you to their work?

Don’t forget to like the Savvy Verse & Wit Facebook page to find out over the next 12 days which books made the 2014 Best list.

Mailbox Monday #283

Mailbox Monday, created by Marcia at To Be Continued, formerly The Printed Page, has a permanent home at its own blog.

To check out what everyone has received over the last week, visit the blog and check out the links.  Leave yours too.

Also, each week, Leslie, Vicki, and I will share the Books that Caught Our Eye from everyone’s weekly links.

Here’s what I received:

1.  The Paradise Tree by Elena Maria Vidal for review in October for Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tours.

The year is 1887 in Leeds County, Ontario. The O’Connor clan is gathering to mourn the loss of its patriarch Daniel O’Connor, an Irish immigrant. The story of Daniel and his wife Brigit is one of great hardships, including illness, ill-starred romances, war and political upheavals, as well as undying love and persevering faith. As Daniel is laid to rest, his grandson Fergus receives a piercing insight into what his own calling in life will be.

2. Giggle Poetry Reading Lessons: A Successful Reading-Fluency Program Parents and Teachers Can Use to Dramatically Improve Reading Skills and Scores by Amy Buswell and Bruce Lansky, illustrated by Stephen Carpenter from LibraryThing Early Reviewers.

Many struggling readers are embarrassed to read aloud. They are often intimidated or bored by texts that conventional programs require them to practice. So, instead of catching up, they fall further behind. Currently 67% of American fourth graders can’t read grade-level text. Reading specialist Amy Buswell has spent eight years looking for remediation methods that work. “What is needed,” Buswell explains, “is a program that improves the motivation of struggling readers, because that accounts for 90% of the problem.” Four years ago, Buswell came up with a brainstorm. She knew her best readers enjoyed reading Bruce Lansky’s poetry books for pleasure. The more poems they read, the better their reading got. Why not use Lansky’s kid-tested poems as texts struggling readers could practice on to improve their reading—using six research-based strategies: choral reading, echo reading, paired reading, repeated reading, sustained silent reading and “say it like the character” reading. — This book is the result of that brainstorm and the resulting collaboration between Buswell and Lansky. It gives teachers and parents everything they need to help children improve their reading: -35 kid-tested poems by Bruce Lansky -35 customized reading lessons by Amy Buswell -35 off-the-wall illustrations by Stephen Carpenter -35 sets of zany performance tips by Bruce Lansky …all of which is designed to make the process of reading improvement more like fun than work. Parents will enjoy Lansky’s funny poems and Stephen Carpenter’s delightful illustrations as much as their children.

3.  The Garden of Letters by Alyson Richman for review in September.

Portofino, Italy, 1943. A young woman steps off a boat in a scenic coastal village. Although she knows how to disappear in a crowd, Elodie is too terrified to slip by the German officers while carrying her poorly forged identity papers. She is frozen until a man she’s never met before claims to know her. In desperate need of shelter, Elodie follows him back to his home on the cliffs of Portofino.

Only months before, Elodie Bertolotti was a cello prodigy in Verona, unconcerned with world events. But when Mussolini’s Fascist regime strikes her family, Elodie is drawn into the burgeoning resistance movement by Luca, a young and impassioned bookseller. As the occupation looms, she discovers that her unique musical talents, and her courage, have the power to save lives.

4.  In Real Life: Love, Lies, & Identity in the Digital Age by Nev Schulman, a suprise review copy from Grand Central.

Now Nev takes his investigation to the page, providing readers with an essential roadmap to better connect their digital personas with their true selves. Woven throughout with Nev’s personal stories, this book explores relationships in the era of social media. Specifically the book tackles:

-what motivates catfish
-why people fall for catfish
-how one can avoid being deceived
-online accountability
-Nev’s rules for dating
-how to connect authentically with people over the internet
-how to turn an online relationship into a real life relationship, and much, much more.

Nev delves deeply into the complexities of dating in a digital age, and continues the cultural dialogue his show has begun about how we interact with each other through social media versus in person — specifically in relation to millennials, who have never known a world without Facebook.

5.  My Mother’s Secret: A Novel Based on a True Holocaust Story by J.L. Witterick for review in September.

Franciszka and her daughter, Helena, are unlikely heroines. They are simple people who mind their own business and don’t stand out from the crowd. Until 1939, when crisis strikes. The Nazis have invaded Poland and they are starting to persecute the Jews. Providing shelter to a Jew has become a death sentence. And yet, Franciszka and Helena decide to do just that. In their tiny, two-bedroom home in Sokal, Poland, they cleverly hide a Jewish family of two brothers and their wives in their pigsty out back, a Jewish doctor with his wife and son in a makeshift cellar under the kitchen floorboards, and a defecting German soldier in the attic–each group completely unbeknownst to the others. For everyone to survive, Franciszka will have to outsmart her neighbors and the German commanders standing guard right outside her yard.

6.  Chasers of the Light by Tyler Knott Gregson for review in September.

One day, while browsing an antique store in Helena, Montana, photographer Tyler Knott Gregson stumbled upon a vintage Remington typewriter for sale. Standing up and using a page from a broken book he was buying for $2, he typed a poem without thinking, without planning, and without the ability to revise anything.

He fell in love.

Three years and almost one thousand poems later, Tyler is now known as the creator of the Typewriter Series: a striking collection of poems typed onto found scraps of paper or created via blackout method. Chasers of the Light features some of his most insightful and beautifully worded pieces of work—poems that illuminate grand gestures and small glimpses, poems that celebrate the beauty of a life spent chasing the light.

7.  Pies & Peril by Janel Gradowski from my friend and the author.  Thank you!  Check out my review.

When Amy Ridley decided to compete in the Kellerton Summer Festival Pie Contest, the last thing she expected was to find the reigning pie queen, Mandy Jo, dead—a raspberry pie smashed on her face! Mandy Jo made fantastic pies, but she accumulated more enemies than baking trophies. But when Amy receives a note threatening her own life, she decides to do some investigating herself.

It seems that half the town has a reason to kill the mean pie queen, and Amy finds herself sifting through a list of suspects that’s longer than her list of recipes. Not to mention playing cupid for her love-shy best friend, fending off a baker intent on finding out her prize-winning culinary secrets, and ducking the deadly attentions of Mandy Jo’s killer. If Amy doesn’t find out who wanted the pie queen dead soon, her own goose may be cooked!

8.  One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez from the library sale for 50 cents.

The novel tells the story of the rise and fall of the mythical town of Macondo through the history of the family. It is a rich and brilliant chronicle of life and death, and the tragicomedy of humankind. In the noble, ridiculous, beautiful, and tawdry story of the family, one sees all of humanity, just as in the history, myths, growth, and decay of Macondo, one sees all of Latin America.

Love and lust, war and revolution, riches and poverty, youth and senility — the variety of life, the endlessness of death, the search for peace and truth — these universal themes dominate the novel. Whether he is describing an affair of passion or the voracity of capitalism and the corruption of government.

9.  The Best of Us by Sarah Pekkanen from the library sale for 50 cents.

Following a once-in-a-lifetime invitation, a group of old college friends leap at the chance to bring their husbands for a week’s vacation at a private villa in Jamaica to celebrate a former classmates’ thirty-fifth birthday.
All four women are desperate for a break and this seems like a perfect opportunity. Tina is drowning under the demands of mothering four young children. Allie needs to escape from the shattering news about an illness that runs in her family. Savannah is carrying the secret of her husband’s infidelity. And, finally, there’s Pauline, who spares no expense to throw her husband an unforgettable birthday celebration, hoping it will gloss over the cracks that have already formed in their new marriage.

The week begins idyllically, filled with languorous days and late nights of drinking and laughter. But as a hurricane approaches the island, turmoil builds, forcing each woman to re-evaluate everything she’s known about the others—and herself.

10.  The Best-Loved Poems of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis with an introduction by Caroline Kennedy from the library sale for $1.

Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis loved literature, especially poetry. Once you can express yourself, she wrote, you can tell the world what you want from it. Now, Caroline Kennedy shares her mothers favorite poems by such renowned authors as William Shakespeare, Emily Dickinson, e.e. cummings, and Robert Frost. The book also includes a poem written by Jacqueline Kennedy and is illustrated with photographs of the Kennedy clan. This is a wonderful volume for reading aloud or by yourself and a meaningful gift or keepsake for Mothers Day.

 

11.  Best-Loved Slow Cooker Recipes from the library sale for $1.

Crock Pot Best Loved Slow Cooker Recipes includes more than 100 recipes for your Crock Pot Slow Cooker. Whether you need to whip up main dish meals, party time appetizers or sweet tooth threats, the Crock Pot slow cooker helps to easy your busy day.

 

 

 

12.  The Winter Guest by Pam Jenoff from Anna at Diary of an Eccentric who had an extra copy.

Life is a constant struggle for the eighteen-year-old Nowak twins as they raise their three younger siblings in rural Poland under the shadow of the Nazi occupation. The constant threat of arrest has made everyone in their village a spy, and turned neighbor against neighbor. Though rugged, independent Helena and pretty, gentle Ruth couldn’t be more different, they are staunch allies in protecting their family from the threats the war brings closer to their doorstep with each passing day.

Then Helena discovers an American paratrooper stranded outside their small mountain village, wounded, but alive. Risking the safety of herself and her family, she hides Sam, a Jew, but Helena’s concern for the American grows into something much deeper. Defying the perils that render a future together all but impossible, Sam and Helena make plans for the family to flee. But Helena is forced to contend with the jealousy her choices have sparked in Ruth, culminating in a singular act of betrayal that endangers them all and setting in motion a chain of events that will reverberate across continents and decades.

What did you receive?

Pies & Peril by Janel Gradowski

Source: Janel Gradowski, the author
ebook, 192 pages
On Amazon and on Kobo

Pies & Peril: A Culinary Competition Mystery by Janel Gradowski is punchy and fun, a perfect read for kicking back on a rainy day or on the beach during the summer.  While “beach read” is often a looked down on term, these are the kinds of books readers crave when they want pure entertainment and to enjoy characters and their stories.  Gradowski’s characters are not like those in typical cozy mysteries; they have good heads on their shoulders, are professional, and are not throwing themselves in harm’s way without thinking things through first.  Amy Ridley is no dumb blonde. She’s focused to win every culinary baking contest she enters, but when things go awry for her former friend and now baking nemesis, Mandy Jo, she takes it upon herself to solve the mystery of her death.

“The physical side effects of becoming a triple champion made her feel like she had been caught in a stampede of tap dancers from Ms. Carrie’s Dance Academy.” (ARC)

“Okay.  Dirty dishes didn’t talk, but she couldn’t stand to see them sitting there, like batter coated chore devils perched on her shoulder.” (ARC)

Amy is spunky and determined to uncover the truth, but she’s also aware that there should be boundaries to her tenacious search for a killer.  She’s lurking in corners to eavesdrop and running into clues, but she’s also wise enough to know that she should be careful and scared of the killer who is writing her threatening notes.  Her friend Carla is a doll, and readers will enjoy their banter as they go over some of Amy’s theories about the murder and her even more outrageous theories behind the murder.  Gradowski’s style is filled with humor and characterization; readers will get to know these characters in such a short period of time, it will feel like they are friends known for much longer.  The author has a way of packing in a lot of background and characterization in a small space, making it easier to flow with the relationships and the story as it unfolds.

“… The Cookbook Nook.  Not a single auto repair or vampire book could be found on the shelves.  Just cookbooks.  Glorious, fascinating cookbooks.” (ARC)

Pies & Peril: A Culinary Competition Mystery by Janel Gradowski will have readers’ mouths watering, and it includes recipes at the end to keep those taste buds dreaming.  Cozy mysteries may drive some readers crazy for their dopey heroines that carry their infants into dangerous situations or just rush headlong into places they shouldn’t as they investigate mysteries, but Gradowski has found the perfect balance between the cozy mystery formula and strong heroines that leave the tough stuff up to the cops.

About the Author:

Janel Gradowski lives in a land that looks like a cold weather fashion accessory, the mitten­-shaped state of Michigan. She is a wife and mom to two kids and one Golden Retriever. Her journey to becoming an author is littered with odd jobs like renting apartments to college students and programming commercials for an AM radio station. Somewhere along the way she also became a beadwork designer and teacher. She enjoys cooking recipes found in her formidable cookbook and culinary fiction collection. Searching for unique treasures at art fairs, flea markets and thrift stores is also a favorite pastime. Coffee is an essential part of her life. She writes the Culinary Competition Mystery Series, along with The Bartonville Series (women’s fiction) and the 6:1 Series (flash fiction). She has also had many short stories published in both online and print publications.  Check her Website, on Facebook, and on Twitter.  Check out her books.

Other books by this author, reviewed here:

Interview with Janel Gradowski, Author of Pies & Peril

Pies & Peril, a Culinary Competition Mystery by Janel Gradowski is a fun cozy that will have readers laughing out loud, but this heroine, Amy Ridley, is no dumb blonde.  She’s got a good head on her shoulders, but she’s also focused to win every culinary baking contest she enters.  Here’s the description from GoodReads:

When Amy Ridley decided to compete in the Kellerton Summer Festival Pie Contest, the last thing she expected was to find the reigning pie queen, Mandy Jo, dead—a raspberry pie smashed on her face! Mandy Jo made fantastic pies, but she accumulated more enemies than baking trophies. But when Amy receives a note threatening her own life, she decides to do some investigating herself.

Today, I’ve got a great interview from Janel, whom I met through book blogging, and now as an author of full-length and flash fiction, she’s here to share with us her writing and publishing experiences. Please give her a warm welcome:

1. What are your first loves as a reader about novels? Do you prefer plot or characterization? Do you love mystery or literary fiction better?

I love characters with interesting backgrounds and traits. Plot is the undercurrent that keeps all good books flowing, but I want to fall in love with the characters first and really care about them. I also love richly detailed books where the author describes the literary world they’ve created with their own, unique lens.

I will read just about anything. Different genres for different moods. I love a cozy mystery when I’m hanging out at our cabin or just want something light to read in the evening. If I really want to sink my teeth into a book I often turn to women’s fiction by authors like Barbara O’Neal and Erica Bauermeister.

2. When deciding to carve out time for your own writing, what was the catalyst for you, especially being a mother and having little time to yourself?

To be honest, my commitment to writing fiction over the last several years was a bit of a mid­life crisis. I designed and published beadwork patterns when my kids were little, so I knew I could juggle being a mom and a writer. While I loved seeing my patterns in magazines, I still wanted to be a published author in my first writing love ­ fiction. Over the past four or five years I have transitioned from writing patterns to writing fiction and I couldn’t be happier with the change.

3. What are some tips you’d provide to mothers looking to continue creatively writing if they have young children, school-­age children, and older kids?

The younger children are the less time mothers have for themselves. You need to learn to write in bits and pieces in whatever time you can grab. Just make sure to also rest when you have the chance. Exhaustion is never a good thing for moms or writers. I find that it helps to tailor the length of your stories to the time that you have available. When my children were younger I wrote flash fiction, ultra­short stories that usually have less than 1,000 words. As my kids got older I moved up to short stories, novelettes and novellas. Now my kids are pretty independent at 15 and 13­ years old. I was easily able to write Pies & Peril, my first novel, last fall.

If you are having problems “turning on” your creativity in the time you do have, I would suggest trying prompts. There are countless books and websites dedicated to writing prompts. Give yourself permission to play and get messy with your writing. Don’t worry about making it perfect, a common creativity killer, and have fun. You may be surprised at what ends up on the page.

4. Pies & Peril is your latest, full­-length published work, how long did the process take from the initial idea to finish? And how did this process differ from your previous experience with the Bartonville Series of books?

It took me about a month and a half to write the first draft of Pies & Peril. I started with a 2,000 word short story then expanded it, using subplots, into a novel. I did much more planning with this than any of the stories I’ve written for my Bartonville Series. It’s roughly twice as long as the longest Bartonville story, a novella.

I write using a program called Scrivener. It is made specifically for writers and has a virtual corkboard with wonderful virtual index cards. Each scene can be an index card in the program. For the Bartonville series I just plotted the stories using those virtual index cards. For Pies & Peril I broke out a real corkboard and index cards. I took a few weeks to jot down scene ideas on cards. Then I sat down, color­coded the cards by subplot and arranged them on the board, filling in gaps as needed. I am definitely what is called a “plotter” in the world of writing. There’s no way I would try writing a novel without plotting it out first, although I have written many flash fiction stories off the top of my head from just a tiny seed of an idea. Longer word counts take more planning. A lot more planning.

5. How happy are you about your publishing career so far, and what do you hope will happen in the future? Any new books in the planning or near completion stages and will they be food-­related too?

A year ago I never thought I would have a publisher or be writing a culinary mystery series! I wrote a short story for a contest. It turns out my publisher, Gemma Halliday, was running the contest to look for authors for the boutique publishing company she was starting. I didn’t win the contest, but I did get a publishing contract and I am thrilled! The publishing world is kind of like a gold rush right now. Everybody is scrambling to find readers and fans. Having a publisher and the other authors at Gemma Halliday Publishing help promote the book has made a huge difference in the success of Pies & Peril compared to my other self-­published books.

I am currently writing the second book in the Culinary Competition Series. It will definitely be food­-related with lots of food described in the book and recipes for some of the treats at the end. I am also working on a short story from the series that will be in a holiday anthology. I plan on adding more volumes to both of my self­published series, 6:1 and Bartonville, but those are on the backburner for the moment. There are only so many hours in the day!

Thanks, Janel, for talking with us today, and you know I love your writing and your books.  Stay tuned for my review of Pies & Peril tomorrow!

JanelGAbout the Author:

Janel Gradowski lives in a land that looks like a cold weather fashion accessory, the mitten­-shaped state of Michigan. She is a wife and mom to two kids and one Golden Retriever. Her journey to becoming an author is littered with odd jobs like renting apartments to college students and programming commercials for an AM radio station. Somewhere along the way she also became a beadwork designer and teacher. She enjoys cooking recipes found in her formidable cookbook and culinary fiction collection. Searching for unique treasures at art fairs, flea markets and thrift stores is also a favorite pastime. Coffee is an essential part of her life. She writes the Culinary Competition Mystery Series, along with The Bartonville Series (women’s fiction) and the 6:1 Series (flash fiction). She has also had many short stories published in both online and print publications.  Check her Website, on Facebook, and on Twitter.  Check out her books.

The Queen of Bad Decisions by Janel Gradowski

Source: Author Janel Gradowski
Kindle eBook, 43 pages
I am an Amazon Affiliate

The Queen of Bad Decisions by Janel Gradowski is a “cupcake” novellette, volume 2 in the Bartonville series.  Daisy is the protagonist in this prequel, which takes place before Must Love Sandwiches (volume 1 in the Bartonville series).  She’s just realized that her relationship with Gary is not and will never be what she expects it to be, especially when she’s paying half the rent, for all the food, and he stays out drinking all night.  Although her life is less than perfect, she still loves her bookstore job and her life is not as pathetic as her drunk brother’s.  Moving — even temporarily — back in with her parents, she realizes that her life is not as bad compared to some others.  But it takes a swift kick in the pants for her to change her own life.

“All of the useless utensils were in the kitchen drawer when she moved in with Gary.  Everything needed to be replaced.”

“She hadn’t just lowered her standards when she started dating Gary, she sucker punched her morals and left them to wallow in the mud.”

Daisy is an insecure young woman, still looking for her place and looking for the right man.  While her mother is supportive, her father is more of a go-getter — meaning get the kids out of the house ASAP.  Her boss, meanwhile, has kept her mouth shut, but once the floodgates open, there’s no stopping her helpful advice from flowing.  Gradowski creates characters that are three-dimensional, and her dialogue is always punchy and comical, without a single wasted word.  The Queen of Bad Decisions by Janel Gradowski is a short satisfying treat, and the only complaint from readers could be that they want more.  In case of Gradowski’s series, there will be more in store.

This series also includes bonus stories and recipes.

Check out my other reviews:

About the Author:

Janel Gradowski grew up, and still lives, in the mitten of Michigan. She is a wife and mother whose writing companion is a crazy Golden Retriever named Cooper. In the past she has worked many jobs. Renting apartments, scorekeeping for a stock car racetrack and selling newspaper classified advertisements are some of the experiences that continue to provide inspiration for her stories. Now she writes fiction and is also a beadwork designer and teacher. She enjoys cooking and is fueled by copious amounts of coffee.

Her work has appeared in many publications, both online and in print. She is the author of two series. Her first women’s fiction series is The Bartonville Series. Each volume contains stories ranging from flash to novella length. All of the stories are set in Michigan every volume contains accompanying recipes. The 6:1 Series features themed collections of her stories that are based on the title’s theme.  Connect with her on Facebook, Pinterest, and Twitter.

Check out another part in the series, Ready or Not, published in serial format at JukePop.

Mailbox Monday #245

Mailbox Monday (click the icon to check out the new blog) has gone on tour since Marcia at To Be Continued, formerly The Printed Page passed the torch.  November’s host is I Totally Paused!.

The meme allows bloggers to share what books they receive in the mail or through other means over the past week.

Just be warned that these posts can increase your TBR piles and wish lists.

Here’s what I received:

1.  The Queen of Bad Decisions by Janel Gradowski, which I received from the author for review.

Daisy’s life is sliding downhill at breakneck speed. Leaving her worthless boyfriend lands her back at her parents’ home, sleeping on the couch. After only a few days she is tired and annoyed. Her parents give new meaning to the term “early riser” and she can’t avoid unpleasant encounters with her obnoxious brother. The only escape from the familial torture is at her job in a book store. Mary, her boss finds a solution to the housing dilemma, but Daisy will need to change more than her address labels to make the arrangement work.

2.  Undressing Mr. Darcy by Karen Doornebos for review from the publisher in December.

Thirty-five-year-old American social media master Vanessa Roberts lives her thoroughly modern life with aplomb. So when her elderly Jane Austen–centric aunt needs her to take on the public relations for Julian Chancellor, a very private man from England who’s written a book called My Year as Mr. Darcy, Vanessa agrees. But she’s not “excessively diverted,” as Jane Austen would say.

…Until she sees Julian take his tight breeches off for his Undressing Mr. Darcy show, an educational “striptease” down to his drawers to promote his book and help save his crumbling estate. The public relations expert suddenly realizes things have gotten…personal. But can this old-fashioned man claim her heart without so much as a GPS? It will take three festivals filled with Austen fans, a trip to England, an old frenemy, and a flirtatious pirate re-enactor to find out.

3.  Dog Songs by Mary Oliver, purchased from Novel Books.

Beloved by her readers, special to the poet’s own heart, Mary Oliver’s dog poems offer a special window into her world. Dog Songs collects some of the most cherished poems together with new works, offering a portrait of Oliver’s relationship to the companions that have accompanied her daily walks, warmed her home, and inspired her work. To be illustrated with images of the dogs themselves, the subjects will come to colorful life here.

These are poems of love and laughter, heartbreak and grief. In these pages we visit with old friends, including Oliver’s well-loved Percy, and meet still others. Throughout, the many dogs of Oliver’s life emerge as fellow travelers, but also as guides, spirits capable of opening our eyes to the lessons of the moment and the joys of nature and connection.

4.  NOS4A2 by Joe Hill from Novel Books.

Victoria McQueen has a secret gift for finding things: a misplaced bracelet, a missing photograph, answers to unanswerable questions. On her Raleigh Tuff Burner bike, she makes her way to a rickety covered bridge that, within moments, takes her wherever she needs to go, whether it’s across Massachusetts or across the country.

Charles Talent Manx has a way with children. He likes to take them for rides in his 1938 Rolls-Royce Wraith with the NOS4A2 vanity plate. With his old car, he can slip right out of the everyday world, and onto the hidden roads that transport them to an astonishing – and terrifying – playground of amusements he calls “Christmasland.”

5. Night Film by Marisha Pessl from Novel Books.

On a damp October night, beautiful young Ashley Cordova is found dead in an abandoned warehouse in lower Manhattan. Though her death is ruled a suicide, veteran investigative journalist Scott McGrath suspects otherwise. As he probes the strange circumstances surrounding Ashley’s life and death, McGrath comes face-to-face with the legacy of her father: the legendary, reclusive cult-horror-film director Stanislas Cordova—a man who hasn’t been seen in public for more than thirty years.

For McGrath, another death connected to this seemingly cursed family dynasty seems more than just a coincidence. Though much has been written about Cordova’s dark and unsettling films, very little is known about the man himself.

6.  I’ll Be Seeing You by Suzanne Palmieri-Hayes and Loretta Nyhan from Novel Books.

It’s January 1943 when Rita Vincenzo receives her first letter from Glory Whitehall. Glory is an effervescent young mother, impulsive and free as a bird. Rita is a sensible professor’s wife with a love of gardening and a generous, old soul. Glory comes from New England society; Rita lives in Iowa, trying to make ends meet. They have nothing in common except one powerful bond: the men they love are fighting in a war a world away from home.

Brought together by an unlikely twist of fate, Glory and Rita begin a remarkable correspondence. The friendship forged by their letters allows them to survive the loneliness and uncertainty of waiting on the home front, and gives them the courage to face the battles raging in their very own backyards. Connected across the country by the lifeline of the written word, each woman finds her life profoundly altered by the other’s unwavering support.

7.  The Coldest Girl in Coldtown by Holly Black from Novel Books.

Tana lives in a world where walled cities called Coldtowns exist. In them, quarantined monsters and humans mingle in a decadently bloody mix of predator and prey. The only problem is, once you pass through Coldtown’s gates, you can never leave.

One morning, after a perfectly ordinary party, Tana wakes up surrounded by corpses. The only other survivors of this massacre are her exasperatingly endearing ex-boyfriend, infected and on the edge, and a mysterious boy burdened with a terrible secret. Shaken and determined, Tana enters a race against the clock to save the three of them the only way she knows how: by going straight to the wicked, opulent heart of Coldtown itself.

8.  A Spider in the Cup by Barbara Cleverly from Novel Books.

At dawn one morning in 1933, an amateur dowsing team digging the banks of the Thames for precious metals unearths the body of a young woman with a priceless gold coin in her mouth and a missing toe. The case falls on Assistant Commissioner of Scotland Yard Joe Sandilands’s turf, but he’s been given another assignment—and a very high-profile one. London is hosting a historic global economic conference to try to solve the global Depression, and political tensions are running very high, as very influential participants are starting to take positions allied with or staunchly against the rapidly militarizing Germany. Sandilands’s job is to protect and keep an eye on the visiting American senator Cornelius Kingstone, right-hand man to President Roosevelt, throughout the conference. When a strange set of coincidences link the river bank body to the senator, Joe realizes his assignment is much bigger than he’d thought, and that Senator Kingstone is caught up in a very dangerous game—one that might cost not just one but thousands of lives.

What did you receive?

Must Love Sandwiches by Janel Gradowski

Source: the author Janel Gradowski
Kindle ebook, 85 pages
I am an Amazon Affiliate

Must Love Sandwiches by Janel Gradowski is a “cake” sized novella and volume one in her Bartonville Series, which also includes not only recipes, but a couple of bonus stories.  Emma and Daisy live at the artist’s colony creating crafts sold in the gallery store, but their worlds are shaken by the presence of food trucks in the park, where most workers end up taking their lunch.  Emma, who makes fairy doors and jewelry, is shaken by a recent break up with a fellow artist, Max, and she decides that rather than follow the path of her mother, she’s swearing off men.  Wouldn’t you know it, that once she makes that decision, she meets Brad of The Sandwich Emporium.  Meanwhile, Daisy is wondering where to go with her creations that are selling at a slower rate, enlisting the innovative thoughts of her good friend, Emma.  She’s also crushing on another food truck foodie, Marshall of the Vegan Valhala, even though she loves bacon!

“Often her mind wandered as she created the miniature art, inventing a world inhabited by delicate fairies.  In that world everybody was happy and relationships never fell apart.”

To say that these women have commitment issues outside of their artistic passions is an understatement, but while Emma was shaped by her family history of dysfunction, it is unclear where Daisy’s self-esteem issues stem from, though it is clear she does not see herself as a beauty.  Gradowski has created not only realistic characters in these two women, but characters that feel like friends who need a shoulder to cry on and a kick in the pants sometimes.  Her situations are never far-fetched, and the only complaint could be that the story ends too soon, even though the ending is satisfactory.

“Chuck’s hair was always a crazy mess, whether he had just woken up or was going on a date.  His full beard was a thicket of ginger-kissed facial hair.  Emma wrinkled her nose.  ‘He kind of looks like a bear when he’s naked, too.’

‘Thanks for that visual.  I’m going to need a lot more alcohol to erase that image from my mind.'”

Must Love Sandwiches by Janel Gradowski is a mouth-watering tale that will have readers salivating for the recipes in these pages, but also for more romance.  There are some great twists in this novella, and readers will be eager to learn more about the craftiness of these women and their evolution into strong women in search of love.  The author is a fresh new voice in fiction worth reading.

***Having met Janel long ago on the Internet at Janel’s Jumble, her own craftiness — particularly with beads — shines through in this novel, and if you follow her blog, you’ll see that she often shares some of her flash fiction and recipes.

Check out my other reviews:

About the Author:

Janel Gradowski grew up, and still lives, in the mitten of Michigan. She is a wife and mother whose writing companion is a crazy Golden Retriever named Cooper. In the past she has worked many jobs. Renting apartments, scorekeeping for a stock car racetrack and selling newspaper classified advertisements are some of the experiences that continue to provide inspiration for her stories. Now she writes fiction and is also a beadwork designer and teacher. She enjoys cooking and is fueled by copious amounts of coffee.

Her work has appeared in many publications, both online and in print. She is the author of two series. Her first women’s fiction series is The Bartonville Series. Each volume contains stories ranging from flash to novella length. All of the stories are set in Michigan every volume contains accompanying recipes. The 6:1 Series features themed collections of her stories that are based on the title’s theme.

Mailbox Monday #208

Mailbox Mondays (click the icon to check out the new blog) has gone on tour since Marcia at A Girl and Her Books, formerly The Printed Page passed the torch. This month’s host is Lori’s Reading Corner.

The meme allows bloggers to share what books they receive in the mail or through other means over the past week.

Just be warned that these posts can increase your TBR piles and wish lists.

Here’s what I receive:

1.  All That I Am by Anna Funder for a TLC Book Tour later this month.

When Hitler seizes power in 1933, a tight-knit group of friends and lovers suddenly become hunted outlaws overnight. Dora, liberated and fearless; her lover, the great playwright Ernst Toller; Ruth; and Ruth’s journalist husband, Hans find refuge in London. There, using secret contacts deep inside the Nazi regime, they take breathtaking risks to warn the world of Hitler’s plans for war. But England is not the safe haven they think it will be, and a single, chilling act of betrayal will tear them apart.

2.  The House Girl by Tara Conklin for a TLC Book Tour in February.

Two remarkable women, separated by more than a century, whose lives unexpectedly intertwine . . .

2004: Lina Sparrow is an ambitious young lawyer working on a historic class-action lawsuit seeking reparations for the descendants of American slaves.

1852: Josephine is a seventeen-year-old house slave who tends to the mistress of a Virginia tobacco farm—an aspiring artist named Lu Anne Bell.

It is through her father, renowned artist Oscar Sparrow, that Lina discovers a controversy rocking the art world: art historians now suspect that the revered paintings of Lu Anne Bell, an antebellum artist known for her humanizing portraits of the slaves who worked her Virginia tobacco farm, were actually the work of her house slave, Josephine.

3. The Ambassador’s Daughter by Pam Jenoff for review in February.

The world’s leaders have gathered to rebuild from the ashes of the Great War. But for one woman, the City of Light harbors dark secrets and dangerous liaisons, for which many could pay dearly.

Brought to the peace conference by her father, a German diplomat, Margot Rosenthal initially resents being trapped in the congested French capital, where she is still looked upon as the enemy. But as she contemplates returning to Berlin and a life with Stefan, the wounded fiancé she hardly knows anymore, she decides that being in Paris is not so bad after all.

Bored and torn between duty and the desire to be free, Margot strikes up unlikely alliances: with Krysia, an accomplished musician with radical acquaintances and a secret to protect; and with Georg, the handsome, damaged naval officer who gives Margot a job—and also a reason to question everything she thought she knew about where her true loyalties should lie.

Against the backdrop of one of the most significant events of the century, a delicate web of lies obscures the line between the casualties of war and of the heart, making trust a luxury that no one can afford.

4. Blood Gospel: The Order of the Sanguines Series by James Rollins and Rebecca Cantrell, which I received for review.

An earthquake in Masada, Israel, kills hundreds and reveals a tomb buried in the heart of the mountain. A trio of investigators—Sergeant Jordan Stone, a military forensic expert; Father Rhun Korza, a Vatican priest; and Dr. Erin Granger, a brilliant but disillusioned archaeologist—are sent to explore the macabre discovery, a subterranean temple holding the crucified body of a mummified girl.

But a brutal attack at the site sets the three on the run, thrusting them into a race to recover what was once preserved in the tomb’s sarcophagus: a book rumored to have been written by Christ’s own hand, a tome that is said to hold the secrets to His divinity. The enemy who hounds them is like no other, a force of ancient evil directed by a leader of impossible ambitions and incalculable cunning.

From crumbling tombs to splendorous churches, Erin and her two companions must confront a past that traces back thousands of years, to a time when ungodly beasts hunted the dark spaces of the world, to a moment in history when Christ made a miraculous offer, a pact of salvation for those who were damned for eternity.

5. Cassandra and Jane by Jill Pitkeathley, which I bought at the library sale for 50 cents.

They were beloved sisters and the best of friends. But Jane and Cassandra Austen suffered the same fate as many of the women of their era. Forced to spend their lives dependent on relatives, both financially and emotionally, the sisters spent their time together trading secrets, challenging each other’s opinions, and rehearsing in myriad other ways the domestic dramas that Jane would later bring to fruition in her popular novels. For each sister suffered through painful romantic disappointments—tasting passion, knowing great love, and then losing it—while the other stood witness. Upon Jane’s death, Cassandra deliberately destroyed her personal letters, thereby closing the door to the private life of the renowned novelist . . . until now.

6. The Secret Lives of People in Love by Simon Van Booy, which I purchased at the library sale for 50 cents.

The Secret Lives of People in Love is the first short story collection by award-winning writer Simon Van Booy. These stories, set in Kentucky, New York, Paris, Rome, and Greece, are a perfect synthesis of intensity and atmosphere. Love, loss, human contact, and isolation are Van Booy’s themes. In radiant prose he writes about the difficult choices we make in order to retain our humanity and about the redemptive power of love in a violent world. Included in this updated P.S. edition is the new story “The Mute Ventriloquist.”

7. Eight Silly Monkeys illustrated by Steven Haskamp, which I picked up for the girl in spite of her temper tantrum for 50 cents.

Get set for romping and rhyming fun! Young ones will love counting backwards as they watch eight monkeys disappear one by one with each turn of the page in this delightful tale. Eight Silly Monkeys features full-color illustrations, charming verse, and innovative die-cutting to reveal silly, touchable monkeys on each page. As fun to read as it is to listen to, this enjoyable rhyming adventure is a perfect read for ages 3 and up.

8. A Small Death in Lisbon by Robert Wilson, which I borrowed from the library since I’ve been inspired by this challenge to read more books about/set in Portugal, though I’m not limiting it to historical fiction or fiction — poetry works too.

In A Small Death in Lisbon, the narrative switches back and forth between 1941 and 1999, and Wilson’s wide knowledge of history and keen sense of place make the eras equally vibrant. In 1941 Germany, Klaus Felsen, an industrialist, is approached by the SS high command in a none-too-friendly manner and is “persuaded” to go to Lisbon and oversee the sale–or smuggling–of wolfram (also known as tungsten, used in the manufacture of tanks and airplanes). World War II Portugal is neutral where business is concerned, and too much of the precious metal is being sold to Britain when Germany needs it to insure that Hitler’s blitzkrieg is successful.

Cut to 1999 Lisbon, where the daughter of a prominent lawyer has been found dead on a beach. Ze Coehlo, a liberal police inspector who is a widower with a daughter of his own, must sift through the life of Catarina Oliviera and discover why she was so brutally murdered. Her father is enigmatic, her mother suicidal; her friends were rock musicians and drug addicts.

9. News from Heaven by Jennifer Haigh for a TLC Book Tour in February.

Now, in this collection of interconnected short stories, Jennifer Haigh returns to the vividly imagined world of Bakerton, Pennsylvania, a coal-mining town rocked by decades of painful transition. From its heyday during two world wars through its slow decline, Bakerton is a town that refuses to give up gracefully, binding—sometimes cruelly—succeeding generations to the place that made them. A young woman glimpses a world both strange and familiar when she becomes a live-in maid for a Jewish family in New York City. A long-absent brother makes a sudden and tragic homecoming. A solitary middle-aged woman tastes unexpected love when a young man returns to town. With a revolving cast of characters—many familiar to fans of Baker Towers—these stories explore how our roots, the families and places in which we are raised, shape the people we eventually become.

10. Baker Towers by Jennifer Haigh, which I received as part of the tour for the new book.

Bakerton is a community of company houses and church festivals, of union squabbles and firemen’s parades. Its neighborhoods include Little Italy, Swedetown, and Polish Hill. For its tight-knit citizens — and the five children of the Novak family — the 1940s will be a decade of excitement, tragedy, and stunning change. Baker Towers is a family saga and a love story, a hymn to a time and place long gone, to America’s industrial past, and to the men and women we now call the Greatest Generation. It is a feat of imagination from an extraordinary voice in American fiction, a writer of enormous power and skill.

Also, I’ve been remiss in talking about some of the Kindle books I’ve downloaded or gotten for review, and have reviewed one or two already without featuring them in Mailbox Monday.

11. Rules for Virgins by Amy Tan, downloaded for free.

12. Georgiana Darcy’s Diary: Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice continued (Pride and Prejudice Chronicles) by Anna Elliot, downloaded for free.

13. Becoming Elizabeth Darcy by Mary Lydon Simonsen, downloaded for free.

14. Monsters In My Closet by Ruby Urlocker, which I received for review and reviewed, here.

15. A Killing in Kensington (A Patrick Shea Mystery) by Mary Lydon Simonsen, which I downloaded for free.

16. Must Love Sandwiches (The Bartonville Series) by Janel Gradowski, which I got for review from the talented author.

17. Darcy Goes to War by Mary Lydon Simonsen, which I downloaded for free.

What did you receive?

Revenge (6:1 Series, Volume 2) by Janel Gradowski

Revenge (6:1 Series, Volume 2) by Janel Gradowski is even more well crafted than the first volume of short stories and flash fiction, beginning and ending with a wallop.  Once again there are six stories in this collection: “Persistent Foe,” “Kaboom,” “Check Out,” “Inconvenience,” “Anniversary,” and “Addendum.”  Some are longer than others, but each is well paced, with only one typical revenge story — “Kaboom.”

Agnes from “Persistent Foe” is the neighbor you wish you could be when you have loud, inconsiderate neighbors of your own.  While she does not complain too much outright and doesn’t call the cops, she exacts her revenge little by little each day envisioning a big payoff in the end.  And the ending of this one is inspired and unique. Gradowski does a great job of foreshadowing in this short story as well: “She plucked the invasive vine out the basket and dropped it into the tangle of weeds flourishing on the other side.  ‘Time to join your ancestors.'”  Readers will be sitting alongside Agnes as she watches the show unfold in her neighbors backyard one late evening.

“Kaboom” was the most predictable of the stories, but what made this one heart-pumping was the descriptions Gradowski uses as she tells the revenge yarn from the point of view of the perpetrator as she’s performing the act of revenge on her ex.  Meanwhile, Josie’s revenge is only possible because of Erik’s pride in “Check Out.”  Working as a grocery store check out clerk can be incredibly mundane and tiring, but there are moments in life when even that kind of job can be satisfying, especially when you exact revenge on a boy who ditches you across town.  “Inconvenience” brings to the surface many of the emotions that swirled about following the financial crisis and the persistent unemployment born by much of the U.S. population in recent years.  With bills to pay, should the “breadwinner” in the family swallow his pride and take any paying job to support the family, or should he hold out for a better position?  The short story tackles this question and more, but the revenge exacted in this story will leave readers agape.

“Anniversary” is not the happy occasion you expect, but it twists the idea of a celebration into a revenge scenario that celebrates the ability to break free.  Gary has some serious concerns about his wife and his boss, but being an accountant, he takes stock of the situation — its pros and cons — and comes up with the best solution for everyone.  Bartender Amelia doesn’t have a clue how her luck is about to change when Gary walks into her bar.  “Addendum” is one of the longer short stories in the collection, and Karen is a bit of an enigma given her risk averse mentality when it comes to guys and her reaction to her boyfriend Don’s cheating ways.  In an apartment that has eyes and ears in the form of Mrs. Conway, its hard to keep secrets.  “She was either a gossip super hero or had bugged everybody’s apartments with microphones and hidden cameras.”  Living under a microscope must have added undue pressure on Karen.  There is a great deal at work in this short story, and could be a precursor to something longer from Gradowski.

Revenge (6:1 Series, Volume 2) by Janel Gradowski is an even more well rounded collection of short stories and flash fiction pieces with characters that are dynamic and crafty.  The characters she creates in this collection will have readers snickering and smirking as they are reminded of the revenge plots they’ve created when wronged by lovers, neighbors, and friends.  Deliciously devilish, a joy to read.

About the Author:

Janel Gradowski grew up, and still lives, in the mitten of Michigan. She is a wife and mother whose writing companion is a crazy Golden Retriever named Cooper. In the past she has worked many jobs. Renting apartments, scorekeeping for a stock car racetrack and selling newspaper classified advertisements are some of the experiences that continue to provide inspiration for her stories. Now she writes short fiction and is also a beadwork designer and teacher.

Her work has appeared in many publications, both online and in print. The 6:1 Series features themed collections of her stories. Each volume will have six stories, a mix of flash and short fiction, that are based on the title’s theme.  Visit her blog, Janel’s Jumble.

***And yes, for those keeping track, this is the third item I’ve read on my Kindle.

Haunted (6:1 Series, Volume 1) by Janel Gradowski

Haunted (6:1 Series, Volume 1) by Janel Gradowski is part of her six stories with one theme series and was the first she published as an ebook after much success in publishing her flash fiction in literary journals.  This collection is a quick read and can be read in about a day.  There is a surprising breadth of characters and situations representing the theme from a woman haunted by her jilted lover to a ghost unaware of his present state.

There are six stories in the collection: “Sequestered,” “New Friends,” “Retirement,” “Grandma’s Treasures,” “Uncleansed,” and “Strangers.”  Each cast of characters is haunted in one way or another whether by the past, the supernatural, or their deeds.  Among some favorites in the collection are “Sequestered,” “Strangers,” “Grandma’s Treasures,” and “Uncleansed” that have very dynamic characters in normal situations that turn a bit abnormal.  However, “New Friends” reminded me of other stories involving ghost children causing mischief in houses and mothers who don’t believe their children at first and think that their kids are exhibiting signs of trauma.  Readers may want a new twist in this kind of story, but the characters of Wendy and her daughter Mia are playful and have a charming relationship that makes them endearing.

In “Sequestered,” Stacie is jilted by her fiance and escapes to the woods to forget.  Haunted by a unrequited love and a future that can never be, she gets more than she bargains for.  The ending will knock the socks off readers, and there are some great descriptions in this short story.

“Naked trees contorted like tortured skeletons in the frigid, autumn wind.”

“Wisps of fog rose from the lake’s glassy water, materializing like an army of ghosts.”

Even in “Retirement,” Gradowski has a way of painting the scene so that readers are captured by the moment and emotionally charged.  “Autumn thunderstorms are always more vicious than their summer counterparts, like they are enraged by the cold air.”  She generates the heartache of Cecily as a palpable being that reaches beyond the page, haunting not only the character created, but also the reader.

Readers can identify with the oddities of family members from the crazy grandmother to the strange behavior of parents after a tragic event and the rituals they rely upon to keep their sanity.  “Grandma’s Treasures” and “Uncleansed” explore these relationships and their odd rituals in a unique way and each story uncovers family secrets that the protagonists Lindsey and Eva, respectively, never expected.

Haunted (6:1 Series, Volume 1) by Janel Gradowski is an excellent debut from a talented flash fiction and short story writer.  Short story is a difficult form to generate connections between readers and characters, but Gradowski achieves this easily through her word choices and narrative flow.  Haunting prose, unique characters, and surprising twists will keep readers coming back for more.

About the Author:

Janel Gradowski grew up, and still lives, in the mitten of Michigan. She is a wife and mother whose writing companion is a crazy Golden Retriever named Cooper. In the past she has worked many jobs. Renting apartments, scorekeeping for a stock car racetrack and selling newspaper classified advertisements are some of the experiences that continue to provide inspiration for her stories. Now she writes short fiction and is also a beadwork designer and teacher.

Her work has appeared in many publications, both online and in print. The 6:1 Series features themed collections of her stories. Each volume will have six stories, a mix of flash and short fiction, that are based on the title’s theme.  Visit her blog, Janel’s Jumble.

***And yes, for those keeping track, this is the second item I’ve read on my Kindle.

This is my 44th book for the 2012 New Authors Challenge.