Reader Spotlight: Angela Holland

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As promised, this week I am featuring another reader here on Reade and Write. Welcome, Angela Holland!

How often do you read?

Every day.

What is the name of the last book you finished?

Newton & Polly by Jody Hedlund.

What are you reading now?

A Carol Christmas by Sheila Roberts.

What is your preferred genre?

Historical Fiction but I also enjoy cozy mysteries, romance and biographies.

How often do you venture outside your preferred genre?

Often.

What was the last book you read outside your preferred genre?

I am reading one now that is not historical fiction.

Are you in a book club?

Yes.

If so, what book did your club read last?

Sting by Sandra Brown

Where do you obtain most of the books you read- from a bookstore, online, the library, borrowed from a friend, etc.?

From Barnes and Noble and Amazon.

How do you decide which books to read?

First my genre and then by subject.

What is in your To-Be-Read pile?

I have many books in my TBR I am working my way through: Patience Griffin’s Quilts and Kilts Series as well as Laura Childs’s Tea Shop Mystery Series. 

Do you pay attention to especially bad reviews of books when deciding whether to buy or read them?

No. It seems that is people don’t like things, then I tend to like them.

Lots of people don’t have a favorite book for a variety of reasons. Do you have a favorite? What is it?

The Outlander Series by Diana Gabaldon is one of my favorites.

Where is your favorite reading spot?

Anywhere and everywhere.

Anything else you want me to know?

I have loved reading since I was little girl and never leave home without a book.

Thank you, Angela! I’ve enjoyed getting to know more about you and your reading habits!

Until next time,

Amy

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Reader Spotlight: Fiona McVie

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In the second installment of my Reader Spotlight series, I’d like to introduce everyone to Fiona McVie, probably the most prolific author interviewer I’ve ever known! Fiona lives in Scotland and has an impressive portfolio of interviews on her website and Facebook page. Welcome, Fiona!

How often do you read?

I read every day, I always take a book when travelling on the bus to work or train to the city.

 

What is the name of the last book you finished?

Gabriel by M.A Abraham

 

What are you reading now?

Marious’ Story by M.A Abraham and Temptation in a Kilt by Victoria Roberts.

 

What is your preferred genre?

I read all genre as long as the book is well written I will read it.

 

Are you in a book club?

No.

 

Where do you obtain most of the books you read- from a bookstore, online, the library, borrowed from a friend, etc.?

I buy my books from book shops, supermarkets and Amazon.

 

How do you decide which books to read?
Cover most times.

 

What is in your To-Be-Read pile?
Too many to count I have over 200 on my wish list at Amazon and slowly buying a few each month.

 

Do you pay attention to especially bad reviews of books when deciding whether to buy or read them?

No everyone has a different thought about a book. One person might hate it while another will love the book. I make up my own mind.

 

Lots of people don’t have a favorite book for a variety of reasons. Do you have a favorite? What is it?

I don’t have any favorite book. I like so far all the books I have brought over the years.

 

Where is your favorite reading spot?
Nope I read anywhere: bus, train, bed, on a hill.

 

Anything else you want me to know?

I love reading so much I started a blog where I interview authors. You can check it out here: www.authorsinterviews.wordpress.com. I also write poems. Here are 2 of my poems:
Hero

You are my hero, Dad
You’re my secure foundation.
When I think of you, I’m filled with love
And fond appreciation.
You make me feel protected;
I’m sheltered by your care.
You’re always my true friend; and Dad,
When I need you, you’re always there.
You have a place of honor
Deep within my heart.
You’ve been my superhero, Dad,
Right from the very start.

2ed of June 1940 to 31st of December 1991 RIP

 
My little angel above
My little angel above
My heart sinks when I think
That God took you away from me
At 12 hours old

He must have something special for you
As it is just the good he takes
And I know your dad
Will look after you up there

I know you are looking down on me
On your angel cloud
But it does not stop me
Being heartbroken

John-Andrew 24/12/1980 – 25/121980

 

Those are beautiful. Thanks for being on Reade and Write, Fiona.

Until next week,

Amy

Back to School

It’s that time of year again…back to school! Millions of kids all over the country are feeling apprehensive, excited, nervous, and keyed up over starting new classes, meeting new teachers, and seeing all their friends again. My kids are no exception. Two of them are starting new schools (high school and middle school), and the third is starting the downhill journey to the end of high school.

Millions of parents all over the country are feeling apprehensive, excited, nervous, and keyed up, too, but for different reasons. They’re thinking the same things that parents think every year: where did the summer go? Will the kids like their teachers? How can school supplies cost so much?

I have mixed feelings when the kids go back to school. Part of me is glad to get my schedule back; I can work in silence and get a lot more writing done. The house is finally clean. But I always end up wishing we had done more over the summer. I wish we had taken that bike trip to Delaware and I wish we had gone to the botanical garden that’s nearby. We’re still planning on going to both those places, but it will be in the fall. And the fall calendar is already filling up quickly.

This year has me thinking about back-to-schools of the past. I know I’m revealing my age here, but I remember when school shopping was done once a year, in August. Our family would pile into the car and drive 75 miles to the nearest shopping mall for a very long day of picking out the clothes that would take us through the school year. Corduroys? Check. Blouses? Check. Jacket for spring and fall? Check. Dress? Check. We got shoes, too, and an ice cream cone if we were good. And we weren’t alone. Families everywhere were making that same trip, buying clothes and shoes that would last the kids all year, and getting ice cream as a reward for behaving.

There was always something very exciting about getting school supplies, too. But back then school supplies were very different from the ones we buy today. We needed notebooks and folders back then, plus one blue pen, one black pen, and a few pencils. Some kids even got Trapper Keepers. Now we need nylon book covers (remember when book covers were made at home out of paper bags? We could decorate them however we wanted!), folders in five different colors, six glue sticks no matter what grade the child is in, 4 packs of Post-It notes, binders varying in size from 1/2 inch to 2 inches depending upon the class, a flash drive, an obscenely expensive calculator, crayons, colored markers, colored pencils, composition notebooks, and an exhaustive arm-length list of a gazillion other things that we never used to need. I’ll never forget the year my son had to send in 96 sharpened pencils on the first day of school.

Really? 96?

And school is different now, too. Very different. Just today my oldest child was telling me that the hardest part of the PSAT she took last year was writing the no-cheating pledge in cursive. She said the kids needed extra time to write the pledge because none of them knew cursive writing. I think that’s a shame, because cursive writing is so much more beautiful than printing in the hands of someone who knows how to do it correctly. And the stuff my kids are reading in English? I read some of it and it makes my blood run cold. Whatever happened to Charles Dickens? Whatever happened to Thomas Hardy? Right now my daughter is in the dining room reading a story that has a horrific amount of violence in it, a book that is required reading for AP English. I don’t know how she’s able to get through it. She reads passages to me and they make me sick.

But kids are learning so much more than I used to learn in school, too. One of my kids is taking a class in art appreciation this year. That wasn’t an option for me until I went to college. And two of them will be taking their standardized state tests online this year, if I understand it correctly. My girls are taking classes that were never available to me in high school, and they know so much more than I did at their ages. I’m very impressed. My son, too, is much further ahead of where I was in sixth grade. He knows more about computers than I’ll ever know. I was a senior in high school when I first tried coding, and I’ve not done any since then. I have a feeling he’ll be writing computer code before he finishes middle school.

So back-to-school is bittersweet. It reminds me every year that time marches on whether I’m ready for it or not, and that things are always changing. Sometimes the change is for the better, sometimes not. And someday my own kids will reminisce about their back-to-school days with a mixture of happiness and sadness, just like me.

Ode to the Cookbook

Before I begin, I’d like to thank everyone who has purchased my book, either in paperback or ebook form. It’s getting some really nice reviews online, and I appreciate each and every one of you. And if you’ve read the book and enjoyed it, please consider putting up a review on Amazon or Goodreads. Reviews are greatly appreciated by all authors!

This week I am blogging about a subject near and dear to my heart: cooking. Specifically, cookbooks and how much I love them.

There are certain people in my family (they know who they are) who read cookbooks like novels, and I am proud to count myself among them. (Incidentally, my family is also made up of fabulous cooks, and I get my love of cooking from them. Note that I didn’t say I am a fabulous cook myself, but I do love the process). I like to curl up with a good cookbook just like many other people do with thrillers and romances. I love those books, too, but there’s just something about cookbooks that is different from any other type of reading.

Whenever I eat a meal at home by myself, there is always a cookbook or a cooking magazine next to me. When I need to take a break from writing or editing or research, I reach for a cookbook. Sometimes I’ll read a cookbook before I go to sleep at night.

Just today, my husband was trying to have a conversation with me while I perused the pages of a cookbook devoted entirely to macadamia nuts. I have casserole cookbooks, dessert cookbooks, an ahi tuna cookbook, a Halloween cookbook, a million Christmas cookbooks, and even a butter cookbook. I also have countless regular cookbooks- you know, the ones with thousands of recipes of every variety. Think Better Homes and Gardens with the red-and-white checkered binder. One of the things I love to do is to find new recipes for my weekly menu. If nothing in my millions of recipes sounds good at the moment I make my grocery list, I go with one of the tried-and-true favorites, like tacos or Greek chicken salad, but I do like to try something new as often as I can.

Cooking is how I relax. It’s how I show people I love them. I love to cook for friends and family; I cook as often as I can for people who have been sick and for mission groups that come to my church.

My favorite thing to cook, unfortunately, is dessert. I love making anything sweet. Luckily for me, my husband does not love dessert, so I don’t make it all the time. If I did, we’d all be fifty pounds heavier. The kids love it when I make dessert, though, so I do try to have it once in a while.

If any of you have visited my website, you’ll see that I have a section devoted to wines that I enjoy. The truth is that I also wanted to include a section devoted to the meals that my characters eat. My first book, Secrets of Hallstead House, has lots of meals in it. My hope was to include recipes for all the dishes I named in the book, but in the end I decided that I didn’t have the time to make up and test the recipes for those meals. My second book, The Ghosts of Peppernell Manor, has food in it, too, but not as much as in the first book. And I can’t wait to start writing my third book. I don’t have a name for it yet, but the main character is a personal chef in Hawaii. That’s right- a book that combines two of my great loves- Hawaii and food!

One of my favorite cookbooks (don’t laugh) is Cooking with Mickey and the Disney Chefs. It’s full of recipes from the various Disney properties. It’s got everything in it from Coconut Curried Chicken Stew from Boma-Flavors of Africa at Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge to Fantasia Cheesecake from Plaza Inn on Main Street, USA, to Grapefruit Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting from the Hollywood Brown Derby. But my hands-down favorite is Canadian Cheddar Cheese Soup from Le Cellier Steakhouse at EPCOT. My son, whose normal response to my home-cooked meals is “I hate chicken” or “can I just have cereal?” begs for this cheese soup all year long. Fortunately for our waistlines, I only make it in the fall.

There’s a movie out right now called “The Hundred-Foot Journey.” I can’t wait to see it. I don’t go to the movies often, but this is one I want to see in the theater rather than waiting for its release on DVD. It’s about a family from India that wants to open a restaurant in a small town in France. It’s actually based on a book of the same name by Richard Morais, and I may just have to read the book first.

So what’s on the menu at your house this week? Got any good recipes that you’d like to share?

Until next week,

Amy

The Electronic-Free Zone

I’ve been sending you all over the web the last couple of weeks, so today you get a break. You can stay right here and read my rant about kids and electronics.

As you may know, I have three children. When they were infants, then babies, then toddlers, then school-aged, I read to them constantly. I continued to read to them as they got older, probably long past the time when many parents stop reading to their children. I loved reading to them.

But something else happened as they grew older–they started to spend more time on their electronics than reading books. And by electronics I mean anything that can be plugged in or has a battery. This list includes, but is not limited to, television, DVD players, computers, video games, tablets, cell phones, and personal electronics of the iPod variety. I understand that my husband and I are at least partially responsible for this (when the electronics are on, the kids aren’t interacting. No interacting means no fighting and the lure of peace and quiet is just too much to resist sometimes), but we’re not going to accept full blame. We still encourage reading every single day, but the kids are old enough now to be making decisions for themselves. And they are choosing, to our great dismay, to spend time on electronics instead of with books.

Raise your hand if you remember spending summers as a kid playing outside and spending all your indoor time with your nose stuck in a book.

Sadly, for our family as well as for many, many other families, this just doesn’t happen anymore without a great deal of argument. The kids want to play games on the tv or the computer or their handheld devices. They want to read the latest funny Tweets and the latest gruesome food challenges that somebody has dreamed up.

What to do?

In all fairness, I don’t like to spend tons of time outside in the summertime because it’s just way too hot and humid. And my kids don’t like the beach, which is just a couple minutes away and to which almost every other family in our area flocks in the summer. So we’re a bit stuck indoors sometimes, and I’m okay with that.

But what happens when we’re stuck indoors? Inevitably someone wants to turn on some electronic and spend hours upon hours with his or her face glued to an LED screen becoming visibly dumber.

So we’ve instituted electronic-free days in our house. We’re having one today (electronic-free does not apply to my husband or to me, since we’re both working, but it might be an interesting experiment). I must admit, it’s not going well. My husband and I are both working, so the kids are fighting like cats. I have been tempted at least eight thousand times to let them back on their electronics just to get some work done.

But I work through the noise and try to get them to solve their own problems, and we continue to have the electronic-free days because I am convinced that eventually they will do something with their time that is creative, imaginative, and fun.

A friend of mine has a rule at her house–if one of her sons wants to play an electronic, he is allowed to play for 15 minutes after he has read for 20 minutes. I think it’s a great idea; we may institute it in our house.

There are other things we can do to keep the kids off electronics, too. My son went to Boy Scout camp for a week and had fun. One of my daughters will be a camp counselor for a week in August. One of my daughters has a job that keeps her busy during the days. We try to do things outside when it’s not too hot, like bike riding and going for walks.

And there’s always my favorite solution: read a book!! I am constantly offering to take them to the library. In fact, they’ve taken me up on today’s offer and we’re leaving as soon as I’ve written this post.

But I’m always looking for new ideas. What about it, readers? Any good ideas for keeping the kids off electronics during the summer?

Until next time,

Amy

It’s Summertime!

Summer is officially here and I’ve been thinking this week of all the things I associate with summer.

Before I go any further, let me clue you into something: summer is my fourth favorite season, so the things I associate with summer aren’t always happy. Like mosquitoes and gnats and sunburn and lethargy.

But summer has its good points, too, so not everything about it is unpleasant. For example, the best fruit of the whole year is ripe and local in summer. And I like to walk barefoot in the grass. And speaking of grass, is there any better smell than fresh-cut grass? And don’t forget the fireworks on the Fourth of July.

Interestingly, I went to a workshop at my local library a few years ago and the first writing prompt the instructor gave the class was to write down all the words we could think of that reminded us of summer. What came out of that class was actually the beginning of my novel Secrets of Hallstead House. It started out as a story that took place in the summertime, but as it began to take shape I felt it worked better if it took place during the fall.

I still have that list of all my summer words, though. Here are some of the happy things I wrote: going to the beach, hanging laundry outside, summer rains, nesting turtles, sangria, fresh tomatoes, watermelon, sprinklers, and fireflies.

But here are some other not-so-great things about summer, not all of which made it onto my list: that bitter smell of hot asphalt, bugs, humidity, bugs, sweat that drips in my eyes, ice cream that melts too fast, and bugs.

My post this week is short so you can get out there and enjoy your summer. But if you’re interested, here’s a writing prompt for you:

What is your favorite summer memory? I’d love to hear about it!

Until next week,

Amy

The Thousand Islands

As regular readers of my blog know, my first novel, Secrets of Hallstead House, is coming out in July. It’s set in the Thousand Islands. For those of you who aren’t lucky enough to be familiar with the region, the Thousand Islands is an area that stretches for about fifty miles from Southern Ontario, Canada, into Northern New York.

Here’s a good way to picture it: if you think of the St. Lawrence River as a huge unclasped necklace, the Thousand Islands are its emerald jewels.

Part of my goal in writing the novel was to acquaint readers with the region. I’m hoping this blog post will serve as a primer for people who don’t know the area and as a good memory for those who do know it.

I grew up close to the river, and I spent lots of time there as a child and young adult. The place I remember most vividly is an island called Lazy Bea Isle. It’s not known by that name anymore because it has changed owners, but the island used to belong to my grandmother’s aunt and uncle and I spent lots of time there as a child. We used to stay there during the summer sometimes. It was never like camping, which I don’t love, because there was a big cottage and a bathroom and shower and kitchen and all the things one needs for comfort. It always smelled like pine trees. We used to pick huckleberries from the wild bushes that grew there and we could go fishing and swimming right off the rocks in front of the cottage. The island wasn’t far from Schermerhorn’s Landing; we could walk through the woods near Schermerhorn’s and row a small boat that was kept there over to the island. Or we could hop on my grandfather’s boat at the landing and take the long way ’round.

My grandfather’s boat is another thing I remember well. He and my grandmother and the six people in my family would pile in on a Saturday and just ride around for a few hours. We would take a cooler with lunch and there was always Fresca, which is still my favorite soda. My grandfather kept his boat until I was in my 20s, when he finally had to sell it.

And then there’s Boldt Castle, which makes an appearance in my book. It’s an actual castle located on Heart Island, not far from Alexandria Bay, NY. The three photos below, taken by H. Ross Ney, give a glimpse of its splendor and magnificence. If you ever have a chance to visit the Thousand Islands, don’t leave until you’ve toured Boldt Castle.

Amy Picture 2

Amy Picture 3

Amy Picture 1

The St. Lawrence River is where I learned to water ski, too. I always wished I could be as good as my aunt, but I never achieved that kind of skill. I had a hard time jumping the wake, so I always stayed inside its boundaries. She could ski inside or outside the wake, and on one foot. I couldn’t do that, either. It’s been a long time since I was on water skis and I’ll probably never do it again, but it’s a great memory that I cherish.

My favorite memories are really more of a feeling than a remembrance of certain places. It was a feeling of freedom, of joy, of amazement at the size and majesty of the river, the different beauty of each island, the quiet, and the sheer fun of being on the water. The memories are part of me. I hope that someday you have a chance to visit this wonderful place.

Many thanks to Ross Ney for taking the time to send me the beautiful pictures of the castle and the river.

What are your favorite memories of growing up? I’d love to hear them.

Until next week,

Amy