LIGHT from DISTANT STARS: Lone Star Book Blog Tour and Review

LIGHT from DISTANT STARS
by
SHAWN SMUCKER
Genre: Christian Fiction / Magical Realism / Rural Fiction
Publisher: Revell
Date of Publication: July 16, 2019
Number of Pages: 400
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When Cohen Marah steps over his father’s body in the basement embalming room of the family’s funeral home, he has no idea that he is stepping into a labyrinth of memory.

Over the next week, Cohen’s childhood comes back in living color. The dramatic events that led to his parents’ separation. The accident Cohen witnessed and the traumatic images he couldn’t unsee. And the two children in the forest who became his friends–and enlisted him in a dark and dangerous undertaking. As the lines blur between what was real and what was imaginary, Cohen is faced with the question he’s been avoiding:

Is he responsible for his father’s death?

Master story weaver Shawn Smucker relays a tale both eerie and enchanting, one that will have you questioning reality and reaching out for what is true, good, and genuine.

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Four Stars
     Have you ever finished reading a book and not known how to react to it because it is so different from anything you’ve ever read? LIGHT from DISTANT STARS is that kind of book.
     The story is dark, often foreboding, definitely intense, and the reader is challenged to discern the imaginary from reality. It is a different kind of reading experience that results in a very visceral reaction. You’re not so much reading about something or someone, but intimately experiencing events and emotions. It is not only an eerie sensation but at times it can be deeply disturbing.
     The narrative is driven by the protagonist’s childhood memories.  Cohen Marah’s flashbacks recall his love for the game of baseball, youthful infatuation with a Sunday school teacher, disillusionment, jealousy, and betrayal after finding out that she is having an affair with the church minister (his own father), the breakup of his family, a car crash, arson, murder, and a dramatic confrontation with “the Beast.”
     Guilt, regret, confession, and absolution are central Christian themes that weave in and out of Shawn Smucker’s story. After Cohen finds his father’s body in a pool of blood at the family’s funeral home, he wonders whether he could be responsible. Was this an accident or attempted suicide? If the latter, did he push his father into taking his own life?
     As the investigation into what happened proceeds, and as his father lies dying in the hospital, Cohen also must try to help a young boy dealing with the disappearance of his mother, the death of his grandfather, and his abusive father’s reaction. It becomes a struggle between the forces of good and evil, darkness and light.
     We are all reeling from things done to us in the past or from things we have done. But  through reflection and acknowledgement of the truth Cohen comes full circle, renewing his faith in God and love for his family.
     Light from Distant Stars is an apt metaphor that draws comparisons between a star’s creation in the heavens, the hundreds of light years its energy must travel for us to perceive it today, and the amount of time that it takes to look back on the events and people that have had an impact on our lives and put them into perspective. It is often difficult to discern what is true, good, or genuine in life. Only the passage of time provides the context that allows us to make sense of things that in the moment we did not understand.
     Without a doubt Shawn Smucker has written a very thought provoking book. I was provided an advanced copy in exchange for my honest reaction to it.

 

Shawn Smucker is the author of the young adult novels The Day the Angels Fell and The Edge of Over There, as well as the memoir Once We Were Strangers. He lives with his wife and six children in the city of Lancaster, Pennsylvania.

 


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Copy of Light from Distant Stars
+ Look to the Stars 8”x5” Journal + $25 Barnes & Noble Gift Card; 
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July 17-27, 2019
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CHECK OUT THE OTHER GREAT BLOGS ON THE TOUR:
7/17/19
Excerpt
7/17/19
BONUS post
7/18/19
Review
7/19/19
Excerpt
7/20/19
Review
7/21/19
Playlist
7/22/19
Review
7/23/19
Author Interview
7/23/19
BONUS Review
7/24/19
Top Five
7/25/19
Review
7/26/19
Review
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Strength, Hope, Courage, Faith, Love

American Cancer Society LogoThese five words are imprinted on a wristband that I’ve worn for almost two years as a former high school classmate and fellow brother-in-arms fought against the ravages of brain cancer. Colonel Emil “Mickey” Meis lost that fight July 8, 2019.

I have no words to adequately express my feelings at this moment. My heartfelt condolences go out to his family and they are certainly in my prayers. I also find myself reflecting on my own situation and the loss of other friends and family to cancer.

Everyone at some point in their life either as a patient, friend, relative, or caregiver has been affected by this devastating disease. I was diagnosed with Stage IV throat cancer in 2014. Five years later (after chemotherapy, radiation, and surgery) my cancer remains in remission, while so many others passed away – Don Kirkland, Rick Wilson, Alex Calderon, Al Billington, George Cichy, and now Mickey Meis. Their deaths will stay with me forever, and anyone reading this post can substitute or add names that reflect their own personal experiences. The pain and suffering are universal.

Everyone who died deserved better. They deserved to live out their lives cancer free experiencing all the joys and sorrow that life has to offer. Instead, in spite of courageous efforts to beat the odds, the disease took them away.

As a survivor, I’m left wondering… why them? My faith sustained me as did the well wishes and prayers of countless individuals in my corner, and I had excellent doctors and nurses at the Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio. Yet the same can be said for the victims listed above. They had comparable professional care and they were devout in their religious beliefs. So, how is it that I’m here pondering their loss?

I’m left with a lot of questions that I cannot answer. Faith is a mystery and medical research has yet to fully comprehend the disease or come up with a cure. This year alone, just in the United States, The American Cancer Society estimates that there will be 1,762,450 new cancer cases and 606,880 deaths.

I intend to continue wearing my wristband in memory of Mickey and all those who have died, in support of everyone currently undergoing treatment, and as an advocate for everyone just learning of their diagnosis. The words Strength, Hope, Courage, Faith and Love lift me up. Let them also be the bywords that sustain you and yours in this ongoing struggle.

 

The Pale Horseman: My Review

The Pale Horseman Book CoverThe Pale Horseman by Bernard Cornwell continues the story of Uhtred Ragnarson. He first appeared in Book One of the Saxon Tales, The Last Kingdom (see my previous blog post dated Dec 7, 2018.)

The story picks up ten years later. The year is 877 A.D. and the Saxons have ruled the lands that one day will become Britain since the fifth century, but now the kingdoms of Northumbria, Mercia, and East Anglia have all fallen to the Danes. Only the kingdom of Wessex, under the rule of King Alfred (later known to history as Alfred the Great), continues to hold out against the Danish onslaught. However, Alfred is a sickly ruler who has been forced into hiding in the swamps after his defeat at the Battle of Cippinham. Surrounded on all sides, his only hope of beating back the Vikings now rests with Uhtred of Bebbanburg.

Uhtred is only twenty years old with torn allegiances. He was born Saxon but raised by the Viking Ragnar. That upbringing has left him a pagan at heart. He worships the old gods and has contempt for both Alfred and Christianity; both are weak in his estimation. However, to reclaim his birthright and repossess his lands in Northumbria he must pledge his allegiance and his sword to Alfred and the Saxon cause.

Much of the book looks at the relationship between Alfred and Uhtred. Alfred is devout in his faith and abhors Uhtred’s pagan beliefs… his worship of Odin and Thor and his love of the Viking warrior lifestyle. Uhtred disdains weakness and cannot fathom a religion that preaches love of your enemies, a god that would willingly die on the cross, priests that would martyr themselves to spread his message, or a king determined to protect the faith. Yet, both men see something in the other and forge an alliance. The dynamics of that union play out in their efforts to defeat the Viking Guthrum.

The Pale Horseman doesn’t spare the reader from Britain’s violent past. Bernard Cornwell’s descriptions of battle are graphic yet necessary in capturing the reality of the times. He is a gifted writer of historical fiction and this second entry into the series takes us up to the Battle of Ethandum in 878 where Alfred met and defeated Guthrum’s Danes in spite of overwhelming odds.

The title of the book comes from The Book of Revelation 6:7-8.

I looked, and behold, an ashen horse; and he who sat upon it had the name Death; and Hades was following with him. Authority was given to them over a fourth of the earth, to kill with sword and with famine and with pestilence and by the wild beasts of the earth. 

It is an apt metaphor for the Viking raids that threatened Britain in the ninth century.

 

Tarnished Brass: Cover Reveal & Update

Published Book CoverPart of the process of being a writer is to explore different formats and genres. To date, I’ve published a memoir, a novel, and my latest book, Tarnished Brass, is a novella.

While the scope of a novella is far less broad than a novel, it still entails a detailed exploration of subject matter with more fully developed characters and plot than a short story allows. Its concise nature definitely results in a quick read — individuals may find themselves completing this type of book in a single sitting — but it shouldn’t lessen the reader’s enjoyment or involvement in the story.

Tarnished Brass is historical fiction. It examines the civil war that was fought in El Salvador from 1980 to 1992, and the consequences of that conflict as seen through the perspectives of a US Army officer, a guerrilla leader, and a refugee turned gang member.

Though a work of fiction, I drew upon my experiences from 1984 to 1986, as well as more recent trips in-country to tell this story. Anyone looking to understand past US foreign policy as well as current events (the rise of MS-13 and the immigration crisis on our southern border) should find the story compelling.

Earlier projections for a June release have been revised. Final edits are ongoing and the book should be available late Summer. I’ll post the press release when the book becomes available for purchase, but if you happen to be in San Antonio on July 29th, come to the San Antonio A&M Club at Aggie Park for their Monday Luncheon. I’ll be the guest speaker for a pre-release discussion. Doors open at 11:00 a.m. and my talk begins at noon. Hope to see you there!

 

 

 

STIPULATIONS & COMPLICATIONS: Lone Star Book Blog Tour and Review

 STIPULATIONS &
  COMPLICATIONS
by
BECKI WILLIS
Genre: Cozy Mystery / Romance / Women Sleuths
Publisher: Clear Creek Publishing
Date of Publication: June 15, 2016
Number of Pages: 365

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S&C Book Cover

Life comes with stipulations.

If you want to fit into last year’s swimsuit, you can’t eat ice cream and a Gennydoodle cookie after every meal.

If you want to go to Heaven, you can’t raise Hell on Saturday night and show up in the church pew on Sunday morning, hungover and reeking of cheap perfume.

And if you want your hundred-year-old mansion completely updated and remodeled for free, you have to sacrifice.

Stipulations, my child.

–              Granny Bert Cessna

Now that Madison Reynolds has agreed to be part of a reality-television home remodeling show, she barely recognizes her own life. The show is an instant success, bringing cameras and reporters right to her doorstep, eager to chronicle her every move in the small Texas town.

With In a Pinch Temporary Services hovering on the thin line between prosperity and extinction, Madison takes on another quirky case, this one concerning a property dispute. Complications turn a simple mission into all-out danger, and once again Madison finds herself embroiled in an intriguing mystery.

Between her cantankerous grandmother, a moody teenage daughter, an ever-starving son, townspeople eager to grab their fifteen minutes of fame at her expense, and a mother-in-law appalled by her undignified foray into the public eye, Madison had her hands full, long before the skeleton was discovered. Now work is interrupted at the Big House, ghost stories abound, more secret passages have been unearthed, and someone is trying to scare her away from her new home.

What she needs is another session of Brash deCordova’s unique ‘river therapy’… not to mention the kiss that eludes them with frustrating regularity

What she gets is another round of stipulations and complications.

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June 20-26, 2019

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Four Stars
     It takes a gifted writer to create characters, a setting, and a story line that spans eight novels, and keeps the reader invested in each new book in the series. Author Becki Willis has done just that!
     The third book in the Texas Series – The Sisters, STIPULATIONS and Complications, uses elements of romance, mystery, and even the paranormal to continue the story of Madison (Maddy) Reynolds and a cast of homegrown characters that live in The Sisters (the twin small towns of Juliet and Naomi, Texas.)
     Maddy’s arrangement to finance the renovation of a 100 year old mansion has turned her life completely upside down. “It is out of control, under a microscope, and scrutinized by everyone.” There’s the television crew, the townspeople, and even her own children, all affecting her ability to make the right decisions.
     Romantically, she is attracted to the star of the popular television show Home Again, Nick Vilardi, but her feelings for her teenage crush Brash deCordova go much deeper. However, it’s only been a few months since the death of her husband. Should she act on her feelings? And, if so, how will that be perceived by the public, or more importantly her daughter Bethani, who adored her late father? Believing Brash to be the perfect man for her, she proceeds cautiously. But she also knows that… “Perfect never lasts. Perfect’s not real.”
     To complicate matters, Brash is the chief of police, who must now solve the mystery of a decomposed body found in the Big House. Who is it and was foul play involved? There are rumors of ghosts and disgruntled spirits haunting the old mansion, and it is apparent that something or someone doesn’t want its secrets revealed. How far are they willing to go to prevent their discovery?
     Maddy also has ongoing sleuthing of her own unrelated to the Big House. In a Pinch Temporary Services, the company she founded, currently has two ongoing inquiries.  Lisa Redmond has hired Maddy to find out if her husband is having an affair, while simultaneously she also is looking into an acrimonious property dispute between the Wynn and Adams families. The property in question is unusable, so why is there a contentious fight over ownership of the land?
     All of these plots and many more play out in Becki Willis’ engaging and entertaining book. In fact, STIPULATIONS and Complications could easily describe the challenges of writing an entry into an ongoing series like The Sisters. Not every author can pull it off!
     In many ways the book reminds me of the cinema matinees of years gone bye. They were always cliff-hangers inviting you… no, compelling you to return to find out what happens next. I certainly recommend that you acquaint yourself with Madison Reynolds and don’t just pick up a copy of The Sisters, STIPULATIONS and Complications. Read the entire series. What better way to while away to the summer or relax at the beach!
Becki Willis, best known for her popular The Sisters, Texas Mystery Series and Forgotten Boxes, always dreamed of being an author. In November of ’13, that dream became a reality. 
 
Since that time, she has published numerous books, won first place honors for Best Mystery Series, Best Suspense Fiction, Best Women’s Detective Fiction, and Best Audio Book, won the 2018 RONE Award for Paranormal Fiction, and has introduced her imaginary friends to readers around the world. 

An avid history buff, Becki likes to poke around in old places and learn about the past. Other addictions include reading, writing, junking, unraveling a good mystery, and coffee. She loves to travel but believes coming home to her family and her Texas ranch is the best part of any trip. Becki is a member of the Association of Texas Authors, Writer’s League of Texas, Sisters in Crime, the National Association of Professional Women, and the Brazos Writers organization. She attended Texas A&M University and majored in Journalism.

Connect with Becki below. She loves to hear from readers and encourages feedback!
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June 20-30, 2019

(U.S. Only)
VISIT THE OTHER GREAT BLOGS ON THE TOUR:
6/20/19
Chicken Scratch, #1
6/20/19
When the Stars Fall, #2
6/21/19
Stipulations & Complications, #3
6/22/19
Home Again: Starting Over, #4
6/23/19
Genny’s Ballad, #5
6/24/19
Christmas in The Sisters, #6
6/25/19
The Lilac Code, #7
6/26/19
Wildflower Wedding, #8
6/26/19
Wildflower Wedding, #8
6/27/19
Wildflower Wedding, #8
6/27/19
Wildflower Wedding, #8
6/28/19
Wildflower Wedding, #8
6/28/19
Wildflower Wedding, #8
6/29/19
Wildflower Wedding, #8
6/29/19
Wildflower Wedding, #8
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Max… Attacks: Lone Star Book Blog Tours Book Blitz & Giveaway

MAX … ATTACKS
by
KATHI APPELT
illustrated by Penelope Dullaghan
Children’s Picture Book / Humor / Stories in Verse
Publisher: Atheneum / Caitlyn Dlouhy Books
Date of Publication: June 11, 2019
Number of Pages: 40Scroll down for the giveaway!


 

Fish and birds and lizards and socks…is there anything Max won’t attack? 

 

Watch your ankles and find out in this clever, rhyming picture book about a very naughty kitty cat. Max is a cat. He attacks. From socks to strings to many a fish, attacking, for Max, is most de-lish. But how many of these things can he actually catch? Well, let’s just say it’s no even match.




Kathi Appelt is the author of the Newbery Honoree, National Book Award finalist, PEN USA Literary Award–winning, and bestselling The Underneath as well as the National Book Award finalist The True Blue Scouts of Sugar Man Swamp, Maybe a Fox (with Alison McGhee), Keeper, and many picture books including Counting Crows and Max … Attacks

 
She has two grown children and lives in College Station, Texas, with her husband and their six cats. She serves as a faculty member at Vermont College of Fine Arts in their MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults program.
Penelope Dullaghan is an award-winning illustrator whose work includes illustrations for ad campaigns, book publishers, magazines, newspapers, products, videos and most recently, children. Max … Attacks is her debut picture book.
 
Penelope works from her home studio in Indianapolis, Indiana where she also home schools her daughter, plays in the river behind her house, and tends to her front-yard garden.
 
She is especially interested in collaborating with brands that support sustainability, simplicity, and wellness. Connect with Penelope on her Website.
 
The real Max was neither blue, nor did he have a switchy tail. In fact, he didn’t have a tail at all. He was an American Bobtail, almost fire red, and in his prime he weighed in at over twenty pounds. For seventeen years, he served as best friend and roommate to the author’s oldest son Jacob Appelt, who adopted Max from the local animal shelter. Together they wrote music, traveled, entertained friends and family, and kept an eye on the neighborhood parrots. Even though Max was famous for attacking anything that moved, he was, and always will be, the biggest, sweetest cat ever! 
 
And many thanks to Jacob for the line: “a mighty nap attacked our Max.” Best line in the book!
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June 11-22, 2019
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June 6, 1944

Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial

The 75th anniversary of the Allied invasion of German-occupied France will be observed today on the beaches in Normandy, at Pointe du Hoc, at the nearby town of Sainte-Mere-Eglise, and at the American cemetery at Colleville-sur-Mer. These will be solemn tributes to the thousands of men who gave their lives to begin the reclamation of Europe from Adolf Hitler’s Third Reich. The Nazis had suppressed freedom for four long years and the fate of the world hung in the balance as the largest seaborne invasion in history landed troops on a fifty mile-wide stretch of beach on the coast of France.

None of the Allied objectives were achieved on that first day at the staggering cost of over 10,000 lives in the first twenty-four hours. Alone, 2,400 casualties (killed, wounded, or missing) occurred at “Bloody Omaha Beach.” It took tremendous courage, sacrifice, perseverance and determination to finally break through the coastal defenses and begin movement inland. The liberation of Paris would follow in August 1944, but the unconditional  surrender of all German forces would not come until May 7, 1945. Neither would have been possible without the success of “Operation Overlord.”

Dignitaries from the United States, Britain, France, and Canada will honor the dead as well as the veterans still living today. Due to the passage of time, only a handful remain. They’re in their 90’s now and this will be the last major celebration for those that survived the chaos and carnage of that day. They should be honored for their bravery and certainly world leaders will speak to their heroism. The Press will cover the speeches and most Americans will take pride in their words, but that remembrance will be fleeting. Less than 1% of our country’s population serves in the military. Few have any personal knowledge of the sacrifices made by our military members and their families, and they go about their lives without much reflection on wars past or present.

So, how will you observe D-Day?

I would be in France if I could to be a part of this last great celebration. I’d like to meet face-to-face with the veterans and hear their stories. Their numbers are dwindling and their first-hand recollections are all but gone. Their pride in being a member of the Greatest Generation and their pain over the loss of their friends and comrades will recede from public consciousness. Soon, their recollections will be just words in a history book.

I can’t be there, so I’ll watch the news. I’ll read the paper. I’ll put on my two favorite movies about D-Day, The Longest Day and Saving Private Ryan. These are insufficient gestures at best, but at least I’ll be remembering. For me it is a very emotional journey back in time. We face a far different world today thanks to their sacrifices. However, it is one no less dangerous. Threats evolve and echoes of the past remain. The 9,388 crosses and Stars of David at Colleville-sur-Mer remind us of the cost of the Normandy landings, while ongoing burials at all our National Cemeteries attest to the price in human lives of ongoing wars. I hope that we will always remember. We owe them a debt of gratitude that can never be repaid.

So, how will you observe D-Day?