Friday, February 23, 2024

Readers' Favorite Book Review - AnaRose and Pharaoh's Gold by Mary Ann Bernal


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AnaRose and Pharaoh’s Gold is a mystery adventure novella by Mary Ann Bernal. After a sudden fire at the museum, Dr. AnaRose Preston, an archaeologist and museum curator, and her assistant, Josephine Hughes (Jo), travel to Cairo, Egypt, in search of an ancient gold ushabti rumored to be on auction on the black market. However, AnaRose isn’t the only one looking for the valuable artifact, as the Cult of Apophis -- a covert network worshipping the Egyptian god of chaos and destruction -- needs the artifact for their nefarious plans. While AnaRose is working with local law enforcement and Dr. Adam Rose, Professor of Anthropology at the American University in Cairo, Jo is kidnapped by one of the Apophis members. Will AnaRose be able to rescue Jo and find the ushabti?

Fans of Indiana Jones or The Mummy movies will have a blast with AnaRose and Pharaoh’s Gold. Mary Ann Bernal spins a fast-paced yarn bound to delight adventure mystery readers. The plot is concise and layered with humor, drama, and intrigue. Through her narrative, Bernal paints a colorful and vibrant portrait of the city of Cairo, with its sprawling bazaars and ancient buildings beautifully captured in the pages. The setting is very immersive, and you really don’t want to put down the book before finishing it. The author also infuses a lot of lore into the story, and you find yourself rooting for AnaRose to get her hands on the artifact. I thoroughly enjoyed this book and recommend it to readers who enjoy adventure and mystery tales.

Reviewed by Pikasho Deka for Readers’ Favorite

Thursday, February 22, 2024

Book spotlight: Steel Valley: Coming of Age in the Ohio Valley in the 1960s by Jerry Madden


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For readers of The World Played Chess by Robert Dugoni and Last Summer Boys by Bill Rivers

Love is never easy...even in easier times, like the 1950s and 1960s in the Ohio Valley with the steel industry booming.

Second-generation immigrant families were reaching for the American middle class. And Catholic schools-made feasible by selfless Catholic nuns-promised bigger lives for everyone, including Jack Clark and Laurie Carmine. As they spent years searching for their separate futures, though, they were also stumbling toward love just as their world came crashing down.

Steel Valley depicts a story of love longed for, lost, and perhaps still within reach, just as our nation's mythic yesterday became our troubled today, our last summer of innocence.


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Jerry Madden grew up in the Upper Ohio Valley in the 1960s. He holds a B.A. from the College of Steubenville and law degrees from the University of Dayton School of Law and the Georgetown University Law Center. After law school, Jerry served as the sole law clerk to the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Ohio, C. William O'Neill. He served in the United States Marine Corps (R) between 1970 and 1976.

Jerry has practiced law in Washington, D.C., since 1979, including fourteen years at the Department of Justice as a trial and appellate attorney. He is the principal of The Madden Law Group PLLC in Washington, D.C.

He lives in Northern Virginia with his wife, Cyndi, a retired educator. They have two children, Kelsey and Jack, both of whom hold M.Ed. degrees. They have one grandchild, Jamie Maclennan.

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Friday, February 16, 2024

Book spotlight: Covered in Flour by Charles Presti


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It's 1968 in Whisper Haven, and 8-year-old Carl Pozzi’s world is about to change.

For eight-year-old Carl Pozzi, 1968 begins like any other year—playing kickball with friends and enjoying the comforting aroma of Mom's pasta dinners in their predominantly white suburban Whisper Haven home. But when Carl's teacher introduces lessons about racial prejudice and injustice, his worldview cracks wide open.

How far can innocence stretch before it snaps?

As Carl flips through the pages of his 3-ring binder, each lesson serves as a gateway to a journey of self-discovery and understanding. It's an expedition that not only changes him but reshapes his whole concept of family and justice—especially as he watches his father put on a police uniform during one of the most fraught periods in American history.

"Covered in Flour" is not just a heartfelt stroll down memory lane. It's a captivating coming-of-age saga that digs deep beneath the surface of suburban tranquility. It beckons you to reconsider long-held family values and confront the societal norms you've taken for granted.

Written with genuine love, humor, and a tinge of sorrow, this story blends the nostalgia of tradition with the inevitability of change, offering a stirring mix that leaves you pondering long after the last page is turned. This book isn't just a delightful read; it's a catalyst for introspection, freshly baked and served for your soul.


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Charles Presti, emerging from the sun-drenched shores of Pensacola, Florida, crafts narratives that echo with the richness of his varied life. His journey from a USF College of Medicine graduate to a storyteller is as unconventional as it is inspiring. Drawing from his days as a physician and informatics specialist, Charles infuses his writing with a rare blend of scientific precision and heartfelt emotion. His debut novel, "Covered in Flour," is a vivid tapestry of his Italian-American heritage, his experiences in the whirlwind era of the 1960s, and his personal journey as a gay man. These elements converge to create stories that not only entertain but resonate deeply with themes of family, discovery, and the delicate dance of life's everyday moments.

Charles's passion for storytelling is paralleled only by his commitment to fostering diversity and inclusion. Alongside his husband, Mike Bruce, and their beloved Wheaton Terrier, Zoey, he is a vibrant force and founder of "Sunday's Child," a local charity dedicated to nurturing inclusion and empowering LGBTQ+ and  other marginalized communities through grants to local charities. A pillar in the Emerald Coast Writers group, he continually explores the nuances of identity, heritage, and a sense of belonging. Discover more about Charles's captivating world and "Covered in Flour" at, where each story is a window into a life lived fully and authentically.

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Wednesday, February 14, 2024

Book spotlight and excerpt: A Grave Every Mile: A Pioneer Western Adventure by David Fitz-Gerald


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Embark on a harrowing trek across the rugged American frontier in 1850. Your wagon awaits, and the untamed wilderness calls. This epic western adventure will test the mettle of even the bravest souls.

Dorcas Moon and her family set forth in search of opportunity and a brighter future. Yet, what awaits them is a relentless gauntlet of life-threatening challenges: miserable weather, ravenous insects, scorching sunburns, and unforgiving terrain. It's not merely a battle for survival but a test of their unity and sanity.

Amidst the chaos, Dorcas faces ceaseless trials: her husband's unending bickering, her daughter's descent into madness, and the ever-present danger of lethal rattlesnakes, intensifying the peril with each step. The specter of death looms large, with diseases spreading and the eerie howls of rabid wolves piercing the night. Will the haunting image of wolves desecrating a grave push Dorcas over the edge?

With each mile, the migration poses a haunting question: Who will endure the relentless quest to cross the continent, and who will leave their bones to rest beside the trail? The pathway is bordered by graves, a chilling reminder of the steep cost of dreams.

A Grave Every Mile marks the commencement of an unforgettable saga. Start reading Ghosts Along the Oregon Trail now to immerse yourself in an expedition where every decision carries the weight of life, death, and the pursuit of a brighter future along the Oregon Trail.


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Independence, Missouri, April 13, 1850

I hate it when men fight. After a man throws his first punch, he doesn’t remember why he’s fighting. Where’s the marshal? A town the size of Independence must have a lawman.

A crowd gathers in the rutty street as two men face each other, circling, waiting for an opportunity to swing. The blond combatant hollers in a high-pitched voice, “Take that back, Bobby.”

The dark-haired man, evidently Bobby, shouts, “No, I won’t. You can’t make me.”

The other man shouts, “You can’t talk about my wife like that. I’ll rip your head off.”

“She may be your wife, Wayne, but she’s also my sister. I’ll say what I want.”

Wayne lands a glancing blow on Bobby's cheek. As the punched man’s face turns, I realize these aren’t men. They’re practically boys.

The crowd cheers, encouraging them on. I’ve heard enough. If nobody is going to stop them, I will. My youngest daughter whines as I slide her from my hip, and wails when her feet reach the boardwalk in front of the dry goods store. My twelve-year-old daughter’s eyes reflect trepidation and I reassure her. “Don’t worry, Rose, honey. Hold Dahlia Jane’s hand. Stay right here until I return, and please don’t wander off, for Heaven’s sake.” I glance about to see where my husband and the boys are, but they're nowhere in sight. Not that Larkin would intervene. He would just shake his head and frown.

Two steps from the walkway, in front of the mercantile, my boots meet the muddy, uneven street. Even over the heads of observers, now three deep, I peg the fighters. At times like these, being a woman who is taller than most men is an advantage. As I push people aside, the two men growl at each other. Their arms lock as the evenly matched scrappers transition from fisticuffs to grappling. A trickle of blood dribbles from the corner of Bobby's mouth, and Wayne has a crimson eyebrow.

A tidy-looking young woman catches my attention. First, she addresses the dark-haired man, evidently her husband. “Stop it, Bobby." Then she reprimands her brother. "Knock it off, Wayne. You are creating a scene. Somebody will get hurt.” She glances up at me, her brow furrowed. It seems like a plea for help. I should know better than to interfere in the business of strangers. How many times have I been warned not to get involved? I can never help myself in such situations.

I step toward the snarling bruisers, grab each man by the back of his shirt, and separate them. The scrawny hooligans are surprisingly easy to lift. Maybe they seem so light because of all the years I spent chopping wood. The brown-haired man squirms more than his opponent, who implores, “What are you doing, lady? Have you gone mad?”

“My name ain’t Lady. It’s Dorcas, or Mrs. Moon, if you must.” Their dangling legs barely reach the ground. I clutch wads of fabric in my fists and their feet dance urgently beneath them, trying to find purchase within the muck. I feel like a schoolmarm interrupting a playground scuffle, but these are not children. I gaze into the dark eyes of one boy, then the bright eyes of the other. “What’s gotten into you? I’m sure you know better than to behave like this. What would your mothers think to see you now? You should be ashamed of yourselves.”

The people around us shuffle out of the way, and I’m surprised by an oncoming carriage. It’s too late to duck to the side of the street. A team of shiny black horses swiftly conveys a magnificent rig through a gloppy puddle a few feet from the boys and me, drenching my pink checked dress in pungent mud.

David Fitz-Gerald writes westerns and historical fiction. He is the author of twelve books, including the brand-new series, Ghosts Along the Oregon Trail set in 1850. Dave is a multiple Laramie Award, first place, best in category winner; a Blue Ribbon Chanticleerian; a member of Western Writers of America; and a member of the Historical Novel Society.

Alpine landscapes and flashy horses always catch Dave’s eye and turn his head. He is also an Adirondack 46-er, which means that he has hiked to the summit of the range’s highest peaks. As a mountaineer, he’s happiest at an elevation of over four thousand feet above sea level.

Dave is a lifelong fan of western fiction, landscapes, movies, and music. It should be no surprise that Dave delights in placing memorable characters on treacherous trails, mountain tops, and on the backs of wild horses.

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Tuesday, February 13, 2024

Book spotlight: The Shadow Network by Deborah Swift


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One woman must sacrifice everything to uncover the truth in this enthralling historical novel, inspired by the true World War Two campaign Radio Aspidistra…

England, 1942: Having fled Germany after her father was captured by the Nazis, Lilli Bergen is desperate to do something pro-active for the Allies. So when she’s approached by the Political Warfare Executive, Lilli jumps at the chance. She’s recruited as a singer for a radio station broadcasting propaganda to German soldiers – a shadow network.

But Lilli’s world is flipped upside down when her ex-boyfriend, Bren Murphy, appears at her workplace; the very man she thinks betrayed her father to the Nazis. Lilli always thought Bren was a Nazi sympathiser – so what is he doing in England supposedly working against the Germans?

Lilli knows Bren is up to something, and must put aside a blossoming new relationship in order to discover the truth. Can Lilli expose him, before it’s too late?

Set in the fascinating world of wartime radio, don’t miss The Shadow Network, a heart-stopping novel of betrayal, treachery, and courage against the odds.


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Deborah Swift is the English author of eighteen historical novels, including Millennium Award winner Past Encounters, and The Lady’s Slipper, shortlisted for the Impress Prize.

Her most recent books are the Renaissance trilogy based around the life of the poisoner Giulia Tofana, The Poison Keeper and its sequels, one of which won the Coffee Pot Book Club Gold Medal. Recently she has completed a secret agent series set in WW2, the first in the series being The Silk Code.

Deborah used to work as a set and costume designer for theatre and TV and enjoys the research aspect of creating historical fiction, something she loved doing as a scenographer. She likes to write about extraordinary characters set against the background of real historical events. Deborah lives in North Lancashire on the edge of the Lake District, an area made famous by the Romantic Poets such as Wordsworth and Coleridge.

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Monday, February 12, 2024

Book spotlight: Dude or Die by Lynn Downey


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It’s 1954, and San Francisco writer Phoebe Kelley is enjoying the success of her first novel, Lady in the Desert. When Phoebe’s sister-in-law asks her to return to Tribulation, Arizona to help run the H Double Bar Dude Ranch, she doesn’t hesitate. There’s competition from a new dude ranch this year, so the H Double Bar puts on a rodeo featuring a trick rider with a mysterious past. When accidents begin to happen around the ranch, Phoebe jumps in to figure out why, and confronts an unexpected foe. And a man from her own past forces her to confront feelings long buried. Dude or Die is the second book in the award-winning H Double Bar Dude Ranch series.


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Lynn Downey is an award-winning novelist, short story writer, historian of the West, and native Californian.

She was the Historian for Levi Strauss & Co. in San Francisco for 25 years. Her adventures as ambassador for company history took her around the world, where she spoke to television audiences, magazine editors, and university students, appeared in numerous documentaries, and on The Oprah Winfrey Show. She wrote many books and articles about the history of the company and the jeans, and her biography, Levi Strauss: The Man Who Gave Blue Jeans to the World, won the Foreword Reviews silver INDIE award.

Lynn got interested in dude ranches during her time at Levi’s. Her debut historical novel, Dudes Rush In, is set on an Arizona dude ranch in the 1950s; Arizona because she’s a desert rat at heart, and the 1950s because the clothes were fabulous.

Dudes Rush In won a Will Rogers Medallion Award, and placed first in Arizona Historical Fiction at the New Mexico-Arizona book awards. The next book in this series, Dude or Die, was released in 2023. And just for fun, Lynn wrote a screenplay based on Dudes Rush In, which is currently making the rounds of reviewers and competitions.

She pens short stories, as well. “The Wind and the Widow” took Honorable Mention in the History Through Fiction story contest, and “Incident at the Circle H” was a Finalist for the Longhorn Prize from Saddlebag Dispatches. The story “Goldie Hawn at the Good Karma CafĂ©,” won second place in The LAURA Short Fiction contest from Women Writing the West, and is based on her experiences in a San Francisco religious cult in the 1970s. (That will be another book one of these days.)  

Lynn’s latest nonfiction book is American Dude Ranch: A Touch of the Cowboy and the Thrill of the West, a cultural history of the dude ranch. It was reviewed in The Wall Street Journal, True West, Cowgirl, and The Denver Post, and was a Finalist for the Next Generation INDIE Award in Nonfiction. Kirkus Reviews said the book is “…deeply engaging and balances accessible writing style with solid research.”

When she’s not writing, Lynn works as a consulting archivist and historian for museums, libraries, cultural institutions, and businesses. She is the past president of Women Writing the West, a member of the Western Writers of America, and is on numerous boards devoted to archives and historic preservation.

Lynn lives in Sonoma, California, where she sometimes makes wine from the Pinot Noir grapes in her back yard vineyard.

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[My site is being redesigned and will be live in another week or so.]

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Sunday, February 11, 2024

New release: AnaRose and Pharaoh's Gold by Mary Ann Bernal


A stolen relic. A ruthless cult. An ancient evil.

A priceless Egyptian artifact listed for auction on the black market sparks a deadly chase between museum curator and archaeologist AnaRose Preston and a fanatical ancient sect. The Cult of Apophis will stop at nothing to reclaim the relic housing the deity’s soul. AnaRose risks her life to prevent the secret society from unleashing hell on earth.

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Mary Ann Bernal attended Mercy College, Dobbs Ferry, NY, where she received a degree in Business Administration; her literary aspirations were ultimately realized when the first book of The Briton and the Dane novels was published in 2009. In addition to writing historical fiction, Mary Ann has also authored a collection of contemporary short stories, a science fiction/fantasy novel, and action and adventure novellas.

Her recent work includes Crusader’s Path, a redemption story set against the backdrop of the First Crusade; Forgiving Nero, a novel of Ancient Rome that explores the complex relationship between the emperor and his mother; and the AnaRose novellas, which follows the adventures of a museum curator and relic hunter thwarting black marketeers.

Since Operation Desert Storm, Mary Ann has been a passionate supporter of the United States military, having been involved with letter-writing campaigns and other support programs. She appeared on The Morning Blend television show hosted by KMTV, the CBS television affiliate in Omaha, and was interviewed by the Omaha World-Herald for her volunteer work. She has been a featured author on various reader blogs and promotional sites. Mary Ann currently resides in Elkhorn, Nebraska.

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Thursday, February 1, 2024

Book spotlight and snippet: Imperatrix by S.P. Somtow


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Captured by pirates and sold to a Roman aristocrat as a sex slave, Sporus attracted the attention of no less a personage than the Emperor Nero, ruler of the known world. Would-be poet, patron of the arts, aesthete, and brutal autocrat, the Divine Nero saw in the boy a startling resemblance to the Empress Poppaea - and made him an empress as well.

Suetonius, Tacitus, and other Roman historians have given tantalizing glimpses into the incredible life story of the boy who became twice an empress to two emperors, and was condemned to die in the arena by a third.

In this meticulously researched trilogy, World Fantasy Award winning author S.P. Somtow lays bare the darkest secrets of Imperial Rome - its triumphs and its nadirs, its beauty and its cruelty. Through this chaos, a contorted mirror of our contemporary world, this figure of Sporus moves, all too knowing yet all too innocent, providing a worm's eye view of one of the wildest periods in ancient history.

Imperatrix, the second volume of the tale, takes us into the heart of the Imperial palace with all its intrigue, depravity, and splendor.

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 Can you not posture in such a boyish manner, domine?  Youll ruin the effect.”

What effect?”

My dear domine, can you turn that wrist more daintily?  Can you not stampede about the room like a raging adolescent lad?”

Is that not what I am?”

You will play a role, domine.  And if you dont do it well, it will fare badly for us, as well.”

Realizing that their fates as well as mine rested on my performance, I sat still while they padded my hips and chest a little, and while a cosmetician applied painted my face with delicate strokes, and two others teased and piled my hair.

And presently I found myself looking at my reflection in a mirror of polished bronze and I was transformed.  My hair was elaborately coifed and extended with a tall wig.  Exotic fabrics caressed my skin, and an outer layer of rich purple left no doubt as to my Imperial status.  The fibula I recognized was holding it all together at one shoulder.  Lead white gave my face an unearthly pallor and my lips were stained blood-crimson.

I stood taller.  Arrogance flecked my lips.  I felt ennobled.  Entitled, indeed.

I was not just the Divine Poppaea Sabina, Mistress of the World.  I was an idealized version of the Empress.  And I have to admit that, in these garments, my way of moving, my way of walking, shifted towards the feminine.  It was instinctive.  I never felt beautiful as a boy, but as a woman, as an Empress …

Perhaps it was just a role, but I was pulling something from deep within myself.  


Once referred to by the International Herald Tribune as 'the most well-known expatriate Thai in the world,' Somtow Sucharitkul is no longer an expatriate since he has returned to Thailand after five decades of wandering the world. He is best known as an award-winning novelist and a composer of operas.

Born in Bangkok, Somtow grew up in Europe and was educated at Eton and Cambridge. His first career was in music and in the 1970s, his first return to Asia, he acquired a reputation as a revolutionary composer, the first to combine Thai and Western instruments in radical new sonorities. Conditions in the arts in the region at the time proved so traumatic for the young composer that he suffered a major burnout, emigrated to the United States, and reinvented himself as a novelist.

His earliest novels were in the science fiction field, and he soon won the John W. Campbell for Best New Writer as well as being nominated for and winning numerous other awards in the field. But science fiction was not able to contain him and he began to cross into other genres. In his 1984 novel Vampire Junction, he injected a new literary inventiveness into the horror genre, in the words of Robert Bloch, author of Psycho, 'skillfully combining the styles of Stephen King, William Burroughs, and the author of the Revelation to John.' Vampire Junction was voted one of the forty all-time greatest horror books by the Horror Writers' Association.

In the 1990s Somtow became increasingly identified as a uniquely Asian writer with novels such as the semi-autobiographical Jasmine Nights and a series of stories noted for a peculiarly Asian brand of magic realism, such as Dragon's Fin Soup, which is currently being made into a film directed by Takashi Miike. He recently won the World Fantasy Award, the highest accolade given in the world of fantastic literature, for his novella The Bird Catcher.

Returning to Thailand in 2001, he became artistic director of Opera Siam and has had more than a dozen operas produced around the world, including The Snow Dragon and The Silent Prince, premiered in the United States, Helena Citronova, an opera set during the Holocaust, and the ten-part DasJati: Ten Lives of the Buddha.

In the last few years he has made a return to writing novels with the Nero and Sporus trilogy and the young adult series, Club X.

In 2021 the film he produced and wrote, The Maestro: Symphony of Terror received over forty awards at international festivals and in 2023 the Thai government officially elevated him to the status of National Artist.

Read S.P. Somtow’s interview on Literary Titan about Imperatrix on

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Wednesday, January 31, 2024

Book Spotlight: Anywhere But Schuylkill by Michael Dunn


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In 1877, twenty Irish coal miners hanged for a terrorist conspiracy that never occurred. Anywhere But Schuylkill is the story of one who escaped, Mike Doyle, a teenager trying to keep his family alive during the worst depression the nation has ever faced. Banks and railroads are going under. Children are dying of hunger. The Reading Railroad has slashed wages and hired Pinkerton spies to infiltrate the miners’ union. And there is a sectarian war between rival gangs. But none of this compares with the threat at home.


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Michael Dunn writes Working-Class Fiction from the Not So Gilded Age. Anywhere But Schuylkill is the first in his Great Upheaval trilogy. A lifelong union activist, he has always been drawn to stories of the past, particularly those of regular working people, struggling to make a better life for themselves and their families.

Stories most people do not know, or have forgotten, because history is written by the victors, the robber barons and plutocrats, not the workers and immigrants. Yet their stories are among the most compelling in America. They resonate today because they are the stories of our own ancestors, because their passions and desires, struggles and tragedies, were so similar to our own.


When Michael Dunn is not writing historical fiction, he teaches high school and writes about labor history and culture.

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