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Kings Mountain, North Carolina, United States
"A mind lively and at ease" is a blog by a first-generation Russian-Ukrainian immigrant Maria K. (Maria Igorevna Kuroshchepova). An engineer by education, an analyst by trade, as well as a writer, photographer, artist and amateur model, Maria brings her talent for weaving an engaging narrative to stories of life, fashion and style advice, book and movie reviews, and common-sense and to-the-point essays on politics and economy.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Christmas reads

When shopping for Christmas gifts, some people, when in doubt, get food baskets or those ginormous tins of caramel popcorn that recipients often find six months later in a rather stale condition. In my case, when in doubt, I buy books. Most of our friends and family read something. So, even if it is some silly series I would never read myself by an author I don't particularly like, I am more likely to get some one a book before anything else on their Christmas list. (Plus, books don't need boxes and are easy to wrap. ;-) )

This year was a veritable book feast for me, as I met a number of truly excellent writers through Facebook. So, this year, I decided to compile my Christmas book recommendation list entirely from the works of my new talented friends. And because I am a shameless plugger myself, I am including a few of my own offerings as well.

Diane Nelson

Somewhere out there executives at Harper Collins are very, very scared. Or at least they should be. For there is someone out there gathering force and speed as we speak - with plenty of potential to give the world of traditional American publishing a serious shakeup. Diane Nelson is not only a prodigiously talented writer with a tremendous range and variety, but she is also the driving power behind Pfoxmoor Publishing - a brand new publishing house with a focus on showcasing authors not based on fame and prestige, but based on talent and the guts to step away from the beaten path regardless of the genre. That, combined with Diane's innate ability to attract, engage and retain the best, makes her a woman to watch as she bursts to the forefront of the publishing world.

If you like erotica but are sick and tired of the formulaic insipid landscape of the modern romantic literature, I strongly suggest that you get one of the works from Diane's adult reader lineup. This gal doesn't pull an punches, and has talent enough to be fun and raunchy without becoming vulgar.

Mounted Exercises
chronicles the lives and loves of four equestriennes. In Riding Miss Daisy, Hannah fulfills a dream with the German trainer who sets her mane on fire. Ask not what a saddle can do for you …

In Finish Line, Susan finds it doesn’t take much to turn your world upside down. Manuel Velasquez, champion jockey, retires to train his sister’s string of reining horses. Susan towers over Manny and over his heart, but so far Manny has been left at the starting gate.

In To Finish Is To Win, Andy and Jessica take showering to a new level but Andy’s son Jack intervenes. Andy pursues his dream of winning the Vermont 100 endurance race with the help of Jess and Jack. Andy learns something about Jack that changes everything.

In Homeland, Dietrich leaves AnnaLise bereft. Brad, the hunky blacksmith, and Dr. Julie, the veterinarian, find that a transitional relationship is best handled with electrode gel and a truck with a bench seat. International relations take on a whole new meaning in the equine arena.

The book is available in electronic form from Amazon Kindle and Smashwords, and as a paperback from Amazon. It is a perfect gift to open on Christmas eve as an early treat or on Christmas day after all the guests are gone and kids are in bed.

Dancing in the Dark is a variation on the same theme - an anthology of erotica by a number of writers, to suit a variety of tastes with Diane as a primary contributor and editor.

I read it last summer and had almost as much fun writing the review as I did reading the book itself. Here is Diane Nelson's introduction of the book.

"Eight authors from around the globe, unite to bring you a cornucopia of delights. Stories to titillate, enthrall, enrapture. Explore, if you dare, dark, dangerous worlds where passion reigns supreme, where lust and love meet in a pas de deux of wanton desire and longing.

"Sip from a frothy mix of delicious seduction. Eyes blind, your senses fly free, yearning, seeking, believing. Savor the re-imagining of ancient tales, brought to life with a modern twist and often bawdy humor. Tread carefully down a dangerous path of deadly seduction. Open your mind to new possibilities, indulge the senses.

"Welcome to Dancing in the Dark – feel the subtle sway, the press of hot flesh to hot flesh, embrace the intricate weave of pleasure and pain, body and soul, heart and mind. Do you know the steps? Are you sure? When the music starts, who will lead, who will follow?"

Dancing in the Dark is available as an eBook from Amazon Kindle and Smashwords, and in print from Amazon and Book Depository.

Not convinced yet? Get a preview in this delightful trailer.

With Dancing in the Dark having worked so well as a collaborative project, Pfoxmoor Publishing decided to take the idea a bit further with another anthology. The difference was that this work was not going to be restricted to one genre, and the contributors were encouraged to submit pieces of as much variety as possible.

After many edits, a title change and a few grueling weeks climbing to the top of Authonomy charts, a new star was born. Flashes Through Time takes you on a journey through different eras, real and imaginary locations, lives, moods, personalities and genres in a variety of styles and viewpoints.

Some of the stories allow you to situate yourself from the beginning: this is fantasy, this is reality, and this is where you are as a reader. Some do not afford you this luxury, and I wouldn't recommend spoiling the reading by guessing. You will only frustrate yourself. Just sit back, open your mind, and enjoy.

Flashes Through Time is presently only available as an eBook from Amazon Kindle and Smashwords, but we are working hard on getting it out in print.

Here is the book trailer to entice you further.

An erotica author writing for young adults? Scandalous! Sit tight - you ain't seen nothing yet. While Diane Nelson is more than capable of catering to the grownup tastes, she does not stop there. The proof is in the pudding, or rather, in her masterful young adult fantasy Dragon Academy that has been lauded in blogs and book reviews from here to Australia as one of the freshest and most delightful additions to the teenage literature.

Harry Potter is not the only game in town anymore (much as I adore the series). If you are a parent in a desperate search of more intelligent quality literature that would also entertain and captivate, load this gem onto your kid's Kindle. You won't regret it, except maybe you'll be fighting with your son of daughter over who will get to read it first.

Dragon Academy is available in electronic form from Amazon Kindle, ireadiwrite Publishing, Smashwords, and OmniLit.

John Booth

Is it possible to be a major contributor to a brand new publishing house, a brilliant author with a sense of humor so wicked, it consistently leaves his readers in stitches, and still remain a genuinely nice guy? Apparently, yes. Enter John Booth.

Those who have read his naughty Drizzle stories, which I can only describe as psychedelic fantasy, might be startled to discover that the guy behind the curtain, who breathed life into the servant dwarf, his frequently clueless master and the rest of the insane retinue, is easily one of the sweetest people on the planet.

John's latest offering Wizards is a great book to offer as a set with Diane Nelson's Dragon Academy, as it too pushes the envelope of traditional fantasy and young adult literature.

Perhaps Eddie Izzard was onto something, when he said in Glorious that hopscotch was an ancient sacred ritual only girls understood. Well, Jake Morissey is a boy who appears to have figured it out... only to land in a truckload of trouble and mischief.

Visit Smashwords, Amazon Kindle or Amazon Kindle UK to get an e-copy today.

Bill Kirton

When I first read Bill Kirton's work, while working with the Flashes Through Time group, I thought to myself, "This guy is mad!" Upon closer acquaintance, I realized he was not mad - just maddeningly talented. In this day and age, when new ways to celebrate mediocrity are invented daily, and when too many authors become one-trick ponies, Bill Kirton rises as a relentlessly multi-faceted and prolific author. Ask him about song-writing, play-writing, academic writing, novel writing, short story writing, writing for children, writing for adults, and every other kind of writing in between - he has done it all.

It was a great privilege to be featured in Flashes Through Time alongside this giant, and it is a great privilege for me today to present three of his works in this Christmas reads post.

The Darkness is the third in Bill's police procedural series. Tommy Davidson is found with his throat cut. His brother Andrew, a very good, caring local doctor, feels guilt and anger at what he knows is behind the death. The darkness grows in him as he seeks out and punishes other guilty men. DCI Jack Carston’s problem, as he works to solve the mystery, is that he feels the missing men are getting what they deserve and he experiences the same inner darkness. He has to work against time to prevent a truly shocking denouement. This is a modern mystery which asks the reader to confront his or her own darkness.

This work is available as an eBook and as a paperback from Amazon.

If you prefer historic mysteries to contemporary detective stories, The Figurehead is definitely something to add to your wish list. Bill Kirton takes us to 1840 Aberdeen. The body of a local shipwright is found on the beach. Wood carver, John Grant, is intrigued by signs which suggest the death was not accidental. As he asks his questions, he’s commissioned to carve a figurehead for the new ship the man was building for William Anderson, a rich local merchant. This brings him into contact with Anderson’s daughter, Helen, who’s also curious about the death. Each has theories about how it might have happened and, as the story unfolds, they not only move towards a solution but also find themselves more and more attracted to one another.

History and romance against the backdrop of a horrific crime - what better to titillate your senses while snuggling up near a fireplace with your favorite quilt and your biggest hot chocolate mug? Get it on Kindle or get it as a paperback - but do yourself a favor and just... get it.

While Bill Kirton's status as a celebrity within his own right lent Flashes Through Time a touch of his star power, it was his ability to be unabashedly outlandish that made him fit in so well with the rest of the crazy gang that worked on the project. Case in point? Stanley Moves In.

This is the first of many stories about Stanley, a male fairy who lives in the washbasin in the bedroom of Jack Ross (a.k.a. Bill Kirton). Stanley is rude, miserable, grumpy and more or less the opposite of what you’d expect. Beautifully illustrated by Melanie Chadwick, it tells how Stanley came to choose his lodgings and sets up a relationship with Jack which is at the heart of the various adventures which unfold in the other books in the series.

Slotted to be released by Solstice Publishing in December of this year, this promises to be a delightful read, and with the right timing you just might sneak it under the Christmas wire.

Heikki Hietala

Heikki's ancestors (the Finns) may have attempted to invade my homeland (Russia), but that does not stop us from being friends. And having read some of Heikki's short stories, I can honestly vouch for his superb ability as a writer. So, it is with great pleasure that I recommend his book Tulagi Hotel - a story of a life changed, risked, displaced, rebuilt and thrown back into confusion.

Described by Booksquawk as "several books" wrapped in one "described with restraint and a unifying narrative calmness and held together by the quiet charm and attractiveness of the central character, Jack McGuire," makes it one of those unique works that would appeal to a variety of reader groups. Coming of age, love, and history... Middle of American nowhere, South Pacific war theater, an island paradise... All of the above knit into one excellent book by the talent of one excellent writer.

Access Tulagi Hotel web site for ordering information, reviews and sample chapters.

Maria K. (a.k.a. Yours Truly)

How well do you know your enemies? Or your former enemies? Or those, who might be enemies, but you are not really sure? In his age of increasing paranoia frequently born of ignorance, I attempted to raise and answer some of the questions about a once-terrifying foe (and presently sort-of-armed-truce-friend) of the United States - the Soviet Union.

While A Child In Translation (re-edited, re-vamped, re-titled, illustrated and re-published under the guidance of the brilliant Tim Roux of Night Publishing) is first and foremost a tribute to my fantastic family, it is also more than that. Every story and every life described in the book is connected to a historic event in the history of the former USSR. Some of these events went largely unnoticed by the rest of the world, and some were so profound that their effects are still felt today.

My goal was not to intimidate or to instruct, but rather to humanize that which long has been hidden behind slogans, one-line newspaper headlines and propaganda in many (frequently ugly) forms. I invite you into my home country and into my family to spend some time and listen to our stories. I promise - you will love us well before you have to leave.

A Child In Translation is available both as a Kindle edition and as an illustrated paperback.

Not all of us are good at making up fairy tales to entertain a sick kid. It is possible, however, to take reality and make it just interesting enough to hold up under the scrutiny of a voraciously curious five-year old.

When my cousin's wife Elena appealed to my experience as a writer to keep her daughter (and my niece) Anastasia entertained while at the hospital, I was a bit lost at first. Anastasia was born with a severe defect to her digestive system which necessitated endless hospital stays and countless medical procedures through the first six years of her life. I became a non-fiction writer precisely for the reason that my fiction stinks. And how does one keep a child's interest if all one has to offer is reality? I wrote her a letter telling her about our dog Sam, trying to keep it humorous and entertaining. Then another one - about our cat Monsoon. Elena wrote back that they passed with flying colors, but could I please send more?

Before I knew it, I was sending one of these off every two-three weeks. Not only did Anastasia like them - she insisted on re-reading them. So her dad put the letters into page protectors and assembled them into a binder. A few months later my husband Gerry suggested that I had enough stories for a book, setting the stage of what would become Stories for Anastasia. In order to avoid "dumbing down" the language (a trend I dislike so much in many of today's children's books), Gerry and I collaborated on a list of words at the end of each story, to help young readers learn more of the grownup language even as they were being entertained.

This year Stories for Anastasia was picked up by Strategic Publishing Group and is now available from Amazon, Barnes and Noble and directly from the publisher's site.

Diamonds might or might not be forever, but history and legend surrounding them definitely have some serious longevity potential. So says Rustem Valayev - a brilliant historian and an entertaining writer - in his book Diamond is Fragile, which was my first truly serious translation project. Many others followed, and one of them is daunting me from the depths of my computer as we speak, but one never forgets the first one.

War, slavery, betrayal, murder, revolution, love, death and rebirth - if these little bits of carbon could talk, they would probably tell stories well beyond the imagination of many a fiction writer.

I did make Diamond available in an "economy" paperback format for those who are trying to keep their book shopping within the budget. And believe me - the content is fascinating enough to keep you on the edge even without the visuals.

However, if you can afford to indulge and want to fully appreciate the splendor of the famous gems and pieces of jewelry art, get the full-color illustrated copy - it will be as much a feast for your eyes as for your mind.


Soooz said...

Maria, congratulations on an absolutely superb presentation on the blog. You have done a stunning job and covered some of the best of the best work out there at the moment.

This is a class act all the way. I will most certainly be back for more.

Anonymous said...

"hi soooz,page makes a good read,keep catching them"flat heads"take care!...."dave!"x.