Wednesday Reviews


I haven’t read many books that take place during the Italian Renaissance and I was delighted to receive this book from Donna Russo Morin for review. I believe this period of time the arts were at its strongest and most sought after. Great artist come from this period. Donna does a brilliant job showing this. This story takes place in Florence. Battista an “art collector,” is really an agent for King François of France. Battista is collecting sought after pieces of art for François that leads him to Aurelia.

Aurelia is a lady of privilege who longs for freedom and adventure. She gets her chance when she helps Battista escape the palace she lives in after he tries to steal a piece of art. Together they embark on a journey for the relic he must find for the King of France. Throughout the story they travel to other cities in search for clues while visiting an artist, Michelangelo, a friend of Battista along the way.

This story is enchanting. There is a particular scene that reached out to me. It was a scene where Battista and Michelangelo were toasting and they raise their goblets and Michelangelo says, “True painting never will make anyone shed a tear. Good Painting is religious and devout in itself. Among the wise nothing more elevates the soul or raises it to adoration than the difficulty of attaining the perfection-with sculpture-which approaches God and unites itself to Him.”  So eloquently put.

Donna has such a way of words and writing about her characters. You feel like your right there beside them. You experience the same adoration as they do for art.  I admire their passion and their sense of adventure. Her descriptions of the arts and the palaces are breath-taking. So much that you can imagine them as described

I especially enjoyed the quotes at the beginning of each chapter. For example, “In that book which is my memory, on the first page of the chapter that is the day when I first met you, appear the words,” Here beginneth a new life.” –La Vita Nuava.

 I stumbled on a few words I was unfamiliar with and had to stop to look up a few pronunciations and definitions. I almost rated the story three and a half stars. However, since the story-line and plot was solid, and I love the characters, I rated it four stars!
Layered Pages

Jo Ann Butler’s debut historical fiction novel, Rebel Puritan, is inspired by her 8th great-grandmother, Herodias Long. Butler blends historical fact and fiction in Rebel Puritan so seamlessly the reader never feels the novel is semi-biographical.

Herod Long is 12 years old when tragedy strikes her family. Her family, farmers in Burlescome, England, are near destitution when her father and oldest brother perish from the bubonic plague. Herod, her mother and brother, Will, are left with a holding they cannot work by themselves.

This dilemma is resolved by Herod’s mother, who invites her oldest daughter and her family to work the farm. Unfortunately for Herod, her mother’s plans do not include her. Herod and her mother have an acrimonious relationship. Herod is a bit of a dreamer and her mother has no fondness for dreamers.

Herod, another mouth to feed and an unreliable worker, is sent to London to serve her mother’s sister. Herod knows what happens to girls who are bonded out or sent away – few return home.

Herod arrives in London to discover Alice Clark, her mother’s sister, is a cold woman. Herod is considered little more than a slave 6 days a week, working from dawn til sunset for a woman who complains incessantly and threatens to turn her out penniless for the next infraction. Servitude to this miserly and cruel aunt is Herod’s future for the next five years.

Puritanism, the tentacles of which were newly arrived in Burlescome, is firmly entrenched in London. Herod attends church all day Sunday with her aunt and uncle and chafes under the extremism.

It is important to understand Puritanism as it effects much of Herod’s life. Puritans were a group of Protestants who were unhappy with the Church of England. They believed in following the laws set out in the Bible without deviation. They also believed in the doctrine of predestination – God has chosen at birth the Elect who will enter heaven and those who are not of the Elect are damned for eternity. No one knows whether they are the chosen, therefore, Puritans worked hard for the glory of God.

It was a harsh lifestyle. The premise of Puritanism was to strip away all material and traditional aspects of the Church of England and practice extreme piety. Puritans were under constant scrutiny by fellow congregation members. Deviation from piety was dealt with swiftly by disapproval and discipline. Hell, fire and brimstone was the primary sermon.

Persecution in England prompted a massive immigration to New England, where communities were formed. These communities adhered to principles of Puritanism strictly. Those found in contravention were subject to banishment, corporal punishment and even, in some cases, death by hanging.

Now back to Herod. Her aunt and uncle operated a tailor’s shop. One day when she was minding the counter, a young man came in. Herodios was enthralled and contrived to establish a relationship. This is the man she would marry in great haste (without divulging her true age of 13) so she could escape and immigrate to New England.

Life in New England and with her husband isn’t the deliverance she craves. Scraping a living off the land is harsh and her husband, John Hicks, brutal. Puritanism reigns. Herod becomes friends with dissenters within the community, liaisons with repercussions.

Rebel Puritan is a novel of a young girl who struggles to find dignity and freedom within her world; a world in which women have few rights and are subject to male domination. Her efforts bring both success and tragedy. But her determination never fails.

Herod and her world come to life through Butler with her imaginative and gritty details. For example, I felt I lived through Herod in a dugout home on a treed lot in a small community in New England where every action was scrutinized.

Butler is skilled at evoking the realisms, hardships, hard-won victories and inevitable decisions a woman faced in 17th Century England and America. The numerous characters who populate Rebel Puritan have flesh and bones.

I recommend Jo Ann Butler’s Rebel Puritan without reservation. I eagerly await receipt the continuation of Herod Long’s life in Reputed Wife, to be released later this fall.

My rating: 4.5/5 Stars (Most Excellent)

 Darlene Elizabeth Williams

My first impression of the books was that the farm looked charming, but boring. I’m glad I was wrong! Lost Nation, Iowa is everything you would expect from a small farm town in Iowa. It’s a town where everyone knows your name and your business. However, that doesn’t stop the dynamic Francesca from dancing to the beat of her own drum. Lucinda Sue Crosby has created a memorable set of characters with depth and style for this summer love story. Francesca’s granddaughter relives the best summer of their lives with colorful flare as the duo embark on adventures completely unbecoming a lady of the 1940’s. At the same time, the book also gently probes the cultural taboos of the time while the young Sarah begins coming of age.

The story is well developed and engaging. As a summer beach read this is wonderful and I was moved to tears by the close of the book. I found the descriptions to be full and vivid. The mystery within the story adds a nice touch. It was well constructed and not completely predictable. The cover art however, was a huge disappointment. I think that this was a missed opportunity. After all the wonderful events that unfold within the pages, a more engaging cover would have been good. I would recommend this book to anyone looking for a lite beach read, as well as those with an interest in the 1940’s.
Brandy Strake 



Interview with Author Roy Pickering

I would like to intruduce Author Roy Pickering, the winner of the BRAG Medallion for his book, Patches of Grey. 

Roy, thank you for the pleasure of this interview. First I would like to ask you questions about your interests in reading. What are you currently reading and what do you plan on reading next?

Thank you, Stephanie. I’ve just started Tinkers by Paul Harding. One
of my reading goals is to notch as many Pulitzer Prize for Fiction
winners as possible, so Tinkers will move that along. My progress is
being charted at my blog A Line A Day:

 Lately I’ve been plowing through my To Read List via trips to the library, but I
happen to own an autographed copy of Tinkers that was won in a
contest. Next up I plan to check out Pym by Mat Johnson, unless
another title grabs my attention and jumps ahead of it in the
never-ending line.

Do you prefer a book that makes you laugh or makes you cry? Or one that teaches you something or that distracts you?

Out of every 10 books I read I’d say 8 – 9 of them will be in the
“teaches you” category and 1 – 2 will be a “distraction” read to
change up the pace. The best books will make me both laugh and cry,
but finding a novel that makes me laugh consistently throughout is a
somewhat rare feat. The gold standard is Portnoy’s Complaint. Laugh
out loud humor is difficult to put on paper and I bow down to anyone
who can pull it off on a regular basis.

What were your favorite books as a child?

My transition from beloved kid books by Beverly Cleary and Judy Blume
and Donald Sobol to novel for adults began with Jules Verne. I didn’t
remain strictly a Sci-Fi reader or stick with any other genre for that
matter. As a teen I became fixated on certain authors for a time,
such as Sidney Sheldon and Stephen King. Part of my maturing process
was realizing that great books/authors are all over the place, so best
to mix it up. The purpose of my journey in reading is now simply to
move from one great book to the next. I find the majority of them
within the confines of so called Literary Fiction, but wonderful
novels can be found in and out of all the genres so I’m always jumping

 Is there a writer you consider to be a mentor or model in some way?

I wouldn’t say that I have a particular mentor, and definitely not a
model. I’m not sure I’d be adept at copying someone else’s style no
matter how hard I tried. Mastering the style that comes naturally to
me is enough of a challenge. There are certain authors whom I favor
above others such as John Irving, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Toni
Morrison, Ernest Hemingway, Cormac McCarthy. And when I decided to
write Patches of Grey I chose a novel rather than a writing class to
serve as guidepost, and that book was Judith Guest’s Ordinary People.
But if I have a mentor it isn’t a particular author, but rather, the
lifetime of reading that has shaped me and inspired my pen.

 Roy, please tell us a little about your book, “Patches of Grey.”

I’m much better at telling a lot about my book than a little. But I
suppose the length of this interview should be less than that of my
novel. So beyond what you can find in the synopsis at Amazon or my
web site, I’ll just say that “Patches of Grey” is about a young man
being confronted with life lessons that seem to suggest that his
optimistic view of the world is faulty. He wants to believe that
color blindness is superior to bigotry in any direction, that book
learning leads to a smoother path than the school of hard knocks, that
the love to be found within family should be unconditional. His
convictions are shaken along the way, changing how he thinks about
certain things, but not who he is at heart.


Did you have to do any research for your story? If so, please explain.

Not very much. I was writing what I knew or could imagine easily
enough so other than to flesh out some cosmetic details I didn’t need
to spend much time looking things up. Instead I was able to focus
almost exclusively on putting things down, and then editing the
initial shape into the final product.

Which of the characters that you created is your favorite? Who is your least favorite?

I don’t pick favorites except that obviously the majority of
attention/affection is invested into the main characters. With
Patches of Grey I would say that Tony, who is the character I was just
talking about, is the one I most closely identify. But several
readers have told me that the character they connected with to the
greatest extent is his brother, C.J. Although the central storyline
revolves around Tony and his relationships with his father and his
girlfriend, considerable attention is given to his mother and sister

as well. That’s why I have a bit of trouble summing the novel up in a
line or two because it can seen as Tony’s story, but it can also be
viewed as the story of the Johnson family.

Is there a scene you found a challenge to write?

Some scenes just pour out of the pen, others come out in fits and
starts. The trickiest to feel confident about is the first one
because of the pressure to capture attention immediately. It doesn’t
matter how amazing chapter 2 is if readers aren’t compelled to move
past chapter 1. As a reader I don’t put that kind of pressure on a
book. Once I sit down to read I’m willing to let a novel unfold
however best suits the story. As a writer, particularly one who is not
already a Best Seller with a built in audience, that first chapter,
first paragraph, first sentence carries a ton of weight.

What is your next book project?

I’m currently editing my second novel, Matters of Convenience. Teen
angst was left behind in book #1 to deal with strictly adult matters
in #2.

How did you discover, indieBRAG?

I’m an active member at and belong to a number of groups
there. The moderator of one of them mentioned indieBrag as a group
that was on the look-out for excellent indie books to promote and
honor. Sounded great to me and I was thrilled when they informed me
that “Patches of Grey” had made their cut.

What is your favorite quote?

“Poets have been mysteriously silent on the subject of cheese.” – G.K.

Author Bio:

Roy Pickering’s debut novel Patches of Grey is published by
M.U.D. House Books and has received stellar reviews. His novella
Feeding the Squirrels is published by SynergEbooks in electronic
format and was also well received. Roy’s cyber presence includes the
website and the blog A Line A Day. At present he is
hard at work on a second novel, Matters of Convenience, and is working
in collaboration with his wife (who is a fantastic artist/illustrator)
on a series of children’s books. Roy’s short story publication
credits are extensive and anthologies featuring his writing include
Proverbs for the People (Kensington Books), Role Call (Third World
Press), The Game: Short Stories About the Life (Triple Crown
Publications), Prose to be Read Aloud: Volume One, Ménage à 20: Tales
with a Hook, Forever Travels, and IAI Short Story Compilation, Volume
1 (SolaPress Publishing).

We are delighted that Stephanie has chosen to interview Roy Pickering who is the author of Patches of Grey, one of our medallion honorees at To be awarded a B.R.A.G. MedallionTM, a book must receive unanimous approval by a group of our readers. It is a daunting hurdle and it serves to reaffirm that a book such as Patches of Grey merits the investment of a reader’s time and money.

For information on how to become a B.R.A.G Medallion Honoree, please visit indieBRAG’s website:

Thank you!

Layered Pages

Review: The Secret Keeper by Sandra Byrd

The Secret Keeper is the first of Sandra Byrd’s books I’ve read and I thoroughly enjoyed it. Sandra brings a new and rare story of Katheryn Parr. She is a person in English history that I have not read much about and now I’m intrigued by her. This story is told by Juliana St. John’s perspective, a daughter of a Knight.

Juliana’s mother expects her to marry the son of one of her father’s business men. But when Sir Thomas Seymour, brother of the late Queen Jane, comes to town in regards to the affairs of her father’s estates and happens to pass by a church and sees Juliana reading, he feels that she would be perfect as a member of Katheryn Parr’s household, the lady he loves. He sends her to Katheryn Parr’s household and she accompanies Katheryn to King Henry VIII court. They quickly become friends and Juliana becomes a loyal ladies maid to her. She looks to Katheryn as a sort of mother and Katheryn is kind and loving towards her in that regard.

Meanwhile King Henry VIII falls in love with Katheryn and wants to marry her. Despite loving Sir Thomas Seymour, she marries Henry and becomes the sixth and final wife to Henry and is doting to his children. She loves them and in many ways brings them closer to their father. She is a good Christian, intelligent, delicate yet strong, elegant, kind and very giving. It is her desire to influence Henry in matters of the realm and religious beliefs and she gets herself in a sticky situation when she supports Anne Askew, a reformer. This puts herself and her ladies in danger.

Juliana is also vulnerable to the court life, less noticeable, and less protected. She fall’s victim to a man at court who basically threatens to lie, spread harmful gossip about her and her mistress if she told anyone about his assault on her. Juliana also keeps a secret that could possibly bring her harm if the wrong people found out, a secret of prophecy.

 Sandra writes about Juliana’s assault, sensitively and doesn’t go into great detail. She leaves it to the reader to imagine what happened and I’m glad she wrote it this way. I’ve read scenes in books before were it was so graphic; I had a hard time picking up the story   and continuing on.

 I found that I liked Sandra’s portrayal of King Henry in this story. I saw a side of him I don’t normally see in other books that I’ve read. I don’t know if it was because by the time he married Kate, he was completely worn out or he felt he didn’t have to worry anymore because he had an heir? Or was it because of his health? He seemed to focus more on his beliefs and the reformation during this time and had a softer side towards his children. He even goes off to war and leaves Katheryn to rule in his stead while away.

I rated this story a solid five stars! I absolutely admire Sandra’s style of writing, the story was easy to follow along and she did not go off on long-winded details that I find tedious to read. She gives you a wonderful view of the court life during the time of the English Reformation. The story-line is believable, the plot engaging. All of her characters gave support to the story and was well developed. They all played a special part, even the ones that were in the background, which I find helps to make the story flow better. She has done extensive research for her story and it shows. I highly recommend this story to anyone who wants to read about Katheryn Parr and this period of time in England’s History.
by Stephanie
Layered Pages

I have an interview with Author Sandra Byrd on October 22. Make sure to mark your calendars! You won’t want to miss it!


Interview with Author Sharon Sala

I would like to introduce Author Sharon Sala, the winner of the B.R.A.G Medallion for her book, “A Field of Poppies”

Sharon, thank you for the pleasure of this interview. I would first like to ask you about your interests in reading. When and where do you like to read?

I read when I get a chance and anywhere there’s a book and a place to sit down. I care for my 92 year old mother full time in my home. She has dementia and no short-term memory left so it’s quite a challenge. And I’m still writing full time, so me time is rare.

What was the last truly great book you have read?

I’ll tell you the book that has stayed with me the longest, although it’s not the last book I’ve read. It was called THE LAST CHILD, by John Hart and when I had finished it, I went back and bought and read everything he’s written to date. It was THAT compelling.

Do you prefer a book that makes you laugh or makes you cry? One that teaches you something or one that distracts you?

I don’t like self-help anything and I don’t want to read someone else’s opinion of how life should be lived, sooo having said that, any good book is a distraction and I love it when the writer can make me cry on one page and laugh my head off on another.

What are you currently reading?

Unfortunately, the only work I’ve been reading for the past few months is my own. Of course I read newspapers and the occasional magazine, but no time for that, seriously no time.

What do you plan to read next?

I’m waiting for the next Robert Crais book to show up on Kindle. I’m a huge fan.

Sharon, could you please tell us a little about your book, “A Field of Poppies.”

Field of Poppies is out of my usual genre of romantic suspense. It’s straight women’s fiction and a story about a young woman’s journey through unbelievable sadness . Finding out that nothing you knew about yourself is real, and the only people with the answers have just died on the same day… devastating. So it’s her journey through sorrow, betrayal, and ultimately a growth and acceptance within herself that she would never have believed possible. Yes, there’s some mystery. Yes there’s a bit of romance, but it’s basically a book about life.

Did you have to do any research for your story?

In this book, very little. It’s set in contemporary time. I read up a bit on some specific details about coal mining, a little geographical info, but the town in the book is as fictitious as the characters, which always gives me leeway to create. I live with stories inside my head. I dream the majority of them, in color and with dialogue. It’s like going to the movies and then coming back and trying to put in book form what I just saw. When I was little, I thought everyone could plan what they wanted to dream and then dream it. I can and often do. I can’t explain it. I came this way.

What is your next book project?

Actually the book I’m working on at the moment, that’s thankfully almost done, is a book called WINDWALKER. It’s going to come out under my pen name, Dinah McCall. Dinah hasn’t written a book since The Survivors, which came out in 2006. And, it is a paranormal Native American romance, which my readers have been bugging me to write for some time. I will also self-publish this book.

What advice would you give to an aspiring author?

Know your market. Submit to the people who publish your style of work and join a writer’s group. The writer’s group will, in the long run, become your shoulder to cry on, and every writer needs one. <g>

What is your favorite quote?

My favorite quote isn’t actually from fiction. It’s a verse from the bible, but it became my favorite BECAUSE of a book written by Dale Evans (the wife of cowboy star, Roy Rogers) many years ago. It was called Angel Unawares and it was a story about their daughter, who was born with Down’s Syndrome. That book touched my heart in so many ways, and the bible verse that was the basis for the title, became my favorite as well. The verse is from Hebrews 13:2

Be not forgetful to entertain strangers: for thereby ye may have entertained angels unawares.

Thank you, Stephanie,
It’s been a pleasure,

Sharon Sala

Author Bio & Link:

Sharon Sala is a long-time member of RWA, as well as a member of OKRWA. She has 85 plus books in print, published in four different genres – Romance, Young Adult, Western, and Women’s Fiction. First published in 1991, she’s a seven-time RITA finalist, winner of the Janet Dailey Award, four-time Career Achievement winner from RT Magazine, five time winner of the National Reader’s Choice Award, and five time winner of the Colorado Romance Writer’s Award of Excellence as well as winner of the Booksellers Best Award. In 2011 she was named RWA’s recipient of the Nora Roberts Lifetime Achievement Award. Her books are New York Times , USA Today, Publisher’s Weekly best-sellers. Writing changed her life, her world, and her fate.

Readers can find me on Facebook as Sharon Sala or on my page, also as Sharon Sala, which deals only with writing news, etc


We are delighted that Stephanie has chosen to interview Sharon Sala who is the author of A Field of Poppies, one of our medallion honorees at To be awarded a B.R.A.G. MedallionTM, a book must receive unanimous approval by a group of our readers. It is a daunting hurdle and it serves to reaffirm that a book such as A Field of Poppies merits the investment of a reader’s time and money.

For information on how to become a B.R.A.G Medallion Honoree, please visit indieBRAG’s website:

Thank you!

Layered Pages

Wednesday Reviews

From Sarah Bruce Kelly, author of award-winning Vivaldi’s Muse comes another historical novel, this based in post-Great War Pittsburgh and focusing on the early teen era of jazz pianist Mary Lou Williams. Written for roughly the same age group as its protagonist, Jazz Girl is told from Mary Lou’s perspective, no mean feat considering the writer essentially must enter the mind of her subject, speaking for and thus representing a real person, as opposed to imparting biographical details. Arranged in chapters, titles indicative of their focus, the novel’s prologue, “The Sign of the Caul,” introduces us to a piece of family lore Mary Lou must have heard hundreds of times before she repeats it for us: Born with a caul, a piece of amniotic membrane covering the newborn infant’s head, she is thus gifted with a second sight that turns out to be, as she herself recognizes, more burden than prize.
Her mother, not naturally inclined to parent or hardened by years of drinking, or perhaps both, repeatedly rejects Mary Lou through her childhood. She is taunted mercilessly by neighborhood children who follow their parents’ lead in ostracizing Mary in particular because of her black skin darker than most of her other family members’. Plagued by a stutter, her music saves her from misery, even if it is imprisoned inside her, owing to her “night squalling of an old alley cat” voice and lack of piano. “So most times the music stayed inside my head, leaping and dancing around like the spirits who used to play with me in the Georgia woods around our old house.”
Mary Lou’s fortunes, as so often happens in life, rise and fall. She has her Grandpa to share company and interests with, and he is sympathetic to her sensitive, artistic nature. To the extent that he can, he makes up for her lack of a father figure, despite the family divide linked to her mother’s alcoholism. A stepfather and piano later come into her life and the girl who at age three had played tunes following her mother’s example—indicative of her mother’s own talent lost or squandered—wastes no time in becoming a neighborhood sensation. “The little piano girl” begins to earn money for her music, enduring humiliation and deception on many occasions from those jealous or contemptuous of her. She loses a soul mate in her cousin Max, who moves away, her Grandpa dies and her stepfather threatens to sell the piano he gifted her. Her kind and beautiful teacher leads her to a standing gig playing for the other teacher ladies. Overjoyed that she finally has made her mother proud following an invitation to play at the teachers’ special tea party, she is distraught when her mother fails to show up, engaged as she is at home with the gin jug.
How Mary Lou not only gets through life but also manages herself, endures and thrives is not just a testament of the human spirit, an indicator of the resilience that brings some of us past misery and on to greatness. It also speaks to the idea that the individual indeed can rise above collective negativity, whether it be cultural or imposed, from strangers or one’s own family. This may be one of the caul’s gifts to her, as well as her strength in making choices: what to do, where to go, even how to respond and whether to become angry or upset. She has a special ability to understand people’s motives even if they themselves do not, and because she is naturally inclined to build bridges rather than tear them down, she is capable of compassion even in the face of utter meanness. A series of these choices leads her to play alongside Fats Waller and other jazz superstars, before she moves on to her own successful career, where she can build love and bring people together.
For a relatively short book, and a fairly easy read from my adult perspective, Kelly has packed a powerhouse into these 195 pages. Staid as it may be to enthuse over economy of words, it is a talent the author imparts with a grace like magic—I came away from and looked back upon the book in awe: How could she have said so much when saying so little? Moreover, the authenticity of Kelly’s dialogue captures perfectly the voice of someone whose life circumstances make her vulnerable, talent raises her to heights few other children even know the existence of, and early maturity helps navigate her through pathways both perilous and extraordinary.
The quality and style of her verbiage reflect authentically the time as well as speakers, who display awareness of this as well. “’You slay me, Nannie,’ [Mamie] said, acting all uppity with her teenage slang.” Mary Lou occasionally refers to acts or behavior this or that person won’t abide, a phrase often still heard used in contemporary black English. Kelly also utilizes styles typically identified with this speech, unencumbered by the weightiness that wears readers down in other books seeking to replicate, say, Southern or Cockney accents. But more than just Kelly’s authentic use of language, Mary Lou herself keeps it real, to turn a modern phrase. She even seems to reach out to us, the readers, telling an inclusive story that acknowledges our presence and part of it all: “Can you believe [what Hugh said]?”
Through the novel runs a train motif, sometimes used to reflect on the rail that brought Mary Lou’s family from Georgia to Pittsburgh, a new life, a fresh start. She reasons that trains bring people together, hence her long admiration of them, and linking her music to the rhythmic railway sounds, she reckons she can do the same with what she produces. The connectedness she yearns for herself and to pass to others links also to a re-creation, in turn opening like a bloom to more of the novel’s other pleasures for the senses. When her Nanny calls her “contrary” and refers to a poem she once knew that featured a garden, Mary Lou reflects on why she likes it: “Because it is about growing a garden. And that’s what my music is to me. All the time I spend at the piano is like planting seeds I hope will grow into beautiful flowers.”
Like the creation of new life, this book establishes in a number of ways connections with readers, from the cover art and information presented to the narrative itself and further references at the end—and in my experience these connections are no small matter. The easy-to-find cover credit for Maria Termini’s Piano Jazz Plant to go with the vision of a keyboard juxtaposed on the vibrant, filled-with-life colors of a plant, a synesthesiac sensation that causes Mary Lou’s fingers to itch as she lets loose with that strong left hand. The Author’s Note addressing some unanswered questions, and link to hear Mary Lou’s music and see some pictures. All invitations to stay connected to Mary Lou Williams past the time when the cover closes. Sarah Bruce Kelly has made us heirs to a brilliant legacy.
 Jazz Girl by Sarah Bruce Kelly
2010, Bel Canto Press
ISBN 978-0-615-35376-0
by Lisl Zlitni
Review Team Member
Line by Line, by Barbara Hacha, is a historical fiction piece that explores the life of a young woman during the Great Depression in the United States. The story’s plot examines the desperation, independence, and opinions of many Americans of the 1930s. These themes are a constant in history and I found the story interesting and eye opening to many events that aren’t covered in a standard history class about the Great Depression.

Maddy is the strong female protagonist in Line by Line. Through her voice and experiences, the reader learns much about the life of hoboes jumping the train rails, the Prohibition, the Bonus Army protest movement, the growing independent and strong woman of the 1930s, and the shear desperation and will of the people that endured the Depression. Whereas Maddy is the main character, her story could not be told without the many colorful and endearing characters that Ms. Hacha creates in her story. These characters provide growth to Maddy’s development as a character as well as providing insight to the life and times of the Great Depression. For instance, Francine and Phillipe lend to the story of Maddy’s continuing development as an artist and her determination to stand up for her beliefs. Rita, Maddy’s best friend, lends to the story’s plot of the Bonus Army protest movement in the 1930s as well as the difficulties posed by riding the train lines. Henry, the WWI veteran and hobo, serves as an ongoing mentor and protector for Maddy throughout the story. Despite his infrequent appearances in the book, his impact on the main character is evident.

With regard to style, Line by Line, is historical fiction piece that flowed well and was quite a page turner. The descriptions are detailed but the dialogue is the strength of the story. The diction was contemporary and easy to read. The majority of the characters were well developed. In fact, I found the only lacking piece to be a more strongly developed relationship between Rita and Maddy.

The book’s cover design of a person walking along the train rails provides the reader with what is to come in the book. When it comes to the layout, I thought the book should have had a reference section for Ms. Hacha’s research on the Bonus Army movement, life on the rails, and the Women’s Organization for National Prohibition Reform.

I greatly enjoyed Line by Line and learned a great deal about portions of the Depression. I would look for more works by Ms. Hacha in the future.
by Jennifer Schusterman
Review Team Member
I’ve always been intrigued with Marie Antoinette. she was such a complex women, I wanted to shake her at one moment, then hug her the next. She bore a tremendous amount on her shoulders and yet at the same time made very bad decisions. Out of all the books I’ve read about her, I would say that I have really enjoyed Juliet Grey’s two novels, Becoming Marie Antoinette and Day’s of Splendor, Day’s of Sorrow the most. Keep in mind this is Historical Fiction but I believe Grey stayed true to the events in this story.

Marie and Louis have ascended to the French throne and they have yet to consummate their marriage. Meanwhile, Marie began to fall out of favour with the French people (such as the royals) as the gossip and propaganda about her outrageous and extravagant spending was well known.She was spending more than her allowance had allowed and was in considerable debt. But that did not stop her as she continued to spend money on jewels, gowns and running up gambling debts among her peers. Even after her mother and brother’s warning and advice she could not see what she was doing was wrong and couldn’t see that it would cause serious trouble for her and her husband.

Marie was also under considerable stress to produce an heir for France and Louis suffered from a physical deformity it seems and finally after almost seven years of without consummating their marriage, he underwent a procedure, and they were finally able too. Soon after they had their first child, a daughter. Louis and Marie loved their children and I felt such sadness knowing what was to come. Louis troubled me at the end of this book. It’s like he couldn’t fully comprehend the magnitude of their situation and I think he felt that the French people would not turn on their King.

I enjoyed the pace of the story and Juliet Grey’s style of writing appeals to me.The book is written in beautiful detail and one can tell that Grey did an extensive research for her novel. There are so many aspects to this story and I was enthralled with every part, but I would like the reader to find out more for themselves by reading this novel. I highly recommend that you do.

Layered Pages

Wow! The Covenant Within by R.A.R. Clouston is a brilliantly written novel that divulges into the mind as well as into the imagination of the reader. The Covenant Within is centered around Jack Sinclair, an American CEO, who is thrown into mystery and adventure when he is suddenly called back to the Orkney Islands off of northern Scotland after his brother Thomas’s untimely death. He soon discovers that surrounding his brother’s death trouble and mystery lies. Before traveling back to the Orkney Islands Jack is plagued by tormented dreams of people he doesn’t know and places that he has never seen. He must travel deep within these dreams to unlock the secrets of his family’s past, present, and future.

R.A.R Clouston creates and novel that has the reader thinking about what could be. The dreams that Jack Sinclair has are called genetic memory and they are vast ancestral inheritances passed through the DNA, the reader will live Jack Sinclair’s life as well as memories of his ancestors. The story is created to keep you guessing about what has happen to Thomas as well as the dark secret of the Sinclair family that dates all the way back to the hill of Calvary. Although the story was a little slow at the beginning, I was glad that I kept reading because the adventure that I encountered in The Covenant Within was one that I won’t soon forget. Clouston creates a land of mystery and suspense on the Orkney Islands that will leave the reader wanting more. The characters will take the readers on a roller coaster of emotion and suspense that they won’t want to end. Overall, a fantastic read!

I am giving this book four stars!
Rachel Massaro
ReviewTeam Member

If you are interested in Layered Pages Review Team reviewing your book, please email Stephanie at

Thank you!

Interview with Author R.A.R Clouston & Giveaway

Bob, thank you for the pleasure of an interview. I would like to begin by asking you about your reading interests. What is your favorite literary genre?

There are several fiction genres that I enjoy reading including historical fiction, mysteries, and thrillers; however, if I had to choose only one it would be the latter, especially political thrillers. In non-fiction, I like military history with a focus on the U.S. Civil War and World War II, as well as books about wildlife, notably those that deal with the plight of whales and dolphins.
A few of your literary favorites are among mine as well. What are you currently reading?

I usually read several books at one time across a wide range of genres. Currently, I am reading the following books; The Winter Chaser by Christopher Holt, The Cruel Sea by Nicholas Monsarrat, and Mapping Human History by Steve Olson.

What do you plan on reading next?

The next books to be added to my reading list are Outlaw Platoon by Sean Parnell and John Bruning, and When Elephants Weep by Jeffrey Moussaieff Masson and Susan McCarthy.

Of the books you have written, which is your favorite?

That is a difficult question to answer because whenever I finish a book I am so deeply involved with the story and characters that it is my favorite; at least until I start the next one. Having said that, although it is not my most recent work, I would have to say that The Covenant Within is my favorite because of my strong personal ties to Orkney and my Viking ancestry. At the risk of sounding maudlin, as I sat before my computer keyboard, I felt as if someone else’s hands were guiding mine.

I was delighted to read and review your book “The Covenant Within”. Could you please tell your audience a little bit about your story.

This is the perfect story for anyone who has ever had a riveting but disturbing dream that haunted them for days afterwards; or who have experienced a déjà vu incident that was so vivid, so powerful that it sent chills down their spine; or perhaps even more extraordinary, who are convinced that they have had past lives. Indeed, any of these may be signals that the person who experienced them is one of those special few who are capable of reliving the lives of their ancestors. Controversial? Yes. Improbable? Perhaps. Impossible? No. Not at all.

The reason can be found in epigenetics, which is the study of heritable changes in gene expression or cellular phenotype caused by changes in the underlying DNA sequence. Since the 1960s, scientists have known that it only takes a tiny percentage of our DNA to build the human body with all its precision and complexity. But now there is growing evidence that the genetic code contains a vast memory bank of our ancestral past that can affect more than simply our physical being. This may play a critical role in our disposition to certain diseases such as cancer; or affect our behavior, our attitudes, and the way we live our lives. But there is another controversial aspect of this ‘genetic memory’ that is more intriguing than its physiological or behavioral counterparts; and this forms the basis of my story.
Specifically, some researchers believe that there is an inherent genetic recollection of the memories and experiences of our ancestors buried deep within our DNA. The Swiss psychiatrist, Dr. Carl Jung, proposed these were memories common to everyone, which he called the collective unconscious. However, my story suggests that the significant life events of our ancestors are stored in our DNA and some people can, and do, relive snippets of the past lives of their distant relatives via these unique genetic memories. In effect, they experience time travel! 

There are very few books that grab me from the very beginning but your story did. How did you come up for the idea of “The Covenant Within”?

Several years ago, my wife and I visited my ancestral home in the Orkney Islands, a remote archipelago off the northern coast of Scotland. I had never been there before but as I walked the narrow streets of Kirkwall, Orkney’s capital, or stood in awe inside the nine hundred year old St. Magnus Cathedral, or touched the weathered tombstones of my ancestors in a tiny cemetery in Orphir overlooking the wind-swept waters of Scapa Flow, I was overcome with a feeling that I had been there before: that I had lived and loved, laughed and cried, and fought and died there in a that wild and lonely land of my Viking fore bearers.
It was a profoundly moving experience. The feeling was compounded several days later, when my wife and I traveled to Edinburgh and I happened to read an article in the newspaper about the work being done in the field of epigenetics at the University of Edinburgh. It didn’t take long for my imagination to be unleashed, and as soon as we returned to the United States The Covenant Within began to take shape.

Were there any scenes in the book you found more challenging to write than others?

There were several: first, were the scenes that embody the negative effect upon my protagonist’s mental well-being as he relives events from his ancestors’ lives. The force of evil, which pursues him throughout the story, manifests itself in the beast of his onrushing insanity, and I found writing these scenes both challenging and unnerving.

And second was the final scene of the book, which as you know, presents a surprise ending that I believe will stun the readers and give them something to think about long after the story ends.

I loved the Historical aspects of your story. Please tell us about the research you did for that.

As you might suspect from my earlier comments about my trip to Orkney, I drew heavily upon the history of my ancestors, blending fact with fiction, to create the genetic memory incidents, or GMIs as I call them in my story. To do this, I was assisted by a comprehensive history and genealogy of the Clouston family that was prepared by a distant relative of mine. Through it, I was able to trace our family’s history in a virtually unbroken line all the way back to the first recorded Earl of Orkney, Rognvald the Powerful, a Norseman who lived in the 9th Century A.D.

Another source that helped me create the GMIs is a book titled The Orkneying Saga: The History of the Earls of Orkney, written around 1200 A.D. by an unknown Icelandic author, and translated by Hermann Pálsson and Paul Edwards. The book represents the only medieval chronicle written about Orkney and it is replete with the history of events where my ancestors actually were present or might have been.

And finally, as with other authors of historical fiction, I immersed myself in the history of the time and place of my story, which in my case were the actual events in Viking and Scottish history that that appear in my GMIs. In every case I tried to be as historically accurate as my sources, both print and digital, would permit.

Is there a message in your book that you want readers to grasp?

Yes. Simply this: there is more to who we are and where we come from than science can explain, and the human mind represents a vast, uncharted territory where heroes live and monsters dwell.

What is your greatest strength as a writer?

My imagination. It is my greatest strength and perhaps my greatest weakness because it knows no bounds.

What is your next book project?

Building upon my answer to the previous question, my imagination has taken me on a journey across a sprawling landscape of genres and storylines. The five books I have self-published―the fourth of which is The Covenant Within―cover such highly-charged topics as gun control (the Where Freedom Reigns series), ocean conservation (The Tempest’s Roar), and rancorous, partisan politics that jeopardizes the security of our nation (No Greater Evil).

A common theme throughout all my work is the eternal struggle between good and evil. How and where this will lead me in my next book is not yet clear.

What books have most influenced your life?

I don’t know that I can point out any books that have most influenced my life, beyond the Bible, a copy of which my grandmother gave me on my seventh birthday and which I still have today.

However, I can tell you that there have been several books that have most influenced my writing: they are Islands in the Stream by Ernest Hemingway; The Winds of War and War and Remembrance by Herman Wouk; The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien; the Travis McGee series by John D. MacDonald; and last but certainly not least, On Writing by Stephen King.

What do you think contributes to making a writer successful in self-publishing?

Although there are exceptions, as evidenced by several top-selling books currently listed in the New York Times Book Review, I believe that to be successful an author must be a good writer. And to be a good writer you must do three things; 1) read, 2) read, and 3) read. It is only by reading the work of others that you can learn how to write well.

If you do not do this, you are doomed to be a bad writer. One only has to look at the vast majority of poorly-written self-published books available today to see that most indie authors take the easy way out.

Finally, to be a truly great writer, like the authors I mentioned above, is a God-given gift that few of us possess or can ever hope to achieve.

What do you think of this immediate age of self-publishing?

I think it is a great time to be a writer―arguably the best of times―because we are finally, and forever, freed from the narrow-minded, mercenary, and self-serving arrogance of traditional publishers.

What is your favorite quote?

I have so many that I am hesitant to pick just one. However, the quote that applies best to being a self-published author in a world where everyone is a critic is from Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet (Act II, scene ii, line 1)

“He jests at scars that never felt a wound.”

What advice would you give to an aspiring author?


Author Bio:

R.A.R. Clouston is a retired corporate executive whose career as a business professional has included roles as the president and CEO of several international consumer products companies. He has also been a guest lecturer at a number of graduate business schools in the US and Canada; however, his passion has always been writing. He received his Bachelor of Science degree in psychology from McGill University, and an MBA from the University of Western Ontario. He is a member of the Canadian Ski Instructors’ Alliance and also holds a Black Belt in Tae Kwon Do.


His website can be found at

R.A.R. Clouston is offering his novel, “The Covenant Within”, forFREE on Amazon for five days! Make sure you get your copy!

Review: The Covenant Within

An inheritance is passed down through DNA and comes in dreams-deja vu-of the past. The protagonist, Jack, is tormented by this family inheritance and begins to think he is going insane. At the same time his estranged brother has committed suicide. So Jack travels to Scotland to attend his brother’s funeral and discovers troubling circumstances surrounding his brother’s death. He feels compelled to find out the truth and as he does his life and the people helping him, becomes in danger. He discovers a secret about his family that goes all the way back to Christ’s Crucifixion.

Jack is a complex character and at one moment I felt drawn to him and the next I was infuriated and irritated with him and the decisions he was making. He could be so caring and sympathetic, then the next, he was uncaring and withdrawn. When his life or the people’s life that he cares about are in danger, he would become strong and courageous.

There are some developments in the story that I did not see coming and that is what makes for a good thriller novel. Not knowing what is going to happen next. I felt Clouston did an excellent job tying the events of the past and present together and Jacks, “dreams” of the past is a believable and solid foundation for the plot. I’m really impressed with the concept of this story and as a avid reader of historical fiction, I enjoyed the historical aspects of it.

An enjoyable and intriguing read that I recommend to anyone!
By Stephanie

Layered Pages