Finding Esme Review

FINDING ESME
by
SUZANNE CROWLEY
  
Genre: Middle Grade (3-7) / Magical Realism / Family & Loss
Publisher: Greenwillow Books
Date of Publication: August 14, 2018
Number of Pages: 288

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After her grandfather died from a heart attack while driving his tractor on Solace Hill, twelve-year-old Esme’s been inextricably drawn to that spot, although her grandmother warns her to stay away. But when she follows her little brother, Bo, and her dog, Old Jack, up the hill while chasing fireflies, she makes an incredible discovery—dinosaur bones peeking out from underneath the abandoned tractor.

The bones must be a message from her grandfather, a connection from beyond the grave. But when word gets out that the farm is hiding something valuable, reporters, researchers, and neighbors arrive in droves. Esme struggles to understand who has her best interests at heart, especially as the memory of her grandfather begins to slip away.

Full of friendship and adventure, and featuring a palpable Texas setting, Finding Esme is a moving and heartfelt story about family, friendship, and learning to deal with loss.

PRAISE & HONORS FOR FINDING ESME:

“Esme is a brave, appealing heroine with the odds stacked against her… Bad blood and layered family secrets drive this story to its ultimately optimistic and satisfying conclusion.” — Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books (starred review)

“Esme McCauley is a lonely but spirited 12-year-old who feels nothing ever happens to her the way it’s supposed to…A poignant tale for readers who enjoy character-driven realism.” — School Library Journal

“Readers muddling through preteen changes or unstable family lives will identify with Esme’s struggles, but the thrill of discovery will appeal to most.” — Booklist

Texas Library Association 2019 Spirit of Texas (SPOT) reading program selection

Has anyone ever seen a studio ghibli movie or read the books? Reading Finding Esme reminded me of them quite a bit. It’s the transition between childhood and growing up, where the world seems bigger each day than it did before. To me, this book was on the cusp of that and accepting those things we face. Esme herself is struggling with wanting to stay who she is, even with the changes happening since her Grandpa Pap’s passed away. However, even with these strange and sometimes shocking discoveries, Esme does carry this mature sensibility within her.

“You came out like you were already grown-up, Esme McCauley, even though you were half as big as a minute. I looked into those green eyes of yours and it was like you’d already seen the whole world but were still looking for something.”

Dealing with this loss has created a rift in Esme and what she once knew. Even the people around her, friends and family, begin to act different. Or perhaps she begins to notice things she didn’t before. I had mixed feelings about Bee, her grandmother and primary caregiver. She is a mystery to Esme and can seem aloof in her affections. At the same time, you know that Bee wholeheartedly cares for Esme and her brother and want the best for them. She treats Esme like an adult at times but keeps things from her as well. This causes Esme to feel even more isolated with everything that has happened in her short life so far. Esme begins keeping her own secrets which lead her to discovering more and more hidden history along the way. Grandma Bee has a finding gift that she calls God-given, but Esme has conflicting emotions about it. Despite her gift seeming even more powerful than Bee at times, she wants to fit in and not seem odd to the town. I can’t always say this about characters but I really liked Esme’s character from beginning to end in this book. As you follow along in the story with Esme’s point of view, the mysteries unfold and you are left with more questions. Esme is clever, caring but level-headed, and does her best to be herself despite outside pressures.

While at first I had to get used to the pace of the story and characters introduced, it didn’t take but a few chapters to become fully immersed in Finding Esme. The interweaving of everyone in town was a great addition to this story and added an extra spin to everything uncovered. There were complicated relationships that had history spanning generations and the distinct personalities that were affected by other characters. I feel like Crowley’s writing really shone here and made it unique.

Suzanne Crowley is the author of two acclaimed novels for young readers, The Very Ordered Existence of Merilee Marvelous and The Stolen One. The author, who is also a miniaturist and dollhouse collector whose work has graced the covers of magazines worldwide, was born in a small town in Texas and lives in Southlake, Texas. When not hugging her dog or imbibing in chocolate, she can often be found taking a nap.
 

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Fury of the Gods

Fury of the Gods
Amy Braun
(Areios Brothers #3)
Genres: Adult, Urban Fantasy

Fate brings consequence.

Separated from his brother by curses and lies, Derek Areios is forced into hiding. With rogue goddesses on his side, he begins his search for the Mind of Cronus. But his plans come to a screeching halt when the Olympians send nightmarish warriors to hunt him. Creatures even the gods themselves fear.

Liam Areios, lost without his brother and trapped in service for the Olympians, continues the hunt for the Mind of Cronus. The remaining gods refuse to trust him—or any human—and Liam begins to see just how mad power has made them. Becoming entangled in the schemes of mortals and immortals, Liam will have to fight or lose everyone he loves.

Deadly monsters, betrayal, and pulse-pounding action fill the pages of the third novel in the AREIOS BROTHERS series.

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Author Bio:

Amy is a Canadian urban fantasy and horror author. Her work revolves around monsters, magic, mythology, and mayhem. She started writing in her early teens, and never stopped. She loves building unique worlds filled with fun characters and intense action.

When she isn’t writing, she’s reading, watching movies, taking photos, gaming, struggling with chocoholism and ice cream addiction, and diving headfirst into danger in Dungeons & Dragons campaigns.

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All In: Review

ALL IN
by
L.K. Simonds
Genre: Gritty Realistic / Christian Fiction
Publisher: Morgan James Publishing
Date of Publication: August 27, 2019
Number of Pages: 282

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A woman’s empty pursuit of happiness leads to a crisis before finding redemption in the Lord in this challenging and gritty Christian novel.

Twenty-nine-year-old novelist and blackjack dealer Cami Taylor seems to have it all—but just underneath her confident exterior and newfound celebrity is a young woman in trouble. Cami’s boyfriend, Joel, wants to get married, buy a house on Long Island, and raise a family—a life that’s a million miles from Cami’s idea of happiness. Her therapist suggests compromise and trust, but Cami would rather bolt like a deer.

Breaking things off with Joel, Cami launches herself on a new quest for happiness. But her pursuit of pleasure only takes her further from herself—and toward a harrowing new reality unlike anything she’s faced before. What follows for Cami is a fight to the death that can only be waged with God’s love.

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L.K. SIMONDS PRESENTS CAMI TAYLOR:

Cami is as independent of a character you can get. She’s a writer that observes people, imagining their lives and motives, but ultimately pushing them away to remain in her bubble. When faced with someone seeking more, a typical ‘white-picket fence’ life, she wants nothing more than to run. While she struggles to determine what she really wants in life, her own decisions and discoveries leave her even more at odds. There’s more to loneliness than being lonely. Cami struggles with this existential dread that seems to have her denying wanting anything more for herself. From the start she says about relationships:

 

“I’m only twenty-nine years old, but I’ve pretty much seen and done it all. What are my choices, really? Apparently, the road to happiness must be traveled in vehicles I loathe: Sacrifice. Compromise. Surrender.”

 

I found it almost comical reading this at beginning of her narrative. Maybe it was hard to be in her shoes in this aspect but being in your twenties and thinking you’ve seen it all really stuck with me. I’ve been there. Then, of course, a few years or months pass and perspective hits you in the face. Cami is very analyzing to her own feelings but keeps this all in. Being the reader to these thoughts and feelings was a great choice and one of my favorite aspects to the book. To an outside perspective, it would be difficult to like Cami’s character and the actions she takes. Of course, most of her behavior seems to be a challenge to others and how they’ll react. While I type this, I realize how critical it may sound towards Cami. Ultimately, she’s human and has made mistakes. She struggles and is down to earth in a way that she is completely drifting aimlessly. Like many of us. She doesn’t know what she doesn’t know. It’s when everything starts to fall apart and her emotions are on the peak of exploding that she starts to snap out of this.

 

I went to Catholic school for ten years. Has this made me more faithful? Has this made me less? I can say is that it gave me clarity towards living constantly surrounded by faith and then not when I left. I share this because I can see why this Christian Fiction can have mixed views. Faith isn’t always easy. Especially if your intention is to share it with someone. I think that All In shares something different here. An emotional path, one with desperation but also acceptance. Maybe faith won’t heal all wounds but it helps accept them. I think Cami finds most of her peace this way. After living her formative years thinking it was normal to feel underwhelmed, meaning in God gives her hope for more.

 

Funnily enough, the ending reminded me of one of my favorite books, Life of Pi. I won’t share spoilers, but the book definitely had subtle metaphors that made me think of it. Not every person of faith or none will like the ending. Or maybe they will. It depends on our own emotional journey and what has lead us to this point. Maybe even putting aside faith, a reader will appreciate the impressive first novel Simonds released. They’ll enjoy the inner complexities of Cami and hopefulness of Kate. They’ll love the building of scenes that paint descriptive and engaging imagery that spark your imagination. They’ll think on their own faith and discuss it with others. A success in my opinion!

 

L. K. Simonds is a Fort Worth local. She has worked as a waitress, KFC hostess, telephone marketer, assembly-line worker, nanny, hospital lab technician, and air traffic controller. She’s an instrument-rated pilot and an alumna of Christ for the Nations Institute in Dallas. All In is her first novel.

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Spent Identity: Review and Giveaway

SPENT IDENTITY
Annalisse Series, Book 2
by
Marlene M. Bell
Genre: Mystery / Suspense / Light Romance
Publisher: Ewephoric Publishing
Date of Publication: December 11, 2019
Number of Pages: 378

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A body, a disappearance, just another hot summer in upstate New York.

It’s July when antiquities appraiser Annalisse Drury reaches her family’s small-town farm to consult with the trusted aunt who raised her. She learns that her beloved homestead—the one she expects to inherit—is for sale. While Annalisse reels at the betrayal and her shattered dreams, the Walker Farm ranch manager discovers a corpse in the barn. Officials close the suspected murder scene, and Annalisse seeks refuge with her aunt at Alec Zavos’s rural estate in New York’s Catskill Mountains.

Then Aunt Kate vanishes.

Annalisse solicits the help of Greek tycoon, Alec Zavos, even though their rocky romance has dissolved into routine separation. What began as hope on Crete nine months ago has eaten away at Annalisse’s hope for a future with him.

In Spent Identity, Annalisse and Alec come together for the second time and find themselves in the center of not one mystery, but several. Where is Kate, and why sell her farm now? Is the dead man a coincidence or a clue to the aunt’s disappearance? John Doe’s identity may hold needed answers to solve the puzzle before Kate’s unstable health issues make her rescue impossible. The clock ticks, and a vengeful murderer is in charge…

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Spenty Identity is suspenseful and filled with mystery, drama, and romance, I simply couldn’t get enough. It keeps you on the edge of your seat and keeps you guessing the entire time. 

Spent Identity follows Annalisse, an appraiser for a gallery in Manhattan that takes a bit of an extended vacation at Walker Barn where Aunt Kate, the woman that raised her, lives. Annalisse needs some time and distant from her busy life and her always away beau Alec. The last thing she expected to find was a man dead in the barn. Soon after the incident, Kate goes missing and their lives are thrown into chaos as they try to find Kate and piece together who the killer is and why they would take Kate. 

It was neat to see these characters grow from book 1 in Stolen Obsessions. Annalisse is both assertive and passive, but has no problem jumping head into danger to uncover the truth about the mysterious happenings at Walker Barn. As for Alec, he is presented at first as a bit of an arrogant ass, but since we already fell in love with him in book 2, you already know the good sie of Alex and know that he and Annalisse will work out their differences in the end. I thoroughly enjoyed both characters. I felt like Alec had more character development than Annalisse. Nothing really changed with Annalise as far as her development and personality. She’s pretty much the same character throughout the book. I personally would have liked to see more of a change in her as we do with Alec. But she’s a great character! Very strong willed and determined which I love in my female leads and it was a nice change from book 1 where I felt like she was constantly the damsel in distress. I felt like Annalisse was determined to take more control of her life in this book. 

As for the story development, I loved how it all unraveled. I probably blamed everyone at one point for being the killer, which is part of the fun! This book keeps you guessing and surprises you with who the villain of the story is. I love a good surprise in a murder mystery novel! 

There’s so much to enjoy from Spent Identity. There’s soft romance and there’s secrets uncovered. There’s a killer out for revenge. There’s family drama! Spent Identity held its suspense throughout the whole book and was a very intriguing read! It was a real page turner! I look forward to reading more by Marlene M. Bell. 

Rating: 4/5

Marlene M. Bell is an acclaimed artist and photographer as well as a writer. Her sheep landscapes grace the covers of publications such as, Sheep!, The Shepherd, Ranch & Rural Living, and Sheep Industry News. Ewephoric, her mail order venture, began in 1985 out of a desire for realistic sheep stationery. A color catalog of non-fiction books and sheep-related gifts may be requested on her website or www.texassheep.com.Marlene and her husband, Gregg reside on a wooded ranch in beautiful East Texas with their dreadfully spoiled horned Dorset sheep, a large and lovable Maremma guard dog named Tia, and Hollywood, Leo, and Squeaks, the cats who believe they rule the household — and do.


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Lost Girl Review

Lost Girl 
By Holly Kammier 
(A Shelby Day Novel) 
Published by: Acorn Publishing
Publication date: January 5th 2020
Genres: Romance, Suspense, Young Adult

Book Synopsis

AN APPALLING ACT OF VIOLENCE AND AN UNSOLVED DOUBLE MURDER.

SMALL-TOWN INVESTIGATIVE REPORTER, SHELBY DAY, IS DETERMINED TO HUNT A KILLER. 

As her search draws closer to uncovering the twisted truth, she begins receiving ominous warnings to stay quiet and drop the story. The young journalist is in danger. Her cameraman and best friend, a person with his own secret past, says he wants to protect her. But Shelby is headstrong and dodging anything that could lead to love. She can’t allow anyone to distract her as she fights for the two women who deserve justice. 

She never expects along the way she’ll have to stop and save herself.

Ticktock… If Shelby doesn’t solve the crime soon, she’ll become the killer’s next victim. 

“Lost Girl is a compulsive thrill-ride that reads as if it’s been pulled straight from the headlines. Kammier’s journalism background brings undeniable authenticity to a novel that has it all– a love story, a murder mystery, and a real-life introduction into the distinctive world of television news.” 
-CAROLINE MITCHELL, New York Times best-selling author

This book is for anyone who loves:
Young Adult love stories
Murder Mystery
Redemption
Books with journalism elements
Intended for a mature YA audience

Fans of Veronica Mars, In The Woods, and One Of Us Is Lying, will love this novel.

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Lost Girl was an entertaining and relatively easy read to enjoy. I love a good mystery and Kammier’s morally grey characters kept me interested. Shelby, an investigative reporter, is determined to solve the local murders affecting the town. Although, her self-serving intentions and headstrong attitude cause trouble for her along the way. Especially when it comes to any romantic interest. I did personally think that the mystery in this book was more interesting than the romance. In this, I could connect with Shelby’s character and the challenges she faces in this mystery. Solving this murder becomes more than a chance to be recognized as a reporter to Shelby. Overall, I quite enjoyed the hints and foreshadowing that led us to discovering the killer.

Unfortunately the story, while engaging, could be a bit scattered at times. While you rooted for Shelby, she is a flawed character that I wished had more of an arch by the end. The romance as well could be quite tedious and immature for the characters. Mostly, I felt like Shelby’s feelings towards not being in a relationship should be resolved through her own growth internally instead of for someone. I felt it may have connected more for readers. Overall, the basis and journey of this can certainly appeal to readers interested in YA and NA.

About the Author

Co-owner of Acorn Publishing, the UCLA honors graduate is an accomplished content editor/writing coach (her authors have gone on to become USA Today best-sellers and a New York Times best-seller). With a background in journalism, Holly Kammier has worked everywhere from CNN in Washington, D.C. and KCOP-TV in Los Angeles, to the NBC affiliate in small-town Medford, Oregon.

She is the best-selling author of the novel, Kingston Court (Acorn Publishing 2015), and Could Have Been Hollywood, a memoir. Holly recently published her third book, Choosing Hope, a harrowing story of passion and deceit, and the things we do for love. Her next novel, the YA Romantic Suspense, Lost Girl, is scheduled for release in early 2020.

Holly resides in her hometown of San Diego, California, close to family and friends. An avid reader with a passion for timeless books and beautiful writing, she also enjoys long walks, romantic movies, and pink peonies.

Author Links

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SANTA CLAUS BANK ROBBERY

SANTA CLAUS BANK ROBBERY

A True-Crime Saga in Texas

By TUI SNIDER

  Genre: Nonfiction / Texana / Texas History

Publisher: Castle Azle Press

Date of Publication: December 8, 2019

Number of Pages: 146 pages + black & white photos

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 When Marshall Ratliff dressed like Santa Claus to pull a Christmas-time heist, he thought it would be easy. Unfortunately for him, when the citizens of Cisco heard Santa was robbing a bank, they came running – with loaded guns in hand! 


But can you blame them? In 1927, the only way to earn the $5000 Dead Bank Robber Reward was to kill a bandit while the crime was in progress. 

This bungled bank robbery led to a wild shootout and a getaway with two little girls as hostages. And that is only the beginning! 


Tui Snider’s true-crime tale reads like a comedy of errors as the consequences of the Santa Claus Bank Robber’s actions escalate to include a botched car-jacking, one of the biggest manhunts in Texas history, and a jailbreak leading to a deadly conclusion. 

Meanwhile, it’s up to readers to decide whether or not a mysterious blonde helped these gangsters escape. And if so, did she get away with murder?

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I’m continually impressed with Tui Snider’s reporting skills. The more I read her books, I find the vibrant energy of her writing urging me to go out and discover my own mysteries and little known events in history. With bank robberies, it always seemed a bit larger than life or comical in a way. I suppose TV and movies have done that throughout the years. It doesn’t really seem real with the crazy plans that go off the rails. Even now, when hearing about recent robberies of armored cars near me, I questioned how that could even happen. It seems insane and it is!

The insanity of this robbery in history seemed to compound more and more as events unfolded. I literally was reading through this account, my eyebrows raised and jaw dropped, at how this robbery affected so many people. It truly astounds me how anyone thought running towards the bank robbery or even handing out guns to anyone in sight would help. The chaos of hundreds of bullets flying around and hitting innocent bystanders made this all the more tragic. 

Along with Tui Snider’s own telling of this story is newspaper clippings and direct quotes from people at the time. I especially found this fascinating to hear directly in their own voice. Additionally, pictures and even maps were shown to give the reader a clear idea of the event. Even after reading the Santa Claus Bank Robbery, the bizarre events that took place seem like a chaotic tall tale. 

Snider continues with the events that happened after this robbery as well. I don’t like to reveal many spoilers but I can say that I knew I made the right decision in reading this book! Along with researched accounts, more mysteries unfold as to who was involved and why the stories became so confusing. Other retellings and accounts, such as A.C. Greene’s book, are given as example to this and just how they deviated from fact. It speaks to Snider’s tenacity in writing, that beyond researching these books, she finds facts and documentation to prove what really happened.

To those that enjoy a good mystery, who are eager to read a conversational historical retelling, and maybe aren’t scandalized by Santa with a gun…I’d definitely recommend this book!

about the author

 Tui Snider is an award-winning writer, speaker, photographer, and musician specializing in offbeat sites, overlooked history, cemetery symbolism, and haunted lore. As she puts it, “I used to write fiction, but then I moved to Texas!”

Tui lectures frequently at universities, libraries, conferences, and bookstores.This fall, she will speak about the Great Airship Mystery of 1897 at this year’s UFO Congress and teach a course on Understanding Cemetery Symbols at Texas Christian University. She also shares weekly info-videos based on her research at her YouTube channel.

Snider’s writing and photography have been featured in a variety of media outlets, including WFAA TVCoast to Coast AM, LifeHack, Langdon Review, the City of Plano, Wild Woman WakingShades of Angels and many more. She has several more books in progress.

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Covey and JayJay Get Educated: Author Interview

COVEY AND JAYJAY GET EDUCATED

By Shelton L. Williams

Genre: Murder Mystery / Social Thriller / Amateur Sleuth

Publication Date: September 1, 2019

Number of Pages: 209 pages

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Amateur detectives, Covey Jencks and JayJay Qualls, are drawn into a triple murder on the campus of Baker College in West Waverly in the Texas Hill Country. Both end up taking positions at the college: Covey as an adjunct instructor and JayJay as a visiting actor. 

 Initially they believe that money is the motive for the murders, but over time they learn that the college is a cauldron of political and social intrigue. The college’s new president and his beautiful wife, various staff members, a prominent trustee, and parties not associated with the college have the motives, opportunities, and wacky agendas that might implicate them in the murders. It turns out that a white nationalist group may be using a college house for its nefarious activities, but are they more talk than action? 

The West Waverly police are little to no help in the investigation, and Covey himself has to depart the college to deal with his father’s death. JayJay takes over and makes a critical breakthrough. Upon Covey’s return, the couple must rely on deception, a bit of luck, and martial arts skills to solve the crimes and to try to prevent a high-profile assassination.

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Author Shelton Williams is interviewed by a former student 

Recently I was in Sherman, Texas, home of Austin College, where I taught for 38 years. A former student, Marc Parrish, interviewed me at an artsy place called Ideation Station, owned by another former student, Ruth Williamson. The audience, homecoming celebrants everyone, hardly knew me beyond my academic writings or my two memoirs that are really non-fiction novels. Marc is a writer himself (his first book is coming out in 2020 or 2021), so his questions helped the audience understand my new fiction and perhaps prompted me to explore my own writing journey. Here’s an edited version of Marc’s questions:

Marc: How does your 30 years of non-fiction writing affect your detective stories that are wholly fictional?

Shelly: In a sense I had to get over the one to write the other. Writing books about nuclear politics, war and peace, and foreign policy was part of my career, and I studied at Johns Hopkins where serious writing is for serious people. I learned to do that, and I am proud of it, but very few people other than policy wonks read that stuff. I tried the same style initially in writing about the death of my cousin in Washed in the Blood. A friendly publisher saved the project by saying, “You know, this is partly your story as well. You can use the word ‘I’ in telling it.” That liberated me to find my true voice. I went back to my roots in Odessa to research and write about Betty, my murdered cousin. Eventually that town, the people I knew, and the politics of a changing America allowed me to use my new style to tell stories.

Marc: Your characters seem like real people, and I often feel like I know a person or recognize a place. For example, in Covey and JayJay Get Educated, Baker College is clearly Austin College and many of the faculty and staff are familiar. 

Shelly: The look of Austin College informs the narrative, but so do other small liberal arts colleges I have visited in Michigan, Maryland, Virginia, and Pennsylvania. Many readers should feel at home even if they have never been to Sherman, Texas. The characters, especially the ones you like, from the students to the staff to the faculty, are inspired by Austin College folks, but their actions are wholly fictional, and they are in fact composite fictional characters. The bad guys have nothing to do with Austin College; the story arc is mine alone. The idea of murders on campus comes from the British TV series Morse or Endeavour based on the books by Colin Dexter.

Marc: Well, one thing we all did know about you back in the day was that you are a movie guy. You see more movies than anyone I know, and you review them on Facebook. Didn’t you write a couple of screenplays?

Shelly: I did, and they were not good enough. I wrote Washed in the Blood as a vehicle for a movie because Betty wanted to act. She died at 17, so it never happened. I wanted it for her. There is a TV docudrama called Bye, Bye Betty based on her story. I hope that soon there will also be a movie. I have been told many times that the Covey Jencks books would be a great mini-series. I have learned not to expect anything at all from my books. Writing them should be enough. JayJay, I mean actually my wife, Janell, on whose personality JayJay is based, says, “Be in the moment. Your story-telling will be better if you do so, and if anyone wants to do anything else with your books, that will be their moment and you can help, if asked.”

Marc: What is the greatest compliment you have received from your writing?

Shelly: Not long ago, my fourteen-year-old granddaughter, Clara, asked me, “Pops, I just wrote a story. Will you read it?”

about the author

 Shelton L. Williams (Shelly) is founder and president of the Osgood Center for International Studies in Washington, DC. He holds a PhD from Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies and he taught for nearly 40 years at Austin College in Sherman, Texas. He has served in the US Government on 4 occasions and he has written books and articles on nuclear proliferation. In 2004 he began a new career of writing books on crime and society. Those books are Washed in the BloodSummer of 66, and now Covey Jencks. All firmly prove that he is still a Texan at heart.

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FOUR WINNERS!GRAND PRIZE: signed copy of each of the author’s books

SECOND PRIZE: signed copy of both Covey Jencks and Covey and JayJay Get Educated

THIRD PRIZE: Audio book of Covey and JayJay Get Educated

FOURTH PRIZE: Kindle version of Covey and JayJay Get Educated

DECEMBER 10-20, 2019

(U.S. Only)

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