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Book Review: Dark Water by Chynna Laird

Sixteen-year-old Freesia Worth should be enjoying her summer break, not looking for her missing mother. Almost a year ago, Tamara went missing. Unwilling to admit the likely truth that her mother is deceased, Freesia takes on the mission of finding her.

Having lost her father in a peace-keeping mission in Afghanistan, Freesia is desperate to find her mother, who was last seen at Hawk Lake, the location of the family’s yearly summer retreat and Tamara’s favorite place in the whole world. As a psychologist, Tamara counseled many soldiers who served with James and suffered from PTSD. And with the police getting ready to close their investigation, Freesia understands that if she wants to find any last clues to her mother’s disappearance, the lake is the best place to look.

It isn’t long before her hopes turn to resignation as she uncovers clues that something horrible happened to her mother and that one of the men her father called a friend is likely involved. As Freesia wades deeper into the mystery, she becomes intertwined with a supernatural being and a deadly killer.

The supernatural elements within this novel greatly enhance the mystery. Readers not only get a great “whodunit” but also a paranormal twist in the legend of “The Watcher,” a First Nation man who is the guardian of Hawk Lake and of all those who love it. The Watcher also helps souls seeking retribution, vengeance for the misdeeds of evildoers.

The Watcher leads a mysterious gothic girl to reveal the fragmented clues Freesia needs to unravel the disappearance of her mother. As this girl plants the “seeds” of justice, the more difficult the book is to put down!

Dark Water brings awareness to two important disorders, PTSD and SPD. Several characters within the novel have post-traumatic stress disorder, and the author sympathetically showcases the suffering of these men, haunted by images no one should see. Freesia develops compassion for the often-frightening behavior of the men in her father’s former unit, and here Laird’s strength leads the reader carefully through the torture these men and their families endure.

At the same time, Sage, Freesia’s eight-year-old sister, has been diagnosed with SPD, sensory processing disorder. Sage hasn’t spoken since her mother’s disappearance and only truly connects with Freesia, who must patiently help Sage communicate what she’s seen and heard. Just as Tamara fought for the PTSD soldiers that she counseled, Freesia fights to bring her sister back in order to unlock the secrets buried within her.

A blue sweatshirt, a pair of broken sunglasses, a strange girl, and a mystery worthy of a television drama, Dark Water will captivate and intrigue mystery-lovers and paranormal fans alike.

Book Review: Deadly Proof by M. Louisa Locke

Annie Fuller, a part-time clairvoyant/landlady, is determined to improve her life. As the daughter of a financial investor, Annie knows a great deal about bookkeeping and investments. Putting her knowledge to good use with her fledgling accounting business, the pretty widow seems on-track again since moving to San Francisco, opening her home to boarders, and transitioning from her former job as the fortune-telling Madame Sibyl.

Having agreed to marry attorney Nate Dawson, she can almost touch the happiness she deserves after her disastrous first marriage, but when Nate is hired to defend a woman accused of murdering her boss, Annie turns private investigator in an attempt to help her fiancé with his first solo criminal case. At first, Nate’s biggest obstacle is the client herself, Florence Sullivan, who refuses to even speak to him for several days. Soon the issue becomes the sheer number of suspects who wanted Joshua Rashers, the ruthless owner of a printing company, dead. But as Annie and Nate’s sister Laura begin to dig deeper into the lives of Rasher’s family and employees, they will soon face deadly dangers of their own.

Strong personas form the nexus of this series, which features many of the same characters in both novels and novellas. Most of the characters have elaborate backstories that really “flesh out” the novel’s plot, but a familiarity with the previous stories isn’t a necessity for the reader. Readers will fall in love with Annie’s intelligence, Laura’s tenacity, Nate’s devotion, and Florence’s fortitude. Throw in the eclectic boarders and one feisty Boston Terrier, an unforgettable cast emerges that readers will adore.

Though the dynamics between characters is interesting, the real value of the novel lies within its portrayal of the struggle for women in the late nineteenth century. Set in the 1880s, the events of the novel aren’t far removed from the Civil War that ravaged the country, and while that war was fought for the equality of all men, subjugation of women would continue for another fifty years. And though the plot makes use of actual suffragette Emily Pitts Stevens, the novel covers much more than women’s suffrage. It explores all aspects of prejudice against women, including the rights of female workers and business owners as well as a woman’s place in the marriage relationship. From Annie’s financial independence to Laura’s dream to become a lawyer, the women fight for a place in a literal man’s world. Even Annie’s upcoming nuptials bring questions of propriety over personal enjoyment, and every woman in the novel–married or single–feels the bite of mental bondage in some way and none more than Florence who is being tried in the media based in part because of the sensationalism of her gender.


Deadly Proof: A Victorian San Francisco Mystery, Book 4 won First Place in the 2017 M&M Awards.

Book Review: Watch Over Me by Eileen Charbonneau

 

Twenty-four-year-old Kitty Charente is trying to put her life back together. As a switchboard operator for Spenser’s International, a perfumer based in New York City, Kitty wants to put the death of her husband killed in service to the Canadian Royal Air Force and the miscarriage of her baby behind her and move forward, but when her boss, Jack, gives her the task of wining and dining an out-of-town salesman, Luke Kayenta, Kitty’s world is turned upside down overnight. Luke, with his haunted eyes and strange accent, clearly isn’t like Jack’s usual salesmen, and she’s certain he’s much more when she secretly watches him perform a strange ceremony on the eighty-sixth floor of the Empire State Building. Unbeknownst to Kitty, Luke has come for her. Charged with delivering a deathbed letter from Philippe, Kitty’s husband, Luke is drawn to more than Kitty’s grief. Beyond his promise to deliver the smuggled letter, the stories Philippe shared of his beautiful dark-haired wife helped Luke escape his imprisonment in Spain and brought him halfway around the world to find her. Now that he’s found her, he doesn’t want to let her go, and despite the danger surrounding this man whom everyone seems to be chasing, Kitty follows his reckless path through the twisting, wartime streets of New York, but Luke’s relentless pursuers appear at every turn and their instant attraction won’t be enough to protect either of them.

The rebirth of Luke’s tormented soul is the real jewel in this novel, book two of the Code Talker Chronicles. Luke isn’t a Spaniard as Kitty’s been told but a Navajo code talker, and he’s keeping more secrets than the forbidden letter. Tortured in Spain at the hands of Nazis, Luke has yet to truly escape his persecutors and have his mind released to live–and love–again. Haunted by his burning at the hands of his captors and by the death of his clan brother, Luke wants to return to his beloved home of Arizona and his simple life as a sheep farmer. With his Valentino eyes, capable hands, and beautiful heart, the mystical Luke seeks freedom for himself but also freedom for his country, the very country that typically spits upon his native heritage. His invaluable work in the intelligence service has cost him more than a pound of flesh, but his chance at love and life with Kitty, his continual inspiration, is built upon a fragile ledge of espionage and the memories of her heroic husband, and now the woman he loves is charged with the task of of testing whether Luke’s job, his very mind, has been compromised.

In a world of half-truths, crooked policemen, spies, and impersonators, the real question is who to trust. Watch Over Me shows a lively caricature of 1940s New York spinning wildly in the madness of espionage, where secrets darken sacrifices and both threaten and create the bond of family.

This review was written for Chanticleer Reviews.

Chanticleer offers “editorial book reviews, manuscript overviews, writing contests, book awards, an author conference, workshops, and book marketing opportunities to help authors achieve their publishing goals.”

Book Review: Striking Blind by Lonna Enox

Sorrel Janes wanted to vanish, and for a while, she did just that. As a former television crime reporter in Houston, Sorrel was surrounded by danger, and when her husband was murdered by a drug cartel, she fled her life of minor stardom, changed her name, and moved to the usually quiet town of Saddle Gap, New Mexico. After opening a small shop selling consigned crafts and beginning a career as a nature photographer, Sorrel thinks she finally has what she wants most, especially considering she’s caught the eye of handsome sheriff’s deputy Chris Reed, but when her photograph–one from her days as a reporter–surfaces on a body found murdered “cartel-style,” she is suddenly thrust back into her old life. Soon the violence spreads into her own life again after she receives a mysterious package, and though she fears for her fragile new existence, her curiosity won’t let her rest until she knows the truth about her connection to the victim, but this adventure may be more than she can handle.

Striking Blind has a depth of characters not often found in a mystery. Even characters not featured in the main storyline have significant development. From Teri, Sorrel’s pregnant best friend and star employee, to the murder victim in the prologue, characters have extensive backstories, creating round, believable personas that enhance the featured mystery.  As Chris Reed points out, Sorrel, like her equine namesake, is stubborn and feisty–the trademark of a great protagonist and detective. Her extensive history given in the previous two novels won’t be overwhelming if this is the reader’s first experience with the series. With the descriptions of Sorrel’s everyday-life, like her inability to cook and her cantankerous cats, the reader feels a real connection to Sorrel. Persistence and curiosity make her a believable former reporter and a victim unwilling to stand still while someone threatens her and her new life.

Lovers of romance and paranormal won’t be disappointed either. The flirty banter and interaction with hunky cop Chris Reed makes for a pleasant distraction in the action, and with the promise of more romance to come, readers will want to continue this series. To add supernatural flavor, Sorrel is commanded by a dream entity to help the “weeping child,” and though she never fully finds the answer to this midnight task, it haunts her until the end.

From the gruesome death in a mysterious cave till the very end when, in an unexpected twist, the killer is revealed as someone closer than any of the characters imagined, this “edge of your seat” mystery will keep the reader guessing.

This review was written for Chanticleer Reviews.

Chanticleer offers “editorial book reviews, manuscript overviews, writing contests, book awards, an author conference, workshops, and book marketing opportunities to help authors achieve their publishing goals.”

 

Book Review: A Tale About a Dachshund and a Pelican: How a Friendship Came to Be by Kizzie Jones (Author) and Scott Ward (Illustrator)

In Kizzie Jones’s  A Tale About a Dachshund and a Pelican, Goldie thinks she’s found a new friend. When she comes upon a pelican on the beach during her walk with her owner, she immediately approaches the strange creature, trying to strike up a new friendship based on their physical similarities. After she points out they both have long muzzles, Pelican shows how its mouth is made to hold fish, which Goldie cannot do. Undeterred, Goldie points out their similarly long bodies, but Pelican explains how its body isn’t covered with fur but feathers made to fly. Finally, Goldie accepts how truly different the two are and is about to leave disappointed when Pelican explains that creatures with differences can still be friends as long as they try to learn about each other. Just like Goldie and little girl who owns her, the two very different creatures become forever friends.

Jones has created a tale celebrating the differences in everyone. Whether human, animal, or bird, differences don’t have to separate. In accepting the differences rather than forcing similarity, people can create a symbiotic existence, just like a dachshund and a pelican. In a world that often condemns “being yourself” and forces an artificial sameness, this short children’s book embraces what makes people–or in Goldie’s case, animals–special. While myths and tall tales typically show fun explanations for how the natural world works, this one takes a more emotional and less physical path. When Goldie is about to leave disappointed, Pelican points out what makes both him and Goldie unique, effectively cheering Goldie on to appreciate those differences while showing how friends don’t have to be the same, only tolerant and welcoming to diversity. It is also beautiful that Goldie sees similarity where there really isn’t any. She looks for ways to identify with Pelican before she introduces herself. She works to find a common ground even when it means trying (and failing) to fly. What a better place this world would be if everyone looked with the “sameness” in others instead of first attacking the differences!

Scott Ward’s illustrations make the tale come alive with bright colors and whimsical representations of sand and sea. An unusual feature is the illustrations within the written text. Ward highlights some important words by making them cartoonish and large, which just adds to the overall fantastical appearance sometimes with a sprinkling of stars, sometimes with a rainbow of color.

Perhaps Goldie says it best when she summarizes, “All kinds of creatures can like each other without being alike.” Humans of all ages, not just the children for whom the book was written, could use a little more Goldie attitude.

A Tall Tale About a Dachshund and a Pelican: How a Friendship Came to Be won First Place in the LITTLE PEEPS Awards for Kizzie Jones. Congratulations!

This review was written for Chanticleer Reviews.

Chanticleer offers “editorial book reviews, manuscript overviews, writing contests, book awards, an author conference, workshops, and book marketing opportunities to help authors achieve their publishing goals.”

Book Review: Seize the Flame by Lynda J. Cox

Drake Adams and Jessie Depre want the same thing: peace. For Drake, peace will only come when he can rid his memory of Jessie’s heart-wrenching betrayal nearly two years earlier, at the altar. What began as a fairytale love between childhood sweethearts ended when Jessie married another man and left the Wyoming territory. Since then, Drake has given up his law career to become a bounty hunter, and when he sees Jessie’s wanted poster, he knows he has only one choice, track her down and return her to the man she ran off with.

Following a life-changing misunderstanding, Jessie married the first man she saw, but it wasn’t long before her would-be hero turned into a real-life monster. She will only find peace when she is far away from her homicidal husband, Robert. However, when Drake captures Jessie, both realize their own peace just might come from rekindling their love for each other.

Lynda J. Cox’s Seize the Flame is a story of reconciling the past. Both characters are emotionally and physically damaged. Jessie’s story will touch home with any woman who’s been the victim of abuse. Her fear, her panic, are so real the reader will instantly identify with her even if he/she has never suffered from that unfortunate malady. The strength she has in not only running from her husband but also in ensuring the safety of another innocent woman celebrates the determined female spirit. Despite the scars on her body and, more importantly, in her mind, Jessie manages to find her own way and create her own destiny.

Drake has a genuinely unique story. Kidnapped at the age of nine and forced to work for a ruthless thief until he’s rescued by Royce, Jessie’s father, Drake loved Jessie from the first moment he saw her. His continued devotion to the woman who shattered his dream of a home and family of his own is touching and endearing. Although the backstory is as winding as a Wyoming mountain trail, the story unravels slowly enough to allow the reader to soak it all in and experience the complexity of these characters, and though the genre is historical romance, the romantic content is limited enough that fans of the western genre will still enjoy the novel without blushing.

Seize the Flame by Lynda J. Cox won First Place in the Laramie Awards for Western Fiction in 2016.

This review was written for Chanticleer Reviews.

Chanticleer offers “editorial book reviews, manuscript overviews, writing contests, book awards, an author conference, workshops, and book marketing opportunities to help authors achieve their publishing goals.”

Book Review: Jack Out of the Box by Timothy Vincent

LongPost captain Benjamin Lasak has been making deliveries for over 100 years, an unheard-of feat for his fellow postmen. During his time in pre-programmed space travel on the Pelagius, he usually enjoys the solitude, his outdated paper books, and the cryo-sleep, which keeps him looking twenty years old, but when Lasak wants to distract Mic, his floating game console, from her imminent win at their favorite game, he decides to ignore LongPost protocol and follow the suspicious appearance on his screen.

Suddenly, Lasak finds himself stranded on a planet both familiar and unique. His first contact is with a sadistic alien known on Earth as Jack the Ripper, whom Lasak inadvertently releases from his prison vault. Lasak and Mic must join forces with Michael Carlin, Jack’s original imprisoner, to recapture Jack before he can destroy this world or worse, return to Earth.

Jack Out of the Box is an “Alice in Wonderland” journey down the rabbit hole, a marriage between steampunk, paranormal, dark fantasy, and alternate reality. Jack’s world is a mixture of the old and the new, where Victorian lamplighters and high-tech control panels existent in the same plane. From a village stuck in nineteenth-century England to Elysian Fields where Mother Nature becomes corporeal, every corner presents a new, intriguing environment.

However, the planet entrapping Ben’s ship isn’t all fun and games. It is, in part, a dark prison world, where Jack once reeked more havoc than he ever did on Earth, holding and breeding his human victims. The graphic descriptions of his previous violence darken the beauty of the landscape and its mostly rural residents. At times, the description of violence is disturbing, especially when juxtaposed against the idyllic.

This complex novel includes both metaphorical and concrete imagery in Jack’s world, including representations of Heaven and Hell, demons, and even Lilith. Jack introduces himself as Bell, but he doesn’t “ring true,” and later the reader will see the destruction of the pristine countryside by Jack’s animalistic creations, a fitting metaphor of man’s destruction of the beauty in the world.

Mic’s existential journey to awareness is the real story of the novel. Created by an MIT professor, she is more than just an unbeatable gamer sidekick. The fate-like, “accidental” purchase of Mic seems like a play on destiny, and when she is given her forbidden awareness, Mic steps into that metaphorical area where she begins to question her existence. The exploration of Mic’s consciousness is short-lived but is indeed an interesting discussion; perhaps, it will continue into the sequel.

Dark fantasy and paranormal/alternate reality lovers alike will enjoy the unusual world that Timothy Vincent offers in Jack Out of the Box. It’s a journey from which the reader may never wish to return.

This review was written for Chanticleer Reviews.

Chanticleer offers “editorial book reviews, manuscript overviews, writing contests, book awards, an author conference, workshops, and book marketing opportunities to help authors achieve their publishing goals.”

Book Review: Threads of Passion by TK Conklin

Who is trying to kill Logan McCord?

The frontier town of Rimrock, deep in Wyoming Territory, is a usually a quiet little place, at least it has been for the past two years since Willow and Skye Strykes settled there to be close to their brother. The sisters stay busy with their successful dress shop, the occasional town dance breaking the monotony, but when Willow’s would-be suitor nearly hangs for a murder he didn’t commit, their lives are altered forever.

In a desperate bid to save the man she doesn’t even realize she loves, Willow does a crazy thing that ends with the two in a forced marriage, but the young couple’s problems don’t end at the wedding alter. Willow and Skye have their own secret, the secret which compelled them to run from New Orleans in the first place. Before long, Skye and Willow realize their secret has caught up with them, and they must find a way to escape it again before it consumes the entire town.

The Southern-transplanted sisters, Willow and Skye, are far from the typical romance novel heroines. Both women carry their own scars, Willow on the outside, Skye on the inside. Willow’s limp, the product of severe child abuse, isn’t a focus in the novel but is a definite reflection of the kind of protagonist Willow is. Her strength despite her weakness carries both herself and her sister for a time, and though Skye seems weak and damaged beyond repair, she manages to find a tenacity she never knew she had. Her ordeal is terrifying and devastating, but her love for Willow proves stronger than her memories and the pull of her suicidal thoughts. She must literally face her demons, and with her sister, she manages to do exactly that. Though initially, the number of familial relationships described are daunting, the connection between siblings, both with the women and the men, prove to be a major theme in the novel.

Logan, the barroom brawler, on the surface appears to be the typical romance hero. But he is more than tall, dark, and handsome. Both Logan and Rafe, his cousin who loves Skye, are gentle and loving. These men help the sisters find the courage to not only share their story but to challenge it head-on. The withholding of physical relationships by these characters creates a strong sexual tension which greatly enhances the plot, and for all those readers who love a touch of the paranormal, Logan’s family will add that, too.

With threats on all sides and action galore, the mystery will keep you guessing. The almost dual storylines give readers two loves stories for the price of one, and with the potential for a series, more great adventures are likely to come for the McCords and the Strykes.

Threads of Passion won First Place in the 2017 LARAMIE Awards for T.K. Conklin!

This review was written for Chanticleer Reviews.

Chanticleer offers “editorial book reviews, manuscript overviews, writing contests, book awards, an author conference, workshops, and book marketing opportunities to help authors achieve their publishing goals.”

 

Book Review: Improbable Fortunes by Jeffrey Price

Buster McCaffery wants a family. An orphan from birth, Buster has spent his entire life searching for a forever family in the tiny Western town of Vanadium, population 367. After a tragic birth, Buster is handed from family to family until he reaches his maturity. His only true protector, Sheriff Shep Dudival, ensures Buster stays out of trouble, but when three of Buster’s adopted fathers die in mysterious ways, the town quickly assumes the worst, and Buster becomes a social pariah.

No one trusts Buster until a wealthy New York businessman, Marvin Mallomar, reinvigorates the economy of Vanadium. Buster takes on hero status as foreman and friend of the would-be savior until a catastrophic mudslide wipes out half the town, and Buster is the suspected murderer of Mallomar. Now Buster must convince a jury he never killed anyone, much less his best friend.

Told as a flashback, Improbable Fortunes by Jeffrey Price is a wild romp! The prolific backstories, like the muskrat burrows that play a role in the novel, create a complex network of tunnels that twist and turn into an ironically stable tale of family, trust, and some flawed, albeit well-meaning, loyalty. This completely satirical read leaves the reader simultaneously laughing while feeling ashamed at finding humor in the pathetic lives of the characters.

From the Busy Bees, the local drug-dealing gang to the defunct uranium mine that gave the town its claim to fame, Lame Horse County will remind the reader of William Faulkner’s Yoknapatawpha County or Mayberry gone awry. Buster McCaffrey, who looks like Howdy Doody and acts like the big-hearted–possible serial killing–buffoon, prays for those who take him in even though they deprive him of an education, use him for hard labor, attempt to molest him, and think he’s a murderer.

Sheriff Shep Dudival (think Andy Griffith with a dark streak) is Buster’s only real father-figure who touchingly gives Buster what is likely his first birthday gift in the form of a restored pickup truck. He’s a shepherd in the truest sense, steering Buster’s life as best he can. Jimmy Bayles Morgan, another important character, is an Old West cowboy with a strange secret and an undeniable affinity to Buster’s suffering.

Buster’s story meanders from a tile-making gangster family to pudgy Teutonic nudists to a rodeo star wife beater to a hen-pecked rancher with a maiden name to a cancer-riddled transvestite to a billionaire tycoon, and the reader will not be able to put it down. His devotion to the aptly named Destiny is touching and sad at the same time, and the petty caginess of his “families” only highlights Buster’s goodness. The reader will be rooting for Buster, Shep, and Jimmy even while feeling guilty for it.

Price’s novel is a bronc-busting ride that will have the reader holding on for the entire book. A clever mix of spaghetti Western and crime novel, Improbable Fortunes is a satirical treasure as “improbable” as the rebirth of the woe-begotten protagonist.

Improbable Fortunes by Jeffrey Price won First Place in the 2016 Laramie Awards!

This review was written for Chanticleer Reviews. Chanticleer Reviews “offer editorial book reviews, manuscript overviews, writing contests, book awards, an author conference, workshops, and book marketing opportunities to help authors achieve their publishing goals.”

Book Review: Camelot’s Queen by Nicole Evelina

In Nicole Evelina’s Camelot’s Queen: Guinevere’s Tale (book two), Guinevere must learn to reconcile her past with her future, what she was with what she is becoming. No longer a young lover with dreams of a home with her former betrothed Aggrivane, Guinevere must quickly learn how to be a queen and to navigate the rocky waters of a marriage to the high king, Arthur Pendragon. She must be at once a sage military adviser, a priestess of Avalon, and the mother of a dynasty, a daunting three-fold task, but over time, Guinevere proves a great success until she cannot give Arthur the heir he needs. After she is kidnapped by a ruthless man bent on revenge, Guinevere must find the strength to hold tight to her sanity while regaining her rightful place. Upon returning from her horrific ordeal, she finds her position as queen in jeopardy and her once-strong relationship crumbling as she struggles to hold her growing restlessness and loneliness at bay.

Book two of this series, which includes a map for easy reference, explores the duality of duty to self and duty to country. Once a girl with fanciful dreams of a quiet life, Guinevere must learn to put aside what she wants to do for what she needs to do. After swearing to protect her people as Arthur’s queen, she knows that she must always sacrifice desire for obligation, even when the choice breaks her heart. As a powerful Avalonian priestess capable of manipulating the elements with a literal flick of her finger, she must subjugate herself to a man who then seeks her wisdom, and while she is normally respected by Arthur and is easily the stronger of the two, Guinevere still suffers for her gender, legally equal as a ruler but never quite enough to command without her husband. Seeing a woman, even one in a fantasy/historical novel, as master of herself in a time when women relied entirely on men is inspiring albeit frustrating.

Hemmed in by the historical perimeters of this mythical queen, the author still manages to create a surprisingly unique character. Fans of the original stories will enjoy this reimagined Guinevere with her priestess markings and battle-tested body. She is no damsel in distress. Familiar characters like Tristan, Gawain, and Bors come to life, but this time, the Combrogi (aka Knights of the Round Table) take a backseat to the fairer sex who dominate the storyline. Lancelot will have the female readers swooning. And though the reader knows Guinevere seals her fate from the moment she chooses Lancelot as her champion, they will be cheering her on for taking charge of her own happiness.

Jealous wife, grieving mother, dutiful queen, strategic warrior, Camelot’s Queen is a tale about vanquishing the past and forging an ever-changing future, where two worlds–Christian and pagan–battle just as Guinevere’s need for love battles her need for duty. Lovers of historical fiction as well as those who enjoy fantasy will not regret reading this novel.

This review was written for Chanticleer Reviews. Chanticleer Reviews “offer editorial book reviews, manuscript overviews, writing contests, book awards, an author conference, workshops, and book marketing opportunities to help authors achieve their publishing goals.”