Publication day: A Knock at the Door

balloons244Here at last! A Knock at the Door is now up and running and available for purchase on Amazon. Other retailers will, I hope, follow within a couple of weeks. Right now, I’m just trying to get the little book moved out of the “facts of life” category (don’t ask; I have no idea) and into—oh, I don’t know, bedtime stories or humor or chapter books. But regardless, you can find the paperback here and the e-book here . All you need.

Want more details? You’ll find plenty on the Amazon books pages or you can stay on this site and move a few pages over.

A Knock at the Door

Two children’s books by Maggie M. Larche

Review: Charlie Bingham Gets Clocked

Charlie Bingham Gets Clocked is a great example of a tale spun from small charliebinghambeginnings. Nothing much happens, but you’d never know it. Fast-paced and funny, it takes place during a school day in the life of hero Charlie. The story revolves around a lizard and an antique alarm clock, the kind with bells on the top. The kind that makes a noise. Speculation surrounding the origins of that clock, which belongs to Charlie’s teacher, is part of the fun.

This is a new series by Maggie M Larche, and judging by the first book, it will be a great success. Highly recommended. I look forward to more stories about Charlie and his friends.

My rating: 5 stars

On Amazon

Review: Striker Jones: Elementary Economics For Elementary Detectives

When he’s not doing his homework, Striker Jones solves mysteries. There arestrikerjones other boy detectives, of course, but what makes this series unusual is the economics element. Striker has an understanding of basic economics and that helps him to recognize motives, which in turn leads to identifying the culprits in each escapade.

This first book runs through the school year, from August summer holidays to Christmas, Easter and the summer again, as Striker and his friends Bill, Sheila and Amy solve crimes. Who stole the school donation funds? Who is their teacher, Miss Harper, in love with? Why did the kid nobody likes win the school election?

The series is a timely reminder that “economics” is the study of basic human needs and wants. Fun to read, Striker’s cases also help kids to understand why they—like all of us—behave the way they do.

My rating: 4 stars

On Amazon


Review: Life After Life –By Kate Atkinson

Life After Life by Kate AtkinsonWhat if you could keep reliving your life until you got it right? That’s the premise of Life After Life by Kate Atkinson. Set in England in the early 20th century, it’s the story of Ursula Todd and her family: parents, brothers, sisters, servants and dotty aunt. Ursula has difficulty getting through day one, as the dangers of childbirth take their toll. Eventually she gets past her baby years and enters her teens. Here, choice begins to play a part and she takes several different paths that end badly.

The London Blitz plays a role in Ursula’s story, and I enjoyed learning something of the civilian wardens who directed the search and rescue efforts after each wretched bombing attack. Burrowing into collapsed houses is not for the faint of heart and the stories range from tragic to gruesome. I don’t know whether these civilian rescuers were honoured but they were every bit as courageous as soldiers on the front lines, so I’d like to think they were.

Each of her past bad experiences leaves a wraith of memory in Ursula’s mind, something like deja vu, though often not nearly that strong. Nevertheless, she uses her hunches and a recurring sense of impending danger to chart a new course in her life, a course with a world-changing goal. I’ve got to say this was less important to me than to see her find some happiness, but the story is told so artfully that both come together in the end.

The characters are well-drawn. I couldn’t quite fathom Sylvie, the mother, but Ursula’s father was sweet and supportive, and she had an interesting and close relationship with her sister. I’ve heard her brother Teddy is the central character of a sequel, so I’ll be looking out for that.

Life After Life is a wonderful book, and manages to avoid most modern idiomatic lapses. It is not really a period piece; in fact it seemed to me to be timeless, oddly so given the plot. The author has written several other novels, and I’m looking forward to reading them.

My rating: five stars

On Amazon

Cover Sketch for A Knock at the Door

knock-cover2Here’s a sketch by artist Ivan Zanchetta of the front cover for my collection of stories from the world of letters. To see a larger version, just click on the image.

A Knock at the Door will be out in paperback and e-book in November 2015. Ivan provided the cover for Return to Kaitlin, earlier this year. I love his work.

Included in this volume:

  • The Story of NIGHT
  • The HALF-Trained L
  • The QUIET Strangers
  • PIGEON Panic
  • The Beginning of BOUGH

Any thoughts on this cover? I’d appreciate your feedback! It might help in finalizing the cover design.

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November 4: read an excerpt here.


Book Promotion: An investment that goes on and on . . .

One thing I’ve learned during the past few months of setting up and promoting my site: it’s a black hole for time. I subscribed to Nick Stephenson’s course, Your First 10,000 Readers. Nick’s a stand up guy, in my opinion, with valuable ideas on promotion and an ethical mindset. But he uses videos for everything. They take hours to listen to and hours to implement. If you’re interested, here’s his Facebook page.a million ways to spend

Promotional spending can also be a black hole. Sensible people create a budget, but I never have time for stuff like that.

However, I like to look out for freebies, like the Author Marketing Club’s free submission program to free sites (what’s not to like!). This is for Kindle ebooks only. You can also get a paid ad in their daily newsletter. This I’m not so crazy about because the AMC logo is all you can see above the fold in your inbox. You have to scroll down to find the listed books. In my view, Jim Kukral (another stand up guy) would do better to reduce the logo size so that at least half of any featured book can be seen at once.

With the volume of new books being publishing annually (I’ve heard the number 30,000 being thrown around), promotion is a growth industry. New sites offering free or paid advertising crop up all the time. I tried the automatic submission program at Book Marketing Tools, which submits to about 30 sites in roughly half an hour. This worked moderately well for me (I promoted my novel Owen’s Day, which is currently free in e-book). However, the tool costs $14.95 for one submission and while it certainly saves time, I’m not sure the results warrant the new price. But I have to pay with the feeble and sickly Canadian dollar, which translates to more than $20. This may affect my thinking.

A number of promotional sites become available once you’ve gathered a certain number of reviews: The Fussy Librarian, (which has got so grand you can’t find the book submission page any longer), and the big guy, Book Bub.

To my way of thinking, (and I’m still trying different sites and programs), one of the best deals around is the BKnights promo vehicle on If you’re not already a member of fiverr, you might want to join. You can buy everything under the sun for $5 on this site. Bknights is fast, offers several different options and, for me at least, worked well. It’s best for free e-books rather than paid.

All very interesting, and more sites crop up from word of mouth all the time. For the writer trying to build a name or brand, it’s best to build a little bit of promotional activity into your daily schedule, and be judicious about your spending. This is an investment for the long haul. :)




Review: The Octopus Barber –by Joseph Kelly

octopus-barberThis is a delightful collection of poems on subjects ranging from teamwork (one of my favorites) and remembering the club password, to gadgets and the history of a stone. “A Kiss” is priceless, turning an old storyline on its head. More thoughtful entries, like “The Tinest Ant and the Giantest Bear,” give children something to ponder after they finish reading.

The illustrations by Supakit Chiangthong are a perfect match for the words, with unexpected angles and vivid colors. The Octopus Barber is a treat, and passes my acid test for poetry—the verses are easy to read aloud—with flying colors.

(I received a free copy of The Octopus Barber in return for an honest review.)

My Rating: 5 stars

On Amazon


Review: Whip Eye –by Geoffrey Saign

whipeyeThe story of an unhappy girl befriended by an unusual parrot, this first installment in The Whip Eye Chronicles moves at breakneck speed. Samantha Green and her neighbor Jake try to keep their friend Charlie out of the clutches of the villainous Magnar. Sam is still grieving the loss of her mother a year ago.

Estranged from her father, Samanth gradually comes to trust Jake as their adventures first strain then strengthen their friendship. This for me was the most satisfying aspect of the story. I also liked the part played by the various animals. I did find the back story hard to follow at times, especially the differences between the Great Ones, Originals and Lessers. But all in all, this is a book I think preteens and teens alike would enjoy.

My Rating: 4 stars 

On Amazon

Review: The Buried Giant –by Kazuo Ishiguro


buriedgiantThe Buried Giant is an allegory about love, war and vengeance. Set in medieval times, it’s the story of an elderly couple and their journey to find their son. Along the way they meet Gawain, one of King Arthur’s knights, a Saxon warrior and a boy. They also encounter ogres, pixies and a dragon.

The author’s intent isn’t clear: is this is a comment on the roots of terrorism or on class grievance in Britain, or just on the long arm of memory? I found the story difficult, and while I liked a sequence with the Saxons and the fiery tower, I didn’t much care for the journey as a whole. Chilblain stories (medieval, northern European settings, no central heating) often leave me feeling cold and damp. And stories in which the narrator’s memory is at fault are reminiscent of that old movie technique where a scene of horrifying violence is followed by (“Oh! Wait!”) the revelation that it was jus
t a nightmare. In fairness, The Buried Giant tells us that that the characters’ memories are clouded. Even so, it’s making heavy weather of a tale when you mistrust the smallest remembrance.

Quests and journeys are not as a rule slender stories, but this book is an exception. Following the moving Never Let Me Go, it  was for me a disappointment.

My rating: 3 stars

On Amazon


Cruising Along

cheesecakeThe night before my interview with Pastry Chef Vinay Myakal, White Chocolate Cheesecake appeared on the menu at dinner. Of course I chose it—indeed, in view of my interview I felt it my duty to eat both this featured dessert as well as a second, different, offering just to be absolutely sure the quality was no aberration. Perhaps I was unduly skeptical, since this was the seventh night of our cruise, but I felt a duty to be thorough.

Vinay and I met in the International Café at 10am the following morning and I asked him how many of the cheesecakes he and his staff had made. 1650. I had a mental hiccup at this picture.  Some 3500 people were cruising, so Vinay must have reckoned nearly half of them would choose the cheesecake.

The production process lasts three days, I learned. They start by making the base (all sixteen hundred and fifty of them), then add the cheesecake. Glazing and finishing work is done the afternoon before dinner.

Vinay has 17 people working in his department, four of them at night. Pastry-making is a 24/7 operation and they turn out ten to twelve thousand pastries a day, storing them on trolleys in their fridges. They can do wedding cakes with a bit of notice and they always provide birthday cakes to order, baked fresh. They seem to go out of their way to find an excuse to cook, since I was awarded a cake even though my birthday was a week before the cruise.

If I had my life to live over, I might conceivably become a pastry chef. Thanks, Vinay, for some truly delectable sensations.

Are Fossil Fuels Passe?

My new novel, Return to Kaitlin, is set in the oil patch. Yet the G7 has just announced the end of the century as the deadline for getting out of fossil fuels. So oil’s passe, isn’t it?

I wonder. We need energy, lots of it. We need it in the developed world and even more in emerging nations. The public has no taste for nuclear power, and limited tolerance for hydro, the only other high-volume, cheap fuel sources we know of.

As part of my research for Return to Kaitlin, I read Alex Epstein’s The Moral Case for Fossil Fuels. For me, it was a reminder of how far we’ve come in my lifetime at giving everyone on the planet a shot at a decent life. I’m talking about things like food and medicine and education and hope for the future–things that, when I was a kid, were almost entirely absent in China, Korea, India and most of Africa.

Here’s something to consider, the next time oil and gas hits the headlines. The staggering progress we’ve made globally in the past fifty years has arisen partly because of open markets but also because of cheap energy. We have cleaner water and air, more food for a growing global population, less malnutrition and starvation, and fewer climate-related deaths. The next time we feel inclined to protest a pipeline, we should weigh these benefits along with the risks.

If we’re going to lessen or replace our use of fossil fuels, our current alternatives simply won’t cut it. They’re too scarce, inefficient and expensive. Instead, we’ll have to rely on something as abundant as the air we breathe: human ingenuity. And for the time being, we need oil and gas to fuel that ingenuity, to help us find the technologies that will protect and preserve our world.

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Guest Post

I’m busy with promotional matters and systems these days, while the next story percolates, waiting to come out. To that end, Chris Graham was kind enough to offer me a spot on his blog, The Story Reading Ape. Here’s my guest post, all about me and my books.