The Last Ember by Daniel Levin

On this date in 1902, poet and editor Ogden Nash was born.

It’s been over two weeks since my last review, but if you’re looking for a page-turner with an intriguing premise, I believe this book is worth the wait.

lastemberThe Last Ember by Daniel Levin is an exciting biblical thriller that will keep you reading till the wee hours of the night. Levin’s debut novel combines elements of history, mystery, conspiricies, politics, religion, and archaelogy into an intelligent and engrossing story. 

Jonathan Marcus, the main character, is a fallen-from grace antiquities scholar skilled in Latin, Greek, and archaelogy, now  practicing law in New York.  After Jonathan is dispatched to Rome to represent his firm in a high-profile case involving the authenticity of an ancient stone map, he is pitted against with Dr. Emili Travia, a passionate preservationist and a woman from his past.

 While Jonathan is in Rome, an Italian antiquities squad discovers a woman’s perserved corpse. The corpse bears a clue about a biblical mystery that leads to the discovery about a sacred object. The clue, coupled with a hidden message in the ancient stone map, propels Jonathan and Emili to join forces on a quest that takes them from the underground caverns beneath the streets of Rome to the holiest shrines in Jerusalem.

Levin’s background and education undoubtedly qualify him to write this novel. He does a fine job translating the foreign language passages so the reader isn’t distracted from the story. He writes with elegance and passion about emotionally charged topics, but at the center of it all is a remarkable tale. 

A longer version of my review of The Last Ember can be found on You can also read New York Times bestselling author Steve Berry’s fascinating interview of Daniel Levin on  Donna Volkenannt


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Filed under Biblical Thriller, Fiction, Thriller, Uncategorized

Fearless Confessions: A Writer’s Guide to Memoir by Sue William Silverman

On this date in 1965, Joanne Kathleen Rowling, better known as J.K. Rowling, was born. J.K. shares the same birthday as her famous fictional boy-wizard, Harry Potter.

fearlessconfessionsThe book I’ve chosen to discuss this week is FEARLESS CONFESSIONS, A Writer’s Guide to Memoir by Sue William Silverman, published by The University of Georgia Press.

Although I don’t plan to write a memoir, I found Silverman’s book fascinating. The book is filled with practical writing advice, which is relevant to all types of writing. Her writing is thorough, yet easy to understand. Throughout the book Silverman gives examples and includes writing exercises. She provides lists of informative Web sites that provide advice on writing, publishing, and promoting writing.

Some of the topics she covers in her book are: Theme, Plotting, Voice, Style and Marketing. She also gives an excellent overview of the subgenres of Creative Nonfiction. She also includes an appendix with a reading list of contemporary creative nonfiction, by topic.

In the chapter on Style, she suggests: “Avoid the ‘3As’ in writing: adjectives, adverbs, and abstractions. Rely on nouns and active verbs. . . ”

On Voice, she says: “The voice of each piece you write needs its own tone, rhythm, vocabulary, and energy.”

On August 5, as part of the WOW! Author’s Tour, Sue William Silverman will be guest blogger on my other blog, Donna’s Book Pub,

If you’ve ever wondered about “Truth in Memoir,” Silverman’s post on August 5 on is one you won’t want to miss.

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Filed under Non-Fiction, Writing Advice

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A Cup of Comfort for Breast Cancer Survivors

On  this date, July 17, in 1889, Erle Stanley Gardner, detective writer and creator of the Perry Mason series was born.

cupaaliceThe book I’ve chosen to discuss this week is A Cup of Comfort for Breast Cancer Survivors, published by Adams Media and edited by the amazing Colleen Sell.  A Cup of Comfort for Breast Cancer Survivors is an anthology of touching true stories of courage and triumph.

One of my favorite essays is “Hidden Treasures” by Alice Muschany, a breast cancer survivor and a fellow member of the Coffee and Critique writers’ group.  Alice’s story is just one of the scores of essays in this inspirational anthology that celebrates “strength, resilency, and hope.”

In addition to publishing an inspiring anthology of stories written by courageous survivors, Adams Media donates a portion of the sales of each book to Susan G. Komen for the Cure.


Filed under Anthology, Non-Fiction, Women's

Writing Picture Books by Ann Whitford Paul

Today’s famous writer’s birthday: On July 10, 1905, Mildred Augustine Wirt Benson was born. Who? Maybe the name Carolyn Keene sounds more familiar. If you grew up reading Nancy Drew mysteries, thank Mildred. She is known as the first Carolyn Keene, ghost name for the popular Nancy Drew series, created by Edward Stratemeyer.

picturebooksNow, on to this week’s featured book. I’ve selected Ann Whitford Paul’s Writing Picture Books: A Hands’On Guide from Story Creation to Publication (Writer’s Digest books). 

A couple weeks ago, Ann was a guest blogger on my other blog, Donna’s Book Pub, and Ann was such a gracious guest, I want to spread the word about her wonderful book. Even if you aren’t interested in writing picture books, Ann’s book can help you become a better writer.

Her book is divided into six sections, with a “What’s Next” section at the end of each chapter:

Before You Write your Story covers research and understanding the essence of picture books.

Early Story Decisions – includes, along with other suggestions, ideas for building a frame for your story and creating compelling characters. 

Structure of Your Story- What to know about creating fabulous first lines, the three-act structure and holding your story together? This section has specific how-tos. 

Language of Your Story – The two “Ss” of strong writing in this section apply to all stories. Ann also covers the importance of word count in this section.

Tying Together Loose Story Ends – Creating great titles and using a dummy board to tell you story are covered in this section.

After Your Story is Done  – Ann gives ideas on researching the market and practical tips on selling your manuscript.

The above is just a brief summary of what’s in Ann’s book. There are many additional pieces of advice and tidbits of information as well as practical, hands-on exercises.

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Filed under Children's Books, Non-Fiction, Writing Advice

Bill O’Reilly, the Man Behind the Mouth

Today, July 3, is the birthday of Franz Kafka, author of  The Metamorphosis

oreillyThe book I’ve chosen to discuss this week is A BOLD, FRESH PIECE OF HUMANITY by Fox News Commentator and Uberanchor, Bill O’Reilly. 

My husband Walt bought the book for me a couple months ago  as a Mother’s Day gift.  Walt, a Vietnam Veteran,  is very thoughtful like that, and he wanted to support the Wounded Warrior Project, which is one of the charities the generous O’Reilly supports through his book sales.  

In addition to the book, I received a Wounded Warrior tote bag. After Walt opened the package and gave me the book, right away, I began to read. First thing Walt did was to check the label inside the the tote bag.

Walt shook his head. “Made in Pakistan.” 

Despite Walt’s disappointment over where the Wounded Warrior bag was made, he is a fan of O’Reilly’s. Weekdays at 7 p.m., our two grandchildren (whom we are raising) know to keep their voices down while their Opa watches O’Reilly on TV. Walt especially likes Wednesdays, when Dennis Miller is a featured guest.

Back to the book:  A BOLD FRESH PIECE OF HUMANITY, published by Random House, is a delight. From the angelic-looking cover to the childhood and other stories, and the photos inside, it’s a very personal look at the “bold, fresh guy.”  O’Reilly explains how, while a third grade student at St. Brigid’s School in Westbury, New York, Sister Mary Lurana “was on him like a panther,” and called him “a bold fresh piece of humanity” after he made one of his “dumb remarks.”

Bold, Fresh transported me back to my own experiences in parochial grade school (Holy Name in North, St. Louis, MO) and Catholic high school (St. Alphonsus “Rock” an all girls’ school also in St. Louis). Anyone who grew up in the 50s and 60s can relate to O’Reilly’s book, especially if they attended Catholic schools and were taught by no-nonsense nuns with huge classes. Even if they did not, the conversational and candid style of O’Reilly’s writing should connect with them.

In his book, O’Reilly shares his memories of the people, places, events, and experiences that have molded his personality.  The book is a personal,  candid, and at times self-deprecating  look at the “bold fresh guy”–an insightful glimpse at Bill O’Reilly, the man behind the mouth.  Reviewed by Donna Volkenannt

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Filed under Catholic, Memoir, Non-Fiction, Politics

Pep Talks, Warnings & Screeds by George Singleton

June 25 – Today is the birthday of George Orwell (pseudonym of Eric Arthur Blair). In high school, his novels  Animal Farm and Nineteen Eighty-Four were required reading.

PepTallks_BIGHow appropriate is it that the book I’ve chosed for this week, PEP TALKS, WARRNINGS & SCREEDS: INDISPENSABLE WISDOM AND CAUTIONARY ADVICE FOR WRITERS, published by Writer’s Digest Books, is written by another George: George Singleton.

If you’ve been writing for awhile, most likely you have several writing or reference books on your shelf. I certainly do. The Elements of Style, The Chicago Manual of Style, The Government Printing Office Style Manual, The Gregg Reference Manual, On Writing Well, On Writing, Bird by Bird, Self Editing for Fiction Writers, On Becoming a Novelist, Writing in General and the Short Story in Particular–those are a few on my shelf.

So, you may be wondering: Why do I need (or want) another book about writing?  Well, how about reading a book that is encouraging, gives sound advice, and puts a smile on your face?  Singleton’s book combines wit, wisdom, and humor about the art, craft, etiquette, and business of writing in bite-size chunks.

A couple months ago I had the privilege of hosting George on my Donna’s Book Pub Blog, as part of the Women on Writing WOW! Author’s Blog Tour.

Singleton is a teacher and an acclaimed writer who lives in South Carolina.  Okay, I admit, we’ve heard a lot about South Carolina lately, with the Governor’s mix-up over being in Argentenia rather than Appalacia,  so how about some favorable press about a South Carolinaian (is that the right word?).

Singleton’s blog tour was informative–and great fun! After his visit he sent me his book, and I’ve read through it a couple times. Before my grandkids’ school let out for summer vacation, I read the book in the carpool van, and I keep it on my reading table when I need some kick-in-the-pants inspiration or a pick-me-up smile.

Singleton’s  book is divided into three main parts:

Part I – Pep Talks is the longest section, with 177 pieces of advice. Some random ones are: #8, Where Ideas Come from, #9, When to Tell, #56, Perfection is Boring, and #144, In Other Words: “The more guano, the richer the garden.” 

Part II – Warnings contains 67 bits of wisdom, some lengthy, some brief. A brief, but wise one is #46 – Story First: “The pressures of language are often self-inflicted. Worry about the story first.”

Part III – Screeds is the briefest, with 14 mini-sections. The final, and longest, one: “How to Write Stories, Lose Weight, Clean Up the Environment, and Make $1,000,000,”  is very clever, funny, and wise.

The back cover of the book, sums it up: “Learning to be a writer is all about finding your legs, and doing your best to convince onlookers that you know what you’re doing and where you’re going.” 

If you’re a writer, or aspire to become a writer, Singleton’s book will put a smile on your face while guiding you along your journey.

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Filed under Humor, Non-Fiction, Writing Advice