Darlene Foster's Blog

I was pleased to see that everyone enjoyed my list of book recommendations, so following my previous post, I wish to share three more books I read and enjoyed this summer. I have included a children´s book as I believe everyone should read a children´s book once in a while. It is amazing what you can learn.

No More Mulberries

No More Mulberries is a story of commitment and divided loyalties, of love and loss, set against a country struggling through transition.

British-born Miriam’s marriage to her Afghan doctor husband is heading towards crisis. Despite his opposition, she goes to work as a translator at a medical teaching camp in a remote area of rural Afghanistan hoping time apart will help are see where their problems lie. She comes to realise how unresolved issues from when her first husband was killed by a mujahideen group are damaging her relationship with her husband and her son – but is it already too late to save her marriage?

My review
I bought this book because I love reading stories that take place in the middle east. I was not disappointed. Mary Smith has written a wonderful story about cross-cultures, family, relationships and Afghanistan. The detailed descriptions of the land, people and culture are fascinating. The story is told through the point of view of Miriam, the main character, who is a wife, mother and medical practitioner. It is easy to identify with her as she struggles to maintain a home for her family in a culture so different from her life in Scotland. Miriam also has to deal with ghosts from the past and the feelings she has suppressed for too long which are having a negative effect on her marriage. This well-written book takes place in a troubled time just before the Taliban take control. Since the reader knows what will eventually happen, but the characters don’t, it keeps you on your toes and turning the pages. I highly recommend this book.

A Marriage of Convenience

Gerrie Hermann, aspiring rock star from a rich South African family, has an unusual proposal for Sophie Woods when he meets her for the first time in their university canteen. Strait-laced Sophie has never done anything out of the ordinary in the whole of her 19 years. When she decides to take Gerrie up on his offer she has no idea that her decision is going to affect the rest of her life in ways that she could never have foreseen, even in her wildest dreams.
My review
Sometimes one hasty decision can affect your entire life. Sophie doesn’t know what she is getting into when she agrees to marry wannabe rock star Gerrie Hermann so he can stay in the UK and pursue his music career. Can a marriage of convenience survive a botched up kidnapping, harboured secrets, lost dreams and undeniable heartache? An easy read with real-life characters set in the exciting London music scene and exotic Rio de Janeiro.

I Am David

David’s entire twelve-year life has been spent in a grisly prison camp in Eastern Europe. He knows nothing of the outside world. But when he is given the chance to escape, he seizes it. With his vengeful enemies hot on his heels, David struggles to cope in this strange new world, where his only resources are a compass, a few crusts of bread, his two aching feet, and some vague advice to seek refuge in Denmark. Is that enough to survive?
David’s extraordinary odyssey is dramatically chronicled in Anne Holm’s classic about the meaning of freedom and the power of hope.
My review
This is an amazing book. One that makes you think. It is cleverly written from the point of view of a young boy who has been raised in a concentration camp. He escapes but has to make his way in a world he knows little about. He gets by with his resourcefulness, honesty, and unique problem-solving skills. The book is written for children but is perfect for adults as well, as the topics of hope, forgiveness and sacrifice are universal and timeless. A must-read for all ages.
I know that TBR list is growing but here are three more to add!!

I read some amazing books this summer and I thought I should share some of them with you, along with my reviews. It’s always great to get ideas for new books to read, even if you have a huge TBR list like me. Here are three I just loved.

The Artisan Heart

by Dean Mayes 

Hayden Luschcombe is a brilliant paediatrician living in Adelaide with his wife Bernadette, an ambitious event planner. His life consists of soul-wrenching days at the hospital and tedious evenings attending the lavish parties organized by Bernadette.

When an act of betrayal coincides with a traumatic confrontation, Hayden flees Adelaide, his life in ruins. His destination is Walhalla, nestled in Australia’s southern mountains, where he finds his childhood home falling apart. With nothing to return to, he stays, and begins to pick up the pieces of his life by fixing up the house his parents left behind.

A chance encounter with a precocious and deaf young girl introduces Hayden to Isabelle Sampi, a struggling artisan baker. While single-handedly raising her daughter, and trying to resurrect a bakery, Isabelle has no time for matters of the heart. Yet the presence of the handsome doctor challenges her resolve. Likewise, Hayden, protective of his own fractured heart, finds something in Isabelle that awakens dormant feelings of his own.

As their attraction grows, and the past threatens their chance at happiness, both Hayden and Isabelle will have to confront long-buried truths if they are ever to embrace a future.

My review

I am already a fan of Dean Mayes and am impressed with his ability to write in diverse genres while at the same time maintaining consistent quality. This book is a wonderful read, filled with incredible characters that jump off the page. I love how the characters play off each other so well. My favourite being Genevieve, a seven-year-old deaf child with spunk. I just wanted to hug her so many times. And then there is the wonderful setting of Walhalla, a cozy Australian mountain village, which is actually the main character for me. While reading this book, I felt myself walking the streets, smelling the freshly baked bread, smiling at the residents, listening to the birds and admiring the gardens. This is a place people come to get away from it all and discover who they are meant to be. A feel-good book with some tense moments, full of emotion and real people. I highly recommend this book. One I would read again.

A Place Called Winter

by Patrick Gale

In the golden 1900s, Harry Cane, a shy, eligible gentleman of leisure is drawn from a life of quiet routine into courting and marrying Winnie, eldest daughter of the fatherless Wells clan, who are not quite as respectable as they would appear. They settle by the sea and have a daughter and conventional marriage does not seem such a tumultuous change after all. When a chance encounter awakens scandalous desires never acknowledged until now, however, Harry is forced to forsake the land and people he loves for a harsh new life as a homesteader on the newly colonized Canadian prairies. There, in a place called Winter, he will come to find a deep love within an alternative family, a love imperiled by war, madness and an evil man of undeniable magnetism.

My review

I purchased this book after hearing the author speak at the Winchester Writer’s Festival. His books all sounded interesting but I was drawn to this one as it takes place in the early 20th century in the Canadian prairies. This is where I’m from and my great-grandparents were among the many immigrants who settled this part of Canada. I was not disappointed. The land, the people and the impossibly tough life were described so well, I felt like I was back there working alongside these individuals. It was all there, the unforgiving terrain, the threshing crews, chokecherries, bachelors’ balls, country churches and dashed hopes. The story centres around Harry Cane, a British gentleman who had never worked a day in his life. After being disgraced, he leaves England to stake out a homestead in Winter, Saskatchewan. Little does he know what awaits him.

The story is so well written, you can feel the isolation and the cold. “As for the cold, he had never experienced anything like it, a dry, iron clamp upon the land, like death itself, full of unexpected beauty, like the hard crystals that formed on the inside of the windows. The cold did something to the quality of sounds around the farm, deadening all background noise so that the smallest scratching or whisper was emphasised.”

Harry’s story is filled with incredible characters, pain and heartbreak. But it is also filled with love. A beautifully written book, well worth a read.

Apprenticed To My Mother: A Memoir Of Barbara Le Pard 2005 to 2010

When my father died in 2005, I assumed my mother would need more support and someone to help with decisions she previously shared with her husband. What I didn’t realise was the role she had in mind for me: a sort of Desmond 2.0. Over the five years until her death, I played the role of apprentice, learning more about her and her relationship with my father than I had gleaned in my previous 50 years. We laughed, we cried and, occasionally we disagreed, and throughout she manipulated me as, I learnt, she had my father. Neither of us minded much; we were both her so willing fools, for she was an extraordinary woman and we both knew we were in the presence of someone very special.

My review

A wonderful heartwarming book that will leave you laughing and crying, sometimes on the same page. Mr. Le Pard has a great way with words and gives us a delightful glimpse into the lives of his parents. Sprinkled in between amusing episodes of his life as the youngest of two sons, are poems brilliantly composed by his father, most written for his wife, the love of his life. The stories paint a picture of past times in a lovely part of England, where issues are resolved with a cup of tea and a piece of homemade cake. Barbara Le Pard is a delightful character, strong-willed, tough and with a huge heart. This book is well written, entertaining and most important, it is written with love.

All of these books are available on Amazon, Kobo or through any good bookstore. 

I will tell you about a few more in another post. If you have read a great book or two lately, please share in the comments.

In November of last year, I was a guest on Sally Cronin’s blog where I was asked to list two things on my personal bucket list. One of them was to attend a writers’ conference in Europe. A writer/blogger friend, Mary Smith, suggested I check out the Winchester Writers’ Festival, which I did. In June I attended this 38-year-old festival held at the University of Winchester with 300 other attendees, providing 50 talks, readings and workshops. I had a great time and thought I should share what I learned while there.

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Entrance to the University of Winchester

I arrived Friday evening in time for dinner where I met other authors over stimulating conversation. Later I attended a talk by James Aitcheson who discussed researching and writing historical fiction which was interesting.

I stayed on campus and found my little room to be comfortable. I felt every bit a student.

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My digs for the weekend. My room was on the second floor.

The next morning, after a good sleep and a hearty breakfast (there were even vege sausages!), we listened to the keynote address with Patrick Gale interviewed by Judith Henegan, Director of the Winchester Writers’ Festival. This prolific writer of 15 novels and counting, spoke about “A Life in Writing”. He offered some great advice and this is some of what I took away from the entertaining and informative discussion.

  1. Write in ink first
  2. Use setting as a character
  3. Place defines a person
  4. End with a glimmer of hope and leave some things unanswered
  5. Remember the reader in the second draft. (are they seeing and feeling what you want them to?)
  6. Children are good to have in a novel as they disrupt, are indiscreet and honest
  7. Readers respond to recognition
  8. Cut out unnecessary stuff, remove anything that reminds people that they are reading
  9. Learn to write by reading
  10. Time is a good editor
  11. Dialogue is good but can slow down the action. It’s OK to use reported speech sometimes
  12. Readers rewrite the book when they read it

I bought his book, “A Place Called Winter” and he signed it for me. He was very interested in the fact that I was raised near the area in Canada where the story takes place.

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For the remainder of the day, I attended a number of workshops. One by children’s author, Patrice Lawernce, on “Whose Voice is it Anyway”. She discussed making your characters sound authentic by listening to how people talk and being perpetually curious, knowing their backstory and culture and getting under the skin of your characters.

Another workshop on “Creating a Picture Book”, was facilitated by Andrew Weale. He explained that you have to think visually as you write, write a lot, then pare it down to a few words as you let the pictures talk. Picture book stories can be generated by asking unusual, quirky questions.

“Twitter For Writers” by Claire Fuller gave me a few more ideas on how to maximize my time on Twitter. “Myth, Mystery and Magic” with Sarah Mussi reminded us that goodness wins in the end with examples through the ages. The hero should have a flaw, even if it is a good flaw like being too kind etc. The excellent dinner came with a guest speaker, Helen Dennis, who gave an animated talk about her route to success as a children’s author.

Sunday was an all-day workshop, “Casting the Spell of Place”, with Lorna Ferguson. I loved this as we were given prompts with time to write and share our work. A few points I took away with me.

  1. Cut out unnecessary details of description to avoid making it sound like a travelogue
  2. Don’t make lists
  3. Think of the reader and what effect you want to create
  4. Setting can create mood and atmosphere and help with plotting
  5. Location often takes the character out of their comfort zone
  6. It should transport the reader out of their ordinary world (armchair travelling)
  7. It should create a perception of the culture
  8. Description needs to be broken up with dialogue and action
  9. Be careful of information dumping, it will pull the reader out of the story
  10. If it doesn’t work, try a different setting!

Another point that came up which was very helpful for me and my stories is that a character can’t always have someone help them. They need to solve their own problems, sometimes in an unfamiliar location.

We were given a list of quotes. I love this one. Place is paramount. Annie Proulx

I also had two one to one appointments with authors who looked at the first chapter of Amanda in Holland and gave me great feedback.

With limited luggage space, I only bought two books, (amazing for me!) and an Elizabeth Bennet tree ornament to remember my time.

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Elizabeth Bennett Christmas tree ornament

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Charming bench on the grounds of the university

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One of the many great buildings on site, the Business School

Staying in a historic city, meeting other writers and learning more about the art of writing made this a perfect break for me and just what I needed to continue with my writing. Thank you so much, Mary Smith, for this suggestion. Check out her interesting blog and wonderful books.

https://www.amazon.com/kindle-/entity/author/B001KCD4P0

 

I have had a wonderful summer being interviewed and guest posting for many amazing blog sites. This is a fun interview with Amanda on a virtual radio station. Pop over and have a read, I know you will love this clever way of introducing a character, thanks to Craig Boyack.

Entertaining Stories

Lisa Burton

Welcome all you research junkies, and skeptical paranormal fans. You’ve landed on Lisa Burton Radio, the only show that brings you characters from the books you love. I’m your host, Lisa the robot girl, and my very special guest today is Amanda Jane Ross. She’s only twelve, so let’s make her feel welcome. “Hi, Amanda. Thanks for being on the show today.”

“Hi, Lisa!! I’m totally excited about being on your show. But I am a little nervous as I’ve never been on the radio before.”

“My bio says you hail from Calgary, Canada. That’s a pretty interesting place. What can you tell us about it?”

“Well, it is famous for The Calgary Stampede. I am in grade six and attend Guy Weadick Elementary. Did you know the school is named after a cowboy who started the Calgary Stampede?  I used to think it was a pretty boring place as nothing…

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I am a guest today over at Jacqui Murray’s amazing blog, WordDreams. I answer her question, How do you create readers for life? See what I have to say.

WordDreams...

darlene fosterOne of my summer reading discoveries is Darlene Foster’s six-volume Amanda series. I’m a teacher-author so I’m always eager to find fresh books that my K-8 students will love. When I came across Darlene on her blog, Darlene Foster’s Blog, I have to admit, I was really excited. I’d never found a children’s travelogue series that would appeal to kids the same way fiction does. This series does. In it, kids travel all over the world, to those names that excite every adult–Amanda on the Danube, Amanda in Arabia, Amanda in Alberta, as well as three more fun world locations.

I asked Darlene if she would mind doing an interview for my blog–just one question. That’s all I had:

How do you create readers for life?

Because that’s what these books have the power to do–turn kids into readers. Here’s her answer:

Writing for children…

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In case you haven’t read this fabulous review of Amanda in Spain by an eight-year-old, here it is on Marcia Meara’s blog! Check out Marcia’s books too. They are amazing.

The Write Stuff

Lovely to have Darlene back again this afternoon, this time to share a very special review she received directly from a very young reader, who had no adult help with the writing. I know you’ll enjoy this one and will be happy to pass it along to all your contacts! Thanks!

REVIEW:
By Catrin (8 Years Old)

I really enjoyed this book. I like books which have a mystery plot to them, and this book really caught my attention – I read it all in one go! The story kept me guessing until the end. In some parts, the reader is held in suspense while in other times you can almost guess what’s going to happen so I had to read on to find out if I’d got it right or not. My favourite character was Dona because she is a Spanish performer and I like performing as well. I…

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I have mentioned my talented potter daughter previously. I am so proud of her as she continues to grow and create fabulous art. Recently she has been featured in a glossy magazine from the UK called Art Reveal 

In the article she states, I’m privileged to participate in the cycle of handmade artifacts.

Here is the link to the complete article.

https://issuu.com/artrevealmagazine/docs/39/42

If you get a chance to read it, you will see she is not only a talented artist, she is also very articulate.

Following are a few of her recent pieces.

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Susa, wood-fired stoneware

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Ocean Momma

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Amphora

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Raku Shake Basket

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Rhythm of the Dance

To see more of her work, check out her website. https://madmudslinger.com/

She will ship anywhere in the world!!

To see your children doing what they love and doing it well is the best reward for a parent. I couldn’t be more proud.

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Pig on Trial

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