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More Reads in the Sun: A Mid-Summer’s Reading List

Now that you’ve already marched through your first round of vacations, visitors, backyard or beach barbecues, and stack of summer reads, it’s time to replenish. Which brings us to the Word Journeys Mid-Summer Reads list. It is the first of a quarterly series where we’ll present recommendations in the middle of each season.

I would like to share some books from my writing friends, all of which are excellent summer reads.  They are available on Amazon.com in print and Kindle, and can be yours in a matter of moments (thank you, Whispernet!). Beware: these particular works feed reading addictions! All are gems in a crowded summer reading field.

As an added favor, in the spirit of summertime, if you buy and like the book, would you be willing to drop a quick review on Amazon.com and/or Goodreads? You only need to write 25 words – and the authors will appreciate you more than you can possibly know.

So stoke up the BBQ, open whatever goodies and libations you have in the cooler, grab your board or fins, set out with your canoe or kayak, or lay down a towel, and take in one of these nine books, recapped below:

Losing My Religion, by Jide Familoni

Intimacy Issues, by Claudia Whitsitt

The Hot Mess, by Gayle Carline

The Fashionista Murders, by William Thompson Ong

Madness and Murder, by Jenny Hilborne

Fobbit, by David Abrams

Wilder’s Woman, by Laura Taylor

The Hummingbird Review, Charles Redner, publisher

Ridin’ Around, Elaine Fields

51OWOAxPA8L._BO2,204,203,200_PIsitb-sticker-arrow-click,TopRight,35,-76_AA300_SH20_OU01_Losing My Religion, by Jide Familoni: Femi Fatoyinbo leaves his native Yoruban culture and tradition in Nigeria to become a doctor in the American South. There, he tries to immerse in a culture radically different than what he knows, dealing with racial issues, relationships, and numerous adventures – some funny, some not at all. This poignant novel captures how a person can change and grow in unexpected ways when presented with an entirely new environment, but also be able to retain his core tradition.  Average Reviewer Ratings (out of 5 stars): Amazon – 5, Goodreads – 4.75

Intimacy Issuesby Claudia Whitsitt: Sometimes, you want to just ask protagonist 51OJ9sPrCdL._BO2,204,203,200_PIsitb-sticker-arrow-click,TopRight,35,-76_AA300_SH20_OU01_Samantha Stitsill, “Do you plunge into sticky situations for the thrill of it?” This inquisitive mother of five with a sharp sense of humor is a hoot – and quite the amateur sleuth. In Intimacy Issues, Samantha releases she can’t move on after her dog, friend, and possibly husband are killed. So she tracks the killer down, going from the Midwest to Japan, and dealing with new questions as she always does:  with a mixture of moxie, reckless abandon, humor, and revelation. Average Reviewer Ratings (out of 5 stars): Amazon – 5, Goodreads – 4.5

51HFN4G3ehL._BO2,204,203,200_PIsitb-sticker-arrow-click,TopRight,35,-76_AA300_SH20_OU01_ The Hot Mess: A Peri Minneopa Mystery by Gayle Carline: The author returns to her feisty favorite private investigator to find the real killer in a fatal house arson fire in which the owner, Benny Needles, is the prime suspect. Benny turns to his old friend, Peri, for help, but probably wishes he didn’t. During her investigation, Peri digs up long-held family secrets that create a dangerous turn – and spike the thrill meter in this thoroughly enjoyable book, the third to feature Peri. Average Reviewer Ratings (out of 5 stars): Amazon – 5, Goodreads – 4.55

The Fashionista Murders, by William Thompson Ong: Since we’re on a Mid-Summer 41z1MhGnReL._BO2,204,203,200_PIsitb-sticker-arrow-click,TopRight,35,-76_AA300_SH20_OU01_heroine/protagonist roll, here’s another: Kate Conway, the journalist-turned-amateur detective who makes her third appearance in The Fashionista Murders. This time, Kate gets caught in a dangerous web after the queen of fashion media, Paisley LaForge, is murdered to set off a serial killing spree. We race from the runways of Paris to New York in a taut, well-detailed thriller as Kate, her photographer friend Cam, and her father, retired detective Paul Conway, work to track down the killer before he takes his next victim – Kate. Average Reviewer Ratings (out of 5 stars): Amazon – 5

 51dVdC6FtWL._BO2,204,203,200_PIsitb-sticker-arrow-click,TopRight,35,-76_AA300_SH20_OU01_Madness and Murder, by Jenny Hilborne: What can mystery readers not like about a book that combines murder, mayhem, a madman, a woman trying to start a new life, and enough plot twists to strangle a pretzel? Here we go again. Homicide detective Mac Jackson questions his methods when he uses “bait” to track a sadistic serial killer. The bait, Jessica Croft, moves away from a shameful past to begin a new life — only to find herself the target of both Jackson and the killer. Desperate, she tries to lure the killer, which leads to … you’ll have to get the book to find out. Average Reviewer Ratings (out of 5 stars): Amazon – 4.8, Goodreads – 4.45

Fobbit, by David Abrams: Earlier this summer, we interviewed David Abrams in this blog, 51S4MUUXEQL._BO2,204,203,200_PIsitb-sticker-arrow-click,TopRight,35,-76_AA300_SH20_OU01_and for good reason: Fobbit has quickly asserted itself as one of the best war novels ever written. It’s hilarious and tragic, cynical and fierce, troubling and redeeming. Starting with an Army public affairs specialist’s tour in Forward Operating Base, Baghdad, Fobbit showcases the stated necessity, and ultimate folly, of war from a half dozen character perspectives. I’m not a war novel reader, but I couldn’t put this book down. It received accolades from more than 300 media reviewers for a reason. Average Reviewer Ratings (out of 5 stars): Amazon – 4.3, Goodreads – 3.5

51QoQvHDExL._BO2,204,203,200_PIsitb-sticker-arrow-click,TopRight,35,-76_AA278_PIkin4,BottomRight,-64,22_AA300_SH20_OU01_Wilder’s Woman, by Laura Taylor: This switch from war novels to romance seems rather abrupt, but Laura Taylor belongs on any list of great storytellers, regardless of genre. She’s been on a bestselling tear with her romance novels the past two years, and Wilder’s Woman again showcases the reason. The way she depicts the betrayal and separation of Tasha and Craig Wilder, and their painful attempts to reconcile, speak deeply to the motives of the human heart, and how interconnected every moment can be. The story is powerful, sensual, written beautifully, and a reminder of the complexity of the heart. Average Reviewer Ratings (out of 5 stars): Amazon – 5, Goodreads – 4.57

The Hummingbird Review, published by Charles Redner: Every Mid-Summer reading list 51wibrs-s8L._BO2,204,203,200_PIsitb-sticker-arrow-click,TopRight,35,-76_AA300_SH20_OU01_deserves an anthology, for those who like books broken into shorter pieces. At the risk of appearing biased (which I am), The Hummingbird Review is well worth checking out. The collection of essays, poems, stories and interviews from writers known and unknown has gained a strong reputation in literary circles. For the Spring-Summer issue, Hollywood was the theme, former U.S. Poet Laureate Billy Collins the interview subject, Michael Blake and Martin Espada two of the featured poets, former Rod Stewart lead guitarist Stevie Salas and X vocalist/bass player John Doe the featured lyricists … and there’s even an excerpt of a screenplay by David Milton. Average Reviewer Ratings (out of 5 stars): Amazon – 5, Goodreads – 5

41IMAM3yCuL._SY300_Ridin’ Around, by Elaine Fields Smith: No summer reading list is truly complete without a summer cruising tale. Ridin’ Around is the story of four college frat sisters and their summer of cruising the streets in Texas, looking for parties, guys, and the next fun thing to do. It may feel like an updated American Graffiti, or a somewhat more toned down Dazed & Confused, but this story is unique in the way the author presents the characters’ lives and how they find further bonding and purpose through both entertaining and somewhat frightening situations. Average Reviewer Ratings (out of 5 stars): Amazon – 5, Goodreads – 4.71


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Writer’s Conference Fever

Read author interviews on 366Writing Blog

Quick blog this morning, as I’m getting ready to head to LA Valley College for the Greater Los Angeles Writers Conference, which begins today and runs through Sunday (and still time to register at the door, starting at Noon today, BTW).

la writers conference

Writers Conference are amazing events – and I’ve told every aspiring and active writer I know to attend at least one, if not one per year. Why? Because after spending so much time writing in the loneliness of your home office, you get to mingle with kindred spirits. Everyone’s in the same boat, and the energy level is through the roof when we get together to compare struggles, triumphs, titles, voices and techniques. Secondly, the variety of helpful workshops, presentations and panels is tremendous. At this particular conference, non-fiction and fiction is fully covered, along with screenwriting and television writing (why not? Hollywood is just down the road).

For instance, I’m sitting on four panels, with plenty of variety. Today, I’ll be in on the Memoir Writing panel. On Saturday, it’s off to the Ghostwriting panel, then a pair of all-important Editing panels – Revising and Editing manuscripts on Saturday, and Rewriting on Sunday. (Revising and Rewriting are two entirely different processes, though all too often, we tend to blend the two). Will post my outlines from the Memoir and Ghostwriting panels on this blog next week.

The other reason writer’s conferences are so important is that we find out the latest happenings in the publishing Low Res Cover Backroadsindustry from the literary agents and editors on hand. Right now, if you’re thinking of publishing – or moving into other genres – it pays major dividends to be current on traditional and digital publishing events. Things continue to change so rapidly. I’m particularly interested in the concept of “hybrid authors”, since I am one, publishing works in both traditional houses and through collaborative partnerships, such as my work with Tuscany Global, which is putting out my poetry/essay book “Backroad Melodies” next week, and Vol. 1 of “Best of the Word Journeys Blogs” next month.

If you’re not coming up to LA, and you’re serious about your writing, please make sure to sign up NOW for the Southern California Writers Conference, which takes place Sept. 20-22 in Newport Beach, Calif. This is one of the hottest conferences in the nation for book contracts.

Losing my religion_cover_low resMeantime, time to hit the road. Oh yeah, before I go: be sure to stop by Amazon.com and pick up the hot new novel that hits the shelves today, “Losing My Religion” by Jide Familoni. This is one of the best novels I’ve ever worked with, a great story of a man trying to live in one lifestyle and culture while retaining the core traditions of another.

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One Man, Two Cultures, the Making of “Losing My Religion”: Part 2 of Interview with Dr. Jide Familoni

(EDITOR’S NOTE: Dr. Jide Familoni spent close to ten years developing and writing what has become Losing My Religion, an exceptional novel about a Nigerian, Femi, moving to Canada and then the South – and facing the differences between the cultures.


Dr. Familoni based some of the book and Femi on his own life, a life in which he has deeply cared for and practiced the traditions and 20130328_Jide Familoni_Proof_031cultures of two entirely different places – Nigeria and the United States, particularly the South. He also lovingly (and not so longingly, at times) described the religion-culture in which he grew up, Yoruba, one of the few truly ancient traditions still standing in close to its original form. It is one of 11 world religions that state and practice the golden rule: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. It draws from the ancient indigenous tenet that man and nature are not separate, but part of one wheel of life.

Losing My Religion holds tension with both its action and subtext – Femi’s strain to hold dear to his native and adopted cultures. It also contains everything you want in a good novel – well-developed characters, conflict, villains, incisive conversations, settings both beautiful and menacing, and a couple of surprise twists. Oh yes, there’s even a love story woven in.

This is the second of a two-part interview with Dr. Familoni. Losing My Religion will be published in June 2013, and available on Amazon.com and through bookstores everywhere.)

WORD JOURNEYS: In Losing My Religion, you write about situations considered unfortunate, but almost socially normal here – such as divorce – that are seen as loss of face back in Nigeria. What aspects of these very difficult choices did you want to convey in the telling of the story?

JIDE FAMILONI: Growing up, the authority of parents was unquestionable. They also subscribed totally to societal norms. That systematically avoided some of the social missteps. I remember when one of my older sisters was already engaged. The family was in high gear preparing for what turned out to be a very elaborate wedding, during the heyday of my father’s political prowess. One evening, her groom-to-be came to take her to one of the key social events in Ibadan. The University of Ibadan held an annual dance/concert/jamboree called Havana. It was the event of the year for college-age and young professionals. He arrived to pick up my sister around 8 p.m., and my father refused to let her go. While she bawled her eyes out, her mother and the groom were pleading, but my dad did not budge.

Now, it seems absurd that the social order was so tight and inflexible. The inflexibility made it acceptable for odious practices, such as domestic abuse, to be tolerated in the name of ‘saving face’. But I believe it was also responsible in part for keeping down divorces, teenage pregnancies etc.  Even now, any time I discuss same-sex issues and rights with many Africans, the discussions are often difficult. Some of my old friends find it so difficult to understand my liberal stance that they often conclude that I must be in the closet.

When I got separated and eventually divorced, my father was very cross with me. The family saw me as being ‘assimilated’ (equivalent to a four-letter word) … too Americanized to value what they valued … a prodigal son of sorts.

WJ: In the novel, you also wove in how pop music bookmarked key periods of Femi’s life. ABBA, Michael Jackson, Losing my religion_cover_low resTeddy Pendergrass, etc. It’s such a universal trait, isn’t it, for music to occupy such a big place in our lives? Could you share how deeply music is ingrained in your character – and some of the memories specific songs trigger?

JF: Music transcends languages and cultures and geography. I love music from the profane to the ecclesiastical. My father was an organist and choirmaster at different times in his life. I remember sitting in All Saints’ Anglican Church in Ibadan and listening to an Easter cantata. Handel’s Messiah makes chills run up and down my spine. But the same brain and mind that is transfixed by the Halleluiah chorus gets happy to Fela Kuti’s or Bob Marley’s profane and political lyrics.

I remember Bob Marley’s War. As much of a peace lover as I was, I deeply believed with him that until the philosophy that holds one race superior and another inferior is abolished, there would be war and it would be justified. During South African Apartheid, Nigerian Sonny Okosun sang that there was a fire in Soweto burning all our people to memorialize the Soweto riots.  Those tunes gave expression to things I felt deeply. Femi’s emotional overflow to ABBA’s Departure was me on a jet, leaving my loved ones and my life for a foreign land where I did not know a single soul, but believed in a better future.

WJ: What have been the nicest surprises of your journey from Nigeria to Canada to the South? And your most challenging moments?

JF: The nicest surprise is that I have seen more and become a better person that I ever imagined. I have met made lifelong friends. I love the way this culture has informed my Africanness to make me see parts of the African culture that can be improved. Of course, that same blessing also alienates me from some Africans still in Africa.

My most challenging moments are those times that I am confronted with the stark differences of my current reality and what I used to believe. For instance, as a result of the extended family structure, Africans believe in supporting family members who are struggling. I do that some for those who are closest to me. However, on occasion, when I travel home and see people who kindnesses contributed to who I am today, or cousins that I am persuaded to help out of obligation and I have not, I feel inadequate and foreign.

After my mother passed away, one of my greatest regrets is that she never visited the U.S. to spend a night in my home or dote on her grandchild.

WJ: How long did it take you to write Losing My Religion? How does it shape and read now compared to your original conception for the book?

JF: It did not start out as a novel or book. I was merely reverting to a tried and true self-protection mechanism in a time of crisis. After my mother’s death and burial, I returned to the States very sad, maybe even depressed. Late in 1994, in a bid to get some perspective, I started writing my thoughts about her just as I used to do as a teenager. It provided such relief and outlet that very soon, I was staying up the whole night to write, after working my regular day job.

Chapter 9, “Eventide,” was written in about 7 or 10 days and remained as notes for about 3 years. One day, I read it again and realized that there were gaps in the story. My decision to fill in those gaps is what became Losing My Religion. Writing mostly at night, the framework was done by in about 9 months.

WJ: If you could boil down the essence of Losing My Religion to two sentences, what would they be?

JF: LMR is about coming to the West and becoming of the western world without losing what is good and of value from the old world. It is an ode to the ties that bind to simple beginnings and parents that even death could not unravel.

WJ: When you speak with African-Americans, is there any need or effort on your part to reconnect them to their ancestral roots – or to show the way those traditions still were practiced during your growing up years? Could you share an example or two of talks you’ve had with people about this?

JF: My experience with my African American friends is that many have a yearning to reconnect and be connected back to Africa. I discuss the way things used to be. I also find to my chagrin that some of them are more Afrocentric than I am. Especially in February, during Black History programs, I sometimes get requests to speak or give advice about programs in churches.  My female friends are very keen to wear the most elegant African designs. Luckily, I have a cousin in Atlanta that has a large and internet accessible African fashion business.

It is sometimes very difficult. There is so much misunderstanding of what is worthy by so many. So much misunderstanding between Africans in diaspora of their own will, and their cousins who have been here for generations. This doesn’t surprise me because my own son, born to two African parents, sometimes finds it difficult to see what is worth loving about Africa. A line often comes to my mind from Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart. In Okonkwo’s village, as things started to unravel, he opined something to the effect that the white man had put a knife to the things that joined us together, so that we can no longer think as one.


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