In Time for the Holidays

christmas-935461_640Thinking about holiday gifts or looking to add to your own collection? I have suggestions! Over the next few weeks I’ll post info and links to books and authors—some  previously featured here, some new—with books priced to make even the most budget-conscious person happy. To make as many people happy as possible, I’ll include a range of mystery sub-genres, from cozy to traditional to thriller and action-adventure. Most will have dogs or cats in the stories, while others were selected because they’re well-crafted fiction. Great prices, too, starting at just 99¢ (US) and £0.99 (UK).  Since I’ve been reading a lot of authors living and writing in the Ozarks region, I’m going to kick off this promo with a local (to me) author.

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Jack R. Cotner writes poetry, short stories, and novels in addition to painting and sculpting. You can see his work and learn more on his website. He writes compelling fiction that pushes the boundaries of traditionally recognized genres, and the Kindle editions of his short story collection and novel are on sale this holiday season for just 99¢ (US) and £0.99 (UK).  I’ve previously featured Jack on this site (find that here), so this time I’m sharing what others have to say.

Jack website image

Mystery of the Death Hearth

I enjoyed this book very much. It has a very interesting story line. I would recommend to all my friends. Great reading.

~ Andrea Utecht (Amazon review)

 

…As a lover of historical fiction, I found this novel to be excellent. It is very well written with an interesting setting and an intriguing murder mystery. It is evident that the author has extensively researched the period and region in which the story takes place. His descriptions of the traditions, religious practices and way of life of the characters involved draw us in beautifully as the mystery unfolds. Cotner’s writing style suits the period well and lovely, descriptive phrases abound. Each chapter is preceded by a fascinating poem, as well as the date in both the Roman and Celtic calendars, adding a further dimension to the text.

The story takes place in the 5th Century AD in the Celtic lands of the northern and western regions of mainland Europe…All in all, the book presents an intriguing and well-crafted mystery with well rounded characters. It should appeal to anyone who enjoys a good mystery with an historical setting.

~Patricia Bunting (Amazon review)

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Storytellin: True & Fictional short Stories of Arkansas

I loved these stories: fictional tales cleverly linked to genuine family stories. They are engaging, sometimes witty, sometimes insightful, occasionally disturbing, and they offer a foreigner like me a small insight into the mountainous regions of Arkansas: their people, their culture and their history. Fascinating to read and very enjoyable.

~Kathy Shuker (Goodreads review)

Indeed, Jack Cotner has delivered Storytellin’ at its finest by juxtaposing accounts from generations of Cotners next to fictional tales triggered by those family events. A fine collection of memoir and short stories in a single volume. As one reader pointed out, two books in one. Loved it.

~Nancy Hartney (Goodreads review)

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I love the ability to buy ebooks now, include a personal message, and specify the delivery date so it’s delivered when I want. When you purchase a digital book as a gift, you can choose to have the gift sent directly to the recipient or sent to your own email account so you can either forward the message or deliver a printed copy of the gift instructions personally. By the way, there’s no Kindle required; books can be read on Kindle or one of Amazon’s free reading apps.

Check back during December to see info about other great authors and their books!

Ghostly Tales, Legends, and Lore

To celebrate the spirit (pun intended) of Halloween, here’s a collection of literature and lore related to the Ozarks and to the land many of our ancestors called home. Leave a comment to be entered in this month’s giveaway; the winner will be posted on Sunday, November 1st.

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Crescent Hotel

A local site said to be home of “the unusual and unexplainable” is the legendary Crescent Hotel in Eureka Springs, Arkansas. In an excerpt of The Haunting of America by Troy Taylor, we’re introduced to lingering spirits:

Staff members receive frequent reports from overnight guests of strange goings-on in their rooms and in the hallways. Room 424 has had several visitations but the most famous haunted spot is the previously mentioned Room 218. Several guests and employees have encountered strange sounds and sensations in that room. Doors have slammed shut and some people claim to have been shaken awake at night. One man, a salesman, was asleep in Room 218 one night when his shoulder was violently shaken back and forth. He awakened just long enough to hear footsteps hurry across the floor. He saw no one in the room.

Who this particular ghost may be is unknown, although some believe it is the spirit of the man who was killed during the hotel’s construction. His body was said to have fallen just about where the room is currently located. Other than that, there doesn’t seem to be any particular macabre history about this room. A story of the hotel has it that the wife of one of the hotel’s past owners stayed in the room. At one point in the middle of the night, she ran screaming from the room, claiming that she had seen blood spattered all over the walls. Several staff members ran up to take a look but found no blood and nothing else out of the ordinary….

Another ghost of the hotel is that of a distinguished-looking man with a mustache and beard and who dresses in old-fashioned, formal clothing. He seems to favor the lobby of the hotel and a bar that is decorated in the style of the Victorian era. People who claim they have talked to the man say that he never responds, he only sits quietly and then vanishes. In an interview, a staff member recounted one odd experience with the silent ghost: “During the summer, we had two auditors work for us because we’re so busy. One of these men left the front desk to get a drink of water in the bar, after it was closed. He told me that he saw some guy sitting on a barstool, staring straight ahead. He didn’t say anything and he didn’t move. Our guy left to get his partner, who was still at the front desk. They came back and spoke to the man. They thought he was drunk”.

When the man again did not respond, the two auditors decided to leave him alone and go back to work. As they looked back over their shoulders on the way out of the bar though, they saw that the barstool was now empty. The man was nowhere in the room.

“One of them started searching for the man,” the staff member added. “He looked around the lobby, which is about 25 to 30 yards across, everywhere in that area. The auditor who was looking around went over to the steps (a staircase ascends from the lobby). The fellow from the bar was on the second-floor landing, looking down at him. He went up but as he got to the second floor, he felt something push him back down again. That’s when he got the manager and told him what had happened.”

Read a longer excerpt here.

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Whether it’s lingering spirits or just the magical feeling you’ll find in the hills and hollers, the Ozarks seem to inspire generations of creative souls. That’s certainly true of Jack R. Cotner–author, artist, poet, and painter–who calls this place home. Here’s one of his poems, reprinted in full with his permission, that seems a perfect fit for the time when some believe the dead may walk among the living:

Goodbye My Love, Goodbye 

© Jack R. Cotner

Retreating inward from the pain,

I smell the sweetness of her hair

As we move along the path. I strain

Uphill, dragging muddied weight to where

Headstones squat like sacred peaks between

Mowed grass where walked mourning crones.

Stoic statues weathered, weeping, still serene,

Guarding lengthy rows of buried bones.

We halt. Crows pass, loud caws abating.

A portal beyond the pale awaits, silent.

The gaping hole lies open, waiting, waiting

For my dearest here quiet, broken, spent.

Farewell, sweet beauty, unfaithful miss.

I weep. Red lipstick on blue, icy lips

Beckons. Entranced, I take one final kiss

Before tossing splendor into the dark abyss.

Goodbye my love, goodbye.

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In addition to poetry, Jack also writes a Celtic mystery series set in the 5th century. Many who settled in the Ozarks came here from the land of the Celts, and their descendants have kept some of the old ways alive though storytelling and more. Wander far enough in the hills and hollers and you just may come across folks paying homage to the ways of old and safeguarding traditions from one generation to the next. Having my own share of Celtic blood I appreciate the old legends and lore.  One such story is the story of Samhain, the original Halloween. This comes from the gifted writer Ali Isaac, “guardian of Irish mythology.” Here’s the tale:

People are watching a huge bonfire, a tradition with easter in Nort-West Europe.

For our ancient ancestors, the day began not with the arrival of dawn, but with the fall of dusk. Therefore, Samhain (pronounced sau-win, and believed to derive from the Old Irish sam, meaning ‘summer’, and fuin, meaning ‘end’) began on the evening of 31st October, and continued until dusk on November 1st. Similarly, their New Year began with the arrival of the dark season, Winter, not halfway through it, as ours does today. Some say this equates with a belief that life is born into the light from the darkness of the womb.

The ancient Irish divided their year into four seasons punctuated by the festivals of Imbolc, Beltaine, Lughnasa and Samhain, according to the equinoxes and solstices. Samhain lies between the autumn equinox and the winter solstice.

At this time of year, the ancient people would have been very busy preparing for winter. They would have been storing their grain crops, bringing in their cattle and other livestock to lower winter pastures where they would be safer from starving predators; the weakest and least likely to survive the winter would be slaughtered for their meat, and so began the task of meat preservation. Firewood or turf would be collected and stacked up to keep the home hearths burning, homes shored up against the ravages of winter sure to come. Celebrating Samhain was a way of giving thanks for the bounty of Summer they had been given, rejoicing at the completion of all their hard work and preparation, and a time to welcome in the new year.

The lighting of huge bonfires was central to the celebrations. Not only did fire represent the nurturing heat and light of the sun, but it possessed cleansing and purification powers, and brought the blessings of the Gods. Evidence of these huge fires have been found at Tlachta on the Hill of Ward, an ancient site known to be associated with the festival of Samhain, and also at Uisneach, where fires were lit to celebrate Beltaine.

As with Beltaine, all hearth fires would be extinguished in anticipation of this most significant event. As the golden fiery orb of the sun slipped beyond the horizon and darkness took hold, huge communal bonfires were lit. Torches would be dipped into the sacred fire and carefully carried home to rekindle the hearth fires, thus representing the power of the sun keeping the dark winter at bay in peoples homes, and bringing the Gods blessings to the inhabitants. It must have been a quite magical and transformative experience.

It was believed that at Samhain, the veil between the mortal world and the Otherworld was very thin, and that the spirits of the ancestors could cross over and walk amongst the living again. There seemed to have been no fear in this; the ancestors were welcomed by laying a place for them at the dinner table, or leaving out food for them.

Read the rest at Ali’s website. If Irish mythology appeals to you, be sure to check out Ali’s wonderful books here.

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Whatever your beliefs, wishing you a magical weekend!

samhain_by_cosmosue

Celebrating Creativity

creative-blogger

I’m honored to know that another writer sees me as a creative sort. That’s particularly inspiring as that writer, Jack R. Cotner, is one of the most creative souls I’ve ever encountered. He writes poetry, short stories, and novels in addition to painting and sculpting. You can see his work and learn more about his stories on his blog at https://jackronaldcotner.wordpress.com/. You can find his short stories published here, and his novel here. Jack writes compelling fiction that pushes the boundaries of traditionally recognized genres. I previously mentioned his Celtic murder mystery here on this site, and I hope we’ll soon see the next book in that excellent series.

Following the pattern for this award, I’ll share five facts about myself. Then, in my own adaptation of the Creative Blogger award, I’m “nominating” 15 sites that I frequently read and hope that you will enjoy, as well. No obligation to either bloggers or readers—just an invitation to browse interesting sites and celebrate creativity in different forms!

Five Facts…

#1. When it comes to writing, I’m a world-class procrastinator. This post is proof—I should be pushing my current WIP toward the finish line, and instead I’m writing this. I keep meaning to create a character who shares this lamentable trait but somehow there’s always something else to do first…<wink>

#2. I’m a binge reader, with books in every room of the house. Novels, textbooks, anthologies, children’s books, journals, how-to books. Books by authors (both famous and obscure) in myriad genres and categories and styles. From  leather-bound classics to treasured first editions to tattered  paperbacks, you’ll find them all here.

#3. My passion for detail has led to some interesting adventures. Topping that list would be a private cave tour when I was researching Deadly Ties; we were a quarter-mile underground when somebody up top switched off the generator powering the lights in the cave passages. Fortunately, we each had a small flashlight, which saved us from taking a nasty tumble more than once as we inched our way back to the surface. And that’s the backstory to how I came to develop a character who’s afraid of the dark.

#4.  I can claim just a few athletic achievements in my lifetime. The best one? A bike race during an annual aerobics test. I came in first, ahead of every single Marine in the pack. I would have hollered for joy if I hadn’t been too busy gasping for breath…

#5. If asked to describe myself in one word, I choose “happy.” I love where I live, what I do, and who I share my life with. I’ve travelled much of the world and met wonderful people in magical places. These hills I call home have an enchantment all their own, and every day is an adventure.

Here are my 15 recommendations* for your own virtual enjoyment: 

  1. Dog lover? https://nodogaboutit.wordpress.com/
  2. If you’re a writer and/or fan of paranormal: http://jamigold.com/blog/
  3. Love photography? Outdoors? http://stevecreek.com/blog/
  4. Because you can’t have too much beauty: http://www.toddphotos.com/photo-blog/
  5. Follow the hunt for looted antiquities in the world’s museums: http://chasingaphrodite.com/
  6. If you’re an eclectic reader, you’ll want to see http://doranna.net/wordplay/
  7. Mystery & humor abound at http://www.marjamcgraw.blogspot.com/
  8. “Because you can never have too many books” go to http://bookviewcafe.com/blog/
  9. Looking for new-to-you books? Check Susan Toy’s https://readingrecommendations.wordpress.com/
  10. Enjoy Pat Gilgor’s view of mystery and suspense: http://pat-writersforum.blogspot.com/
  11. Victorian fans will want to visit the Front Parlor: http://mlouisalocke.com/blog/
  12. Interested in Irish mythology and contemporary fantasy? http://aliisaacstoryteller.com/
  13. Meet more writers: http://evelyncullet.com/
  14. “Tales of a former indie bookseller” at https://cncbooksblog.wordpress.com/
  15. Did I mention you can never have too many books? http://www.shelleyreadsandreviews.blogspot.com/

*Note: I tried my best not to double-tag any blogger nominated by previous award recipients.

Nominees: if you’d like to participate, there are just three simple things to do: 1) acknowledge the blogger who nominated you by name (me) & URL (https://dogmysteries.com/); 2) share five facts about yourself; and 3) nominate 15 bloggers whose sites you enjoy.  (Apologies if I inadvertently included any “award-free” blogs)

Readers, jump in! Have a site you’d like to nominate? Post the link in the comments!

Murder, Power & Intrigue

I love a well-written mystery (with and without dogs), and I’m a big fan of compelling fiction that pushes the boundaries of traditionally recognized genres. I’m fascinated by authors who can take that “What if...” question and create something that keeps me reading far into the night.  And when the author is another writer who calls the Ozarks home, I want others to know there’s a great book waiting to be savored.

Most of us know the basic story of the Roman Empire’s near-unstoppable march through northern and western Europe. But did you ever wonder what might have happened if the Roman army came upon a place where the people dared to hold fast to their way of life? What if during the 5th century they came upon a place where Celtic traditions and religious practices would not yield to the ways of the mighty Roman Empire?

Imagine a valley serving as a buffer between the Celtlands to the west and the Roman Empire to the east. Imagine a place of small villages linked by rough roads and river barges, with narrow footpaths winding their way up the mountainsides to isolated homesteads. Law and order was ostensibly the charge of the soldiers stationed at the Roman garrisons in the valley, but it was the Celtic magistrates who kept the tenuous peace. Inevitably, it becomes the story of two cultures on a collision course. And there you have the premise of the Mystery of the Death Hearth, first in the Runevision novel series by the author Jack R. Cotner. From the back cover:

In a far-flung outpost of the Roman Empire, the Great Cross—made of Celtic gold and amber now claimed by the Roman church—goes missing along with a fortune in coins and precious gems. Murder soon follows, igniting tensions when church leaders, maneuvering for political gain, are implicated in the violent plot. When the news reaches the Grand Prefect in Rome, Enforcers are sent to identify the thieves and recover the missing treasure.

The trail leads to the Brendan Valley, where it falls to deputy magistrate Weylyn de Gort to work with those whose ways are alien to his Elder Faith beliefs. Along the way, he must find an elusive young Celt girl and her missing grandfather, unravel the mystery of an Elder’s runevision, and avoid death at the hands of an assassin as he faces the greatest challenge of his life.

mysteryofthedeathhearthThis story fascinated me from the beginning. It’s not historical fact and doesn’t purport to be. It’s a well-crafted mystery that’s set in a fictional world that might seem both familiar and foreign. Some of that familiarity, at least for me, stems from my own studies and the author’s research of Celtic and Roman lore. (Check the Author’s Note at the start of the book for reading recommendations; you’ll find some wonderful suggestions there to include the work of Professor Miranda Aldhouse-Green.) I learned a great deal about ancient traditions and religious practices without feeling I was being lectured or that one culture was more significant than another. Add in a cleverly constructed plot, a vivid landscape, and characters I could love or hate, and I was hooked!

Each chapter is preceded by an original poem penned by the author. After I’d read the whole story I found myself going back and browsing the poems again. There were several “Aha!” moments as I re-read the poems and thought about the chapter and events that followed.

Mystery of the Death Hearth is available in Kindle and paperback editions (US customers: http://tinyurl.com/lwsmy59; UK: http://tinyurl.com/ly9cehc).  Jack is currently working on the second in the series; you can find teasers and tidbits on his website and on his Facebook page.

And for those of you who enjoy mixed-genre short stories, check out Jack’s Storytellin: True & Fictional Short Stories of Arkansas (US customers: http://tinyurl.com/poen7ts; UK: http://tinyurl.com/qh3ab7c).  From Amazon:

Inspired by generations of Cotner storytellers (all colorful characters in their own right) the author has crafted a unique collection of short stories set in Arkansas in the early 1900s and spanning half a century. Each story is preceded by recollections of family events that inspired the fictional tales.

Set against the rugged backdrop of the Ouachita Mountains, Storytellin’ brings you ageless tales of hope, fear, laughter, kindness, and retribution.

storytellin (1)

Whether your preference is for short stories or novels, funny or sad, straightforward or complex, I think you’ll find something to enjoy when reading Jack’s work. I hope you’ll give it a try!