June 17, 2018

Meet Libby: Montana’s Virtual Library

Montana’s virtual library is probably the easiest electronic library I’ve found so far.  Login, pick your books—however you’d like, check out-done.  It’s a no nonsense site.  If you need a library card, it’s a click.  Search for the perfect read with a click.  I like those kinds of sites.  No adds.  No extra graphics to distract.  Point. Click. Check out.  Read. 

I found no information about who coordinated the virtual library but the list of physical libraries involved looks statewide.   Scroll down all the way to the bottom of the pages and click on Member Libraries.  You’ll find the list plus links to their sites, support and library card links. 

I was impressed, as you will be if you enjoy internet without All That Extra. 

Disclaimer, I also like sites with all that extra but not when I’m looking for a read.  The Montana Virtual Library keeps it all simple, easy…I suppose much like the state. Simple.  Easy. No Nonsense. 
(all info downloaded from https://montana.overdrive.com)

June 10, 2018

Missouri Wine—Who Knew-Joyce Ann Brown!

What does the state of Missouri bring to mind for you? The Gateway Arch in St. Louis? Kansas City Jazz and bar-be-que? Branson country music?  The Ozark Hills? M.U. football for you sports fans. The state is also recognized for the Louis and Clark river journey, Samuel Clemens writing as Mark Twain, and Harry Truman helping to end WWII. There’s a lot of terrain diversity in the state, too, from rolling farmland in the north to mountains in the south and lowland Mississippi flood plain in the Bootheel.

You might be surprised to know Missouri is also prominent as a wine state, with a long history of viticulture. German immigrants settled along the Missouri River and found ideal conditions for growing grapes, long, hot summers, good sun exposure, and the rocky Ozarks soil. The moderate average temperature in the area allowed for natural cellaring. The immigrants developed local varieties that had been grown by Native Americans. Later, winemakers from Italy found the state favorable for wine grapes, also. In the 1800’s, the wine corridor along the Missouri river valley became known as the Missouri “Rhineland”.

Hermann, Missouri was settled by Germans in 1837, and by 1848 winemakers were producing 10,000 gallons of wine per year expanding to 100,000 gals by 1856. In the 1880’s, the state was the largest producer of wine in the nation. Stone Hill Winery in Hermann became the second largest winery in the U.S. and the third largest in the world, its wines winning awards at world fairs in Vienna and Philadelphia. Missouri grape vine root stock, resistant to the pest that was destroying the French vineyards in the mid-19th century, helped save the French wine industry. Before Prohibition, Missouri was the second-largest wine producing state…but the shutdown of the wineries destroyed its wine industry for decades. 

Since the 1960’s there’s been a revival of vineyards and wineries in the state. I, for one, have enjoyed the resurgence. For years, Hermann has been one of my husband and my destinations for fun, food, and fine wine tasting. There’s a train from the Kansas City area that we can take to the town. We’ve camped in our fifth-wheel in the area and visited the wineries on the Hermann Wine Trail and the Missouri Weinstrasse, in Augusta wine area, (also called the Meramec River Wine Trail) which was designated as the “First United States Wine District” in 1980, since wines were produced there prior to the Civil War. 
 Those aren’t the only wineries we visit in Missouri. There are at least 130 wineries and ten or eleven recognized wine trails in the state, and one of them is the Kansas City Wine Trail, convenient for us. Also, just north of Kansas City is the Northwest Wine Trail that winds through charming Missouri towns near the Missouri River. Others are Route du Vin in the Southeast corner of the state where the French settled, the Ozark Mountain Wine Trail that winds through picturesque terrain in southwest Missouri, the Aux Arcs Wine Road that takes its name from the original French name given to the region now known as the Ozarks. There’s a Missouri River Wine Trail and a Mississippi River Hills Wine Trail. I can’t leave out the Lake of the Ozarks Wine Trail, right in the heart of the Missouri playground, perfect for people visiting Branson or the lake. Some folks recognize the Winestein Trail north of the Northwest trail. Go to http://blog.visitmo.com/10-wine-trails-missouri-adventure/ to learn about the wine trails. More than 130 wineries are included, and they use grapes from the many vineyards in the state. 

My favorite wines are dry reds and whites, and my favorite Missouri red variety is Cynthiana/Norton. Nortons have won wine awards for years. In fact, there’s a 170-year-old Norton/Cynthiana grapevine in the OakGlenn Winery’s vineyard in Hermann. Chardonel is my favorite white. It’s a cross of the traditional chardonnay grape and Seyval. Dry Vignoles has won awards for dry white, also. All the wineries I’ve visited have sweet wines and fruit wines, also, which have won awards. So if you are a fan of sweet, Missouri wines will fill the bill.

I write the cozy mystery series, Psycho Cat and the Landlady Mysteries. In the books, Beth, the landlady, and her husband often relax on the patio or balcony with a glass of white wine. Good thing the tales take place in a Kansas City neighborhood with all these great wineries close by. Maybe it’s that relaxation and enjoyment that helps Beth with her sleuthing abilities. Sylvester, aka Psycho Cat, doesn’t drink wine, but he appreciates relaxation—his cat naps prepare him for sniffing out clues.

I’d love to read your comments on this post. One commenter will win an e-book copy of one of the four books in the Psycho Cat series, Catastrophic Connections, Furtive Investigation, Nine Lifelines, or Tailed  

Author's Bio: Joyce Ann Brown was a librarian, a landlady, and a Realtor before becoming a short story, blog, and novel writer. Author of the Psycho Cat and the Landlady cozy mystery series, Ms. Brown spends her days writing (with a few breaks for tennis, walking, and book clubs) so Beth, the landlady in the series, and Sylvester, aka Psycho Cat, can solve who-done-its connected with rental properties and condos in the quaint Brookside neighborhood of Kansas City. Ms. Brown lives in the Kansas City area with her husband and two mischievous cats. They travel the country in an RV to visit family and gather snippets for her stories. When not working on a new book for the series, the author creates award-winning short stories for magazines and anthologies.
(Info provided/released by author)

June 3, 2018

M-I-S-S-I-S-S-I-P-P-I -- S.J. Francis Shares a Great State to Visit, Live and Spell!

Mississippi is called the Magnolia state and the number of Magnolia trees confirm that, and because of the hot and humid summers with heavy rain, it is a green and lush state.
If you heard me speak you’d notice the lack of southern drawl. You’d also notice that I walk just a bit faster. I didn’t grow up in the beautiful state of Mississippi. I grew up in New York City.  The two places are so far apart; not just in miles but in attitudes. It’s different down here. It’s a whole new way of life with a different pace: Slow and laid back. There is no fast food in Mississippi and not just literally. If you’re looking for fast and hurried; you need to go elsewhere, New York City for one, but there’s a peace and serenity that accompanies it, too. People are more at ease down south and it shows in their attitude. I may have been born a Yankee, but I’ve always been a rebel at heart.
There are flatlands down here and there are hills. I have seen some awesome sunsets. The Blues were born here in the Delta. Farming and lumber are the predominant industries.  BBQ and sweet tea are popular food items down here. Crowds and smog are non-existent.
My debut novel, Shattered Lies begins in Yazoo County, Mississippi, and later New York City.  As of the 2010 census, the population of Yazoo County was 28,065. It is named for the Yazoo River, whose name, legend has it, comes from an Indian word meaning "River of Death." It is located in the Mississippi Delta region. The idea for this book came to me in 1999, but the story didn’t write itself until I moved down to Mississippi. 
Synopsis: Thirty year old Kate Thayer has a good life as a veterinarian running the family horse farm in the South until she uncovers an act of unimaginable treachery by those she trusted most and discovers that everything she knew about herself was a lie. Her paternal grandmother, the woman who raised her, is behind a number of devastating secrets Kate is compelled to discover. But the deeper she digs, the more betrayal she finds, changing her life in ways she could have never foreseen.
Thanks for stopping by to read about my debut novel and my new home state of Mississippi. I have two prizes to give away to a lucky winner —a copy of Shattered Lies (Kindle version OR Paperback, winner’s choice) and a Mississippi souvenir.  Simply leave a comment and your contact info in order to contact you should you win.

You can read more about the award winning Shattered Lies, a mainstream/contemporary/family saga at my website: http://sjfranciswriter.com    There you’ll be able to connect with me and learn more about the award winning Shattered Lies.
(info provided/released by author)

May 27, 2018

A Talented Trio of Authors from Minnesota

First Up: Carl Brookins:
A great many influences, large and small, affect character development. That’s true for every kind of literature. My focus, naturally, is crime fiction. I began writing about a Twin Cities detective. Because one of my literary heroes as a randy teenager, was the enormously successful Richard Prather, I wanted to create a character who might accomplish what he did, but from the opposite perspective.

Prather sold more than 20 billion books in many languages. His detective was Shell Scott, a six-four former marine whose buzz-cut hair turned white due to his experiences in the South Pacific. He worked as a private eye in Los Angeles. He would bed any woman who could walk and he was quick to shoot anyone who looked at him cross-eyed. After some years I began to realize that the Shell Scott stories were not only good stories, but also satires of the genre, clever and in some scenes, excruciatingly funny.

My detective is named Sean NMI Sean. He’s not Irish. He’s short, barely an inch over five feet and he’s committed to a monogamous relationship with a wealthy woman who stands six-feet-four inches in her stocking feet. Sean has qualified with many different weapons but more often than not he does not carry and prefers to talk his way out of situations, rather than shoot someone. As he remarks, bullets cost money and the recoil hurts his elbow. When he get knocked on the head, he goes to the hospital.

Sean has a thing about his shoes. When he learned Converse was going to discontinue a certain shoe, he bought 150 pairs of bright red white-soled tennis shoes so he’d have a supply for the rest of his life.

All this brings me to my new characters. GRAND LAC is my latest murder mystery. The aging population in America deserves an aging detective. Think a seventy-year old Travis McGee. Alan Lockem, a retired military intelligence officer, makes his living solving troubles in an unlicensed, often extra-legal way. His companion is a lusty former exotic dancer, stripper, headliner show-girl named Marjorie Kane, stage name, Kandy. She is a top-notch off the cuff evaluator of men, a high-level computer geek and an excellent foil and companion for Lockem.

This pair, by combining their natural and learned talents are able to right many crimes for their clients often using their abilities to be overlooked. Think about it. Retired older people are largely ignored in our society. They are dismissed out of hand as being of little or no consequence in the society at large because they are retired and wield little professional influence, unless elected to a government position. They are essentially invisible, which, when they choose to, gives them a considerable advantage.

The next time you visit the mall and encounter an older gentleman or woman shuffling along, minding their business, pause and wonder what sort of life they may be leading. You might be surprised.

Win a signed copy of Grand Lac! Leave a comment and a form of contact for your chance to win.

Before he became a mystery writer and reviewer, Carl Brookins was a counselor and faculty member at Metropolitan State University in Saint Paul, Minnesota. Brookins and his wife are avid recreational sailors. He is a member of Mystery Writers of America, Sisters in Crime, and Private Eye Writers of America. He can frequently be found touring bookstores and libraries with his companions-in-crime, The Minnesota Crime Wave.

He writes the sailing adventure series featuring Michael Tanner and Mary Whitney. The third novel is Old Silver. His new private investigator series features Sean NMI Sean, a short P.I. The first is titled The Case of the Greedy Lawyers. Brookins received a liberal arts degree from the University of Minnesota and studied for a MA in Communications at Michigan State University.
http://www.carlbrookins.com  will guide you to Carl Brookins Website and links to all his work.  

Next: Fiona McGier and Her Love of Minnesota During the Few Months of Not-Snow!  
One of my husband's brothers lives in St. Paul, blocks from the state fairgrounds. Yes, we've gone to the State Fair a few times over the years. Practically everything you eat is on a stick, and my husband is partial to the deep-fried candy bars, like Snickers, and the state treasure, Pearson's Nut Logs. I liked the fried green tomatoes so much that when I got home, I downloaded a recipe.

One time we tromped all over the Mall of America, with an entire amusement park in the center, including roller coasters. We didn't do that much shopping, but the people-watching was fantastic!  We also toured the University of Minnesota campus, and ate at a few of the great local restaurants, like Punch Pizza, which is thin-crusted Neapolitan pizza made for each individual. They also have excellent salads. It's a campus treasure.

Usually when we go to Minnesota, it's to camp. We've camped in every corner of the state. We started in the parks near the Wisconsin border, since we come from Illinois, but we've been all of the way to the west end of the state also. Years ago our family joined the Minnesota State Parks Hiking Club, which means that there's a trail in each park that has a key word at the half-way point. The idea is that you hike the whole trail, since by the time you find the word, it's just as far to hike back the way you came, as to finish the hike...plus you'll see new scenery. Every 25 miles you log gets you a patch (we put them on jeans jackets.) 75 miles gets you a free night's stay in a state park. Even with the many the years we've been hiking, I think we're at 65 miles. Each trail ranges from 1-12 miles in length. But you will see interesting topography that's unique to each of the area's you are hiking.

Some parks we enjoyed so much that we returned there a few times. We don't like campsites that are right on top of each other, so we usually look for places where the sites have some woods, and therefore privacy, in-between you and your neighbors. So we've never camped at Itasca State Park, preferring instead to camp at Bemidji, which is about an hour's drive away. Lake Itasca, of course, is the headwaters for the Mississippi River. There's even a small wooden bridge, about 6-8 feet long, that has a sign on it saying that you are now crossing the Mississippi River, in its entirety. Great photo op for the kids! The beach at Lake Itasca is white sand, and the water is clear. There is a concessions stand there, and many picnic areas. You can even rent bicycles and helmets, and hit the many trails that run through the park.

When we got tired of playing at Itasca, we'd drive home to Bemidji. Downtown Bemidji has a lakefront also, on Lake Bemidji, which is quite large. There are giant statues there, of Paul Bunyan and Babe, his blue ox, more picture opportunities for all. Bemidji State Park also has a marsh with a boardwalk, so you can walk along the nature trail, learning about the many kinds of plants that thrive there, including a couple of carnivorous ones: the pitcher plant, and sunspots. And once when we were camping there, we heard lots of people walking by our site, quite late at night, like 11, which is late when quiet hours usually start at 10. Our fire was about burned out, so we asked what the fuss was about. All we had to hear was Northern Lights, and we rounded up all of the kids, took a blanket, and went to see what was happening. We joined the many people who had put blankets on ground of the parking lot by the beach, where there were no trees, and an unobstructed view of the night sky. That night we saw the kinds of colors that are usually in professional pictures or paintings. It was magical, the way the colors shimmered and shifted. We felt so lucky to be there to see it.

But one year when we had our plans all made for a 2-week vacation, spending a week up at Scenic, in the north-central part of the state, and the rest of the time at Bear Head Lake, up in Ely, by the west end of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area (BWCA), the governor disagreed with the state congress over the budget, so he closed all of the state parks...2 days before the 4th of July weekend!  Since our vacation was to start two weeks later, my husband scrambled to find us a campsite anywhere in the state. That's how he discovered the Federal parks in northern Minnesota.

We had camped at the various state parks along the west side of Lake Superior (code for coldest water you've ever immersed yourself in, and swim at your own risk!) Minnesotans refer to this area as the North Shore. But this time, after going through Duluth, we headed further north than we had ever gone before. We went almost all the way up to the border with Canada. That's how we ended up in Grand Marais: my all-time favorite small tourist town. A small slice of heaven, and the jump-off point for some of the best camping we've ever done! Outfitters abound for those who want to do rougher camping, out in the eastern portion of the Boundary Waters, with guides. We haven't done that...yet.

The town itself is very arty, with galleries and artist shops all around you. There is also a small donut shop called World's Best Donuts, and according to my family, and the line that stretches out in the morning, they certainly are! Nearby is Sydney's Frozen Custard, which is right on Lake Superior's beach, and features pizzas and burgers, along with the best frozen custard around.  We've eaten at Sven and Ole's, a cafeteria-style pizza place, with free wi-fi, which is important when traveling with teenagers who are getting twitchy from camping for multiple days in an area where there is no cell-phone signal. We've also enjoyed My Sister's Place, a casual eatery that has great pizza, as well as burgers and lots of other choices. Many places serve breakfast, but since we camp along The Gunflint Trail, which heads up into the mountains, we usually have to drive over an hour to get down to town, and we're not ready to wait that long for morning coffee. So we choose instead to dine at one of the many resorts along the Gunflint Trail, especially at the Trailhead Cafe.

In fact, I love being up in Grand Marais so much, that I was crying one year, as we drove out of the town to head home. That's when I began to think about how wonderful it would be to fall in love with a native, so you would have an excuse to move up to Grand Marais permanently. Unfortunately, whenever I suggest retiring up there, my husband says, "One word: winter." Yes, the weather can be brutal during the 7 months or so, of winter temperatures. We've even been up there the end of July, and had it be raining cats and dogs for days, with temperatures in the low 60's, dipping down to the 40's at night. But still, it's so beautiful! Great fishing, friendly people, gorgeous nature abounds. What's not to like?

If you want to experience being up in Grand Marais, 2 of my 3 Minnesota Romances are set up there, with the middle book set in Minneapolis and surrounding areas. You can find out more information about For the Love of His Life, Only One Man Will Do, and Her Last Resort, at my website: http://www.fionamcgier.com

And if you leave a comment below, I'll wait 2 weeks, and on May 11, I'll pick a winner to receive a PDF of my first Minnesota Romance, For the Love of His Life, so you can fall in love with Grand Marais also.

Following with Pamela Nowak: Minnesota’s Dakota Conflict of 1862:
I’m a Minnesota girl, despite having lived little of my adult life there, and the history of my native state has never stopped inhabiting my imagination. In fact, it has occupied it almost non-stop for the past year, as I’ve researched, written, and revised my current work-in-progress. 
Most non-Minnesotans know about the state’s abundant lakes, its fertile farmland and rich immigrant heritage, and the sparkling winter snow. Fewer are aware of the major conflict that ripped through the state while the rest of the country was occupied with the Civil War.

In 1862, Minnesota was the frontier. Most towns were situated in the southeastern corner of the four-year-old state. The eastern division of the Dakota nation, the Santee, lived in villages to the west or within the two reservations along the Minnesota River (the area of which had been reduced by half when Minnesota became a state). That spring, the Homestead Act was passed and settlers began to flood in. Though it seemed annuities were delayed every year, this time, they didn’t arrive for months because of complications related to the Civil War. The arrogant, unstable Indian Agent, Thomas Galbraith, refused to bend the rules and advance food from stored agency food.
By August, the Dakota people were suffering. Hunting, which previously supplemented food supplies, was more difficult with the advance of white settlement. On the Upper and Lower Sioux Agencies, the Dakota were starving. Tensions brewed. On August 17, four young Dakota men were denied when they asked a storekeeper for food and told they could eat grass. The situation grew hostile and five white men were killed.
That night, the Dakota held a council, debating what to do. Representatives from the five Santee bands and even a few of the western Teton bands met. Some thought the time was right to force the whites to leave; others wanted to kill them. The Soldiers’ Lodge agreed that force was necessary to at least acquire food for the Dakota people.  A reluctant Taoyateduta (Little Crow) led an assault on the Lower Agency the following day, to demand the release of food stores. They were met with resistant and fighting ensued.
Though most Dakota did not participate, small bands attacked throughout the state. Some told the settlers to leave and engaged in battle upon white refusal. Other bands struck without negotiation. During the next days, towns and settlements along the Minnesota River and along the western frontier were assaulted. The town of New Ulm was engaged in two battles and finally burned. Fort Ridgely was attacked. Hundreds were killed or taken captive—whites, half-breeds, and peaceful “Farmer Indians” who refused to participate in war efforts.

General Sibley commanded U.S. forces in counter-attacks, concentrating his efforts on Little Crow. The Battle of Wood Lake, on September 23, was a decisive defeat for the Dakota and effectively ended the war. Over the next year, the fleeing bands of Little Crow and White Lodge are pursued and punitive expeditions are formed.

ChoicesAs fighting dwindled, the governor of Minnesota declared the Dakota must be exterminated or expelled. Troops rounded up 1600 Dakota and drove them from the Lower Agency to Fort Snelling. En route, they were attacked by angry mobs of whites. An internment camp was formed where 300 died as a result of white attacks, starvation, and exposure. 303 Dakota men were hastily tried and convicted of participation in events, murder, and rape and were sentenced to hang. Lincoln commuted the sentences of all but 39; another was later reprieved. On the day after Christmas, 38 were hung, the largest mass hanging in the U.S.
Hundreds of captives, freed at Camp Release in late September, remain refugees, their homes and families gone. A few other captives are freed in November, ransomed in Dakota Territory by a group of young Teton men, called the Fool Soldiers, who disagreed with the war. Dakota who did not fight or surrendered early are equally without homes.

In the following months, nearly all remaining Dakota were expelled from the state and relocated to new reservations in Dakota Territory. Only four small settlements remained. News accounts and published accounts of attacks abounded, most highly sentimental and reeking of exaggeration. Bounties were offered for scalps of Dakota people.   
In the years since, Minnesotans and the Dakota people have struggled to reach understanding with 1987 declared a year of reconciliation.
Growing up as I did, just a few miles from Lake Shetek, one of the settlements attacked, this was always a troubling piece of history. I went to cabin sites, Fort Ridgely, the Lower Agency and heard about what happened at Lake Shetek. First person accounts were collected from the Shetek survivors about twenty-five years after the events and preserved by the Minnesota Historical Society.

ChancesFront-AA little over a year ago, I decided the Shetek stories needed to be told—but not in a dry history. I wanted to write a novel so readers could experience what happened. Thus began my research journey. I read the sensationalized news accounts, the secondary reports, and primary documents and I investigated Dakota culture and talked to tribal members. I tried to get a sense of how reported history might not reflect reality so I could represent the Dakota fairly. Using census, land, and vital records, I traced the lives of the settlers before they arrived at Shetek.

Then, I created personalities, dialogue, motivations, and events around all that to make them come alive. My story follows the five white women who survived, exploring their dreams and hardships, the defeats of life, and the strength each developed that would allow them to survive the events of 1862. It is their story as well as a story of the Dakota and of Minnesota. Pick up your copy once it’s published by visiting my links below.

Until the release, I will share one of my previous books, CHANGES, which centers on the Trial of Standing Bear—the court case which declared Native Americans to be people—and the involvement of a fictional part-Dakota librarian. Comment and I will randomly select one of you to receive a free digital copy.
Thanks for letting me share a bit of history with you all. I hope it provides a new and different glimpse of Minnesota.  
Find me on my website/blog and Facebook at: www.pamelanowak.com or www.facebook.com/pamela.nowak.142.

You can find my books on Amazon.com Author Page- Pamela Nowak  or at your local bookstores.
Colorado Book Award, WILLA Finalist,
HOLT Medallion & HOLT Awards of Merit,
RMFW Writer of the Year, Booklist Top 10,
Denver Area Bestseller
(info provided/released by authors)