1. Sophia’s Web

The Halls


THE BOOK: Sophia’s Web: A Passionate Call to Heal Our Wounded Nature


THE AUTHOR: Burl Benson Hall with Merry Stetson Hall

THE EDITOR: Maureen Peat of Pari Publishing

THE FOREWORD: Carolyn Baker, Author of Collapsing Consciously: Transformative Truths for Turbulent Times.

THE PUBLISHER: Envision This! Media (Our own “in house” publishing with POD from CreateSpace)

SUMMARY: Sophia, the Spirit of Wisdom, has woven the multi-dimensional aspects of our lives—personal, relational, cultural, intellectual, scientific, philosophical, and spiritual—into a cosmic web. Burl Hall follows the thread within this web that connects his research in these fields to his personal mystical experience. In Sophia’s Web: A Passionate Call to Heal Our Wounded Nature, he takes the reader with him ever deeper into the heart of divine Wisdom. Sophia’s Web examines Burl’s individual dreams, visions, passions, and missions, in the light of Wisdom (Sophia) shared by great thinkers in all disciplines. It encourages readers to discover how they can co-create individual, planetary and universal health.

THE BACK STORY: Sophia (yet to be named) has been an envisioned friend of Burl’s since very early childhood. Later adult dreams and visions led Burl to research goddesses and to recognize Sophia, the spirit of Wisdom, as his childhood visionary companion. He self-published an earlier version, Sophia’s Web: Understanding the Unity and Diversity of Religion, Science and Ourselves, in the 1990s. Thereafter, he met and married Merry Hall who helped him edit, expand, and update his manuscript for a 21st Century audience that he hoped would be more ready for the paradigm shift this book puts forth.Sophia's Web cover

WHY THIS TITLE? Sophia’s Web refers to the cosmic web of life, light, and love into which all aspects of universal life are woven. The subtitle, A Passionate Call to Heal Our Wounded Nature, reaches out to the readers’ own vision, mission, and passion to heal the human psyche and the planetary nature that we have been destroying.

WHY WOULD SOMEONE WANT TO READ IT? Many people are awakening to the need to stop destroying the Earth and humanity and participate in healing and blessing them. This story of how one man experiences this conscious evolution can serve as an encouragement and guidepost for readers undertaking a similar transition.


Sophia’s Web is the saga of Hall’s journey from fleeting visions of Sophia in childhood to a mature, surrendered embrace of the Sacred Feminine which now underpins and informs his life, his work, and his connection with the earth community.

~ Carolyn Baker, author of Collapsing Consciously: Transformative Truths For Turbulent Times (From her Foreword to Sophia’s Web)

A most wonderful and inspiring book, incandescent with personal visionary experience and words that communicate in prose that is often poetry. It is offered to us by Burl and Merry Hall both as a revelation of Sophia as Divine Source and Container of all and, drawing on the work of outstanding scientists, the clear elucidation of a new paradigm of reality that supports this revelation. Knowing that we are all embraced by Sophia’s Web of Life could lift us out of our enslavement to the old dualistic patterns, old divisive beliefs and habits that are derived from fear and that now need to be transformed in a splendid affirmation of love for all creation. As they write: we need to awaken to the realization that “We are all a unity in the Godhead.”

~Anne Baring, author of The Dream of the Cosmos: A Quest for the Soul

I’ve long enjoyed the energy and heart that Burl Hall brings to his article postings at Opednews.com. Sophia’s Web weaves together Burl’s unique, heartful vision, in the process, taking it to a new level. Though non-fiction, the book has been written so it draws the reader in and induces a story trance in a spiritual and artistic way. Hall weaves his words beautifully, while bringing in ideas from such luminaries as Jung and Rumi. Indeed, Hall seems to have taken Rumi so deeply into his heart and spirit that there were points in Sophia’s Web where I thought “That’s Rumi speaking!” This book pulls together the holistic Earth-Wisdom of many physicists, philosophers, psychologists, and myths. This book will inspire you, get you thinking in new, out of the box ways and give you hope for the future of humanity within us all.

~Rob Kall, Editor-in-Chief of OpEd Magazine

In Sophia’s Web, Burl Hall has masterfully articulated a long overdue vision of human evolutionary transformation found reflected within the inherent integrity of Creation itself. This is a book of deep scholarship and heart. It is a purposefully passionate proposal for humanity to once again ‘humanize’ itself by reclaiming Gaian consciousness as our birthright—a birthright inspired by the perennial wisdom of a planetary Goddess culture. It is a work of great merit–I highly recommend it!

~ Don Oscar Miro-Quesada, co-author, Lessons in Courage: Peruvian Shamanic Wisdom for Everyday Life and founder of The Heart of the Healer (THOTH) Foundation.

AUTHOR PROFILE: Burl Hall is an author, online radio co-host of Envision This, philosopher (lover-of-Sophia), mystic, and retired counselor. He writes with the editorial assistance of his muse and wife, Merry Hall, a retired teacher, author of Bringing Food Home: The Maine Example, and co-host of Envision This which connects listeners to visionaries of a more resilient, equitable, and Earth-friendly future. http://www.blogtalkradio.com/envision-this. Together they enjoy grandparenting; permaculture gardening at their home in Sabattus, Maine; playing with their dogs, Sophie and Kali; and meeting and profiling the amazing visionaries they interview on their radio show.

AUTHOR COMMENTS: A passionate call to heal our wounded nature is vital at this critical evolutionary moment in human history. This call is currently going out in many forms, through many arts, from many visionaries; this book is our contribution to this urgent call. Our vision, passion, and mission is to help readers to discover how they, too, can co-create individual, planetary and universal health.



And the twain shall be one flesh: so then they are no more twain, but one flesh.

~ Mark 10:8

And on the 8th day (today!) God said, “Let there be hope!” Why do those words come forth? Because, we are on the brink of disaster, perhaps even extinction, due to a dualistic philosophy, a way of looking at life, that doesn’t work. We think only of ourselves–our wealth, our security, and our convenience– in this day and age. While we fret over our own personal future, we forget how our children and posterity will live. We destroy the wellbeing of our Mother Earth.

We are experiencing various religious and political groups warring with one another to the point of bloodshed, heartbreak, hatred, and death. Each political or religious group calls the other an “evil doer” while being blinded to seeing themselves in the eyes of those evildoers. While these groups are diverse, they suffer one illness, self-centeredness. Both sides of each conflict (coin) are blind to the unity of humanity.

In search of ever more resources and production, we rape and pillage our Mother Earth. We are destroying our environment because we have gotten ourselves into a competitive framework. We see winning as having more access to resources and goods than someone else. This competitive mindset results in a depletion of natural resources. Our ultimate goal is to win dominance over Nature, yet that war is exposed to be against ourselves.

Our relationship to Nature, after all, is the same as that of a child to its mother. We are dependent on her for survival. What shall we breathe when we destroy the atmosphere? Is it wise for us to take a dagger to the womb that supports us?

If you don’t agree with the reality of Global Warming, listen to the reports of increased dead zones in the oceans. Why, there is even the reemergence of poisonous algae that went extinct millions of years ago in these areas! This “devolution” proves that nothing is truly gone. Perhaps what we think is extinct is but in sleep, a potential waiting to unfold. It is only our human arrogance that thinks we are top of the line.

All that appears linear to us, including evolution, may well be cyclical, just as the Earth proved to be round, not flat. There is, furthermore, a widening gap worldwide between the rich and the poor who are becoming more and more like slaves. Yet, if we attend to history, we discover that slaves tend to rebel. Their fear of being beaten, starved and killed serves as the catalyst for anger and revolution. The fear of this happening also enslaves the slaveholder, who is consumed by the effort to thwart such “terrorism.” Oppression breeds rebellion; rebellion breeds more oppression. Round and round we go in a vicious cycle. When will it stop?


These issues reflect an underlying philosophy called dualism that pits one thing against the other. Two men holding guns out at each other are said to be in a duel. Either you live and I die, or I live and you die. Such duels are a metaphor for our dualistic philosophy of life. Insanely we pit our views against one another. Hence, in today’s world, we have multiple wars, neurotic and psychotic illnesses, the battle of the sexes and rape.

All of this turmoil results from a dualistic philosophy. We are so egocentric that we cannot see the various ways of perceiving the world as being akin to multiple spokes on the same wheel. Spokes apparently going in diametrically opposite directions are necessary to the whole wheel turning in its own holistic cycles towards a goal neither spoke can fathom. Many of the world’s wars (or glorified duels) would disappear if we could accept an overriding truth: what is diverse is unified.

For example, animals have different ways of perceiving from humans and hence live in a different world. There are some birds that have the visual capacity to see upwards of 500 miles. Meanwhile we often struggle to see 90 miles ahead as we sit atop a mountain on a clear, sunny day. However, in our self-centered world, neither bird nor human give much credence to the other’s point of view.

Even within our own species, we are egocentric in our views of the world. We fail to see that spokes, which begin on opposite sides of a circle nonetheless, lead to one hub. We each tend to see our specific way of viewing the world as the way; we really don’t get that our way is simply a way. We are now reaching the “dead end” of our “one way” streets.

Yet, each way of perceiving from every individual in every species reflects God, just as the multitudes of colors we see are all refractions of one source of light, our sun. Imagine how “reality” would seem different if we could see ultraviolet and infrared, for instance. What if we could hear the rumblings of the inner Earth and the music of the dancing stars? Alternatively, consider that perhaps we can! Perhaps we just don’tknow how to look and how to listen past what we believe to be real.

LOCAL OUTLETS: We are currently contacting locally owned bookstores, realizing that supporting local economies is a major part of the change needed.

Meanwhile, Sophia’s Web is available directly from us at www.envisionthismedia.com/sophia-s-web.


Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/Sophias-Web-Passionate-Wounded-Nature/dp/0692368248/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1439051543&sr=8-1&keywords=Sophia%27s+Web%2C+Burl+Hall

Barnes & Noble: http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/sophias-web-burl-benson-hall/1121811418?ean=9780692368244 PRICE: $18.

CONTACT THE AUTHOR: Visit Burl and Merry Hall on the web at http://www.envisionthismedia.com. Email contact: merry@envisionthismedia.com Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/burl.hall Google+: https://plus.google.com/u/0/103042619286568084383/


Two Ways To Sunday

Two Ways to Sunday

THE BOOK: Two Ways To Sunday


THE AUTHOR: Tom Starita. http://www.Goppygots.com, @tomstarita on twitter, https://www.facebook.com/pages/Two-Ways-To-Sunday/385203111557137

THE PUBLISHER: Infinity Publishing

THE EDITOR: Self-published

SUMMARY: Chris Marcum was a man who had everything. The perfect wife, the perfect job, and the perfect life. He was also sure his belief in God did not depend on those successes. So when an angel appeared to him on his deathbed with a challenge to prove the depths of his faith, Chris immediately accepted. Relive your life, with no recollection. This time however, without the breaks. What happens when instead of going right, you go left? What if there are no happy endings? How much can a man endure before he hits his breaking point? And what happens then?

THE BACK STORY: I was in the shower, lamenting the choices I had made over the previous two years (it’s always about a girl). I was angry at God, angry at myself, angry at everything and I wished that He had somehow stopped me from going down the path I chose. Then I thought that would be a great idea for a book! A couple of seconds later I was running out of the shower and instead of a Friday night at the bar I wrote five pages. The next day I decided I had to keep going to see what would happen.

WHY THIS TITLE: One of my best friends, Mike Saccenti came up with it during a brainstorming session and as soon as he said it I knew I found my title.

Tom Starita

WHY YOU WOULD WANT TO READ IT: If you’re looking for a religious/inspiration Mitch Albom/Nicholas Sparks book, you found it. At the same time I know several atheists who enjoyed the book because they could relate to the trials and tribulations that the main character goes through.

It’s a realistic look at life – drama, romance, comedy and tears – the whole gamut.

The book is set in Staten Island, NY – so obviously if you live in the great borough you should definitely pick it up just to pick up all the references.


Casey: 5 stars: What a story line! It’s about love, loss, a push to be at peace with yourself and the belief that there is a better place for us when we are gone. I laughed, I cried, I laughed again and cried again. It is a very thought provoking book that makes you wonder if the choice was yours how would you respond. I am looking forward to the next book, this new author writes. This would be a great book discussion book!

Shannon: 5 stars: You do not need to be a devout Catholic, or even Christian, to love this book. As a person not really aligned with any secular faith, I had apprehensions that this book might come off as preachy, but was proven wrong. It’s an inspiring book that leaves you feeling empowered to take control of your life. It also makes the reader think more about turning the pessimistic approach to life such as “why did this happen to me” into “what could have happened to me?’. It begs for self reflection and acceptance. It also speaks to faith, whether it be religious and spiritual, and its pertinence for guidance. But it reminds us that faith should not be depended on to fix our lives. This book serves as an enlightening reminder that you are responsible for your own life. As an avid reader, I can say the author’s debut is impressive. The structure and character development of the book is something you see with more established authors. The characters are well-fleshed and responsive. The protagonist, Chris Marcum, is an accessible and rounded character. The writing is smooth and crisp, allowing for the characters’ actions to dictate the story rather than an overuse of descriptors, which is a common pitfall for many writers. It’s obvious the author is seasoned in writing and is an ardent reader himself. The often-resonating question of “what if” is a main theme in this book, with the lead taking a choose-your-own-adventure approach with his life, given a second chance. This is the perfect book for a book club with the postulating plot giving way to a surprise ending and inciting thought-provoking questions. If you’re looking for a book that gives some inspiration with a kick of motivation, mixed with emotion and laughs, I would highly recommend Two Ways to Sunday. It’s rare that I am physically moved by books, but I can say that this had me in tears. It was more than I had anticipated and I was pleasantly surprised. This is certainly a book I will come back to.

Asics33: 5 stars: When I first sat down to read this, I could not put it down….. Two Ways to Sunday EASILY beats out any Nicholas Sparks (or anyone related to that genre) novel. This book had me laughing in one chapter and crying the next. Such an amazing story about the different twists and turns, as well as what could happen if you think about the “what ifs”. This was also very well written-very organized and you would not be confused if you set it down for a few days. Very emotional and powerful story that reaffirms my faith in a plan for each of us. I finished it in 2 days and was very pleased with the ending. One of the best books I have read in awhile. I strongly recommend this to all….It would be foolish NOT to add this to your library….

AUTHOR PROFILE: Tom Starita has two passions in life, writing and the New York Mets. Both have taken years off his life. He spent seven years teaching high school religion and is now realizing his goal as a published writer. His dream is to spend the rest of his life lounging in a pool with a book. Tom loves to laugh, loves to make people laugh and most importantly, hopes you enjoyed his first book. He is divorced and currently resides in Staten Island, NY.

AUTHOR COMMENTS: My only goal was to not write a cliché filled book. I wanted everything to be believable and every decision to make sense—even if you’re screaming at him to do the opposite.


LOCAL OUTLETS: Staten Island Advance, NY Daily News, NY Post

WHERE ELSE TO BUY IT: Amazon.com, barnesandnoble.com

PRICE: $20.95 – print, $6.95 – ebook

CONTACT THE AUTHOR: Tom.Starita@gmail.com

Weather Report, Aug. 17



AUGUST 18-20:


Like Henry David Thoreau, another New Englander, Maine writer Burl Hall marches to the beat of his own drummer. Some of you may find yourselves tapping a foot in sync with that cadence,  others may consider it discordant.

Either way, the primary goal of this project is to highlight “under the radar” books that have something original to say. In the process, I welcome a variety of points of view — liberal and conservative, deeply religious and skeptical, optimistic and grim, traditional and adventurous. That’s how we learn. Edgy is OK, although I will bar the door to work that promotes overtly sociopathic, racist or misogynist views (sociopathic, racist or misogynist novel characters are, of course, fair game).

A radio talk show host, among other things, Burl Hall has combined a very personal spiritual philosophy with some strong beliefs about the environment, the economy, international relations, and other pressing societal issues. The result is an intriguing mix of mysticism and scientific research. Check it out. and if it prompts some sort of reaction, that’s what the “comments” section is for.


This novel also has a spiritual connection, but in a much more traditional manner.  As Tom summarizes his plot:

“Chris Marcum was a man who had everything — the perfect wife, the perfect job, and the perfect life. He was also sure his belief in God did not depend on those successes. So when an angel appeared to him on his deathbed with a challenge to prove the depths of his faith, Chris immediately accepted. Relive your life, with no recollection. This time however, without the breaks. What happens when instead of going right, you go left? What if there are no happy endings? How much can a man endure before he hits his breaking point? And what happens then?

Makes you curious, doesn’t it?

AUGUST 21-24



Richard grew up in the U.S. before moving to Israel in 1968. He is our first Israeli author, and “Murder Across the Border” is his first novel. It is unique within its genre because it shows interaction rather than conflict between two Middle Eastern cultures long at odds.

From the Amazon blurb:  “Yossi Abulafia, an Israeli policeman is on reserve army duty, and is photographing antelopes instead of watching the border. His post collapses suddenly, injuring him seriously. After recovering, he discovers that during the collapse he has unwittingly taken a picture of what appears to be a murder — on the other side of the border. As part of his duties he meets with the Palestinian delegation and discovers a connection to the shooter in Amsterdam, and to the murder in Jordan. A series of incidents, shootings and diplomatic activity eventually lead to the unexpected solving of the crimes.”


A disclaimer: I’ve known Tom Gerdy for years. However, that’s not why I approached him about perhaps widening the audience for “Insights From Inside.”

For this is not just a book, but a movement. A successful building contractor, Gerdy has worked with young people enough to know that some of them find the other side of the law intriguing. The letters published in this book are from inmates who have learned all too well what happens with the cell door slams shut.


Last Thursday, we had our first drawing among blog followers for three free books — two to the winner, one to a runnerup. Owner Debbie Swan of Willows Bistro in Warrensburg, NY pulled the names out of a box, and they will be announced next week,

Thanks to the following authors whose books made up a list for the winners to choose from. Others also agreed to pay for a book and postage, and they’ll be included next time around.

“The Skeleton Crew,” by Deborah Halber.
“Waiting for Westmoreland,” by John Maberry.
“Beneath the Stones,” by Susan Coryell.
“The River Caught Sunlight,” by Katie Andraski.
“The Solarbus Legacy,” by Nickie Brandon.
“Refuge,” by Melinda Inman.
“Clog!” by Dan Smith.
“Homecoming,” by Kate Hasbrouck.
“Island Dogs,” by B.M. Simpson.
“Turnstiles,” by Andrea Raine.
“What To Do About Mama?” by Barbara Trainin Blank.
“Things Unsaid,” Diana V. Paul.

1. Gap Year Girl

Gap Year Girl cover


BOOK: Gap Year Girl: A Baby Boomer Adventure Across 21 Countries


THE AUTHOR: Marianne C. Bohr

THE EDITOR: Annie Tucker

THE PUBLISHER: She Writes Press

SUMMARY: Baby Boomers married for more than 30 years dare more than the ordinary by walking away from their comfortable life to take a mid-life gap year abroad. Marianne and Joe Bohr jump off the proverbial cliff to follow a travel dream: they unload their house, sell the cars, quit their jobs and say goodbye to the US in search of adventure. They start and end their journey in France and travel through an additional 20 countries in-between.

THE BACK STORY: Gap Year Girl recounts details of their longing to get the trip underway during the year prior to departure and the experiences, epiphanies, highs, lows, struggles, surprises and lessons learned on their journey as independent travelers in an endearing, entertaining way. The memoir transcends the experience it recounts to tie into the universal human themes of escape, adventure, freedom, discovery and life reimagined.

WHY THIS TITLE: In addition to the standard travel destinations of European capitals, Gap Year Girl Goes to Europe includes visits to out of the way places such as Carcassonne, France; Andorra; Fez, Morocco; Agrigento, Sicily; Malta; the Greek islands of Rhodes and Kos; Split, Croatia; and Butrint, Albania. The reader cannot help but vicariously savor the food of southwestern France, sample the spices of Morocco, sip the wines of Italy and hike the Mont Blanc circuit from Chamonix, France through Courmayeur, Italy and Champex, Switzerland. But the book also gives a realistic look at the downside of extended independent travel in foreign lands by relating those periods when very real blues descend and loneliness and the longing for contact with family and friends weigh heavily.


WHY SOMEONE WOULD WANT TO READ IT: Millions harbor the fantasy but few follow it: kiss your jobs goodbye, pack your bags and take off on a quest for adventure. Gap Year Girl encourages those who have long yearned to follow their bliss for a year to do just that. Readers quickly find themselves immersed in a reality tale of leaving it all behind for medieval villages, the lights of European cities, unimaginable culinary pleasures, hikes in the Alps and along Mediterranean coasts and the wildly entertaining (and sometimes infuriating) characters they meet along the way as pleasures unfold on a peripatetic, past the-blush-of-youth journey.


“[In Gap Year Girl,] Bohr steps outside of her comfort zone and explores the world…and she vividly conveys her experiences, such as when she describes the chaotic streets of Morocco and the loneliness of the bucolic French village Saint-Cirq-Lapopie.”

— Publishers Weekly

“Bohr shines…provid[ing] glimpses of herself as a whole person, not simply a traveler. Gap Year Girl is an excellent choice…a travelogue filled with historic places, but its personal stories provide its highlights.”

—  Kirkus Reviews

Marianne Bohr has that rare knack of bringing the kaleidoscope of experience alive with a few well-crafted words; she seduces her reader away from black and white text into a reality where all the senses are teased.

–– Kev Reynolds, Bestselling author of The Tour of Mont Blanc, Cicerone Guides

AUTHOR PROFILE: Marianne Bohr, freelance writer and editor, married her high school sweetheart and travel partner. With their two grown children, she follows her own advice and travels at every opportunity. Marianne lives outside Washington, DC where after decades in publishing, followed her Francophile muse to teach middle school French. Her first book, Gap Year Girl: A Baby Boomer Adventure Across 21 Countries, was be published by She Writes Press in September 2015.

AUTHOR COMMENTS: I so enjoyed writing Gap Year Girl and recounting the events and emotions that led to the leap of taking a year off from regular life. I think this excerpt captures how I felt:

The moniker Gap Year Girl made its appearance about six years prior to our departure. One hazy summer afternoon, while sitting behind my office desk, gazing out the window at the suburban parking lot below, my mind wandering beyond the budgets and strategic plan in front of me, I had an existential moment. I needed the prospect of an escape, and I needed to give it a name. In my mind’s eye, I was no longer senior vice president of a book distribution company; I was Gap Year Girl, an expat living in Europe—my new alter ego. This paradigm shift of how I viewed myself changed everything. From that point forward, I focused on making our gap year a reality. And I decided then and there to leave the world of business I’d inhabited for a quarter of a century. I saw my future as clear as day: I was going to make a midlife, post–gap year change and follow my bliss. By the end of the week, I’d registered for a master’s degree program in secondary education and was on my way to becoming a middle school French teacher.

LOCAL OUTLETS: Available at all independent bookstores, B&N, and Amazon

WHERE ELSE TO BUY IT: Ingram Publishers Services

PRICE: $16.95

CONTACT THE AUTHOR: mariannecbohr@hotmail.com; 301-326-8336


Hibernation Time

It’s such a luxury to be awakened by the sun, not an alarm clock, knowing there’s absolutely nothing we must do. After thirty-three years of a baby’s cry, a child jumping in our bed, or a buzzer to start our mornings, we’ve finally gotten used to being reprobates with loose agendas. But we take our languid days to a new level in our relaxing apartment in Rome. We follow nature by hibernating in our warm refuge, where we take things slowly, resting up for exploits yet to come.

We spend many a day rising late; having a leisurely breakfast in our laid-back studio; listening at noon to what we’ve started calling Afternoon Edition on NPR; catching up on e-mails, blogging, and our journals; finishing the novels we resolved to read while abroad; and then sipping cups of hot afternoon tea. We also spend many hours of these days planning our itinerary and reserving trains and hotels for the peripatetic weeks in southern Italy that will follow Rome.

When we imagined our year away, we glossed over the winter months, knowing

we would be in Italy but not focusing on the reality of the cold. Now that we’re here under a reluctant sun and in the company of an unusual frigid snap, we decide simply to hunker down. Our most difficult daily decision is whether to eat in or go out. Interspersed with warm days inside are those when we don hats, scarves, and gloves to brave the chill and discover the nooks and crannies of sprawling Rome, those often overlooked by those with limited time. It’s a glorious insalata mista of a metropolis, since it’s been here for so long and offers sights from every century of the past three millennia.

Our apartment is conveniently located on Via Flavia, not far from the American embassy on Via Veneto and just inside the city’s walls. It’s a spacious studio on the top floor of a five-story building with a red-tiled terrace that provides plenty of natural light and a place to hang our laundry. In an unusual twist, we reach our apartment through the lobby of the Hotel Medici and take the elevator to the privately owned residences. Different, yes, but it’s nice to have twenty-four-hour security guarding the building and someone at the front desk to greet us with buon giorno and ciao as we pass by. Off the tourist track, our neighborhood is quiet and safe, since government buildings surround us. It’s also filled with family-run restaurants, and we diligently try every one. Part of why we’re so conscientious about marathon training is that we need to work off the hefty servings of pasta of all shapes and sizes we consume, some of which we’ve never had before: spaghettoni, bucatini, cavatappi, tagliatelle, pappardelle, and—my all-time favorite—strozzapreti. I’m certain just listing them broadens my hips. I satisfy any sweet cravings with an after-dinner digestif—not as luscious as the creamy tiramisu Joe enjoys, but with many fewer calories. Running in the classy Villa Borghese park nearby is a godsend for burning off all the extra carbs.

Our Roman pied-à-terre is indeed convenient and comfortable, and the Internet is rock solid, but what we actually love best about the place is Stefano, our amusingly charming landlord. Without him, the apartment would be just another worn-around-the-edges studio; with him it’s like inhabiting a season of I Love Lucy, Italian style.

Stefano is a fiftysomething composer of movie scores who spends most of his time with his girlfriend, who lives in the apartment above us. He’s tall and attractive in a rumpled kind of way, the lines of his face hiding a gentle handsomeness. He speaks quirky English with a lilting Italian accent and apologizes repeatedly for being a musician and not a very good businessman.

We got our first taste of what renting from Stefano would be like even before we checked in. He graciously agreed to store our large duffels while we traveled with our small bags to Norcia and Florence, but he needed to “request a piccolo favore.” He’d lost his wallet that morning and asked if we could pay the balance of our rent in cash when we dropped off our luggage. “No problem,” we agreed. “Happy to help.” (Little did we know that in the ensuing weeks, Stefano would lose not only his wallet but his phone, TV remote, computer power cord, and keys.)

When we arrived for our month’s stay, Stefano was contrite about the less-than-stellar condition of the television (it didn’t work), the clothes washer (it leaked), and the refrigerator (on its last legs and barely cool). He promised to replace them all within the week.

Now we make do with what’s provided, including kitchen drawers stuffed with faintly sticky cutlery. Ten days pass, and although we hear all about Stefano’s lost items (he borrows the portable phone from our apartment after losing his cell phone), he makes

no further mention of new appliances. When we finally break the news that the old fridge has collapsed, he apologizes profusely and comes right down to take measurements for its replacement.

We head out for a day of communing with ancient Romans among the ruins, and when we return, we find the freezer open and defrosting, along with a note that our food is in a fridge in a closet across the hall. Stefano hopes we don’t mind that he put a load of his clothes in the leaking washer and borrowed our laundry soap.

What can we do but laugh?

The next morning, Stefano stops by to pick up his laundry and informs us that he has ordered the new fridge. “I have chosen the quickest delivery—forty-eight hours,” he says, “but do not forget, this is Italy, so we really don’t know when it will arrive!”

Two more days pass, and each morning Stefano knocks on our door to express how embarrassed and discouraged he is about the appliance merchant he selected. When I tell him not to worry, he coos, “Marianne, you are so gentle; thank you for being so gentle with me” (the English false friend of the Italian gentile, meaning “kind”).

With each morning visit comes a new request. First, Stefano borrows one of our Mac power cords because, of course, he has lost his. The next morning, when we greet him, he asks to rifle through the bottom drawer of the apartment’s sideboard to find an extra TV remote; his girlfriend has misplaced hers (or perhaps it was he).

“You rented my apartment for your holiday in Rome, and all you see is my face,” he laments.

On the third morning, Stefano declares, “Definitely tomorrow—by then the new machines will definitely arrive.” But then it snows and all of Rome stops, including the delivery truck carrying our new appliances.

After yet a few more days, there’s a knock at our door late one afternoon. There stands an ebullient Stefano with a new fridge, TV, and washing machine in the hallway. We set aside our plan to eat in and leave Stefano and the long-awaited machinery by themselves while we set out to find dinner. When we return later that evening, the new television hangs on the wall and the refrigerator hums away, snugly in place. But the new washer is noisily dancing across the bathroom’s tile floor and, just as we arrive, bangs against the far wall as yet another load of Stefano’s laundry steadily spins in the machine.

Ah, Stefano, I think, thanks to you, Italy continues to be a funny place that always makes us laugh. What will your knock tomorrow bring?

2. Road Gang

Road Gang coverTHE BOOK: Road Gang.

PUBLISHED IN: November, 2014.

THE AUTHOR:  H.V. “Bo” Traywick, Jr.

THE PUBLISHER: Dimenti 1 Milestone Press.

SUMMARY: Some of the Americans sent to Vietnam during the late 1960s and early 1970s were plugged into the infantry. Others flew airplanes and helicopters. H.V. Traywick Jr., better known as Bo, built roads.

And in a sense, he and his fellow engineers in camouflage were fortunate. Much of what went on during the Vietnam War was an exercise in futility, a lot of wandering through jungles and rice paddies in search of an elusive enemy who rarely showed his face, keeping a wary eye out for booby traps and the occasional poisonous snake.

The 20th Engineer Brigade, by contrast, was at least building something.

“Some of the roads we did were in use long after the war ended,” Traywick said.

WHY THIS TITLE?: The sly double meaning gives an insight into Traywick’s wry sense of humor.

Bo Traywick

THE BACK STORY:  “”My Dad always had these great stories about World War II, and one night my Mom asked me, ‘How come you never talk about your experiences?’ I told her, ‘I guess I never really had much to say.'”

“That triggered some memories about my time as a combat engineer, though, and so I thought, ‘Maybe I’ll just write about it.”

WHY WOULD SOMEONE WANT TO READ IT?: There’s a little of Hawkeye Pierce in Bo Traywick, and hence some M*A*S*H in “Road Gang.” The human face that he puts on the Vietnam War is refreshing, and his mixed feelings about the conflict typical of American soldiers at the time.

Take this segment, for instance:

“My last night in Vietnam I was sitting at the bar in the club. Everyone else had turned in for the night. I was talking to the bartender and listening to the Byrds’ ‘Ballad of Easy Rider’ on the tape deck behind the bar. Just then there was a BOOM, and clods of something came raining down on the tin roof of the building.

“I was just too plain short to be worrying about it all that much anymore, so I bought the bartender and me another drink, and we went and sat under the bar. About that time our ‘Fighting Parson’ came charging into the club, in full battle array — helmet, flak jacket, M-16 — shouting ‘Incoming! Incoming!’

“I poked my head up behind the bar and said, ‘Chaplain, won’t you join us in a little libation?’ Before he could reply, Lieutenant Mike Kinh, the good old Daisy Delta construction platoon leader, came in and told us it was OK — somebody had just fragged the NCO’s latrine again. Nobody was in it at the time.”


By Kenneth Feador on January 22, 2015

Having been a two tour combat engineer from late 68 to mid 70s, I served with the 70th Engineer Battalion, Company B. We were with the 131st. Light equipment Company, National Guard from Vermont. We were at Camp Swampy, our compound and rock quarry. We kept up over 20 miles of QL 20 open with 5+ bridges and culverts. The story told by the author hit home and was so close to what we went thru for over a year. The equipment was much the same and I was proud of my D7E dozer. As in this story, our days were filled with the dust of the Central Highlands. We built bridges and rebuilt them several weeks later after having them blown up by the VC. A never ending battle. As with him, many of the Enlisted men and several Officers wrote of our own life in country. Both “Incoming” and “Incoming, Men of the 70th” tell of the same incidents. This book is a very good and fast read. Two thumbs up for telling the real story of the upper level problems faced by line companies.

By Bill K on July 7, 2015

I thoroughly enjoyed the book. Having served with the 45th Engineer Group, 18th Engineer Brigade out of Qui Nhon and DaNang from March 1967 to October 1968, and working as a civil engineer in civilian life, I find the authors description of the work done by the line units to read true. Only on rare occasions did I need to get out the salt shaker to take something with a grain of salt,

By Brian H.M. Bowen, Platoon Leader, 10th Engineer Batallion, World War II.

This account by a young officer from VMI assigned to an Army Engineer unit and plunged into the Vietnam War is disarmingly simple in its straightforward, to-the-point narrative, but with rich detail is chronicles a triple pressure: the constant threat of an attack by the Viet cong, overcoming the nearly impossible physical obstracles to building the road, and fighting the tension from faulty decisions from higher up. Throughout it all you can feel the strong bonds between Bo and his men.

AUTHOR PROFILE: The first thing you need to know about H.V. Traywick Jr., better known as Bo, is this: At one point in his life, he stopped being an engineer in favor of working as a tugboat captain. The latter, to him, was a better fit.

He was then, and always has been, his own man. For example, he has strong opinions about the Civil War, including the conviction that it was actually triggered by economic issues rather than slavery. And whether you believe that or not, he has enough facts and data and historical quotes to put up a spirited argument.

A graduate (barely) of Virginia Military Institute, Traywick followed a family tradition by joining the military. He now lives in Richmond, VA, when he isn’t filling in on a tugboat somewhere along the Atlantic.

AUTHOR COMMENTS: “I remember Dad telling me before I left that it was a dirty political war, but to do my duty, keep my head down, and get my men back home. So in the end, I reckon, most of us determined that we were there for our brothers in arms.

“That was reason enough.”



PRICE: $16 paperback, $5.99 on Kindle.

CONTACT THE AUTHOR: botraywick@phoenixnews.net.

1. Uncharted Territory

Uncharted Territory


BOOK: Uncharted Territory.


THE AUTHOR: Betsy Ashton http://www.betsy-ashton.com; http://www.facebook.com/madmaxpage www,twitter.com/betsyashton

THE PUBLISHER: Koehler Books, a growing small press in Virginia Beach, VA.

THE EDITOR: Joe Coccaro, Executive Editor, Koehler Books;  Dawn Dowdle, agent at Blue Ridge Literary Agency.

SUMMARY: After the death of her daughter in the first book of the series, Maxine “Mad Max” Davies’ new role in life, full-time grandparent raising two grandchildren, takes her into post-Katrina Mississippi, nature’s newest wasteland. While she gets used to raising children again, she also learns to live in a region where most of life’s conveniences vanished in the storm and tidal surge. She must protect her grandchildren as well as help others in this new environment. Along the way, she encounters racism, murder, modern-day slavery and child abuse. THE BACK STORY:

I started the first book, MAD MAX UNINTENDED CONSEQUENCES about eight years ago. After I took it through 8+ drafts, I realized I had the wrong main character. Mad Max was always designed to be a minor character, until one night she woke me up at three in the morning fairly screaming me: “It’s my story, darn it. Tell it my way.” Well, yes, ma’am. I recast the book, pushed it through two sets of patient beta readers and finally submitted it to agents. I was fortunate when Dawn Dowdle at Blue Ridge Literary Agency took a chance. She sold it to Koehler Books as part of a three-book deal. UNCHARTED TERRITORY is the second in the series.

I wanted to write about a female protagonist who was in her fifties, still sexy, still headstrong, still snarky occasionally. As a reader I was tired of reading about younger protagonists. Besides, if I had one with some mileage on her, some real-life experiences, I could take her into different situations.

One area that was critical to the success of the Mad Max story line is what a grandparent goes through when she decides to help raise grandchildren full time. I was lucky enough to sit in on some self help groups of grandparents who were suddenly parents again. Their experiences made each of them my heroes.

Betsy Ashton

WHY THIS TITLE:  When my publisher and I talked about the title of the first book in the series, we wanted something that had dual meanings. Many of the events in that first book had unintended consequences for Max and her family.

By the time UNCHARTED TERRITORY was in final edits, we wanted to continue with the “un-“ naming convention. With Max both raising her grandkids full time and doing so in a wasteland, we had dual uncharted territories to deal with.

WHY SOMEONE WOULD WANT TO READ IT: Have you ever wondered what it would be like to return to being a parent after your children are grown and out of the house, UNCHARTED TERRITORY takes you into that world. The physical setting, post-Katrina Mississippi is representative of any area where social norms have been disrupted by war, natural disaster, or apathy. Max has to put down temporary roots in a community that basically doesn’t exist. Dean King wrote graphically about life in a wasteland in Skeletons of the Zaraha. He inspired many of the descriptions of a land scrubbed clean by a tidal surge.


“Mad Max is at it again–another “uppity woman” who can’t leave well enough alone. Just the way I like it. Uncharted Territory is a well-crafted mystery, with a nuanced plot, and plenty to chew on.”

–Mollie Cox Bryan, Agatha Award Finalist for A Cumberland Creek Mystery Series

“Auntie Mame and Miss Marple combine in heroine Mad Max as Ashton takes a genre bending look at the aftermath of Katrina when the storm surge wiped out a lifestyle and left evil behind.”

–Fiona Quinn, contributor to Virginia Is For Mysteries and Chaos Is Come Again

“Mad Max Davies sees how the other half lives as she and her family begin a new adventure that takes them far from home and into the darker side of society. A good read with some unexpected twists.”

–Kristen Houghton, author of For I Have Sinned: A Cate Harlow Private Investigation

The last place most people would leave home to heal from personal loss would be post-Katrina Mississippi, but this is plucky and determined Mad Max Davis in a genre-bending tale of murder, suspense, chaos, and personal healing. – Michael Murphy

AUTHOR PROFILE:  Betsy Ashton, born in Washington, DC, was raised in Southern California where she ran wild with coyotes in the hills above Malibu. She protested the war in Vietnam, burned her bra for feminism, and is a steadfast Independent. She is a writer, a thinker, the mother of three grown stepchildren, companion and friend. She mentors writers and writes and publishes fiction. Her first mystery, Mad Max Unintended Consequences, was published in February 2013. The second in the series, Uncharted Territory, A Mad Max Mystery, came out in April 2015. In her spare time, she is the president of the state-wide Virginia Writers Club. She loves riding behind her husband on his motorcycle. You’ll have to decide for yourself if and where she has a tattoo.

AUTHOR COMMENTS:  “I wanted to be able to take this mature protagonist into a variety of different physical locations and watch how she reacts. Her frame of mind changes with every twist in the plot. She grows closer to her two grandchildren in this book, particularly when they are in peril. Book three in the series will put Max, her grandson and her boyfriend in danger of death.”

SAMPLE CHAPTER: http://www.amazon.com/Uncharted-Territory-Betsy-Ashton-ebook/dp/B00PAIXNYM/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1436473960&sr=1-1&keywords=uncharted+territory.

WHERE TO BUY IT: The book is out as an e-book only right now. Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/Uncharted-Territory-Betsy-Ashton-ebook/dp/B00PAIXNYM/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1436474023&sr=1-1&keywords=uncharted+territory

Barnes and Noble: http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/uncharted-territory-betsy-ashton/1121444288?ean=9781633930520 Kobo: https://store.kobobooks.com/en-US/ebook/uncharted-territory-4.

 PRICE: $3.99.

 CONTACT THE AUTHOR: betsy_ashton2005@yahoo.com

2. A Reaper Made

October 2014


THE EDITOR: Morgan Wall

THE PUBLISHER: (self published).

SUMMARY: Grace is a Reaper whose life unexpectedly ended three years ago. Her mentor Tully discovers that Reaper are being kidnapped, threatening the Natural Order. When demons threaten her sister’s soul, she decides to risk everything by using magic to become temporarily human. However, it’s not just the demons and lies Grace has to unravel – it’s also the human boy who makes her laugh. Can Grace save her sister and the endangered souls? Or will Tully be forced to reap her soul when she’s desperate to reclaim the life she could’ve had?

THE BACK STORY: This is a New Adult Paranormal Romance. Please see summary for more information on synopsis.

WHY THIS TITLE: This is a stand-alone novel, as well as a quick read that’s great for those looking for a fun summer book.

Liz Long

WHY SOMEONE WOULD WANT TO READ IT: Those interested in a paranormal book that has a little bit of everything —  romance, mystery, action — will be interested in reading this title. With reapers, demons, angels, and one spunky witch, the supernatural world will appeal to fantasy lovers.


“Liz Long’s best book yet! I was sucked in from the first excerpt I read – the world she’s created is so compelling and the mystery to unravel kept me coming back!”

“Great book with fast-paced action and twists that kept you guessing. Loved the witty dialogue and completely original characters. Had me moving from giggles to tears and back again.”

A Reaper Made is a different twist on Death and Reapers. I love Grace with her spunk and honesty. She stands up for what’s right and doesn’t back down. Her unique friends Tully and Tessa are faithful and care for Grace. Rhys, oh Rhys, I can’t wait to see hopefully what will bring you around in the next story. Once again, Liz Long has created a new and different world that captures the imagination and delivers a unique and intriguing story. If you enjoy paranormal with some suspense this is a book I highly recommend.

AUTHOR PROFILE: Liz Long is a ridiculously proud graduate of Longwood University with a BA in English. Her inspiration comes from action and thriller genres and she spends entirely too much time watching superhero movies. Her fabulous day job as a Social Media & PR Strategist includes writing for LeisureMedia360 (Roanoker, bridebook, Blue Ridge Country magazines) in Roanoke, VA.

She currently has five books out. The Donovan Circus series has best been described as “X-Men meets the circus with a murder mystery thrown in.” Witch Hearts tells the story of a serial killer hunting witches for their powers. A Reaper Made, is a fantasy about a Reaper who must work a little magic to save her family’s souls from demons. All titles are available for paperback or ebook on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and iBooks.

To learn more about Liz (including more information on her books, plus writing, marketing, and social media tips), visit her website:http://lizclong.com.

AUTHOR COMMENTS: I really enjoyed writing this book. I was in the middle of writing my (Donovan Circus) series, and this idea popped up out of nowhere. Without warning, Grace strong-armed me into her story and it took twists and turns even I didn’t see coming.

SAMPLE CHAPTER: (Provide link). http://lizclong.com/books/a-reaper-made/

WHERE TO BUY IT: Amazon.com


PRICE: $10/paperback, $2.99 on Amazon (though currently on sale for $0.99 through June)

CONTACT THE AUTHOR: lizclong@gmail.com