Friday, March 20, 2015

Things I Learned While Reading The Woman of La Mancha

I've had the pleasure of assisting author Karen Mann with the blog tour for her historical romance novel The Woman of La Mancha, and today, it's my turn to host! Please join me in welcoming her. (You can pop on over to WOW! Women on Writing for a fun interview with Karen.)

About the Book:
The Woman of La Mancha, a companion book to Don Quixote, tells the woman’s story of Don Quixote by recounting the story of the girl he called Dulcinea, the woman he loved from afar.

It’s 1583. An eleven-year-old girl wakes in the back of a cart. She has lost her memory and is taken in by a kindly farm family in La Mancha. She adopts the name Aldonza. She doesn’t speak for quite some time. Once she speaks, there is a family member who is jealous of her and causes a good deal of trouble, even causing her to be forced to leave La Mancha in tragic circumstances. Having to create a new life in a new location and still unaware of her birth family, she adopts the name Dulcinea and moves in the circles of nobility. While seeking her identity, she becomes the consort of wealthy men, finds reason to disguise herself as a man, and learns herbal healing to help others.

The novel also features a parallel story of a young man, Don Christopher, a knight of King Philip and the betrothed of the girl, who sets off on with a young squire, Sancho, to find the girl. Christopher’s adventures takes them across Spain and forces him to grow up. Does he continue the quest to find his betrothed or marry another and break the contract with the king?

Both young people have many experiences and grow up before the readers’ eyes. Floating in and out of each other’s paths as they travel around Spain, will they eventually find each other and be together?

Paperback: 354 pages
Genre: Historical Romance
Publisher: Fleur-de-Lis Press (May 5, 2014)
ISBN-10: 0965252043
ISBN-13: 978-0965252041

I will post a full review at The New Book Review blog on March 27, so be sure to check it out!

But for today's stop on the tour, I wanted to highlight a few things I've learned while reading the novel. 

1. Nobility came with a price. Marriages were arranged, and the head of your family most likely dictated your likes and dislikes. The protagonist, Christopher, spends much of the book searching for the young girl he promised to marry from the day she was born, in order to fulfill a contract. While he loves the girl, he also desires other women, and struggles to remain true to his word regardless the numerous temptations from others.

2. The working class worked hard. I was amazed at how families, such as the one Aldonza ends up living with, worked from sun up to sun down, with little to no hesitance. The girls and women worked just as hard as the men. They fished, they hunted, they sewed, they harvested the crops, they cooked, they cleaned . . . the list was endless. It was interesting to see how resourceful those living in the 1500s had to be in order to survive.

3. The world was a harsh place for women. The treatment of women during this time period was deplorable. Even women born into wealthy families are lectured about chastity, told who to marry, what to wear, and how to act. Other women in the book are taken advantage of with acts of cruelty and violence. At one point, Aldonza even has to disguise herself as a young man for a trip to Madrid and the dangers she faces traveling alone are very frightening.

4. You don't have to be familiar with Don Quixote to enjoy this book. It's been years since I studied Don Quixote, and I worried at first that I might be confused reading The Woman of La Mancha. I needn't have worried--I was hooked from the opening pages (who is this poor girl in the cart and why can't she remember who she is or even speak?) and quickly immersed myself in the story. It is mysterious, humorous, and heartbreaking all at the same time, and will keep you on the edge of your seat.

About the Author: 
Karen Mann is the Administrative Director of the brief-residency Master of Fine Arts in Writing Program at Spalding University in Louisville ( of which she is also the co-founder. Her fiction and nonfiction have appeared in various anthologies. Her second book, The Saved Man: The First Century, is available as an ebook on Amazon. After having lived in Indiana most of her life, she now lives in California.

Visit Karen online at:

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Book Review: Afraid of Everything by Karen Jones Gowen

Today I'm excited to welcome author Karen Jones Gowen as she tours with WOW! Women on Writing in support of her novel Afraid of Everything.

About the Book:
Helena Carr is afraid of everything. After a crisis at work, she quits her job and feels lost. It's time for a serious change, to beat the extreme anxiety that has plagued her since childhood. Something entirely different, unplanned and radical. Sell her house, move to a foreign location, turn her life upside down in an effort to end the emotionally paralyzing fear.

Before Helena can act on her options, there's a terrible accident on a Southern California freeway. Instead of going on an exotic vacation, she is in a hospital, in a coma, traveling to strange worlds in another dimension, meeting people who seem to know more about her than she knows about herself.

As Helena explores this intriguing new world, she realizes the truth about her past and the purpose of her future. And she is no longer afraid. Helena is ready to live. But first, she must wake up from the coma.

Paperback: 285 pages
Genre: Women's Fiction
Publisher: WiDo Publishing (October 21, 2014)
ISBN-10: 1937178595
ISBN-13: 978-1937178598

Twitter hashtag: #AfraidGowen

Afraid of Everything is available for purchase in print and as an ebook at AmazonBarnes & Noble, and Indie Bound.

About the Author:
Born and raised in central Illinois, Karen Jones Gowen now lives and writes in Panajachel, Guatemala. She and her husband Bruce are the parents of ten children. Not surprisingly, family relationships are a recurring theme in Gowen's writing. Her children's stories have appeared in the Friend, and her essays in the Jacksonville Journal Courier. Gowen's published books are Farm Girl,Uncut Diamonds, House of Diamonds,Lighting Candles in the Snow, Farm Girl Country Cooking: Hearty Meals for Active Families and Afraid of Everything. She blogs at her website, and at Coming Down the Mountain. You can email her at

Twitter: @KarenGowen


Book Review:

“ . . . I often reminded myself to simply live in the moment: happiness is a choice, lose the expectations, enjoy each day for what it brings, good or bad.”

In Afraid of Everything, Helena Carr may try to live by the advice above, but more often than not, she fails. She suffers from such extreme anxiety that it prevents her from living her life to the fullest. She’s afraid of traveling, social situations, meeting new people, romantic relationships, and after a particularly stressful incident at work, she decides to leave the nursing profession and the career she’s so carefully built for herself.

The first half of the book deals with Helena’s attempts to finally confront the extreme anxiety that has plagued her since childhood. She wants to be able to work again and begins seeing a counselor and making plans to sell her house and move outside of her comfort zone. But there are areas she is still struggling with (unresolved feelings over her mother’s death, her reluctance to visit her father and daughter who live in different states), and before she can make more progress, she’s involved in a terrifying accident on a California freeway. (This scene really scared me, as car accidents are a specific fear of mine!)

The rest of the novel follows Helena’s journey as she lies in a coma, with her spirit anything but lifeless. This is the part of the book I found most interesting, as I’ve always been fascinated by the idea of guardian angels, spirit guides, and what happens to our souls when we die or are trapped between two worlds. Here, Helena meets several interesting people (including the feisty young woman Coriander) who help her confront her fears and give her the motivation to fight for her life—so she can finally make all the changes she promised herself she would.

If you’ve ever been motivated to make a positive change in your life or change your perspective, reading Afraid of Everything will definitely inspire you to do so.

Do you have any specific fears? How do you work through them? 

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Book Review for Breaking the Silence: My Final Forty Days as a Public School Teacher

Because of my love of reading and writing, I always had a soft spot for my language arts teachers. Mrs. Jones was the first one who got me involved in public speaking during my freshman year of high school, and by junior year I had come out of my shell enough to place in drama competitions across the state. I fondly remember the time she took to stay after school and coach me, nor could I ever forget Ms. Eury, who put in a personal call to the admissions office of my first-choice college to ask them why they decided to put me on a wait list. Those teachers took more interest in my success than my own parents did at the time, and I’ve never forgotten it.

Book Review:

Reading Breaking the Silence brought back a flood of memories, and I couldn’t help but wonder if my own teachers had to deal with the conditions teachers face today. Reading the journal entries of Hernandez’s final forty days teaching eighth grade in Manhattan was heartbreaking, from the lack of bathroom breaks to the misconduct investigation she had to endure, over something I could never imagine one of my children’s teachers being charged with.

What I enjoyed reading about the most in this book was the interactions between Hernandez and her students— and I’m not talking about things like proctoring a standardized test in a classroom. For example, one day she played the song “Empire State of Mind” by Alicia Keys for her class and asked the students what dreams they had for their own futures.

“In this moment of my teaching career, I realize we are so busy teaching a curriculum that is so scripted, test-heavy, and inauthentic that we have lost the opportunity to connect with students on a personal level,” she writes.

Another story she shares is how she coached the painfully shy valedictorian of the class after school until he had the confidence to deliver an impressive speech at the class awards brunch. Beneath all the frustration of working within a broken system, Hernandez remained intent on teaching her students not just school subjects but also important life skills, such as public speaking and dressing appropriately, because they often didn’t have parents at home to guide them.

While Hernandez is no longer teaching in the public school, she still works passionately toward education reform, teaches at the college level, and works as a writing coach and content strategist. She encourages those reading the book not to be afraid to leave careers that are making them unhappy, and shares resources not only for the educational community but also for those seeking reinvention in their lives. It’s a great read for anyone—not just educators, parents, and school administrators.

Paperback: 166 pages
Genre: Memoir
Publisher: Mill City Press, Inc. (August 7, 2014)
ISBN-10: 1626529620
ISBN-13: 978-1626529625

Breaking the Silence is available at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Indie Bound.

WOW! Women on Writing is giving away a print copy of Breaking the Silence. The contest ends tomorrow, so visit the link here to enter!

About the book: 
America’s public school system is broken and M. Shannon Hernandez knows why, firsthand. After fifteen years in the teaching profession, three gut-wrenching realizations forced her to recognize that she must leave the career she loved so dearly. She knew that if she continued to work for a failing system, she would also continue to lose a little piece of her heart and soul every day.

You are invited into Hernandez’s classroom for the final forty days of her teaching career to understand the urgent need for school reform, clearly demonstrated in each story. You’ll witness the intelligence, vulnerability, and humanity of her students, and the challenges teachers like Hernandez face as they navigate the dangerous waters between advocating for and meeting students’ needs, and disconnected education policy.

This book is not only a love letter to her students, her fellow teachers, and to the reformed public school system she envisions, but also a heartfelt message of hope, encouragement, and self-empowerment for those who feel they are stuck in soul-sucking careers. It is an essential read for each citizen who is seeking a life comprised of more purpose and happiness, as well as parents, teachers, administrators, and policymakers who know our nation’s education system is in desperate need of an overhaul.

About M. Shannon Hernandez:
M. Shannon Hernandez is the founder of The Writing Whisperer, and her mission is to help heart-centered entrepreneurs and heart-centered authors find their brand voices, share their unique stories, gain more visibility, establish themselves as experts, and create authentic marketing messages, all through the use of smart content strategy and engaging copywriting. The Writing Whisperer was named one of Top 100 Websites for Writers by The Write Life in both 2014 and 2015, and Shannon has been featured as a content strategy and copywriting expert on many prominent podcasts and websites. She is a leading voice in the world of authentic business writing and heart-centered education reform, and she writes regularly for The Huffington Post. Shannon’s memoir, Breaking the Silence, chronicles her exit out of public education, after 15 years, and provides readers an intimate view of her journey to business ownership, finding happiness, and reinvention.

Find out more about this author by visiting her online:


Twitter: @WritingWhisper




And now here's my two cents on education for our children . . .

I firmly believe that no matter what type of school our children are in (mine happen to be enrolled in a public charter school) we can't just send our kids in every day and expect their teachers to cover off all their educational needs. Learning may begin at school, but it should continue in the home. It is up to us as parents to ask our kids about what they did at school, check the backpacks, help with homework questions, read their assigned books with them (for the elementary grades), practice their play/performance lines, and check in with their teachers throughout the year to make sure there aren't any problems that need to be addressed. 

Today's world is hectic. Let's face it--we're all busy. Sometimes the last thing we want to do is sit with our kids and read their literature circle book, or double-check math problems when the way we learned to solve them isn't relevant today. (I may sometimes have to ask my 5th-grader to assist me in explaining solutions to my 2nd-grader, but whatever works, right?) However, these are our children. We need to make time for them, because they are important. They matter. Showing them that we care about their education will set them up for a lifetime of self-confidence and love of learning. It's worth the time and dedication it takes to show them we care. Period. And their teachers will appreciate our efforts more than we'll ever know.

I'm curious. What do you think is the most important thing missing in public education today? Share your thoughts in the comments below!