Category Archives: Book Review and Commentary

Interview With Carolyn Wilkins, Author of “Melody for Murder”

I had the privilege of working on Melody for Murder with Pen-L Publishing, and it was a thoroughly delightful book. I loved the main character, Bertie, and all the trouble she gets herself into trying to help others. You can find my review of the book on at this link.

I’m thrilled to share this interview with the author, Carolyn Wilkins. Welcome, Carolyn!

new author photo copy

Tell me about your latest project.

My latest project is a murder mystery.  It is the sequel to my current book Melody for Murder, which comes out with Pen-L Publishing in June. The series features Bertie Bigelow, an African American choir director and amateur sleuth who lives on the South Side of Chicago.  At this point I’m most of the way through the second draft of the sequel to Melody and hope to have something ready to submit to Pen-L by the end of the summer.

MFM Cover fb size

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What role, if any, did books, writing, and reading play in your childhood?

My whole family loves to read and write.  My mother is a wonderful storyteller, and my father, a lawyer by profession, wrote poetry, skits and song parodies for fun.  As long as I can remember I’ve written stories, songs, and poems.  However, I didn’t take myself seriously as an author until I published Tips for Singers in 2008.

 What is your writing practice, your writing routine?

I try to write every day.  Sometimes when things are really busy at work or I am on the road, this doesn’t always happen.  But I’ve noticed that my writing flows much better when I am able to maintain a consistent daily routine.  If possible, I try to write in the morning before my brain gets too cluttered up with other things.

I will say, however, that I am also to some degree a seasonal writer, meaning that I write a lot more during vacations when I do not have to teach.

Who are you reading now?

Of course, I read murder mysteries, lots of them.  I just finished Vertigo 42 by Martha Grimes and before that Prime Time by Hank Philippi Ryan.  Today I will treat myself to Dennis Lahane’s latest – Live By Night.   I also enjoy well written and briskly paced nonfiction – Eric Larson (The Devil in the White City) is a master.  Before the summer is out I will read his newest book about the sinking of the Lusitania as well.

What are three of your all-time favorite books? Why do you love those?

This is such a hard question!  There are so many great books out there, and I have a hard time picking favorites.  Three books that had a profound impact on me as a writer are:

 Roots by Alex Haley

After I finished my singing textbook, I decided to write a memoir about my grandfather, who was appointed Assistant Secretary of Labor by President Eisenhower in 1954.  At the time, he was the highest ranking African American in government.  As it turned out, he had a very rough time in the Labor Department and ended up resigning his post abruptly after only 3 years.  Haley’s seminal book about discovering his family’s hidden past was a big influence.

 When Death Comes Stealing by Valerie Wilson Wesley

This book was one of the first mysteries I read that had an African American female protagonist.  At the time (1994), this was revolutionary!  I’ve read every one of her books since.  Two other authors who inspired me in this regard are – Eleanor Taylor Bland (the Marty MacAllister series) and  Barbara Neely (the Blanche series).  All three of these series were huge for me because they showed me it was possible to write traditional mysteries with black characters.

The Murder of Roger Ackroyd by Agatha Christie

The granddaddy of all mysteries!  I grew up reading Christie, Dorothy Sayers, and Amanda Cross as a kid.  Maybe if I hadn’t, I would not be writing mysteries now.

How do you balance “building a writing platform” and the actual writing to set on that platform?

With difficulty!  Right now, because Melody for Murder is coming out June 1, I am spending a lot of time on the web and in person promoting it.  But hopefully, once I get the book launched I’ll be able to focus more on writing the sequel.  My best advice on this is to put aside quality time for your creative work (in my case, the early morning hours) and do my social media stuff later in the evening.

 What is a typical day like for you?

When I am teaching, I try to get up at six so that I can meditate, exercise, and write a bit before breakfast.  That way, if I am too tired to do anything when I come home from work that night, at least I will have accomplished something.

Now that it’s summer, I can be a bit more relaxed. In addition to my writing, I try to make time for playing and practicing music, visiting friends, and having time to just vegetate.

Your main character in Melody for Murder, Bertie, is a choir director. I sense that you are also a music teacher and have a musical background. How much of you and your background is reflected in Bertie?

A great deal of my own background went into Bertie’s character. I am a singer, a piano player, and a choir directer. Both my mother and I have taught music in the Chicago City College system, so that part of Bertie’s story came easy for me. Of course, I also took many liberties – my experience as a teacher was considerably less exciting than Bertie’s.

What do you think is Bertie’s biggest flaw? Did you plan that, or did it evolve as you wrote?

I think Bertie’s biggest flaw is also her most endearing trait. She is, as she tells one of the characters in my book, “an inveterate optimist.” She always sees the best in people and tends to plunge into situations that a more cynical individual would regard with greater caution. This quality gets her into lots of trouble – bad for Bertie but good for readers, as it keeps the plot humming.

To some degree I planned this. But her personality also evolved and clarified itself during the writing process.

The city of Chicago is almost a secondary character in Melody. What do you love the most about that city and why did you chose to set your story there?

Often when you read books about Chicago, they take place Downtown or on the North Side, which have a very different feel. When I wrote my book, I wanted to give the reader a taste for a part of the city that is often overlooked. As I was born and raised on the South Side, it is also the part of the city that I know best.

I loved that Bertie has tea every morning instead of coffee. I’m also one of those rare people who doesn’t care for coffee. What about you? Coffee or tea?

I have to say I’m a tea person. I will drink the occasional cup of coffee, as Bertie does in the book. However, when I am at home relaxing, I (just like Bertie) prefer to put the kettle on.

The cover for your book is wonderful. Pen-L does consistently great covers for their books, but I’m wondering how much you already knew what you wanted it to look like and how much came from your publisher?

Didn’t Pen-L do a fantastic job?! When we first discussed the cover, I sent them jpegs of other covers for music-themed mysteries. But the cover Pen-L came up with is better than any of them – it is truly eye-catching.

What is the best wisdom you have to share with other writers?

First of all, be stubborn! Believe in yourself and in the value of your work.  Lock in your writing time and do not allow it to be interrupted.  Don’t let other people, whether they are friends, family, or book professionals, discourage you.

Second of all, be flexible. Be willing to receive and at least consider criticism that is given from a place of being supportive.  Read and study the work of authors you admire for tips, and always be ready to revise your story one more time.

Check out Melody for Murder at Pen-L Publishing’s web site, and you can sample a chapter for free!

And you can watch Carolyn’s book launch concert at this link through YouTube.

You can find Carolyn on Facebook, on Twitter, and at her web site.

Other books by Carolyn:

Hi Resolution TRMU copy

dnw cover photo


New Book Review and Wrap Up of Blog Tour

The last official stop on my fall blog tour is a book review for “Why Kimba Saved The World” at the blog of Erik The Great:  This Kid Reviews Books. Follow this link to his nice review of “Kimba.” I love it when a review comes from a reader who is closer to the actual intended target audience of my middle grade books. Adult reviewers sometimes over-think the process. Kids will just tell you whether or not they liked it. In the end, that’s what it’s all about.

Erik’s blog is full of delightful reviews and commentaries on the books he has enjoyed. He has very mature taste for an 11 year old, so I’m glad he could still enjoy the simplicity of my book. I’m happy to be including him in my blogroll so visitors to my site can find his as well.

Erik says of “Kimba”: “The story is written very well and is appropriate for all ages. Ms. Dendler does a great job of getting the reader into the cat’s minds.”

I sometimes worry about how much time I spend trying to figure out Kimba’s thoughts, but at least it paid off for my books. She is sitting outside my office door right now, and I have no idea what she is plotting. A good bath and a nap are probably all she has on the agenda, but you never can tell with cats.

I hope you will visit the sites of all of the bloggers who were kind enough to do interviews and book reviews of either “Why Kimba Saved The World” or “Vacation Hiro” (or both!) as part of this Fall Blog Tour. There will be a few more reviews along the way with others who have not set firm dates, and I will keep sharing them!

Kimba, plotting something

Kimba, plotting something

New Book Review of “Why Kimba Saved The World” From Say What Savannah Mae

The blog tour continues today with a book review of “Why Kimba Saved The World” at Say What Savannah Mae’s blog. Click here to see the whole review.

Here’s a quick portion of the review, but go to Savannah’s blog to read the whole thing:

“In this charming tale, it is a cat’s perspective of life and loyalty. Peeking into the thoughts of why cats do what they do. Some of the things that Kimba was instructed to do for her missions made me giggle and look at my own kitty and imagine that yes, this indeed could make sense.”

First Book Review for “Vacation Hiro” From Arkansas Book Reviewer

What a great beginning for an exciting week!! The very first book review for “Vacation Hiro” was posted today by the Arkansas Book Reviewer, and she gave it 5 stars. That’s a great way to get things going! Please click here to read the whole review at her site, and be sure to click on the social media share links at the bottom and leave a comment for her. I loved the way she ended it: “Best of all, Vacation Hiro ends with a cliffhanger that’ll have you clawing for the next book!” Love it! Nothing like a 5 star review to start of a book launch week with a bang!

Official launch day is Friday, November 15. Getting all of my ducks and links in a row and ready to share with you.

Book 2 in the Cats in the Mirror Series

Book 2 in the Cats in the Mirror Series

Jenn’s Book Review of “Why Kimba Saved The World”

Newest stop on the Fall Blog Tour is Jenn’s Book Review Blog and her thoughts on “Why Kimba Saved The World.” I love that her son was in on the reviewing process. It can be hard for adults to judge a book designed for kids. I’ve gotten some really odd reviews from some who have. So I always get extra excited when the reviewer is a teacher used to reading kid lit or an actual child — and super-duper excited when they enjoy it. Yay! Here’s the link to Jenn’s review, but my favorite part of the review was this:

“The characters of Kimba and Hiro were adorable and we fell in love with them quickly. We give Kimba a 5/5!”

It doesn’t get much better than that!

Unless someone I’m not expecting jumps into the schedule, and that may well happen, the next stop on the blog tour will be the very first review of “Vacation Hiro” from the Arkansas Book Reviewer. On pins and needles!

Book Review & Author Interview at Magnolia Blossom’s Blog

Wow! I think this is the most detailed book review “Why Kimba Saved The World” has gotten so far. Reviewer Bud Scott broke it down into several categories and commented on each section. I thought it was funny that he assumed the book would be about a giant cat saving the world based on the cover. That’s the first time I’ve gotten that feedback! Click here to visit Magnolia Blossom’s blog and read the whole review and detailed interview with me.

In concluding the review and interview, the web site says:

“The Bestowing of the Blossoms…
It certainly looks like Meg Dendler’s book ‘Why Kimba Saved the World’ was the  cat’s meow for reviewer Bud Scott as it earned a total of 88 out of 100 points giving it a very strong 4.85 (and a wee little bit more) blossom rating. That’s an exceptional thing to say about a book that, because it wasn’t actually written for the ‘older’ set so to say, kept the attention of the reviewer well enough that he not only has said he’ll recommend it to others and that he was able to see the personalities of the cats shine through. We are so pleased that Meg asked The MBR to review her book, Why Kimba Saved the World and hope that you, Kind Reader, will check it out for yourself – especially if you know of a child who might enjoy it. What’s more – perhaps you could get a copy and donate it to your local school’s library! Wouldn’t that be a wonderful way to not only spread the love for reading to our youth but also to shine a bright light on a terrific writer for an age group that is in sore need of some quality, high interest books!”
Be sure to click on the link and give their blog some traffic and read the whole book review, as well as other book reviews at the site. I’m always so grateful for the book lovers who agree to review independent and self-published books!

Next Blog Tour Book Review of “Why Kimba Saved The World”

Today’s blog tour stop is with the Heart of a Philanthropist web site for a book review and giveaway for “Why Kimba Saved The World.” Click here to visit her site and read the full review. Also take a moment to look through her information about the Village of Hope orphanage in the Philippines that is struggling to recover from a devastating earthquake in the region. I’m joining Kim in her letter writing campaign to offer support and prayers as they work to rebuild. Good work is going on around the world! Thanks, Kim, for taking time to review and share my book.

New “Kid” Book Review of “Kimba”

I love it when a child has a chance to do a book review for “Why Kimba Saved The World.” That who it is written for! Adults sometimes come at reviews with a lot of literary baggage, but kids just want to enjoy the story. I’m so glad that Rhiannon did! I shipped a copy of “Kimba” all the way to Australia for her (much to the dismay of our small town post office who had no idea how to accomplish this task), and it was worth it. Click here for the link to her review, but here’s my favorite part:

“This is one of my favourite books and anyone who likes cats will think that this one is a winner!”

Thanks Kidz Review Krew!


Book Review–Big Honey Dog Mysteries: Curse of the Scarab

Holy Liver Snaps, this is a cute book! Doing a formal book review is a rare for me, but I wanted to do more than make a quick note about this one. The Big Honey Dog Mysteries: Curse of the Scarab is just adorable.

H.Y. Hanna and I bumped into each other on Goodreads and agreed to a read & review book swap. It was logical since our topics and genre looked to be very similar. I must admit, after I agreed to this I got a bit spooked. What if her book is terrible? But there was no need for any worry.  The moment my husband opened it up on his kindle (no, I don’t have my own) he said, “This looks cute. It sounds like your writing style.” I’ll take that as a compliment because Hanna’s writing is delightful.

This first book in the Big Honey Dog Mysteries follows Great Dane Honey as she tries to find a lost puppy friend who has been stolen, along with dozens of other puppies in town. With the help of her canine friends, Honey discovers a very creepy mystery that involves nasty scarab bugs and Egyptian curses. I should probably give a warning that young readers who are very sensitive may not be ready for some of the drama that unfolds. There is life-threatening peril along the way for everyone involved. Of course, if you like exciting drama, this book is right up your alley.

I’m very big on stories for young readers that have a moral or point of some kind, and Curse of the Scarab didn’t let me down.  There are deep-seated prejudices to be overcome. The traditional hatred between cats and dogs comes into play. Cats, who are referred to early in the book as a “bunch o’ sneaky, sardine-breathed sand poopers,” are going to have to become allies if the puppies are to be saved. And the stereotype of pit bulls as dangerous, killer dogs is faced head-on.  Again, without the help of Max, a rescued fighting dog, their mission won’t succeed.

Despite the overwhelming charms of Honey, I felt most in touch with the Beagle, Biscuit. I have had two Beagles in my life, and they both ate everything they could, just like Biscuit (though I kept a better eye on them than Biscuit’s owner). Heidi, my childhood Beagle, once ate an entire batch of oatmeal cookies that had been laid out on the table to cool. Three cups of oatmeal were in there. She was an unhappy dog. Eevee, my adult-age Beagle, once ate a two-pound box of chocolate creams that was a Christmas gift. Given fifteen unsupervised minutes, she went upstairs (where she NEVER went), found the box hidden behind a bookcase, unwrapped it, pulled off the plastic, and ate every chocolate (and probably some of the wrappers). We were grateful it was mostly cream and gel inside! She had an unhappy night, but the next day I caught her pulling the wrappers from the garbage. Too strong a nose is a dangerous thing.  Every time Biscuit got caught eating something in the story, it just made me smile. I bet dog-lovers will find the same kind of attachment to one of Honey’s friends in the story.

Big Honey Dog Mysteries: Curse of the Scarab, is a wonderful book. The writing is light and funny, as well as serious and heart-wrenching.  I highly recommend this for middle grade readers–and frankly for dog lovers of any age.

A sequel to this book is already underway, and I’m excited to see what H.Y. Hanna has planned for Honey and her friends at the dog show.

You can find out more about the real Honey Dog and upcoming books at H.Y.’s fantastic web page  

HY and honey discuss manuscript for Book 2

HY and Honey discuss manuscript for Book 2