January Book Reviews

My first book reviews for the new year! I hope everyone is up for a great year of reading.

January’s reviews include my 4 and 5-star reads of a memoir, literary fiction, a paranormal adventure, a poetry collection, a collection of short stories, a collection of poetry and flash fiction, and three short reads on Irish Mythology

Click on the covers for Amazon global links.

*****

River Ghosts by Merril D. Smith

I can’t remember when I picked up this book of freeform poetry, but I finally got around to reading it, and I’m so glad I did. I highly recommend it.

The book contains about 70 poems. I read it over a few evenings, savoring the quiet mood and tone and depth of the feelings this collection conveys. There are poems about joyous moments of gratefulness and love, and poems straight from the imagination. But my favorites were those that struck me as reflective, exploring loss, tender memories, and some of the harder moments of finding one’s way. These are the author’s “ghosts,” and I found them relatable as well as beautifully penned. Here’s one such poem:

Dark Matter

How do we see the unseen?
A ghostly presence felt,
this dark path between stars

The Milky Way, a pearly spiral,
and we with limited vision,
star-created, star-drawn,
unable to see the tenebrous beauty
of bent light.

*****

Menagerie by Joan Hall

This collection of thirteen short stories is not only entertaining with its compelling characters and variety of plots, but highly accessible with its straightforward language. Clean romance, spooky paranormal events, and limited violence make it an enjoyable collection for readers from pre-teens to their grandparents.

Characters are consistent, well-rounded, and believable, and the variety in the stories not only applies to plots but to settings and time periods. Many of the stories incorporate a paranormal or romantic element, and quite a few include both. It’s a generous collection but a quick read, and I buzzed through it in a couple of afternoons. The variety makes it hard to pick favorites, but I was especially fond of:

“Mystery Woman” and the way it ventured into the subject of past lives
“Friends,” a feel-good romance set against a murder investigation
“Lone Wolf,” a beautiful tale of a connection between a man and a wild wolf
“Hot August Night,” for its family relationships and the unfolding mystery
And “Storm Rider,” a gentle paranormal story with some good advice.

Highly recommended to readers of all ages who enjoy feel-good short stories. (Kindle Unlimited)

*****

The Last Drive by John Howell

This book follows the adventures of Sam and James of The Eternal Road, but it stands alone perfectly well with the same level of imagination and detail. Spirits James and Sam return to the Eternal Road to search for Ryan, a recently deceased pilot, and his guide Eddie. The two men have gone off track while looking for Ryan’s eternal home. Lucifer has his fingerprints all over this book as he’s determined to have Ryan “join his team.”

Similar to the first book, the search takes Sam and James, and eventually Ryan and Eddie, to quite a few major events in time including the first Super Bowl, the California gold rush, 9/11, the sinking of the Titanic, and the horrors of Auschwitz. Some places they travel to on their own, but in most cases, Lucifer sends them there, wanting them to trade Ryan’s soul for a reprieve.

In some ways, Sam and James are on a quest, tasked with challenges they need to puzzle out as they operate in the past without changing the future. The directive not to fiddle with the future generates some heartbreaking scenes and tough moral decisions. Howell’s research into the tragedies of the past is notable, and there are some brutal scenes including sexual abuse.

Any heaviness in the book is initially countered by Lucifer. He’s sarcastic, snarky, and completely without verbal restraint, at the very least. His banter, particularly with Sam, was entertaining, though it became easier and easier to completely dislike him toward the end. The plot doesn’t follow a straight line, nor is it always logical, but it’s highly imaginative and recommended for fans of fantastical stories about the afterlife. (Kindle Unlimited)

*****

The Girl Who Taught Herself to Fly by Kwan Kew Lai

I enjoy reading memoirs of all sorts, but if there’s a book that transports me to another part of the world and a culture vastly different from my own, I’m usually entranced, as I was with this book.

Most of the book tracks Kwan Kew Lai’s childhood on Penang Island, a diverse community where racial and ethnic status determines where a family lives and who they associate with. Kwan Kew’s family is Chinese, ranked far below the Eurasian elite, but above their Tamil neighbors on the other side of a drainage ditch. There is plenty of play and mischief, as well as accounts of community, family, and school life from this observant little girl.

Her family is a large one (ten girls and two boys), and at a young age, she sees the toll their circumstances, often plagued by inadequate food and housing, takes on her mother. It’s a life where women’s choices are few and the work is endless. She decides early on that this life isn’t for her. As she ages, the book veers away from childhood into adult concerns of war, political unrest, and ultimately finding her way to college in the US.

Descriptions are captivating with just the right amount of detail to create a rich sense of place. The characters, including her parents and several key siblings, are deftly described from Kwan Kew’s point of view, and the sibling relationships had a familiar feel, full of nuance. Characters are sympathetic, as this is a human and, in many ways, a universal story about hardship, resilience, choices and the lack of them.

There is some repetition of information, and on occasion, I lost track of Kwan Kew’s age as the story seemed to move forward and backward in time, but on the whole, this was a fascinating and uplifting account of a determined child and young woman. Highly recommended to readers who enjoy memoirs, especially ones that explore different cultures in other parts of the world.

*****

The Waiting House by Lisette Brodey

The Waiting House is an unusual book of literary fiction with one of the best uses of an omnipresent POV I’ve read in years. Conrad Daniel Beauregard Shintz is the story’s host, the grandmaster, someone who has lived in the Waiting House for decades. He has a distinct voice and personality, and unlike most characters in genre fiction, he possesses the omnipresent ability to view the private lives, thoughts, and feelings of the building’s other residents.

The novel is a series of glimpses into the histories and daily lives of the house’s inhabitants narrated by Conrad. The chapters are almost like character studies that little by little begin to intersect as the overall story unfolds. Conrad’s tone is formal and appropriate for the era and setting, but he’s also emotionally engaged and has a witty sense of humor. The residents of the Waiting House are all brilliantly unique.

The pace is quite leisurely, and like a lot of literary fiction, action is secondary to the character development and a slow reveal of the plot. In keeping with the genre, the prose is beautiful with rich language, vivid and detailed descriptions, and wonderful imagery.

This is an excellent read for fans of literary fiction who love beautiful language and fabulously distinct characters, and are comfortable with a moderate pace. (Kindle Unlimited)

*****

Asunder, Baby by Steven Baird

Steven Baird is one of my favorite authors of fiction and poetry, and this generous collection of fifty flash fiction stories and poems was crafted with the same beautiful language, fresh imagery, and gut-wrenching emotion as his full-length novels. His characters are distinctive with rich voices and complex lives informed by poverty, loss, disillusionment, and love. Each one gripped me and didn’t let go.

There are too many excellent pieces to list the ones that moved me, but four of my favorites were: The Gopherwood Box, Rhapsody, Your Father’s Delta 88, and a short poem titled Brewer’s Mills 1971. A highly recommended collection for readers who enjoy beautifully crafted and deeply felt writing.

Brewer’s Mills 1971

There we were
burying a goddamn horse
all the clouds smashing
against a depthless sky
we waited in strained attentiveness
for the sound of a moon
to howl back at us
we knew this was
the distance we were
from kings

(Kindle Unlimited)

*****

Irish Myths in Your Pocket by I. E. Kneverday

This is the first book in a set of three pocket reads about Irish myths, legends, folktales, and fairytales. I polished this one off in an afternoon as a research project, wanting to learn more about the stories and characters I encounter in books and movies. I wasn’t disappointed.

Irish Myths starts with some background. It describes the differences between myths, legends, folktales, and fairytales as well as some of the major gods and heroes, and how they changed over time under the influence of English Christianity, which was determined to wipe them out. Thank goodness the effort mostly failed.

After that introduction, the book goes on to tell stories about 20 of the most powerful weapons of Irish mythology. It also shares tales about the god of love, and how music was a skill that all the gods possessed. The second half of the book is a competition, moderated and decided by the author, to decide who is the greatest hero of Irish mythology, Cú Chulainn or Fionn mac Cumhaill. The competition takes twelve rounds (chapters) and pits one ancient tale against another.

The style of the book is conversational, and Kneverday has a wonderful sense of humor that he injects into his discussions. The most challenging part of the book is the names, which have myriad spellings and to Americans (like me) are almost unpronounceable. The author does a good job of sorting it all out, but still…

Highly recommended to readers who love Irish myths and legends. I’m off to read the next book in the series, Samhain, a short book about the origins of Halloween. (Kindle Unlimited)

*****

Samhain in Your Pocket by I. E. Kneverday

After finishing Kneverday’s book Irish Myths, I went straight into this one, book two of his pocket series. I’m well versed on the fun to be had by modern kids (and some adults) on Halloween, but didn’t know the origins of jack o’ lanterns, dressing up in costumes, or trick-or-treating. I think kids would love learning the roots of this holiday as much as I did.

The history of these traditions (and many more) reach way back to the ancient Celts. They’re delightfully shared in this two-hour read that also elaborates on the Irish gods of death and tells tales of Stingy Jack (Jack of the Lantern) and numerous headless horsemen. The rich meaning behind Samhain (and how to properly pronounce this most important of celebrations) is detailed in the book with a lot of humor and respect. A highly enjoyable read. (Kindle Unlimited)

*****

Irish Monsters in Your Pocket by I. E. Kneverday

This is the third book in Kneverday’s Irish pocket books, and one that I was most looking forward to reading. I suspected that there would be a great many Irish monsters, but the author chose to go deep on about eight varieties rather than broad on many more. As he did with the two previous books in the series, he approached his storytelling with a great deal of conversational humor that made this book another enjoyable read.

The book dives into Irish dragons, werewolves, vampires, banshees, headless horsemen, giants, the púca (a mischievous creature), and Balor of the Evil Eye. For each type of monster, there’s some history, a dose of speculation, and descriptive tales from Irish lore. Another highly enjoyable, pocket read for fans of Irish and Celtic legends. (Kindle Unlimited)

*****

Happy Reading!

Colors Unfettered #tankatuesday

Boughton, George Henry; The Lady of the Snows; Walker Art Gallery; http://www.artuk.org/artworks/the-lady-of-the-snows-97671

Colors Unfettered

demur flowers bloom

a tapestry stitched with spring

colors unfettered

on her chilly weather walks

old man winter cedes the day

It felt marvelous to write poetry once again for Colleen’s #TankaTuesday after months of absence. I love these Ekphrastic challenges. Ekphrastic poetry is written in response to a piece of art. Colleen chose this prompt after seeing it on Rebecca Budd’s blog: Chasing Art.

I wrote a tanka with syllable count 5/7/5/7/7. Here in Oregon, spring may be shy, but she’s on her way, and there’s no stopping her.

To read more responses to the challenge, learn about syllabic poetry, or submit your own poem, stop by Colleen’s blog: Wordcraft Poetry.

The Necromancer’s Daughter – by: D. Wallace Peach

Today, I’m sharing a post created by Resa, our glamorous friend from fashion and film. Resa creates spectacular one-of-a-kind gowns, all stitched by hand from reclaimed materials (table runners, drapes, and found fabrics). They’re truly stunning, with a powerful message about sustainability and what’s possible with vision and effort. But her artistic talents don’t stop there.

After reading The Necromancer’s Daughter, she put her creativity to work again, drawing gowns for my character Aster. Combined with her photos of dragon murals and a whimsical interview, she’s pulled together a wonderfully entertaining post. I hope you join us for some beauty, laughter, and fun. And check out her gowns!

Art Gowns

Monarchy, religion, culture and love collide in ancient China’s warring society. All come to rest upon the shoulders of Aster, a gentle soul content in her life. At the start of this tale, her dead infant body is stolen from her mother, the  Queen of Verdane. Aster is brought back to life by Barus. Barus becomes her father, the only one she knows & loves.

Resa – Why &/or how did you come up withe the name Aster?

Peach – That’s an easy one.  She’s so pale that she reminded Barus of the white asters that grew in the meadows around his home. I imagined that when in bloom the flowers almost looked like snow.

Resa – I just have to ask, ” When did you discover the idea of “necromancy” … that it could bring people back to life?

Peach – Great question! Necromancy is (or was) a real…

View original post 1,349 more words

New Release: “Asunder, Baby” by Steven Baird

Over 7 years ago, during the summer of 2015, I read a novel titled Ordinary Handsome by Steven Baird, and from the first paragraph, I knew I’d stumbled upon something special. I haven’t forgotten the sense of awe evoked by this talented author, the magic of finding a piece of writing beautifully crafted and deeply human. I proceeded to read every one of his books, and through the years, the work Steven has shared on his blog has continued to mesmerize me.

Today, I’m delighted to share his new book:

A couple of months ago, I had the privilege of reading this book in order to write a foreword, which I’m honored to share today. And as an extra tease, below are two samples of what you’ll find within the collection: a poem and a piece of prose. Asunder, Baby is available on KU. If you pick up the book, you’re in for a treat. Enjoy.

Forword

Brewers Mills 1971

There we were

burying a goddamn horse

all the clouds smashing

against a depthless sky

we waited in strained attentiveness

for the sound of a moon

to howl back at us

we knew this was

the distance we were

from kings

A gopherwood box

I.

Boyd Henry over there, he watches me. I have never seen a child so committed to watching. He is four years old. I love him, Lord, but his intensity wears on me. He plays with his toys under the porch, and the dried-up mud and boot-grit falls on the back of his neck. He lifts up the dust, and it powders most of him, but his neck gets it worse. He shows me his dusty palms when he sees me seeing him.

Lorianne is on the porch with him now, and her hands are curled around his small shoulders. I’m grateful that she loves him, because Boyd Henry is different from most. He is my gift, he is my surprise.

Today is wash day, the day I float away. Watching Boyd Henry makes me lonely to think there was a time before him. It makes me lonely whenever the wash water from the bed sheets drips onto my arms, because it bears the same coldness and travels down the same hollows of my skin as it did last week, and last month.

The sheets and towels are to be washed first. They need to hang before the rain catches them. The wind has swelled up, and it tugs at my kerchief like a kite. Boyd Henry stops wiggling in Lorianne’s arms, and he watches me as I adjust it. My son is already dirty, and he will turn into mud when it starts to rain. Daughter will wipe him down with a washcloth when she can. I smile for my children.

“The crows,” says Lorianne, and she points to the sloping yard.

There are a half-dozen crows on the other side of the field gate, and they glide low to the ground. Abruptly, they ascend, like barn swallows, and there is a strenuous fold and unfolding of wings. Their constructs are not made for elegant flight, and they rise in an awkward lurch, and nearly collide with one another.

Lorianne’s face is serious, but she giggles at the strangeness of it. “Why were they flying like that, Mama?”

“I don’t know,” I say, and it frightens me that I cannot answer her. Would her father know? This was his land before it was mine.

I left my mother’s house when I was young, and then I left my grandmother’s when I was done being foolish. I came here when I married Javier, and I have stayed here since he passed, six years ago. This land belonged to his family, and then to him, and now to me. But it is my children’s home now, his daughter and my son. I keep my pictures and trinkets and combs in a box carved from gopherwood, under my bed. It is all that I have left from my life before him.

II.

The rain is hard, as promised. We sit inside our little living room and listen to the tin noise. It is a loud and anxious sound. Lorianne has her collection of crayons on the rug, and she hunts for the right shade of rain. Boyd Henry watches her, and he peels off the crayon papers, one color at a time, like he is unwinding string.

I stare at the wood stove and the slow tangle of flame. How long will it keep us warm, how long will it give us light?

And the rain, it still falls, seven days in.

Boyd Henry, over there, he watches me watching him. And Lorianne, she loves me in my distraction, loves me in my worry.

My children are silver abstractions in the light. Every drop of rain casts its own shadow on the window, and each shadow weaves into the next, until they form a coarse cortina. The world we know is smaller because we are separated from the land by the sky.

“Mama, when will the rain stop?” asks Lorianne.

Bless the child, the faith of that girl, that she believes the rain will ever stop.

“I don’t know, Lorianne,” I say. “What do you see when you look outside?”

Boyd Henry studies my face, and Lorianne studies what lay bare beyond the window.

“Rain?”

“Of course, honey. What else? Look harder.”

“Rain and puddles. And Mama, Boyd Henry is out there!”

I can smell the rain, I can smell the hay, freshly mown. “He’s right behind you, Lorianne.”

“But he’s–” She turns, and Boyd Henry shows her his dusty palms. “But I….”

“You saw his reflection, that’s all.” I breathe in the sweet clean smell of hay.

“No, he was standing in the rain. And I didn’t see my reflection, or yours. Just him. Mama?”

“A trick of the light,” I say, and sound foolish to myself. “The rain can do strange things if you stare at it too long.” I can smell Javier’s aftershave as I tend to the small cuts on his hands. I still cannot see his face.

“I think the rain has stopped,” she says, and she presses her hands against the glass.

I can smell the hay, freshly mown. The rain smells like his aftershave.

“I think we can go outside now,” I say, and my two children reach for their boots.

Many Congrats to Steven on his latest release.

You can visit Steven’s blog Ordinary Handsome Here.

Weekend Blog Share: Silent Pariah

I used to post a Sunday Blog Share where I’d reblog a post from our community that I loved. It was a chance to rave about bloggers, writers, books, poems, and stories. When my parents’ health started failing about five years ago, I couldn’t keep up and stopped.

Now I’m starting the feature again. I’m wowed by the talent in our blogging village and grateful for the friendships I find here. Through these shares, I hope to bring my favorite peeps together. And that includes you!

Please welcome my first victim guest: Mike Utley of Silent Pariah.

He’s a poet and writer and photographer, and his work is exquisite. I can’t help gushing. He’s probably glad that I live far away or I’d be his stalker.

Usually, I’d just reblog his post with a little intro, but the poem I want to share with you, Odysseus, was published on Masticadores, India. I’m sending you there so you can read it in one fell swoop: Odysseus.

But the point of this post is to connect you with Mike. So, I’d be thrilled if you visited his blog, a place where beautiful words are born. He’s worth reading and following. And if you’re like me, you’ll start pestering him for a book.

His most recent post features a photograph that he proceeds to describe with stunning emotion and beauty. You’ll see what I mean about this multifaceted artist. Flip back a post and you’ll find some mesmerizing haiku.

Mike’s blog: Silent Pariah.

Comments are closed here. Enjoy.

December Book Reviews (Part Two)

According to my new blogging schedule developed by my muse, today I’m supposed to share a blog post from our community that made me marvel, laugh, cry, cheer, or gasp at its beauty. But… I HAVE to share the rest of my December reviews of blogger books before any more time flies by.

December’s second bunch of reviews includes my 5-star reads of a memoir, a poetry collection, a paranormal fantasy, a military thriller, and an anthology of short crime stories.

Click on the covers for Amazon global links.

*****

Fifteen First Times: Beginnings: A Collection of Indelible Firsts by D.G. Kaye

Kaye’s memoir Fifteen First Times reads like a conversation over a glass of wine with a bunch of besties. As I was reading, I could imagine the groans, laughter, and tender moments many women share in common as they navigate their teens and young adulthood—first kiss, first love, first car, a broken heart, the angst of menstruation, the first hair coloring disaster, and the first death that woke us up to the impermanence of life. Fifteen firsts.

I couldn’t relate to all of Kaye’s experiences. I never had a thing about shoes, for example, and didn’t have the privilege of travel, but I could relate very well to the journey of self-discovery, to struggles with self-esteem, and to finding a home within ourselves.

What struck me the most about Kaye’s recollections is how humor and a bold, flamboyant approach to life helped her overcome challenges and become the confident woman she is today. She ends the memoir by highlighting the importance of laughter in her life and in her relationship with her late husband. It’s a touching thread that connects her memories and heartfelt conclusion to her book of firsts. An entertaining two-hour read, highly recommended to fans of memoirs. (Kindle Unlimited.)

*****

The Sheltering by Khaya Ronkainen

At the end of Ronkainen’s book of poetry, she shares a poetic piece of prose entitled “All I hope to say.” It’s a beautiful reflection on her reason for writing poetry – to record her life and grief, to let future generations know that this too shall pass, and to preserve beauty and create. It’s a lovely summation of her collection.

The book reads like a chronological story, beginning with the Covid years, moving through the death of loved ones and friends, and then into the current war. It’s poignant and full of the pain of grief and loss and the stress of living in a troubled world. The title “The Sheltering” felt appropriate, suggesting both the act of isolating and retreating, but also as a means of self-care and contemplation.

The poetry finally, quietly, and gracefully emerges back into nature’s sunlight, tentatively testing life’s waters. I felt the poet’s renewal and healing, and breathed the fresh air captured in one of her final poems:

Static Apnoea

Astonished I froze, facing a whale.
Eyes adjusted and focused, I became
nervous, for I came without a song.
Eyes adjusted and focused, she gave
me a gentle prod, lifted her head above
water to suck air through a blowhole.
She was showing me how to breathe.

This is a heartfelt and beautiful collection of about sixty free-form poems that I read over several days. Highly recommended.

*****

Shadow Walker (Shadow Walker #1) by Jina S. Bazzar

Melaina has a secret—her affinity (magic ability) is forbidden. She’s a shadow walker, capable of drawing the shadows around her and turning into a winged beast. Fearful of discovery, she tries to live a normal life by avoiding the nine magic houses that wield immense power and wealth. To support her aunt and brother, she worked as a thief, but now she has a chance at a real job. Only it turns out that the job is her worst nightmare. One of the houses wants her to steal from the others. If she fails, her aunt and brother will pay the price.

This isn’t the first series that I’ve read from this author and like her others, it’s got a deeply imagined world, a complex and fast-paced plot, and some kick-ass characters, particularly the main character. Bazzar’s female leads are all tough, skilled, and smart, and Melaina is no exception. While she has a conscience and big heart, she doesn’t back down from a confrontation.

There are a fair number of characters in the novel, but they aren’t hard to keep straight, especially the secondary characters who are fully developed with distinct personalities. Their relationships with Melaina are interesting, and I’m curious about where they’ll go. The book is not a standalone, and it ends without a great deal of resolution, but the series is complete, so readers don’t have to wait. Highly recommended to urban fantasy readers who enjoy complex plots and strong female leads. (Kindle Unlimited.)

*****

The Culmination: a new beginning by Gwen M. Plano

Just like the 2nd book in this series, this one (the 3rd) starts where the last left off. Admiral Joseph Parker and his soulmate, Julie underwood, have been shot and are recuperating in the hospital. Their lives are still at risk as their team’s efforts start zeroing in on a secret cabal working to destabilize the world with an assassination and nuclear missile launch.

At the 20% mark, the book makes a dramatic shift to the world theater. New main characters, primarily the US Vice President Margaret Adler and the Russian Prime Minister Ivan Smirnov take center stage. A meeting of world leaders to address nuclear arsenal reductions ends with a tenuous alliance, an unexpected romance, plans to address Syria, and a worldwide threat to peace.

World politics, including military strategies and governmental negotiations, continue through the end of the book. Cajoling and strong-arming are balanced by logic, honor, and an altruistic desire to do the right thing. This read made me long for this fictional world where most political choices aren’t tied to greed and power.

The strong romantic subplot breaks up the fast-paced narrative and political/military action. The characters are engaging, smart, and resourceful, and perhaps a little too good to be true. It was interesting to see what might happen if the US, Russia, and the Middle East could cooperate with each other with the best interests of the world in mind. Highly recommended to fans of political thrillers.

*****

Undercover: Crime Shorts by Jane Risdon

I read this collection of six short stories (and an extract from the author’s book) in a little over 2 hours and found it highly engaging. Each story centers on a crime—theft, murder, revenge—most premeditated, some accidental or imaginary. And few criminals get caught, at least not by the police.

The stories are all unique with well-developed characters, great suspense, and satisfying conclusions. A few of my favorites were “Murder by Christmas” with its twisted plot, “The Honey Trap” for riling me up, and “The Look” which satisfied my desire for revenge after “The Honey Trap.” Lol. A highly recommended anthology for fans of crime and suspense stories.

And a 2022 Reading Round-up!

My 2022 Goodreads Challenge results. I love browsing the covers and remembering a year filled with great reads.

I think that’s all of them! Happy Reading in 2023!

Happy New Year from the Muse

pixabay image by Amy Art-Dreams

“What are you doing?” she asks.

“Making lists.” I look up from where I’m slouched on the sofa.

“Procrastinating.” A hand on her hip, my muse mugs a dark-eyed, straight-lipped face that fully expresses her annoyance. She’s dressed like a forest nymph with twigs, pinecones, and fireflies in her hair. Winter’s snowflakes cling to her midnight dress, and a white owl blinks at me from her shoulder.

“I’m trying to get organized for the new year.” I toss my notepad aside, and before I can stop her, she snatches it up and starts flipping through the pages.

“You had a sorrowful few months, and I’m sympathetic, but the new year has started, and books don’t write themselves.” The owl steps from her shoulder onto her forearm, and with a sharp lift of her wrist, she sends it up into the cabin’s beams.

She sinks down on the couch beside me, rustles the crimson autumn leaves along her hem, and puts her grass-stained feet up on the coffee table. A pencil appears behind her ear that she uses to critique my ideas. “What’s with all these non-writing items?” She starts crossing them off.

“Not everything can be ignored indefinitely.” My protests slide from her skin, and I shrug. I’ll just tack those items on the end after she leaves. “I have a lot of my mom’s keepsakes to distribute, photo albums to consolidate, and my dad needs more of my time now. I haven’t vacuumed in a month.”

“Pfft. Housework.” She scratches that one out so hard the paper tears. “Just don’t get it dirty.”

Obviously, the muse hasn’t ever lived in a house. “I think a schedule might help me feel less overwhelmed.”

“Fine. Here’s one I recommend.” She rips a page from the notebook and hands it to me. “You get one day a week for non-writing activities. Sunday. The rest of the week, if you’re not with your father, you’re mine.”

I stare at the blank paper as black ink spiders from one corner to the other, creating a calendar complete with to-do items. She’s revamped my blogging schedule, dedicated a half-day for marketing, and blocked off chunks of time to write. There’s fine print along the bottom and a place to sign my name. “Is this a contract?”

“I’m a busy muse, and I’m not going to waste my time with undisciplined authors.”

I don’t argue and sign my name, figuring I’ll try it. She tears the calendar in half, and somehow we each end up with a full copy including my signature. “When do I start?”

I generated this image using Mid Journey’s AI software.

“Tomorrow.” She rises from my sofa. Spring petals flutter to the floor from her cloak of moss. The snowy owl wings to her shoulder. “You have work to do on your new book.”

I raise my eyebrows. “Which is?”

She smiles. “The working title is The Weaver and the Autumn Prince. I’ll leave the outline beside your laptop. Happy New Year.”

She winks at me and vanishes in a swirl of snowflakes and white feathers. I study the calendar, vaguely hopeful.

***

Apparently, I’ll be blogging on Tuesdays and Saturdays, with Saturdays reserved for sharing community blog posts and blogger books. Friday is marketing day. Comments are welcome, as always, and I’ll continue to reciprocate as well as visit all the blogs I enjoy.

And best of all, five days a week have a 4-hour slot set aside for writing.


.

2nd Annual Cookie Exchange and Happy Holidays

Christmas at the Peach cabin.

This is my first year participating in Staci Troilo’s cookie exchange. Last year, it looked like fun, and despite being a disaster in the kitchen, I’m joining in. It’s all about the laughter, right?

I used to make elaborate, colorful, and mostly-edible Christmas cookies. That was back in the day when I used wheat and sugar in my recipes. There’s nothing like crafting cookies with wheat – it’s like working with modeling clay.

But those years are long gone. Here’s my recipe for Christmas cookies that won’t send your blood sugar levels through the roof. We did end up eating them all!

Keto Christmas Cookies

Ingredients

3-1/2 cups super fine almond flour (used the blanched flour which is lighter in color)

1 teaspoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon xanthan gum (this is a natural binder)

1/4 teaspoon salt

4 ounces cream cheese (softened)

6 tablespoons unsalted butter (softened)

3/4 cup powdered erythritol sweetener (I use Swerve)

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

A variety of food coloring

Instructions

Line cookie sheets with baking paper.

In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, xanthan gum, and salt.

In a large bowl, use an electric mixer to beat the cream cheese and butter until combined. Beat in the sweetener and vanilla. Then beat in the flour mixture until the dough comes together.

Shape the dough into six or more lumps of varying sizes (each lump will become a different color). Add a bit of food coloring to each lump and knead it in until the color is even. Tip: don’t overdo the food coloring as light colors look better when baked and they make a good background to decorate.

One at a time, roll out each color on a piece of baking paper to about 1/4″ thick. Cut with your Christmas cookie cutters, and carefully move them to your cookie sheets. (Unlike wheat flour, almond flour is soft and tears easily. Just patch them back together.)

Then hand decorate them with all the colors! This takes forever. But kids can help.

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees and bake for 12-15 minutes until barely browned around the edges. Too long in the oven will ruin your colors.

Remove from the oven and let cool completely on the cookie sheet so they harden up and don’t fall apart. It’s a good idea to have two sheets so you can rotate.

*

These are a million times easier to make with a wheat flour sugar cookie recipe, and you can get very elaborate with the decorations. But these are festive, and they’re splendid dipped in coffee or tea.

Don’t forget to stop by Staci Troilo’s blog for links to all the cookie bakers’ recipe posts. There are some wonderfully delicious-looking cookies.

*

This is my last post of the year. I wish you all a wonderful holiday season full of love and gratitude, good food and laughter. See you in the new year! Hugs. ❤

December Book Reviews (Part One)

I know I just shared a bunch of book reviews, but with the holidays coming up, I’ll be taking some time off, and I didn’t want to end up with a huge pile of reviews in January. Only three books today and all of them are excellent!

December’s reviews include my 5-star reads of a poetry collection, a sci-fi thriller, and a coming-of-age novel.

Click on the covers for Amazon global links.

*****

Sorrowful Soul (Book 3 in the Soul Poetry Series) by Harmony Kent

Grief is on my mind these days. It’s a solo journey, but this heartfelt book of poetry reminds me that there are common experiences along the road, and in that way, we don’t travel it quite so alone. In her forward (which I recommend reading), Kent offers some wisdom about the grieving process, and she highlights the stages of grief developed by Elizabeth Kubler-Ross so many years ago and still relevant today.

The poems are divided into sections based on Ross’s seven stages: Shock & Disbelief, Denial, Guilt, Anger, Depression, Working Through, and Acceptance. I read this book in one afternoon, and the poetry indeed felt like a journey from disbelief through acceptance. It’s an emotional collection, full of pain and longing, and at the end, a bit of sunshine glimmers through the trees. I highly recommend it.

This is free-form poetry, and about half of the offerings are rhyming verse. My favorites were among the less formal poems, and there were a lot of favorites. Below is an excerpt that captures the solemn tone of the section entitled Depression:

Winter of Discontent (an excerpt)

All the pretty birds have flown
Abandoned nests in skeletal trees
Frost rimmed dirt and weeds below
Cold, colourless uncaring sky above
It’s impossible life could ever return
To this barren, forsaken land
Where the grim reaper roams free
And winter berries litter the ground
Trampled beneath youthful feet
Too enamoured of life to notice
The carnage as red bleeds into white
As death mars the pristine snow
And invites the bereft with his gleaming scythe…

(Kindle Unlimited)

*****

Are we Monsters? by Rollin Miller

Fans of sci-fi are in for a treat with this book. If you like a story that includes artificial intelligence, cloning, mad scientists, wily old sheriffs, genetically enhanced villains, and lots of action that reads like a movie, well look no further. This is one of those books that you might sneak into the supply closet at work to polish off another scene.

NeosGen is a secret underground facility in the Nevada desert whose founder is dedicated to discovering the keys to immortality through cloning and the transference of consciousness. When one of their modified assets goes missing, the organization’s fixer goes on the hunt. That asset, a girl with modified abilities, turns up in a diner and the local sheriff, a smart old coot, starts investigating while trying to protect her. In the meantime, NeosGen has a number of challenges within its walls as two employees go rogue, and the founder’s financial partner is starting to have second thoughts.

The pace of this book doesn’t stop for a second as the story pivots from one desperate situation to the next. I felt like I was watching an action movie. Not only are the descriptions well crafted, but the characters are vivid. There are a number of them, but I had no trouble differentiating between them (despite Tom and Tommy) because they’re so unique, and as real as characters can get, right down to the bit actors.

The POV is omniscient with a few noticeable shifts, but otherwise, the quality of the prose is excellent with some great lines. The story has several twists, including one at the end I didn’t see coming and found highly satisfying. Everything wraps up nicely. I highly recommend this book to sci-fi fans who love great characters and a lot of action.

*****

Below Torrential Hill by Jonathan Koven

In this coming-of-age story, Tristan is fifteen, his life characterized by instability and abandonment, both physical and emotional. Years ago, his dad died in the woods on a drinking binge, and now his mother rides an emotional rollercoaster, professing love one moment, raving about voices the next, and then passing out on her own alcoholic benders. Unable to deal with Tristan’s mother, his stepfather abandoned them.

My heart went out to Tristan for his desperate search for meaning, his longing for love, and his choice to self-medicate with alcohol. Most of the story is told through his POV, and it generally takes place during times of physical isolation and alcohol-influenced dreams as he tries to figure out the point of his life. The narrative is reflective and dreamlike with amazing imagery. You’ll find beautiful writing such as this on every page:

“Ava carved into the shadow of the white streets, and the wind’s terrific belch mounted the sky. He stared absently at her—the girl he’d always known pinned to night’s curtain like a button.”

“Nothing ever ended, nothing new ever began. Everything was always stuck in the middle. He imagined the town fell off the earth. At the sidewalk’s edge, all the cosmos would spin silently, behaving in his presence, stoically turning without end. At the precipice of the relentless canyon of time, he easily wished to fall as a sunbeam against the vacuum.”

To me, this story spoke about every child’s need for stability, the immense vulnerability that arises from chaos, and the importance of having one dependable anchor in a child’s life, in this case, Tristan’s friend Ava. Highly recommended to readers who enjoy exquisite prose, dreamlike narratives, and coming-of-age stories about the search for identity, love, and wholeness in the midst of uncertainty.

*****

Happy Reading!

November Book Reviews (Part Two)

Wishing you all a wonderful winter as we head toward the solstice and the return of the light. I’m finishing off autumn with more books and reviews from November! I hope you find a few to enjoy over the holidays.

To all my blogger friends in the southern hemisphere… have a wonderful start to your summer, and I hope you find some beach reads!

November’s reviews (part two) include my 4 and 5-star reads of a romance/thriller mash-up, paranormal short stories, fantasy, and a children’s book.

Click on the covers for Amazon global links.

*****

Secrets, Lies & Alibis (Wounded Hearts, Book 8) by Jacquie Biggar

I can’t believe I’ve finished Book 8 of the Wounded Hearts romance/thriller series. Now that I’m caught up, I’m ready for Book 9 whenever it hits the press. Each of the books features one member of a Seal team that’s returned to civilian life. They’re a close-knit group and characters overlap as they need each other’s help.

In this book, the focus is Adam, who now works for the DEA, and his ex-boss/ex-lover Amanda, who took a demotion and transfer because she’s pregnant. She’s working behind the scenes to wrap up a big drug case, and the cartel would like to see her eliminated. Adam has a new perky partner and is following leads. As things heat up, they all end up in Texas where Adam will risk his life to close the case, and Amanda will have one big surprise to share with him.

The plot holds together well and the characters are distinct and consistent. Though the books can easily be read as stand-alones, I liked reading them in order, tracking the course of the over-arching investigation, and learning how the familiar characters’ lives are going. The book has plenty of romantic drama, but it’s evenly balanced with action and danger, which kept me flipping pages. I read this 2-hour story in one sitting. Highly recommended to readers who enjoy romance/action mash-ups and getting to know characters over a long series. (Kindle Unlimited.)

*****

The Drowned Woods by Emily Lloyd-Jones

In this stand-alone fantasy, Mer is in hiding. She’s the last of the water diviners who once served the realm’s cruel prince. He used her skills to find the wells of his enemies, which he poisoned, killing hundreds of men, women, and children. On the verge of capture, she’s rescued by Renfrew, her handler while in the realm’s employ. No longer beholden to the prince, Renfrew enlists her in a daring heist of treasure that will guarantee her freedom and a comfortable life. How can she resist?

The heist requires assembling a team to destroy the wellspring that protects the prince’s land and where untold treasure is hidden. The journey and magical traps provide plenty of danger, but even more compelling were the secrets and hidden agendas of each character who joins the party.

I particularly liked Mer and Fane, the cursed fighter enlisted to kill the magical boar that protects the wellspring. Their distrust of each other is balanced by their tenuous loyalty. There are hints of a romance that can never be, and that possibility kept me rooting for them. Renfrew and Ifanna, a master thief, were the most distinct and interesting of the secondary characters.

The pace moves along, and there are twists and surprises throughout. The plot tracks well, and the magic was engaging. I’d definitely read more of this author’s work. Highly recommended to fantasy readers.

*****

The Christmas Bird by Robbie Cheadle

After the family dogs destroy a bird’s nest, Stella and her younger sisters discover a surviving Hoopoe chick that they take into their care and raise in a basket. As the bird grows, the sisters must come to grips with the nature of the bird to fly free and start a family of its own. What feels, at first, like a loss becomes a celebration.

Themes of kindness and honoring nature and wild creatures take the forefront of this gentle novelette. The pace moves well and the characters are endearing. In style, the story reminded me of Laura Ingalls’s Little House on the Prairie books. Under an hour’s read, it’s appropriate for young children and middle-grade readers. Highly recommended. (Kindle Unlimited.)

*****

The Raven Spell (Book 1) by Luanne G. Smith

I enjoyed the lyrical writing and wonderful world-building of Smith’s The Vine Witch and was delighted to discover Book One of a completed duology. It’s fantasy and magical realism, the story taking place in 19th century London, where witches and magic are an accepted part of society.

Edwina and her sister Mary are witches who scour the riverbanks for trinkets that they sell in their shop. Mary also collects “corpse lights” the vibrant, shining memories of the newly deceased. Her fetish takes her to hospitals and morgues, as well as to scenes of murder.

When she takes the memories of a private investigator (Ian) who ends up surviving his attack, Edwina attempts to restore them, setting off an investigation that entangles both sisters in a mysterious disappearance and a string of murders.

I enjoyed everything about this book – the solid plot, the quick pace, the twists and slow reveals. The magic is great fun and includes some comic relief provided by a small hairy hearth elf who’s aligned with Ian. There’s also danger and tragedy and a touch of romance. The characters had me rooting for them, particularly Edwina who has some difficult truths to face.

I’m eager to dive into Book Two. Highly recommended to readers of fantasy and magical realism who love beautiful writing. (Kindle Unlimited).

(Note: I did read Book 2, The Raven Song, but struggled with it. My review is here: Something to consider if you’re interested in Book 1.)

*****

The Last Sun Born by Kate Frantz

In a land where only those born beneath the moon are allowed to live, Lewel enters the world during the day. Her infant life is spared at great risk, for with the sun-born comes a dark force called the Absence, capable of destroying the kingdom. And only she can kill it, a battle that may very well demand her life.

Veigo, the king-in-waiting, and his advisor Marrlen, an old woman with the power to cast magic, know the truth of her birth and begin training Lewel to face the Absence. Veigo and Marrlen grow fond of her, and she of them, but intrigue and deception and hatred of her kind run rampant. As a reader, I didn’t know who to trust.

The world-building in this book shines, and I liked the concept of the Absence – the evil twin of the sun born. The characters were complex and nuanced. Lewel and Veigo had fully realized personalities, and their relationship felt genuine to me. I particularly appreciated the way Veigo struggled with his feelings toward Lewel and his duty to the kingdom.

The pace moves along, and the magical elements worked well with the plot. From the description, there’s no indication that there will be a second book, but this one ends on a huge cliffhanger with very few plot lines resolved, so I think it’s a good guess. I suspect it will be worth the read. (Kindle Unlimited.)

*****

Hildie: At the Ghost Shore by Paula Cappa

This 15-minute read includes two short stories: “Hildie” and “Abasteron House.” I thoroughly enjoyed both haunting stories and wanted more of this author’s work the moment I finished. The prose is beautiful and atmospheric, exactly the kind of writing I enjoy.

“Hildie” is a mesmerizing and magical tale with a folklore feel to it. Hildie is a young woman who reads runes, and one day an old man comes seeking information about his daughter. The end is a touching surprise.

“Abasteron House” is where Davida lives with her grandfather. Each day, he walks the dunes alone, his vision peopled with angels that she can’t see. When he dies, she takes over the house and meets his dream people, and they aren’t what she expected.

Highly recommended for dark fantasy and speculative fiction readers looking to fill a few minutes with beautifully written and riveting stories

*****

Between the Darkness and the Dawn by Paula Cappa

In this beautifully written short story, Edward Fane is an employee of the Institute of Perceptual Studies, and he’s traveled to Massachusetts with his instruments to measure ley lines that connect past and future realms. He books a tour of an old manse once inhabited by Nathanial Hawthorne but it’s what he feels as he gazes through the window on the Old North Bridge that captures his attention. On that bridge, he meets the past, and though Nathaniel warns him away from his pursuits, can he forget the lovely woman he meets there? Highly recommended to fans of short stories who enjoy atmospheric writing, and haunting tales.

*****

Happy Reading!