My 5-star reviews of books by Sally Cronin, blogger and writer extraordinaire

Today is the International Day of Awesomeness and the authors at Story Empire decided to honor an awesome blogger, author, and supporter of the indie community: Sally Cronin.

Since I’m out and about today, this is a repost of my book reviews for Sally’s awesome books. Enjoy the browse and, of course, have an AWESOME day!

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Sally and her blog Smorgasbord Invitation is a household name around WordPress. She’s one of the most generous bloggers this side of Sunday, and how she manages to keep up her wide range of posts continues to amaze me. I think she has a workshop of elves in the attic.

If you’re not already a fan, check out her blog for book and author promotions, reviews, music, humor, food and health tips, short stories, and poetry. All that, and….

she’s an exquisite writer.

I couldn’t think of a better way to thank Sally for her kindness than to share my reviews of some of her books. You can’t go wrong with any of these.

5-Star reads by author Sally Cronin

(In no particular order)

(click on cover for global link to Amazon)

Life is like a Mosaic: Random Fragments in Harmony

This collection of poetry kept me up late. I’m a fan of syllabic forms and like it best when the structure fades into the background, transitions are seamless, and the meaning and emotion of a piece rises to the forefront. Cronin’s poetry does that effortlessly. All poems within this collection are complemented by an evocative image that adds another layer of meaning to the words.

The book begins with a variety of syllabic poems focused on nature and the author’s reflections on daily life, including love, peace, aging, dreams, and loss. Some of my favorites were: The Day After, Birthdays, The Future?, Immortality-Writers, Spices, and …

A Toast to Life

Bottles
once filled with wine
have now been re-purposed
as decorative reminders
of fun.
A time
when friends raised high their glasses
in an affirming toast
to the richness
of life.

The latter part of the book changes to longer, rhyming poems about the author’s life, with a delightful focus on childhood, the teen years, travel, and friendship. My favorites in this section were Childhood Memories, Rebellion in Frome, The Lure of the Waltzer, and Farewell to Colorful Friends. Highly recommended to readers who enjoy syllabic poetry and reflections on life

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Life is like a Bowl of Cherries: Sometimes Bitter, Sometimes Sweet

I love Cronin’s short stories and snagged this anthology the day it came out. The author describes it as a collection of short tales that reflect “the complexities of life, love, and loss.” That’s a fit description. There are stories of kindness, family, grief, courage, and second chances. The characters are ordinary and relatable, but they’re also extraordinary in those moments that define who they are as people.

The first story in the anthology, The Weekly Shopping, is hilarious if not a little ominous, but the rest of the selections are touching. Many are heartwarming, and I wanted to hug the characters. I enjoyed the whole collection but my favorites were: The Scratch Card, The Charity Shop, The Date, and The Gardening Assistant. Between the stories are selections of syllabic poetry. A crown cinquain entitled The Birds was just beautiful. I highly recommend this anthology to anyone who loves well-written short stories about life.

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Just an Odd Job Girl

Click on cover to order

One of the books that flew west with me was Sally Cronin’s Just an Odd Job Girl. In more ways than one, it’s a great summer story.

I picked up this book while on vacation and thoroughly enjoyed it. A quick read at 156 pages, the book begins with an older Imogen. At 50, she’s on her own, traded-in by her husband for a younger “fast-tracker.” After 25 years of raising children and keeping house, she feels frumpy and bored, and decides to find a job.

The temp agency asks for a resume of her work experience, and all she has is a long list of pre-marriage odd jobs, starting with a summer stint as a teenager at a seaside gift kiosk and rambling through temporary positions with a dental office, department store, bar, funeral parlor, boys school, and country inn.

As the reader joins Imogene on a reflective journey through her odd jobs, it’s impossible not to laugh at her antics, the colorful characters she meets along the way, and the predicaments she gets herself into and out of. What I enjoyed most, was young Imogene’s humanity. She’s a wonderful combination of funny, compassionate, resourceful, and fearless. I couldn’t wait to see the fix she got into next.

In addition to laughs, Just an Odd Job Girl has a lovely message for young adults as well as those of us getting on in age: that life is full of opportunities, that wonderful people are everywhere, and that you are never to old to grow. Get your copy for the beach or backyard hammock. You won’t be disappointed.

***

Life’s Rich Tapestries: Woven in Words

Cronin is a master storyteller and this collection of poems, flash fiction, and short stories makes for a delightful afternoon. The first part of the book is comprised of syllabic poetry with themes based on nature, the human experience, a love of animals, and a bit of magic. Following her poetry, Cronin offers a number of 99-word flash fiction stories, and then dives into her short stories for the bulk of the read.

The short stories were my favorite part of the book as the author writes with a great deal of heart, which comes through beautifully in her plots and characters. Most of her work is positive in nature with a focus on the goodness found in life. Like her poetry, Cronin’s short stories are arranged around themes: dogs, cats, and speculative fiction (which includes a broad range of tales). My favorites were Great Aunt Georgina, and The ‘1812 Overture’ but there are many others that I thoroughly enjoyed. A highly recommended book for all ages.

***

What’s in a Name? (Volume 1)

What’s in a Name is a delightful collection of 20 short stories organized alphabetically by the names of the main characters. A few stories are dark, some are magical or humorous, and many close with a sense of poignancy. Cronin is a marvelous storyteller, and for a reader, spending an afternoon immersed in the lives of the people behind the names is time well-spent. For me, the last story in the collection “Jack” was the icing on the cake, but all the stories are unique and well worth the read. Highly recommended for any reader who enjoys short stories about the human journey.

***

What’s in a Name? (Volume 2)

I read the first volume of What’s in a Name and was eager to give the second a try. Volume 2 is a collection of short stories that picks up when the first ended, covering names starting with K through Z (Kenneth through Zoe). Cronin includes a bonus short story for a collection coming out later in 2018.

This is a quick read that I breezed through in a few hours, sitting outside in the spring sunshine. Many of the stories have older characters, covering a range of topics from heartwarming reunions, grief and loss, recovered dignity, and romantic love beyond the grave. There’s also a bit of happily ever after and match-making, as well as some swindling, and a taste of well-deserved murder! The variety is highly entertaining and kept me engaged throughout.

Cronin is a master storyteller and I recommend this collection (both volumes) to readers of all ages.

***

Sam, A Shaggy Dog’s Story

This read is a little more than an hour, but it’s an hour of cuteness and laughs. I’ve lived with dogs for most of my life, and the attitudes and antics of Sam, a Collie, were delightfully familiar. This tribute to a dog’s life is narrated by Sam himself, starting when he was a newborn and stretching into his old age. I rarely laugh out loud while reading, and this book was an exception.

Sam has a very funny (as well as adorable) perspective on life with accounts of his cat friend Henry, his love of chicken and sausages, his dislike of veterinarians, his job as a paper shredder, and his occasional encounters with “that Bloody Danny,” a little canine with poor manners. He relays his experiences with “cat speak” as well as his acquisition of several human words which are strategically employed to earn pieces of cheese.

The book is organized into short chapters by topic. This is a lighthearted and endearing read for anyone who loves dogs.

***

Flights of Fancy

I’ve read several of Cronin’s books of short stories, and this collection of eleven tales is as enjoyable as the others. I read it in a single afternoon, completely immersed. As usual, the author includes a wonderful variety of tales from touching stories of eternal love in The Other Side of Heaven and Curtains, to adorable cuteness in Henry’s Story, and humor in Psychic Parrot. Highly recommended for anyone who loves short stories and well-told tales.

***

About Sally

Sally Cronin is the author of fourteen books including her memoir Size Matters: Especially when you weigh 330lb first published in 2001. This has been followed by another thirteen books both fiction and non-fiction including multi-genre collections of short stories and poetry. Her latest collection, Life is Like a Bowl of Cherries: Sometimes Bitter, Sometimes Sweet, reflects on the absurdities and sometimes tragedies that drop into our lives.

As an author she understands how important it is to have support in marketing books and offers a number of FREE promotional opportunities in the Café and Bookstore on her blog and across her social media.

After leading a nomadic existence exploring the world, she now lives with her husband on the coast of Southern Ireland enjoying the seasonal fluctuations in the temperature of the rain.

Thank you, Sally, for all your wonderful support of this blogging/writing/reading community.

Happy Reading!

A Readers’ 12-Step Program #TBR

Thanks to everyone who took the time to write and read responses to the TBR story challenge. I’m delighted to share my offering. I hope you enjoy the story. Happy Reading!

Readers Anonymous: A 12-Step Program

I have a book problem. Check. First step done in my 12-step program.

Sucking in a breath, I push through the library’s wooden doors, ready to deal with my kindle addiction. The fluorescent lights shine on colorful shelves and comfy chairs, and I resist the temptation to browse. Some of the titles pop from the spines as if sprinkled with magic dust. The covers of fantasy books attract my eyes like lodestones. Down by my ankle, my Kindle tugs on my jeans and whispers, “Just read the blurb. Do it, do it, do it.”

I drop my gaze to the chubby little pest and shake my pant-leg loose of its grip. “No. We’re here to deal with your insatiable appetite. This has to stop.” My stubborn kindle digs his claws into my right boot, and I march to the meeting room in the back, dragging him across the worn carpet with every other step.

The room is almost bare of distractions. Someone with foresight covered the bookshelves with mismatched tablecloths. Four folding chairs form a circle, occupied by four women with a variety of e-book readers, every one of the devices glowering in defiance. The women look harried, and they scooch over to make room for one more chair.

They start introducing themselves.

Shelley smiles broadly and goes first. She’s in her twenties, a sales rep, who knew she had a problem when she started reading thrillers while stopped at traffic lights. Getting rear-ended propelled her into the group. She thinks she’ll be ready to move on after a few more meetings, but her e-reader squirms on her lap like a hungry toddler in a candy store, ready to raid the chocolate bars.

The woman to Shelley’s left rolls her eyes. She’s Mildred, a middle-aged reader of horror and a voracious fan of Clive Barker and Stephen King. She keeps her pudgy Kindle on a leash, which she’s tied to her chair. The growling beast has finished off a jar of red herrings, and Mildred ignores the thing as it shreds the corner of the carpet with its serrated teeth. “I keep him in a locked cage at home,” she says as if she’s kicked the habit.

“But, dear, you haven’t removed his internet access,” the next lady points out. “He’s sneaking anthologies.” Harriet is about ninety, sitting primly in a black coat and lace-up boots. The flattened hat on her gray head sports a flurry of raven feathers. She’s a life-long reader of Gothic romances.

When it’s Harriet’s time to fess up, she sighs dramatically. “My switch from hardcovers to paperbacks initiated an inevitable slide down the slippery slope into ebooks, and I’ve become addicted to having books at my fingertips.” Her kindle swoons into her leg and bats its eyelashes seductively. She frowns and locks the things between her heels.

“I like the instant gratification too,” I admit. “As soon as I finish a book, I like starting a new one.”              

The next lady in the circle pats my knee and snaps her gum. “We all do, dear. I’m Greta. I’m a sci-fi binger.” She dresses like she’s going to a dance club the minute the meeting adjourns. She crosses her legs, and her spikey heel whacks her battered tablet flat onto its cover. She scoops up the pot-bellied blimp and sits it on her lap. “I put the thing on a diet. You know… buy one, read two.”

The other women nod knowingly, including me.

“Then, I’ll have one of those days. You know the kind.” Greta huffs. “We just fall off the wagon and start buying trilogies, and suddenly I’ve lost months of progress.”

Mildred rolls her eyes. “I told you not to sign up for Kindle Unlimited.”

“But it’s such a good deal,” Shelley pipes in. Her e-reader squirms from her lap and waddles to the door leading to the stacks. He collapses and starts wailing.

“And that’s what you end up with.” Mildred cants her head toward the tantrum.

“Try to ignore him,” Shelley whispers.

His misery is hard to overlook, but it’s my turn. “Well, I’m Diana, and I’ve noticed that my kindle is growing a paunch. I know there are people with nearly a thousand books, and I’m not that bad yet…” All four of them suddenly look everywhere but at my face. “But I have months’ worth of reading that I’ll never get to, and it’s only getting worse.” My greedy little Kindle grumbles and snivels until I stuff it in my bag and close the zipper. “It doesn’t stop. It’s insatiable.”

“They lack restraint,” Harriet says. “Too much passion and desire.”

“Never a dull moment though.” Mildred gives the leash a tug, and her kindle gnashes its teeth. “Save it for when we get home,” she mutters, and it plops down on its haunches and glowers.

Greta unwraps another piece of gum and pops it between her scarlet lips. “I’ll admit, I can’t remember the last time I was bored. I just finished the best book, my favorite this year. I’d definitely recommend it.”

“Oooh,” Shelly hurries to the door and grabs her e-reader. It quits hollering and gurgles at her. “What’s the title?”

“Shelly!” Mildred frowns. “No new books!”

Shelly stops short and pouts as she takes her seat. “But… it’s Greta’s favorite.”

“I read an excellent romance mash-up by an indie author.” Harriet’s face lights up. “It had the perfect blend of thrills and lust.”

“Gah!” Shelley looks stricken. Her e-reader drools on her hands.

I give her a commiserating smile. I want to hear about the books too. Just the sound of a great title makes me want to snuggle up with my roly-poly Kindle and read. I unzip my bag and let the poor starving porker out. It climbs onto my lap, looking morose. The group sits silently for a moment, both ladies and e-readers. The steam’s run out of our meeting.

“I don’t know if this group is the right fit for me,” I say.

Shelley tucks her hair behind her ear. “It is kind of depressing.”

“There’s a degree of hopelessness.” Harriet’s lips pinch as the brightness in her face dims.

Greta gazes down at her tablet. “I never liked book-diets. They’re just fads. They never work.”

Mildred draws in a resigned breath, and her gaze pins me to my chair. “Do you have any ideas as to how we can make our group function better?”

“Actually, I do.” I smile at the ladies. “How about we turn it into a book club?”

The Lady with Too Many Books

In response to the TBR challenge, here’s a totally delightful poem from Kay Castenada. I giggled the entire way through. Enjoy.

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The Lady With Too Many Books

There once was a lady who read and read

anything with words to her family’s dread,

memoirs love stories spies cops and killers

kings queens and handsome prince thrillers.

Books on the floor the bed the tables

up to the attic the rafters the gables

Libraries  yard sales airports vacations

all you can carry store liquidations.

Her family, her kids, her friends got worried,

that look in her eyes and off she hurried…

(Click here to continue reading at Kay’s Bookplaces)

The Terrible Christmas Poetry Contest Reunion!

Chelsea Owens – a wonderfully entertaining blogger – used to run a weekly Terrible Poetry Contest that was laugh-out-loud funny. The competition is sadly defunct, but she’s hosting a reunion!

The prompt for the reunion is a Christmas Song Parody. It must be Terrible and it must Rhyme. Stop by Chelsea’s to get the details if you want to partake or laugh at some terrible creations.

This is my last post of 2021, and I leave you with my terrible Christmas song:

Sale! The Yearly Christmas Call

(Sung to the tune of Hark! The Herald Angels Sing)

Sale! The yearly Christmas call
Shoppers flocking to the mall
Carts careen through crowded aisles
Cash and credit reconciled

Frantic all ye lists are waving
Budgets set already caving
Wrap those presents for the tree
Run out of tape, oh woe is me
Wrap those presents for the tree
I need tape, oh woe is me

Feed the crew from out of town
Baking cookies past sundown
Table’s set and goose is done
Spilled the gravy, so much fun

Dinner’s gone in seconds flat
Cooked all day and barely sat
Washing dishes like a maid
Boy, I wish my job was paid
Scrubbing dishes like a maid
How I wish this job was paid

Football’s on, the offense crouched
Husband’s slouched upon the couch
Cat’s in the tree, and globes are smashed
Kids are bored, the house is trashed

Hail the end of Christmas Day
When the kindred drive away
Flip the cap and swig a beer
Pooped out from another year
Take a nap and get in gear
New Year’s Eve is almost here.

Ranger Diana

Yosemite National Park

During the last two weeks of June, my husband and I took our first vacation in nearly a decade and headed to Yosemite National Park. It’s a wonderous place of waterfalls, huge trees, and giant rocks. I hiked and read books and was mistaken for a forest ranger. How did that happen, you might ask.

I was wondering why tourists approached me numerous times over two days, asking for information on trails, directions to the parking lot, and Band-Aids for blisters. Despite being my first time at Yosemite, I was able to answer their questions, show them the trail to follow on my map, and distribute first aid.

It wasn’t until my husband and I browsed our photos that the reason became clear…..

Ranger Diana

Other highlights:

Giant trees. I’m standing beneath one that was hollowed through the center by fire:

This tree is named Old Grizzly, estimated at 2900 years old:

The closest thing we saw to a bear. So scary!:

Sunset on Half-Dome :

Rocks and rocks and more rocks:

Vacations are wonderful, but it’s nice to come home.

The Terrible Night Before Christmas

787

A Christmas tale from 2014!

I thought it might produce a chuckle and a Ho Ho Ho.

The Terrible Night before Christmas

The whole escapade started with the black cat. Santa leaned forward in his rickety office chair, puffing on his stumpy pipe and wreathing his head in smoke. He pecked with two chubby fingers at his typewriter, finishing a last letter to a second-grader in the Bronx. The kid was bound for disappointment this year, the result of a spectacular imagination and a dose of new-fangled animation that left make-believe characters appearing plausible. A challenge for the elves who prided themselves on unabashed creativity.

Dear Chuck,

I hope you enjoy the train set, hand-carved by a master elf in my workshop. I realize you requested a live dragon, but creatures that breathe fire are not only exceedingly rare but generally discouraged in apartment buildings where they’re apt to smoke the place up if not burn it down. Be good and Merry Christmas.

Yours Truly,

Santa Claus

He slumped back in the worn seat, adding the letter to his “regrets” pile. That’s when the black cat appeared in the window, yowling to come in. How a cat haunted the North Pole in the midst of winter was beyond him. No doubt, a practical joke offered up by the elves who reveled in some idle time now that this year’s orders were filled. He’d have to remember to check the sleigh’s bench for Insta-Glue. Last year’s mischief had cemented his britches to the seat, requiring him to deliver gifts in his skivvies.

He cranked open the window to let the creature in, hoping a blast of bad luck didn’t blow in with the snow. Not that he was superstitious, but Christmas Eve was the wrong time for screw-ups.

Just then, the alarm clock on the mantel burst into a raucous version of Jingle Bells, jolting him into action. He quickly slipped on his black boots, red coat, and furry hat, crammed the letters in a back pocket, and kissed Mrs. Claus on the cheek before bolting out the door.

The sleigh stood ready, the reindeer harnessed and snorting in the crisp air. Behind the driver’s bench, the elves had wedged a dozen red sleds and a mountain of bulging sacks. Shiny bows and curlicues of ribbon peeked from the cinched openings, and the elves had sprinkled the entire load with magic dust as white as new-fallen snow.

Santa checked the seat and studied the reins. A quick inspection of the runners revealed not one string of tin cans, and he made certain the reindeer weren’t sporting cowbells. Finally, he hefted the bags of magic dust, and satisfied that they were full to the brim, he clambered up and took the reins for the long winter’s ride.

With deliveries to Canada wrapped up, Santa breezed through New England. He descended on New York long after the children were all nestled in their beds. He planned to zig-zag his way south to the tip of Patagonia and eventually west across the Pacific toward the International Date Line, the last leg of his journey. Despite the late hour, the Bronx sparkled. Light-entwined trees and storefront displays twinkled with color. Christmas trees glimmered behind darkened windows, and from above, the streetlights formed strands of holiday cheer.

The reindeer landed on the roof of Chuck’s apartment building, raising the ideal amount of clatter. Santa hopped down and did a few lumbar stretches for his back. He lifted a sack from the sleigh and reached into the final bag of magic dust, tossing a handful over his head. With a finger pressed to his nose, he nodded. And nothing happened.

Another handful. Nothing.

He tentatively licked a finger…”Sugar!” Santa scowled and shouted at the reindeer, “Those blasted elves are going to pay if I have to stuff every perky little head in the coal bin!”

After several minutes of ranting, he puffed up his rosy cheeks and blew out a sigh. He grabbed his set of emergency lock picks from the sleigh’s toolkit, slung the sack over a shoulder, and headed to the stairwell.

Quiet as a church mouse, he crept through the building, picking locks and sneaking into apartments. Dutifully, he ate gingerbread cookies and drank milk, packing carrots into his pockets. He stuffed carefully-hung stockings and unloaded his sack beneath the bright trees before tiptoeing back into the hallway and starting on the next door.

In Chuck’s apartment, the sugarplum cookies were homemade. Santa snacked first and then rearranged the presents beneath the tree, placing the train set and letter in front, and flanking it with gifts for the girls. He was just closing the door with a soft click when a light flipped on and he heard a tense voice, “Who’s there?”

Santa took off at a scamper, not glancing back as the apartment door opened. “Hey, you!” the voice yelled. “I’m calling the cops!”

As Santa ran, he cursed the naughty elves once again. In a panic, he burst through the building’s front door onto the snowy street and took off down the slick sidewalk, the bundle of toys bouncing on his back. His belly jiggled like jelly as he high-tailed it around a corner, trying not to slide into traffic. Police sirens wailed, and a horn honked as he dashed across the street. Ducking into a narrow alley, he tripped on a filthy snow pile, whirled into a trashcan, and landed flat on his back in the city’s ashes and soot. Lights flashed as a police car screeched into the narrow entrance.

The fluorescent lighting in the police station gave Santa a headache. A plastic tree sat atop a file cabinet, decorated with looped strings of popcorn, and the remnants of a holiday celebration littered the desks.

Santa’s interrogation hadn’t gone well, his candid explanation regarding recent activities rendering him fingerprinted, photographed, and handcuffed to an interview table. His captors were arranging for a mental health evaluation and overnight accommodations, prospects that didn’t bode well for Christmas.

“We’re booking you on breaking and entering,” the tired-eyed detective stated. “Do you have an attorney?”

“I was delivering presents,” Santa explained again.

The man sipped from a cup of black coffee and ate snowman cookies from a paper plate. “Want one?”

“No, thanks, I’ve already eaten about two billion.”

“Yeah, right.” The detective shook his head wearily. “So you were delivering presents with a lock pick. Isn’t Santa supposed to use magic?”

“Ordinarily, yes,” Santa assured the man. “But the elves gave me sugar instead of magic dust.”

“Uh huh.”

“They’re ruthless pranksters,” Santa explained. “Last year they glued me to the sleigh.”

“Uh huh. And the carrots we found stuffed in your pockets are for the reindeer?”

“Precisely.”

“What about the sack of presents?” the detective asked. “Some children are going to wake up without gifts under the tree.”

Santa heaved a sigh and scratched his cherry nose. “Only if I don’t finish my route. I’ve two continents to cover before dawn.”

“That’s only three hours from—“

The interview room door opened and a uniformed woman entered. She leaned over the table and whispered in the detective’s ear. His chin drew back as he frowned at her. “Is this a joke?”

“Nope. Eight tiny reindeer. I counted.”

“On the roof?”

She shrugged. “And a miniature sleigh filled with presents.”

“Stolen?” the incredulous man asked.

“No one’s missing anything,” she informed him. “In fact, they report unexplained gifts.”

“Holy…moly.”

While both officers stared at Santa, he raised his eyebrows and smoothed his white beard. “I have a route to finish if you don’t mind.”

“Uh…yeah…okay. I guess.” The detective unlocked his cuffs. The pair not only escorted him from the station but drove him back to the apartment building. With the officers in tow, he hiked the stairs to the snowy roof. The reindeer pranced and pawed their hoofs, impatient with the delay.

“You should probably get rid of this,” the detective said, handing him a folder. “We’ll just pretend it never happened if that’s alright with you.”

Santa accepted the folder, and after they removed the yellow police tape from the sleigh, he passed each of them a gift from his sack. “Merry Christmas.”

“Merry Christmas,” the two murmured in unison.

With a twinkle of his eye, Santa mounted his sleigh. He whistled and shouted the reindeer’s names. Eagerly, the team dashed to the edge of the roof and leapt. The sleigh dipped, and then the harnesses snapped taut as the reindeer flew up over the city rooftops with their sleigh full of toys.

As the dawning sky pearled the horizon, Santa left the team in the elves’ care, too tired at the moment to exact his revenge. Mrs. Claus met him at the door and took the folder as he unbuttoned his coat and kicked off his boots. “My, my,” she exclaimed. “Here’s one for the photo album.”

Santa glanced at his mug shot as he plotted this year’s retaliation, a merry grin curving his lips like a bow. “Ho, ho, ho, ho, ho.”

Meet the Muse (prompt)

Adobe Stock image

I’m reading a page-turner in my writing room when I hear conversations below me in the muddy track called “my driveway.” Nobody ever ventures up this mountain besides the solitary UPS driver, and this sounds like a crowd. I peek out the window.

Muses. Lots of muses. What the…?

They fall silent and, as one, swivel to stare at me. Expectant. It appears a decision has been made.

One of them breaks from the pack, and I can’t help but groan. The Mercenary Muse (once subcontracted by my Bossy Muse) starts up the rain-slick stairs.

I open the door and look up, way up. The muse is a hulk, and he smells like a battlefield after a month long campaign. He bares his teeth in a sneer as if I’m the one who needs a shower.

My Mercenary Muse (aka Discipline). Artwork by Peter Pham

“Where’s my regular muse?” I ask.

“In the ocean.” He tracks muddy prints on my floor and sits on a granite throne that appears in front of my couch. “She’s trying out your next book.”

“Oh really?” I arch my eyebrow and get a little huffy. “You’d think the author would have a say in the next story. What is she, a pirate or a mermaid?”

“A sea witch.” His grin is disturbing, though not as horrifying as his skimpy little outfit. I wish he’d close his legs. Yeesh. “I’m the Ferryman,” he adds.

My eyes snap up, and I blurt out a laugh. “Oh, no, you’re not.”

“Don’t defy a muse.” He glowers through the warning. “I am the Ferryman.”

“Gah!” I lean into his face, nose to crooked nose, angry enough to risk his breath. “No chance, big guy, not unless you submit to a complete makeover. Otherwise, forget it.”

“You’re the author.” He settles back in this throne with a smug smile and picks something from his teeth.

I wrinkle my face and cross my arms like a petulant… author. A Ferryman? And a Sea Witch? Am I actually considering this? I want to throw up but change the subject instead, “So, who are those muses, and what do they want? Don’t tell me they want scenes in the next book.”

He grunts to the negative. “They want some publicity for their authors, and I told them you’d help.”

My eyes narrow. “How?”

The brute leans forward, elbows on his knees. I’m tempted to hand him a toothbrush and bottle of mouthwash. He ignores my grimace. “They’re going to have conversations with their writers, and you’re going to reblog the posts.”

I tap a finger on my lower lip, considering the idea. The last time my blog friends joined in was a blast. And wonderfully creative.

I extend my hand. “Agreed.” We grasp each other’s forearms like warriors, and I squeak as my bones grate together.

“Agreed.” He lets go and heads for the door. “And I want your plot outlined by the end of the month.”

“But… but I’m not done with my reading challenge and now…”

If looks could squash me like a bug, I’d be plastered to the wall. He stomps down the stairs and joins the other muses. His throne fades away, and I peer out the window as the crowd disperses into the rain. I better get a post ready.

Here are the rules: (prompt now closed)

Post a conversation with your muse on your blog and link back to this post or leave a link in the comments. Don’t have a muse? Just open the door and see who shows up.

No word-limit and keep it family friendly. Include an image of your muse if you’re inclined (with respect for copyrights, please). I’ll reblog all posts received before December 1st. Thanks for playing… Meet the Muse!

April Book Reviews

A very eclectic selection this month: sci-fi, fantasy, poetry, romance, Danny the Dog, historical fiction, and parenting advice! I hope you enjoy browsing my 4 and 5-star reviews. There are some great reads here. Click on the covers for Amazon global links.

*****

Running out of Space by S. J. Higbee

If readers enjoy sci-fi and a powerful female lead character, this book hits the mark. Lizzy makes one reckless mistake, and her hopes to enter an officer-training program are dashed. But that’s not the end of her problems. She’s caught between competing forces who use her to solidify their power, and her plans to escape their clutches with the man she loves are repeatedly foiled. When things can’t get worse, they do.

The book starts with some love-struck romance (in the midst of some action), but the romance is background music as the main story takes off. Lizzy is a tough character, full of anger and impulsiveness. She has a hard time controlling her temper and tongue, but she’s justified and therefore sympathetic. Her story unfolds with a first-person point of view, and I was invested from the start, rooting for her when she suffered and cheering for her small victories and fiery personality. I found all of the characters consistent, authentic, and compelling, and the author does a nice job of holding back their secrets so there’s always a reason to turn the page.

This fast-paced book is both character-driven and plot-driven, and I enjoyed the balance. The world-building is complete, hard sci-fi with enough technical detail to be believable while not overwhelming the story. The plot belongs to Lizzy and her desire to escape those who are manipulating her, but there are larger political subplots working in the background that may rise to the surface in later books. The first book in a series, this ends at a transition point, but the story doesn’t conclude. It definitely invites a dive into book 2. Highly recommended.

*****

Tiger House by Wendy Scott

This is a great read for lovers of adventure, action, fantasy, and fabulous worldbuilding. The cover is gorgeous. And the prose is excellent too. Can you tell that I enjoyed this book? The story is about a young farmer Jairus who is kidnapped through a magical portal by the inhabitants of another world. He’s enslaved and ordered to represent Tiger House in a series of challenges to the death that will decide the new emperor. The first half of the story is an account of the competitions and the action and intrigue are non-stop. The second half of the book deals with Jairus’s attempts to stay alive for as long as he can while trying to find a way home.

To me, the worldbuilding resembles ancient Asian cultures (though I’m no expert), with the added elements of magic, strange rituals, and a whole lot of disregard for the contestants’ lives or their homeworlds. The people are brutal, macabre, and think nothing of it. The tentative head of Tiger House, a woman named Tekagi, is a ruthless, ambitious villain in the truest sense. An interesting dynamic set up by the author is that rooting for Jairus is also rooting for Tekagi.

So, the worldbuilding is perfection and the characters engaging – Jairus for his good nature, determination, and intelligence, and Tekagi, because she’s sooo bad! I woke up in the middle of the night to read more chapters under my sheets like a kid afraid of being caught by my mom. The plot is driven by Tekagi’s ambitious designs for most of the book, but Jairus does evolve as a character by the end.

There are plenty of loose ends by the book’s conclusion to hook a reader into picking up the next in the series. I know I will. Highly Recommended.

*****

My Name is Danny by Danny (and Andrew Joyce)

If you need something to read that will warm your heart, lift your spirits, and make you laugh, this book will do it. What a fun way to spend an hour.

Danny the Dog lives with his human, Andrew, on a boat in Florida. This collection of brief stories focuses on Danny’s adventures, his human and animal friendships and rivalries, and his daily activities including acquiring hotdogs. He gets into a lot of trouble and is great at justifying his choices.

The stories are all told from Danny’s perspective with a rare story by Andrew while Danny’s vacationing. Each short chapter starts with a photo of Danny, a small dog with a huge personality. Danny’s wry sense of humor, indignation, and sarcasm are hilarious. He definitely thinks he’s in charge of this human/dog duo. Dog lovers will recognize many aspects of life with a canine companion. I adored this read and recommend it to dog lovers everywhere.

*****

I Am Soul by Yecheilyah Ysrayl

I picked up this book of poetry some time ago and finally opened it. My dad was in the hospital and I had hours to kill. I started reading Ysrayl’s poetry, and the first thing I noticed was the powerful words and rhythms. This is poetry with heart, and it begged to be read aloud.

I found myself a green space outside the hospital and for a couple of hours I walked by myself and read aloud, swept away by the strong emotions and messages, the sometimes hard and sometimes soft beat of the words, and the vivid imagery. The blurb says that this collection of poems focuses “on Black History, Identity, Personal Development, and Spirituality. Readers describe this collection as touching, intelligent, personal and deeply soulful.” I can’t say it any better. A moving read and if you can find a place to read it aloud, you won’t regret it. Highly recommended.

*****

Orion’s Gift by Anneli Purchase

Sylvia and Kevin are both escaping abusive relationships and individually head to Mexico to camp along the beautiful beaches of Baja. They end up meeting and fall immediately into lust, which gradually turns into something deeper. But nothing’s going to be that easy as the drug trade south of the border strikes a little close to their camper-homes, and even worse, their exes are trying to hunt them down.

Romance with lots of misunderstandings and emotional turmoil is a major theme in the book, but the subplots add a lot of drama to the story. Both exes—who are quite different from each other—have chapters from their points-of-view which adds to the building tension. The subplot regarding the drug trade escalates the danger, particularly for Sylvia.

I liked the quick pace of the story and there was plenty going on to keep me turning the pages. The descriptions of camping in Baja include well-researched details, not only regarding the landscape but also the challenges, the things visitors need to know, and some of the pitfalls. I enjoyed the authenticity they lent to the story.

Kevin was my favorite character as he’s pretty solid and straightforward. Sylvia suffers from insecurities throughout the book, but this struck me as realistic based on her history as a victim of domestic violence. She also has a secret that interferes with any dreams of a future with Kevin. A well-rounded story and highly recommended to readers of romance.

*****

The Lost Signal by J. S. Fernandez Morales

This book is almost 400 pages, and every word was worth the read. This sci-fi adventure was a great story. For ¾ of the book, there are two alternating, unconnected narratives. One storyline follows the efforts of a group of Earthlings who are preparing for an alien invasion aided by a renegade alien named Bill (named so for convenience).

The other storyline is told primarily from Fiona’s point of view. She’s an alien/human hybrid who’s lived her whole life with humans and feels compelled to protect them when aliens descend on their village and enslave them. The stories begin to overlap at the 75% mark and it’s a very cool twist.

Fiona’s story has a persistent undercurrent of tension as she navigates the alien environment. The villain that she’s connected to is consistently brutal and unpredictable while also oddly vulnerable. I love complex villains like this. He’s horrifying and redeemable. The Earthlings’ story isn’t quite as action-packed, but it is fascinating, particularly Bill’s role. And there are a couple of shocking moments.

Characters throughout the book are unique and plausible and emotionally rich, and I’d say that they stole the show, except the plot is also very cool. A great blend that makes for a great read. Sci-fi readers who enjoy alien stories, action and adventure, and great characters will love this. Worth every word.

*****

Smoke Rose to Heaven by Sarah Angleton

This book isn’t typical of those I normally read, and I’m happy to report that I enjoyed it. Spanning the mid to late 1800s, Ada Moses relates the story of her life to an old man called the Prophet, a key influencer of the Mormon faith at its initiation. The entire book is Ada’s narrative, but it’s told in such a way that I was immersed in Ada’s experiences as they unfolded.

The impetus driving Ada to tell her story to the Prophet is a secret manuscript that came into her possession as a child, a manuscript that is dangerous to the Mormon faith. The document has put her life at risk, and she wants to tell her story before death finds her. Though this was interesting, it wasn’t the plot thread that sucked me in and didn’t let go.

For me, Ada’s human story was more compelling. Her mother dies when she’s a child, and her father gives her away to his sister and her husband. Ada’s aunt is a fundamental Christian zealot and her uncle is a snake oil salesman with some skill at dowsing and other esoteric arts. Ada is caught in the middle, trying to navigate her way safely through her aunt’s fanaticism and seeking some desperately needed parental love which she finds in her uncle and his unsavory business partners. I was riveted by her psychological and emotional growth, insights, and perspectives. Her experiences guide her choices and determine who she ultimately becomes. This is a character-driven story, beautifully written, and thoroughly engaging. Highly recommended.

*****

Be a Happier Parent or Laugh Trying by Betsy Kerekes

Kerekes offers some wise advice for parents and delivers it with plenty of wit. The exaggeration and sarcasm woven into her view of children and parenting is hysterical, but throughout the read, it’s also clear that love makes up the solid foundation of her parenting style. Parenting strategies in the book are often creative and buried in fun, but there’s also some great guidance on discipline and the less glamorous trials of being a firm parent.

As a retired early-childhood mental health counselor, I found the information in this book highly relevant as well as laugh-out-loud funny. The ideas presented in the book are geared toward parents but are equally relevant to grandparents and other caregivers.

Kerekes isn’t shy about sharing her Christian faith and a few chapters focus on parenting within that framework. My impression is that though these chapters focus on Catholicism, they could apply to other faiths or to no faith at all, such as how to encourage kindness and charity in children. I highly recommend this book of sound parental advice delivered with love, fun, and a laugh.

*****

Happy Reading!

A visit from the bossy muse, a free book, and a couple of awards

The muse’s latest look (pixabay compilation)

Way too early in the morning, my muse drops down beside me on my couch and tosses her hat onto the coffee table. The howler monkey that’s been riding her shoulder for a year leaps onto my kitchen counter, curls back its rubbery lips, and flashes a yellow-toothed grin. The muse hands me a latte. “Nice progress on the draft… finally.”

“Thanks.” I’m still leering at the monkey but manage to sip my latte. Yum. “So, why the visit?  You know I’m under NaNo pressure.” I somehow forget to mention that yesterday I logged zero words.

She arches an eyebrow but for once shrugs off her annoyance. “I’m running a promotion for a couple of days. Catling’s Bane is free today and Wednesday. Your sales blah blah blah…” I’m not listening. The howler’s opened my refrigerator and taken a bite from a head of lettuce. He’s going for the orange juice.

I bolt up. “Hey! Out of there!” The beast roars at me, a sound capable of bursting eardrums. He grabs a tuna sandwich I made for my husband’s lunch, darts across the cabin’s single room, and climbs halfway up the stairs. Suspended from the banister, he gobbles and spills bits of sandwich on the furniture below. UGH. I sink back onto the couch and glower, afraid any further intervention will make it worse.

“What else,” I ask, wanting to get this over with as quickly as I can.

She smiles at me. My muse never smiles. “Two of your books were semi-finalists in the 2019 Kindle Book Awards.”

“What?” I’ve now forgotten all about the howler and the globs of tuna sprinkling my floor. I’d also forgotten that I submitted books. “Both of them?”

Sunweilder and Soul Swallowers.” She tips back her latte, stands, and snaps her fingers at the monkey. Not two seconds later, the creature swings from the banister onto her shoulder. My muse heads for the door, her familiar bossy ill-humor sliding onto her face. “Get to work.”

“I plan on it. After I clean up this mess.” As she walks out the door and into the forest, I call after her, “Hey, if I finish my first draft, can we lose the monkey?”

She glances back and slips me an evil smile.

***

I guess the muse’s visit could have gone a lot worse.

Click on the cover if you’re interested in a free kindle of Catling’s Bane:

 

And here are those semi-finalists:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Happy Writing!