November Book Reviews (Part One)

The holiday season has started. It’s a great time to take breaks from the chaos and snuggle up with a book. And, of course, books make great gifts!

Somehow, I read 14 books this month. They just got away from me, and it’s too many for one post. So here are half of them!

November’s reviews (part one) include my 4 and 5-star reads of a poetry/flash fiction collection, a psychological thriller, a horror novelette, a paranormal thriller, a murder mystery, and two illustrated children’s books.

Click on the covers for Amazon global links.

*****

Variety is the Spice of Life by Sally Cronin

I’m a fan of Cronin’s syllabic poetry, flash fiction, and short stories, and this latest collection is an excellent example of why. The first half of the book is filled with 38 beautiful poems in a variety of structured forms.

Many of the poems are poignant reflections on love and loss, the wonder of life, and the beauty of nature found in her garden. Each includes a complementary image. One of my favorites:

Rejection (form: a butterfly cinquain)

silence
magnifies time
and distance between us
and your rejection leaves my heart
hollow.
the promises we made that day
are scattered in the wind
and dreams have turned
to dust.

The second half of the book is comprised of 8 short stories, most of them heartwarming tales of human kindness, forgiveness, and redemption. (With a tale of magical murder thrown in). Three of my favorites were Miss Lloyd’s Robin, The Green Hill, and The Home Help. I highly recommend this afternoon’s read to fans of syllabic poetry and short stories.

*****

The Bubble Reputation by Alex Craigie

Social media is a wonderful way to connect with family and friends, but most people know that it has a dark side as a vehicle for bullying, making threats, and spreading lies. Emmie is a highly successful children’s author, until a jealous coworker and a tabloid needing a tasty scoop decide she’d make a great target for a scandal. A lie and a doctored photograph start off a social media storm that picks up momentum with frightening speed. As the feeding frenzy intensifies, it nearly costs her everything. And I mean everything.

There are a whole lot of things that are frightening about this story. The plot is highly plausible, and though I could see the escalation coming, it was still horrifying to watch. The way ordinary citizens start going for blood is not only shocking but terrifyingly realistic. It’s a situation that not every character finds their way out of without a heavy toll.

This isn’t a long book, and I read it in one afternoon, glued to the story. The pace moves quickly and there are a wide variety of authentic characters—some heartless and calculating, some risk-avoidant, some bloodthirsty, and others highly supportive. There are a lot of takeaways from this read, particularly a chance to decide which type of character we want to be. Highly recommended. (Kindle Unlimited.)

*****

Dog Meat by Priscilla Bettis

This is one of the more unusual novelettes I’ve read in years, and I needed to spend a few days processing it before I could write a review.

According to the author, “30 million dogs die each year in the brutal trade that operates in nine countries.” In this story, Kalb Ward’s job is to kill the dogs that will be served to a restaurant’s wealthy diners.

Ward lives in a closed dystopian society where he has no choice in what kind of work he performs, and his one attempt to run away lands him in a reeducation camp for 18 months. Only threats to his mother’s life are powerful enough to return him to the job he can’t tolerate.

Ward sees himself as a killer, and his reactions to the endless violence move this book beyond the horror genre into one that explores the impact of intolerable guilt, brutality, and despair on a human life and soul. This is a society without empathy, where compassion and kindness can’t find a foothold.

The scenes are horrific, and anyone who loves dogs will be tested to the core. Like the author, I hope this story raises awareness and supports the end of this cruel industry. The writing quality is excellent, and Ward’s plight drew me deeply into this well-wrought world. Highly recommended, but with a big trigger warning about graphic violence against animals.

*****

The Valley Walker by T. W. Dittmer

This impressive book certainly captured my attention. Teri Altro is part of a government task force looking into a rash of drug deaths in Michigan. She’s competent, hard-shelled, and a bit of a rogue. She’s also the target of an attempted assassination. But as three men close in on her, someone gets in the way, and in a strange manipulation of reality, the three killers end up dead. That someone is John Walker Michaels, a Vietnam deserter who shouldn’t exist, and who possesses the mystical powers of the Hmong people that became his family. The Laotians call him the Valley Walker.

What follows is an investigation into the drug deaths that extends from the streets and governing halls of Michigan to the jungles of Laos, from the present time back to the dark days of the Viet Nam war. The scenes of war are eerily visceral, reminiscent of Apocalypse Now. The Laotian mysticism adds an otherworldly surrealism that connects the timelines.

Characterization is impressive with each member of the task force wonderfully unique. Peripheral characters are also fully realized and distinct. Though Michaels participates in the multiple POVs, he retains his mysterious aura, and it’s through his relationships with other characters and his dialog and action that I came to understand him.

The author served in Viet Nam and the authenticity he brought to the story was riveting. It also didn’t hurt that his writing is polished and well-paced with just the right amount of description. A complex plot comes together with little difficulty and several twists kept me on my toes. Highly recommended to readers who enjoy complex stories about war, power, and justice, topped with a metaphysical twist. (Kindle Unlimited.)

*****

Flower Power Trip (Braxton Campus Mysteries Book 3) by James J. Cudney

This is Book 3 in the Braxton Campus Mysteries, and for readers who’ve enjoyed the first two in the series, this one was just as fun. When a renowned biologist ends up dead at a masquerade ball at Braxton College, Professor Kellan Ayrwick is once again unofficially asking questions and trying to ferret out the murderer. Some of the people close to him are suspects, and there are plenty of secrets to untangle. And then there are the postcards he’s receiving from his dead wife.

As with previous books, Kellan’s relationship with Sheriff April Montague was delightfully snarky, and I just adored their growing respect for each other. Wise-cracking, take no nonsense, Nana D is also back, and she’s a hoot. There are a lot of characters in this series. Having read the previous two books, I had the advantage of knowing a number of them already. For this reason alone, I recommend starting the series at the beginning.

The pace moves quickly, and plenty of red herrings point in multiple directions. I couldn’t guess the identity of the killer and had to wait for the reveal for everything to sort out. Though the masquerade murder is fully solved, a cliffhanger is introduced at the very end as a hook for the next book. Readers will find a likable protagonist, some fully-realized and fun secondary characters, and plenty of twists and turns. Recommended to fans of cozy mystery series.

*****

Sleepy Happy Capy Cuddles by Mike Allegra

The more I learn about capybaras, the more I want to cuddle with them. This book might come as close to the real thing as I get. A rainforest is a noisy place. So noisy that it’s hard to think and hard to sleep. But then along comes a Cuddly Capy, blowing burbly bubbles and fwippa fwipping its ears. Little by little the Happy Capy convinces the other animals to cuddle, and the rainforest grows quiet. But then who comes out of the swamp? A roaring crocodile! Can a capybara get a crocodile to cuddle? Of course.

A lovely book about the kindness of cuddles and inclusion, and how even the loudest roars and toughest skins can soften with a little loving care. The Happy Capy is single-minded in her love of cuddling and no one can resist. In addition to the fun story, beautiful animal illustrations fill this picture book from front to back. Highly recommended to cuddly preschool kids and their parents. (Hardcover only)

*****

Everybody’s Favorite Book by Mike Allegra

Everybody’s Favorite Book has to include everybody’s favorite stuff, right? Like spacemen, pirates, pink princesses, cool detective kids, giant guinea pigs, and tea parties. But so much stuff gets to be a little crazy. Everybody’s Favorite Book ends up being nobody’s favorite book… until you get to everybody’s favorite happy ending.

This is a wild, creative, wacky picture book for kids age 3-7 (my guess) and librarians and parents who love big words like gallimaufry and codswallop. This book has everything and, of course, chaos ensues. The illustrations are big, bold, and bright and add to the fun. Kids and the young at heart will enjoy the imaginative mayhem. Highly recommended.

Our local librarian gets two new acquisitions:

*****

Happy Reading!

Go Gently into that Good Night

If you’ve noticed my absence for the past few days, it’s because my dear sweet mother transitioned from this life into the vast and unknowable realm of the spirit. I’ve been her caregiver for the last five years, and it was with loving care that I stroked her face, whispered in her ear, and saw on her way.

Anne Peach 1934-2022

This beautiful poem by Sue Vincent and her accompanying photos speak eloquently of the arc of life as expressed through flowers. She wrote it a couple of years before she too passed with grace from this world. I’d like to share it with you now.

Flowers

by Sue Vincent

There were always flowers.

Orchids pinned upon a mother’s breast,

All lace and diamonds.

Long black gloves

And painted lips,

As she left, laughing.

A child who watched

As the door closed.

There were flowers…

Yellow tulips,

Cellophane and ribbon

A girl who blushed

As the curtain fell

Upon the stage;

She cradled them,

A first bouquet.

There were flowers

Roses and lilies

White, in hands and hair,

Their fragrance mingled

With frankincense,

A ghost of awe and wonder

Finding a home

In memory.

There were flowers…

Rainbow hued,

Everywhere.

Greeting a life newborn,

With love and welcome,

Lighting stark severity

As a babe cried.

There were flowers…

Daisy chains

Around his brow,

Crowning him with sunlight,

In laughter,

In simplicity,

In love.

There were flowers,

Three roses,

Red as life,

Placed in a cold hand,

One for each heart

Saying farewell.

Too long,

Too soon.

There are flowers,

Heather and bluebells

Painting horizons

Still unexplored.

Pathways of petals

Laugh at our feet,

Inviting.

In joy or sorrow,

When the tears fall,

There are always flowers.

From:

Sue Vincent’s Daily Echo

October Book Reviews (Part Two)

Can you believe all the new releases this autumn? I feel like they’ve been coming out daily. My October reviews have included a lot of new and entertaining reads.

Thank you again to everyone who’s supported me on my book tour with your visits and comments. It’s been such a blast chatting with you. Five more tour stops to go, and I’m done. More time for Nanowrimo!

October’s (part two) reviews include my 4 and 5-star reads of prehistoric fiction, a coming-of-age novel, two romance/suspense/ contemporary western mash-ups (one with a paranormal bent), a poetry book about birds, and a children’s Halloween book.

Click on the covers for Amazon global links.

*****

New Release:

Natural Selection (Dawn of Humanity, Book 3) by Jacqui Murray

The final book of the Dawn of Humanity series ends on a positive note though I suspect that Lucy’s story of survival in the prehistoric world will continue to be riddled with danger and challenges. As the title suggests, not all the branches of primitive mankind will survive and those who do will depend on their ability to develop new skills and think strategically.

The plot is straightforward with two main threads. The first is Lucy and her group’s continuing search for a sustainable homebase. The second is their plan to rescue past members of her tribe from Man-who-preys before they become so weak from hunger that they’re killed. Lucy is the main character, but not the only point of view, and other characters are frequently brought to the forefront. These include her two-legged group members as well as those with four.

Murray’s research continues to add depth and realism to the read, and I found it as fascinating as I did in the first book. Our ancestors had it tough, and their lives were intricately entwined with the world around them. I appreciated that Murray didn’t spare our modern sensibilities. Grooming bugs from each other’s skin, eating rotten meat, and “fear poop” aren’t very glamorous, but they added to the authenticity of the story. Her word choices—to describe the harsh environment, its rhythms and wild creatures, and the nature and skill of each member of her diverse group—bring life on Earth 1.8 million years ago into vivid relief.

For readers who enjoy a meticulously researched primitive world and the remarkable challenges faced by our evolutionary ancestors, I highly recommend this series. It’s fascinating. (Kindle Unlimited)

*****

New Release:

Letting Go (The Defiant Sisters, Book 1) by Jacquie Biggar

My favorite books from this author are the ones that dive into complex relationships, especially those between family members. This book checks all the boxes as a group of characters navigate the trauma, losses, and sacrifices they’ve made in their lives.

Renee fled her family after witnessing her father’s suicide. Her teenage sister Izzy, left behind with a family falling apart, had to hold it all together for their younger brother Benjamin. Simon, the boyfriend Renee abandoned without a goodbye is getting married, but he’s never forgotten her. Then Renee returns home when her mother dies, and all the difficult feelings bubble to the surface.

One major strength of the story is the way it had me rooting for every character. They’re richly drawn with authentic emotional lives, full of accomplishments as well as mistakes. There aren’t any villains beyond the unfairness of life, and it was easy to empathize with the protagonists’ anger, hurt, and love. Renee, Izzy, and Simon carry the three alternating POVs, all in first person.

The focus on human dynamics doesn’t slow down the story one bit. It moves at a good clip and I had a hard time putting it down. I read it in two sittings only because I needed to sleep in between. The action is compelling and toward the end, it’s riveting. It wrapped up well but with a sense of more to come in Book Two. It will be worth the wait. Highly Recommended! (Kindle Unlimited)

*****

New Release:

Saddled Hearts by Jan Sikes

What romance reader doesn’t love a cowboy who rescues and rehabilitates horses? That’s like, “You had me at hello.” When a stranger shows up at Colt Layne’s horse sanctuary, claiming that he won the ranch years ago in a card game with Colt’s deceased grandfather, Colt needs some answers. He visits long-time widow Sage Coventry, a medium with the ability to receive messages from the dead.

The attraction is immediate, but the couple takes their time getting to know each other, and there are problems worrying Colt. First a pasture fire, and then the stranger ends up dead and Colt is framed for murder. Cut fences and sick horses add to his suspicions that someone’s out to destroy him, and he needs to figure out who it is before he ends up in prison.

Romance and murder-mystery share the pages in equal proportion. There’s plenty of lusty attraction, including a steamy sex scene, and I think romance readers will find everything in here that they love about the genre.

The parallel mystery plot is also well done with some red herrings tossed into a mix of paranormal impressions, family secrets, old journals, and a mysterious key. There’s also an underlying theme dealing with choices, forgiveness, and redemption. Though this book can be read as a stand-alone, I highly recommend the entire series for fans of romance-paranormal-mystery mashups.

*****

Secrets in the Blood by Unity Hayes

(This book just got a new cover and pen name, so don’t be confused by the Amazon info. It’s the same book.)

Family secrets, murder, paranoia, romance, redemption. Cassidy Tanner works in a reproduction western town called The Watering Hole. It’s set up to give tourists a true old-time experience including gun fights and train robberies. Her grandfather owns the place and her brother-in-law Kenton is the sheriff. She’s in charge of hiring, and one day, Shane Weston comes looking for a job.

“West” is quiet and respectful, and he has secrets, including the scars crisscrossing his chest and back. He’s running from someone and looking for a safe place. Where better than the town where his brother Kenton lives? But is Kenton ready to accept the brother he’s always believed was paranoid? When people start dying, can West run and leave the woman he’s come to love?

This debut novel gripped my attention, and I read it in one day. Secrets added a lot of mystery, and at times, I questioned what was true and false. The characters were all richly developed. I connected with West and felt for his situation, but what was he hiding? I enjoyed Cassie’s no-nonsense strength, and though, most of the time, Kenton drove me nuts, he had good reason to question his brother’s stability.

The pace moved along quickly, full of action and suspense between interludes of romance. The town was cleverly realized, and the plot was intriguing with a few twists along the way. The story is told through multiple perspectives with some mid-scene POV changes that occasionally popped me out of the story. Even so, I highly recommend this novel to readers who enjoy mystery-thriller-romance mashups.

*****

Avian Friends: Encouraging Poems Inspired by Backyard Birds by Yvette Prior, Ph.D.

Avian friends starts with the author’s foreword on how the book came to be – the result of newly planted trees and journaling about the influx of winged visitors. The book is a collection of 45 free-form, lightly rhyming poems inspired by birds, and is appropriate for both adults and children.

The poetry is divided into five sections: Musings, Mixed Enjoyment, Life and Death, Seasons, and Faith. After each poem is a half-page “Behind the Poem,” which shares the author’s inspiration. I didn’t read all of the explanations, but for my favorite poems, it was delightful to get a glimpse into the avian happenings that inspired the verse.
A few favorite poems:
“Thought Whirls” – a peaceful and whimsical flight of the imagination.
“Connecting” – a lovely memory of the author’s grandmother leaving threads on her clothesline for birds to build their nests.
“New Life” – the sweetness of discovering a nest of baby birds.
“Fall Crunch” – a walk in the autumn leaves and spying a cardinal.

Fall Crunch (an excerpt)

Crunching leaves
beneath my feet
ice cracklin’ below
red, freezing nose
shivering
hoodie pulled close
waiting for the dog to get relief
looked up
what did I see?
bright red cardinal
looking at me –
(continued)

A lovely glimpse into the author’s thoughts as she observes the birds in her yard. Recommended to fans of birds and readers who enjoy free-form poetry with a light rhyme. Only available in paperback.

*****

New Release for Kids:

Haunted Halloween Holiday by Robbie and Michael Cheadle

Count Sugular and his family are going to a Haunted House Halloween Party that promises to be great fun. Why not turn it into a weekend getaway? This delightful children’s book introduces many of its spooky characters with limericks. There’s Baby Howler, Skelly the Skeleton, Jiggle Jelly the pet sea monster, and a pair of trolls, to name a few.

The book is illustrated with fondant (frosting) characters, and though they’re spooky, they are generally happy and kind and enjoy time with their friends and family. This is a lovely read for parents and their young children who are just starting to discover the spookiness of Halloween. Only available in paperback.

*****

Happy Reading!

Poetry, a Review, and a Wedding

I’m traveling this weekend, enjoying my only niece’s wedding and time with family. My niece is a hoot and very theatrical, so it was a zany affair.

There’s no holding back life… and that includes the busy world of blogs.

Sally

On Saturday, Sally Cronin of Smorgasbord Blog Magazine posted a review of The Necromancer’s Daughter. Her reviews are always a thrill, and I’m immensely grateful that she took the time to read, jot down her thoughts, and share them on her blog. If you’re still on the fence about the book and need one more nudge, here it is! Lol.

Rebecca

Today, the talented Rebecca Budd (who manages eight active blogs among her myriad other endeavors) is sharing a recording I made of my poem, The Elephant Child. She and her magician husband Don put it to music and video. If you have a minute to stop by, it’s a quick romp into winter.

Both of these wonderful women are powerhouses, and I don’t know how they do it all. If we could hook them up to the electrical grid, they’d light up the world.

I’ve closed comments here… again. Sorry about that, but I’ll be visiting their sites between morning mimosas with the new relatives. If I’m a little slow to respond, it’s because I’m still dancing:

Canadian Rockies Haiku

Marveling at Bow Glacier Falls

I’m back after two weeks of exploring the Canadian Rockie Mountains. I hiked just shy of 55 miles (88 km) and climbed almost 15,000 feet (4572 m) in elevation. It was glorious.

The internet was horrible, and I dropped and smashed my laptop while searching for a place to get online. Oh well, more time to enjoy the beauty of the wilderness. While I get back into the swing of things (on my new laptop), I’m delighted to share some photos and mountain-inspired haiku.

The view from my room – Moraine Lake – unedited photo. The water is really that color.

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glacial ice trickles

into roaring white cascades

pristine topaz lakes

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Even the bad weather is beautiful

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fragrance of balsam

northern woodlands soothe the soul

deeply shaded green

*

Lake Louise sunrise, another unedited shot

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at the water’s edge

sunrise creeps down the glaciers

reflections of gold

*

On the way to the Plain of Six Glaciers tea house.

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tea house in the clouds

blueberry juniper tea

on top of the world

*

Wildflowers everywhere.

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Indian paintbrush

yellow columbine abound

Alpine meadows bloom

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One of many waterfalls – Athabasca falls and canyon

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waterfalls cascade

thunder through narrow canyons

carving ancient rock

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No bears were harmed in the making of this photo

*

far and wide we searched

for brown, black, and grizzly bears

not disappointed

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And a few other photos from the trail:

Thanks for coming along for a look!

Word Craft Poetry “Dreams”

A few days ago, Colleen Chesebro announced the winners of the Word Craft Poetry Syllabic Poetry Contest held to honor the Summer Solstice. The theme was dreams, and poets were instructed to use the syllabic form “tanka prose.” This form combines short prose with a 5-line tanka poem (with a syllable count of 5/7/5/7/7).

I was delighted and honored that my poem “Am I Dreaming?” came out on top. I’m grateful to the judges for their selection and to Colleen for continually encouraging all of us to learn and write poetry. She’s a whirlwind of energy and creativity.

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Please take a moment to pop over to Word Craft Poetry to read the other top poems, written by Ken Gierke, Merril D. Smith, and Jude Itakali. Not only is their poetry beautiful, but it shows off the depth and versatility of the form and the enormous talent in our writing community.

And if you feel inspired, join in Colleen’s Tanka Tuesday challenges. They’re great fun. Happy Writing!

Canyon Haiku

Ranger Diana and hubby

I’m back from two weeks exploring canyons in the American West. Now I need a vacation to rest up from my vacation! As I work my way back into the daily routine, I hope you enjoy a few photos and some canyon-inspired haiku.

parched earth, dry with dust

the white sun bakes a blue sky

a spring desert blooms

arid land fractured

by a river’s slow wander

through five billion years

golden canyons cleave

ancient swirls of earth revealed

smoothed by the winds’ breath

spring cold and waist deep

rivers lead around the bend

carved canyons beckon

uplift of the land

seas recede, plates in motion

beauty wrought by time

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I also read 11 amazing books and will share my reviews shortly.

Enter the Sacred #TankaTuesday

Sunlight filters through tidal barriers of air and water where animals bloom from salty rocks with the permanence of plants, and gardens wear the guise of animals in this place where swimming is soaring from the edges of canyons, hiding in coral caverns of this wondrously alien world, secretive, and brimming with creatures, some tempered by timidness, others leaping and diving from blue to blue.

enter the sacred

domain of eels and turtles

world beneath our world

taught by schools of parrotfish

to touch a dolphin’s wild joy

 

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Denise Finn chose the wonderful prompt for this Ekphrastic challenge (poetry based on a visual image). If you click on her name, you can read her entry. As a scuba diver, I’m entranced by the underwater world.

My poem is called a “tanka prose,” a bit of prose followed by a tanka with a syllable count of 5/7/5/7/7.

The weekly #TankaTuesday syllabic poetry challenge is the brainstorm of Colleen at Wordcraft Poetry. Think about joining in. It’s great fun.

A Learned Girl #TankaTuesday

The Crystal Ball painted by John William Waterhouse

(A short break in the TBR Challenge reblogs for a little poetry)

A Learned Girl

She is fortunate to read at all. Her slender fingers stray from the pages, unblemished but for a random papercut. Beyond her window, other women toil until their skin toughens into leather, and raw knuckles wear down to bones. Their spines crack beneath the weight of necessity, poor lots destined from the day they were born. She is privileged. This she knows. Granted by happenstance her wish to learn the arts of anatomy and history and politics. To peruse through pages of poetry and philosophy, to dip her quill and tally accounts. She will excel in the learned world of power. But she is still a girl.

studies surrender

lost in red velvet daydreams

murmurs of passion

love’s silk breath blushes her cheeks

wishes in a crystal ball

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Thank you to Colleen over at Wordcraft Poetry for the lovely image to use as an prompt for this week’s Ekphrastic poetry. Ekphrastic poems respond to a piece of art. I went with a tanka prose poem. It has one paragraph and one tanka with 5/7/5/7/7 syllables. 

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)