Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Do you like cats?

Today I'm featuring a children's picture book with real character, voice and plot - a very satisfying read in pictures and words, and highly recommended. It even has a version printed in the Dyslexic Font, the typeface for people with dyslexia. Go to to find out more about the typeface (I did - it's intriguing!)

Mamá Graciela’s Secret by Mayra Calvani, illustrated by Sheila Fein - my review

It’s nice to read a children’s book with letters accented so neatly, giving depth to the narrator’s voice. Mamá Graciela has a restaurant called La Bahía, and already I need to learn how to pronounce the words. Meanwhile I learn of delicious bacalaítos fritos and I want to taste them!

Sheila Fein’s illustrations in this book and bright and warm, perfectly complementing the Mayra Calvani’s warm, inviting story. And it’s not just a story about food. There are cats “like my children, the ones I never had.” And such wonderful cats… and so many cats!

I love how this story moves from normal to wild and wonderful. I love how the illustrations are so satisfyingly filled with character. I imagine a small child playing spot the striped brown kitten. But trouble looms… and I love that this is a children’s book with a real story, with beginning, middle and end.

Disclosure: I was given an ecopy and I offer my honest review.


Publication date: October 10, 2017
Written by Mayra Calvani
Illustrated by Sheila Fein
MacLaren-Cochrane Publishing
36 pages, 3-7 year olds
Reading guide at:
Mamá Graciela’s TENDER, CRUNCHY, SPICY bacalaítos fritos are the best in town...
Local customers (including stray cats!) come from all over the island to enjoy her secret recipe. But when the Inspector discovers that Mamá secretly caters to so many cats and he threatens to close her tiny restaurant, Mamá must come up with a plan to save it—and all of the animals she loves. 
Mayra Calvani writes fiction and nonfiction for children and adults and has authored over a dozen books, some of which have won awards. Her children's picture book, Frederico the Mouse Violinist was a finalist in the 2011 International Book Awards; her anthology Latina Authors and Their Muses was a First Place winner at the 2016 International Latino Book Awards; her nonfiction book, The Slippery Art of Book Reviewing, was a Foreword Best Book of the Year winner. Her stories, reviews, interviews and articles have appeared on numerous publications like The Writer, Writer's Journal, Multicultural Review, Bloomsbury Review, and others.

She lives in Belgium with her husband of 30+ years, two wonderful kids, and her three beloved pets. When she's not writing, editing, reading or reviewing, she enjoys walking with her dog, traveling, and spending time with her family.


Born in Queens, New York and living in Los Angeles since 1987, Sheila Fein has always been inspired by the changing world around her. Earning her BA in Design from Buffalo State College of New York, her concentration was on drawing, painting, printmaking, and photography. Sheila's education as an artist has taken her everywhere from Fleisher Art Memorial in Philadelphia to Bath University in England. Today, Sheila Fein runs two figurative workshops, Imaginings Sketch in LA and People Sketchers in Thousand Oaks. She has been featured in numerous collections, magazines, books, solo and group exhibitions. Her paintings and drawings reside in public and private collections. Sheila loves to make the imagination of others a reality and has done so through her commissioned Fein Fantasy Portraits and Interactive Paintings. In addition to being a fine artist Sheila works as an illustrator. She just completed the book "Mama Graciela's Secret" for Maclaren-Cochrane Publishing.

Monday, December 11, 2017

Have you read yourself into another world recently?

I love books. I love being transported to other worlds, historical, geographical, futuristic, fantastical... I guess they free me from thoughts of this world, allowing me to look back with a different perspective, maybe seeing the present differently because I've imagined myself into somewhere else. To some extent, reading a good book is like becoming an immigrant again. And being an immigrant gives anyone a perspective unique to their past as well as their future--a perspective the judge told me never to forget when he welcomed me into American citizenship. So I like books...

... and since I like reading and writing books, I also like writing book reviews. Here are a few. Find some coffee (the rating is for flavor, not quality), and see if you'll want to read any of these.

Marriage Before Death by Uvi Poznansky transports readers to WWII France, where an American tries not to be caught as a spy, while the girl he loves tries to save him. It's fifth in the author's Still Life With Memories series and, like the others, it offers a historical novel viewed through the wrapper of a husband watching his wife's memories disappear. The past more real than the present perhaps, though in both parts are played and the real self hidden away. Enjoy this standalone thought-provoking novel with some well-balanced three-star coffee.

Lilac Girls by Martha Hall Kelly takes place during the same war. Darker and more haunting, it's carefully based on fact but reads like fiction. Unsparing yet honest in its depiction of war's horrors, it reveals how women live with the unliveable, sometimes accommodating, sometimes fighting back, and sometimes merely surviving. It's a powerful, long, dark read, lit with intense humanity. Enjoy with some serious five-star dark coffee.

Howard L. Hibbard's Curse of the Coloring Book brings readers closer to war in the present day as it follows the flashbacks of a Vietnam veteran whose livelihood is now threatened, as once was his life. Nothing in war was quite as the child's coloring book depicted it. Now nothing else is the same. It's a gripping novel, scarily evocative, and filled with great characters, in past and present days. You'll want to drink another dark five-star coffee with this one.

Then there's Jason Segel and Kirsten Miller's Otherworld, which takes us past today to a near-future world of technological marvels, virtual reality bots, and the betrayals of young love at the hands of old finance. It's cool, intriguing and seriously thought-provoking. Enjoy with some rich elegant four-star coffee.

A different world indeed. Perhaps I should have added a book set in a different part of the world, but that's in my next set of reviews, and I'll keep on reading. How about you?

Saturday, December 9, 2017

Why do Adults read Kids' Books?

I went shopping with a friend and a book-store voucher. We wandered aisles, greeting familiar books like lost friends, reminiscing on tales we had loved, and drinking coffee (of course). I had stopped to admire some boxed sets of children's books earlier (I have a fondness for series), and an assistant directed me to other, excellent children's books. Now my friend directed me to some that she had loved, either as a child or with a child. I picked them up, couldn't resist, and spent my voucher soon afterward.

But why do I, an adult, love kids' books so much? Partly, I think, it's the change of pace. I like the chance to read something quick, bite-sized perhaps, and learn the whole story in one session. I like the fact that children's books, unlike adult short stories, include a complete sense of time, place and plot, beginning middle and end. And I like the directness of children's books--the way the authors aren't afraid to have a message and to tell it. Perhaps it's that sense of a message, preferably told through story rather than education, that makes a kid's book work--a story that's more than just a pleasing interlude (why not play on the computer for pleasing interludes if you're a child), and therefore more worth the extra time a child (or adult) might spend reading.

Anyway, here are a few books written for children, middle-graders and adults, including the three I bought that day at the bookstore. Find some coffee and choose your next read.

First is a picture book, Nosey Charlie comes to town by Yvonne Blackwood. It hides small lessons about the lives of squirrels in a picture-driven tale that wanders, squirrel-like, in many directions. Children who see squirrels in town parks might easily relate, though I would have liked more a stronger storyline. Enjoy this mild story with some mild crisp one-star coffee.

Mamá Graciela’s Secret by Mayra Calvani, illustrated by Sheila Fein, is a picture book with a difference - firstly the nicely accented letters give a genuine sense of voice; secondly the pictures have a beautiful originality about them, and thirdly there's a real story, with beginning, middle and end. This lively, easy-reading tale goes well with a two-star easy-drinking coffee.

Stone Fox by John Reynolds Gardiner has illustrations but isn't a picture book. An enjoyable chapbook with evocative black and white illustrations, a lovely respect for life, human and animal, and haunting insights into poverty, love and bravery, it's one of those sad but happy child-and-dog tales that always make you cry in just the right way. Enjoy it with a well-balanced three-star coffee.

Number the Stars by Lois Lowry is aimed at slightly older readers. Set near the start of WWII, it tells the story of a young Danish girl and her Jewish friend. As Germans prepare to round up the Jews, the Danish underground ferries refugees to Sweden. Told through the eyes of a child, the story begs adults to recognize more behind the words, guessing what will come. Meanwhile the child will miss her friend and will take a brave journey on her own with a curious secret. An enjoyable short adventure, this is another to enjoy with a well-balanced three-star coffee.

For readers maybe slightly older again, Island of the Blue Dolphins by Scott O’Dell tells a story that grows pleasingly into historical time and place, leading readers to think, notice and learn naturally, just as the protagonist, left alone on an island, learns how to cope. A strong female protagonist might make it a better book for girls than for boys, though the story should work for anyone. For adults and other interested readers, the version I read included a great prologue by Lois Lowry and a nice explanation of the difference between real history and this fictionalized version. Enjoy with some more well-balanced three-star coffee.

So... five children's books. Which three do you think my friend recommended to me?

Friday, December 8, 2017

Why are Book Covers such a Big Deal?

Today I'm delighted to welcome Marissa Thomas to my blog, author of the intriguingly titled, How Not to Succeed in Hollywood. Her book, as you'll see below, has a seriously eye-catching cover, and she's going to tell us, perhaps, how to succeed in writing... or at least...

Why Book Covers Are So Important
by Marissa Thomas
            I’ve always been a painter.  Not the tortured soul kind, willing to sacrifice food to buy canvas and spread my message to the world, but I enjoy my craft.  Mostly portrait paintings for friends and family.  For events and Holidays, or just having craft time with my mother.  I’ve always been familiar with the statement that a picture is worth a thousand words.  It’ll capture your attention, or inspire you to look the other way. 
I was also familiar with this concept, since pretty much all productions, film, television, and theatrical have some sort of picture to capture an audience’s attention, and make them want to see the performance.  While I was writing How Not to Succeed in Hollywood, I was inspired by the idea of watching it as a film, and I knew it had to have a great cover.
I painted the picture I used as the cover for my book.  The bright colors, and cartoon effect almost make it look like the cover of a children’s book, but with pictures that adults of any age can relate to.  The original canvas doesn’t need to be hung in a museum for onlookers to stare at and debate for hours on end.  But, there is an idea I hope readers can take away from it.  I hope that anyone who has read the book summary, and sees the cover will see that it is a comedic look at what people of any age might have to go through to accomplish their serious goals. 

Thank you Marissa. And yes, I think that cover succeeds. I wish you well with the book and with your pumpupyourbook book tour.

So here's an image, dear reader, to hang on a wall, if not in a a museum, plus lots more information about the book and author.

Author: Marissa Thompson
Publisher: Harlequin
Pages: 436
Genre: Humor/Fiction


In HOW NOT TO SUCCEED IN HOLLYWOOD, Marissa Thomas offers readers an inside view of one young woman’s journey to fulfill her dream of becoming an actor. The personal and humorous story of Lisa reveals the often difficult and inspiring process of navigating the entertainment industry.
The acting bug bit Lisa during her first elementary school talent show. After receiving positive reviews for her performance from her fellow students and impressed parents alike, Lisa basked in the high she felt from being on stage. She ventured further into the acting world as a teenager when she enrolled in a twelve-week acting program. Although plagued with some doubt about her potential to become an actor, the experience reignited the spark that had originally lead her down the road of performance.

HOW NOT TO SUCCEED IN HOLLYWOOD follows the staggered path that Lisa took on her journey to achieve her acting dream. Her love for acting expanded when Lisa entered college and began auditioning for plays produced by the theater department. Reassured by the exhilaration she felt while acting, Lisa made the decision to leave her home and move to Hollywood to pursue her passion, but first she had to tie up a few loose ends. After a whirlwind romance with a fellow student, Lisa found herself moving into her own apartment while juggling school and work, as well as taking the steps to fill out her acting resume. A car accident that resulted in serious physical injuries led to a slowdown in her momentum. However, Lisa’s best friend, Mike, who already had a solid plan to move to Hollywood, gave her the encouragement she needed to overcome multiple obstacles so that she could move forward with her goal.

Marissa wrote HOW NOT TO SUCCEED IN HOLLYWOOD to give “anyone curious about Hollywood culture another point of view from someone coming from a completely different world, aka the Midwest, taking the plunge, and immersing herself in a new life.” Marissa says the book is “the story of my life. I can’t tell anyone any surefire methods of getting cast for your dream project. I’m just sharing my life experience. Anyone with a relentless dream has to find sanity in the limbo between a self-motivated fantasy career and the harshness of having to survive real life in the process. We’re all human, and sometimes all you can do is laugh. Set a goal, and break a leg.”


Amazon | Barnes & Noble

Book Excerpt:

“I’m glad you get to come to opening night of the play,” I said to my boyfriend, casually, while we started digging into our boxed dinner.
“I know. I’m glad, too.  You’ve been working hard, and it seems pretty important to you,” he replied.
“It is. We’ve all been working on it for months,” I reminded him.
“Well, is it because you’ve been spending all this time on it, or is it because it’s something you really want to do?” he asked.
It seemed like a very obvious question. I hadn’t thought about it that way. Why do we put all the time and effort into projects like this? Projects that don’t provide a paycheck, cause us to rearrange our schedules, and even add stress due to the unwritten requirement to provide a quality performance. He really made me think. It wasn’t even a conscious decision on my part. I welcomed the chaos of the production into my life. The answer to his question was as obvious as the soy sauce on the egg rolls.
My mind started to wander. I almost felt like I was becoming a part of an actors’ anonymous group and professing my addiction. My name is Lisa, and I’m an actress. I could picture the scene:  Beautiful people sitting in a circle, each of them with a monologue in hand. And everyone waiting his or her turn to speak about the repercussions, good and bad, that the industry has had their lives. It was like a support group, to help each other through the bad auditions, drop hints about where to find the legit ones, and tips on how to nail them. Who knew how true that statement was? After a brief moment of fantasy, I was back to reality.
“I do. I really want to do it.” I turned back to my food and continued eating. “It’s something I want to pursue.” It felt good to say it out loud, and to admit it to myself.

About the Author

Marissa Thomas left her home in Minneapolis, Minnesota, to pursue her dream of acting in Hollywood. Without industry contacts, she had to educate herself about the business. In How Not to Succeed in Hollywood, Marissa shares her experiences, both good and bad.
In addition to writing, Marissa is a licensed hair stylist. She also enjoys painting and produced the artwork for the cover of How Not to Succeed in Hollywood.




Thursday, December 7, 2017

Red Army all-female fighter regiment?

Today I'm delighted to welcome C. S. Taylor, author of Nadya's War, to my blog. His novel tells of a young pilot with the Red Army's 586th all-female fighter regiment! Having never imagined such a regiment existed, I'm eager to know where his inspiration came from. So find yourself a coffee, sit back, and read on. Welcome C. S. Taylor!

The Inspiration Behind ‘Nadya’s War’ by C.S. Taylor

Some nameless, late night many moons ago, I was doing what I do best when trying to write, namely surfing the web and finding every excuse—and inventing a few more—I could to not look at MS Word and actually type something out. Somewhere between articles telling me that “These ten unexpected, cuddly things will kill you” and “which type of mason brick are you?” I stumbled upon an article dealing with the Night Witches and was mesmerized.

For those who know little or nothing about them (and most don’t) the Night Witches were a group of female pilots in the Red Army Air’s 588th night bomber regiment during World War 2. The group was one of three all-female regiments that had been put together by Major Marina Raskova, a national heroine at the time and a fantastic pilot. The young women of the 588th flew the Po-2 biplane, which was made in the late 1920s and was really only good for training and crop dusting. It wasn’t a combat aircraft by any stretch of the imagination. But they flew it nonetheless to drop bombs on the Germans. They got the name Nachthexen (Night Witches) by the Germans because the girls quickly learned to cut their engines just before they went on a bombing run, so they were completely silent until the bombs exploded.

Fascinating stuff, I thought, and something that deserved a book or two. Also, since I love flying and in a prior point in my life, I was intent on flying for the USMC, I thought writing a book that centered around the Night Witches seemed to be a great idea.

So with that thought in mind, I began fleshing out a plot and characters, but the more I did my research into the Night Witches, I realized that their sister regiment, the 587th (who flew the Pe-2 medium bomber), met my needs in terms of the story better. So I shifted my focus to the 587th and kept at it.

I kept at it for a few weeks and soon discovered that some of the historical characters I wanted in my book didn’t survive the timeline I was after as the 587th didn’t see combat until 1943. And since I was writing historical fiction, I couldn’t exactly have one of them pop up in the story when he or she was supposed to be dead.

It was about that point when I realized I really wanted more dogfights in my book overall, and thus, settling on the 586th fighter regiment was an easy choice. My decision to go with the 586th was reinforced even more when I realized that there weren’t any books on these women at all, at least on the historical fiction side. There were a few dealing with the Night Witches and some female pilots who were in male units, but the 586th was untouched, which is very appealing as a writer.

So with the 586th firmly settled, it was just a matter of changing a few things from my rough outline because my main character, Nadya, was going to be a fighter pilot and not a bomber pilot.

Building Nadya as a real person took a lot of work, and the details of her life came from a variety of sources, mostly interviews that had been recorded with surviving members of the 586th, 587th and 588th.

The stories I read were not only from the pilots, but the navigators, bombardiers, mechanics, and ground crews, and I drew a lot of inspiration from all of them as their tenacity and bravery was nothing short of legendary. I really wanted to capture that with Nadya’s War with not only Nadya herself, but with all of the supporting characters, too. Most of all, I wanted to ensure that Nadya was crafted in such a way that her story would slide neatly in between all the others I read, not overshadowing any of them in terms of what she goes through, heroics, etc., but accurately mirroring what each young woman in all three of these regiments dealt with day in and day out.

I like to think I managed to pull that off. Hopefully readers will agree.

So the all-female regiments really existed! I'm excited to learn about them, and eager to read more. Thank you for your book and for visiting my blog today. And now, here's some more information...

Author: C.S. Taylor
Publisher: Tiny Fox Press
Pages: 300
Genre: Historical Fiction


Nadezdah "Little Boar" Buzina, a young pilot with the Red Army's 586th all-female fighter regiment, dreams of becoming an ace. Those dreams shatter when a dogfight leaves her severely burned and the sole survivor from her flight.

For the latter half of 1942, she struggles against crack Luftwaffe pilots, a vengeful political commissar, and a new addiction to morphine, all the while questioning her worth and purpose in a world beyond her control. It's not until the Soviet counter-offensive at Stalingrad that she finds her unlikely answers, and they only come after she's saved the life of her mortal enemy and fallen in love with the one who nearly kills her.



Seven of us zipped through the overcast sky, a dozen meters beneath the cloud layer. Gridnev flew lead and a girl named Tania from First Squadron flew on his wing. Alexandra and I cruised next to them about thirty meters away. I pictured myself as a modern version of my ancestors who rode into battle on horseback, courageous and strong. If only they could see me now, sailing through the air to drive off the invaders. I wondered if they’d be proud or jealous. Maybe both.
The four of us escorted a flight of three Pe-2s from the 150th High-Speed Bomber Regiment across the snowy landscape. That unit was led by Lieutenant Colonel Ivan Polbin who I’d heard was quite the commander. I’d also heard he enjoyed music and sang well, like me, which made me think we’d get along—even if he was a die-hard communist and loyal to Stalin.
The twin-engine Peshkas flew nearly as fast as our fighters, something I was grateful for. I’m certain the three crew members inside each bomber were thankful as well, since unlike the German Heinkels and Stukas, these planes were tough to catch for any aircraft. That being said, I was glad I was in my Yak-1. I wouldn’t have wanted to fly one of those bombers at all, no matter how prestigious they were. They were still big targets, and far less nimble than the fighter I had. I prayed we’d keep them safe.
All the Pe-2s, however, did have fresh, winter paint jobs. Their off-white and tan colors hid them well in the surroundings, and if I wasn’t paying close attention, I’d even lose sight of them from time to time. Their target was a rail depot the Germans were using to bring in supplies and troops headed to Stalingrad. Obliterating it would disrupt logistics and force the Luftwaffe to keep it safe once rebuilt.
With luck, the Germans wouldn’t spot the Peshkas until the bombs were already dropping and they were headed home. I fantasized about how easy of a mission this could be as we went deeper into enemy lines. Those thoughts almost turned into dreams as the drone from my fighter’s engine combined with the dreary sky nearly put me to sleep, despite the digging pain in my arm.
“Tighten up, Little Boar,” Gridnev called out over the radio.
My eyes snapped to the formation. I’d drifted away from the bombers by a good fifty meters sideways and at least that in altitude. I glanced over my shoulder to see Alexandra off to my right. She’d stayed with me even as I wandered. “Reforming now. Thought I saw something below and wanted a better view.” 

C.S. Taylor is a former Marine and avid fencer (saber for the most part, foil and epee are tolerable). He enjoys all things WWII, especially perfecting his dogfighting skills inside virtual cockpits, and will gladly accept any P-38 Lightnings anyone might wish to bestow upon him. He’s also been known to run a kayak through whitewater now and again, as well give people a run for their money in trap and skeet.

His latest book is the historical fiction, Nadya’s War.



Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Have you entered the writing maze?

Author Sean Keefer is touring the internet with his novel The Solicitor, which is set in historic Charleston and the surrounding South Carolina Lowcountry. Since my background is English, I don't immediately know where that is, or what it's like, so I'm delighted that Sean has agreed to join me here on my blog and answer a few questions. So pull up a chair, pour yourself a coffee, and listen in. Thank you for joining us Sean.

   Firstly, I grew up in England and really don't have a feel for different American states. How would you characterize South Carolina as being different from North Carolina and other places?

South Carolina is vastly different from North Carolina and other surrounding states in a number of ways primarily, I’ll focus on North Carolina and Georgia, respectfully South Carolina’s neighbors to the north and south.  These two states each are home to major metropolitan areas, the Charlotte-Mecklenburg area in North Carolina and the Atlanta Metro in Georgia making for a lot more people, particularly around these cities as they are some of the largest you will find. In comparison, South Carolina, even in its largest areas from a population standpoint, has fewer people. The net of this is that virtually anywhere you are in South Carolina you are still essentially in a small town.  I live in Charleston, South Carolina, one of the larger areas in the state, and literally every time I am out of the house I pass someone I know on the street or in a store.

As well, all of these states have coastal areas, South Carolina has a number of separate coastal destinations that draw scores of visitors each year. The opportunities for recreational activities, arts and cultural events are simply pristine in South Carolina. 

I must admit, coming from South Carolina I am biased, but I believe that South Carolina is a little less crowded, a bit more relaxed and overall simply a wonderful place to be.  That and we are also home to the University of South Carolina Fighting Gamecocks!

And finally what makes South Carolina different, for me, is that it is my home.

How closely tied is your novel to time and place? Could the same story be told elsewhere, or would it be a different story then?

I attempted to attach a somewhat fluid time element to The Solicitor meaning that while it enjoys a modern setting it is more a range than date specific. However, in the story, I keep up with technological “gadgets” meaning it couldn’t be set in, say Revolutionary War times, as the use of cellphones and laptop computers would be, how shall we say, difficult.  That being said, it could be set largely anytime in a 20-30 year period, that is unless there are technological advances coming in the next few years that will render some of the technology I use obsolete. 

As to the location, it is tied very closely to Charleston. That is not to say that the story couldn’t be transposed to another setting, but as it was conceptualized and realized, Charleston is home.

 Home is always special (says she, now living and writing so far from her original home). As a writer, I'd love to know how fully plotted are your stories before you start writing? What is included in "conceptualization”?

I wrote my first book as it came to me and found this very difficult. For The Solicitor and my current project, I looked back to my high school education. Literally. My method for writing is to do a book report and reverse engineer a novel from that. This allows me to conceptualize the major characters, the plot and the flow of the story but to also have freedom to explore subplots and other characters as they may arise. For me this is a good balance that allows the process to flow more efficiently and keeps me focused.

  What a neat idea! I might try that. So... How long was your journey from conceptualization to print, and what advice would you give others setting out on the same road?

Way too long. The conceptualization to written draft was not all that long, but editing and the process of moving to publication took, well years. The best advice I can give to others is to write more. The more you write, the more you will have to edit and the closer you will find yourself to having a book. Spend time around writers and industry professionals, grow your network. Writing can be an isolated process, but get out and meet writers and readers. I love going to book events where those that love the written word congregate.

  Me too. And your protagonist relies on the help of people he can trust. I suspect you've already answered this for me, but where do you find people you can trust, and how have they helped you to get published?

In keeping with the last question, I try to put myself around other readers and other writers. I’ve found these folks amazingly supportive and helpful. I’ve found that people want to help as long as the need and desire for their help is genuine. I’ve had loads of people help me on my path to publishing my novels. Whether it be readers who have asked for more, book sellers that have provided encouragement or introduced me to the writers, other writers who have encouraged or even people who have been critical, all have given me knowledge and motivation to sit back down and put more words on paper.

 Your protagonist goes through a maze of deceptions, lies, family turmoil and treachery. How is getting published like negotiating a maze? Is life a maze?

I describe getting published as organized, prolonged chaos. Sometimes the process is measured incrementally, in units that seem smaller than inches. Many times the process day to day, week to week or month to month can seem stalled if not moving in reverse, but then one day you step back and gain perspective and realize that a release date is just around the corner.  Then the fun starts. And after all, isn’t that about the same with life….?

Thank you so much Sean. It's been great "talking" with you. And now I'll go back into my own disorganized chaos and try to recreate order... incrementally. 

Now for some more information about the book...

Author: Sean Keefer
Publisher: Four Hounds Creative
Pages: 386
Genre: Mystery

When you make your living fighting for justice, the last place you expect to wake up is behind bars.

Attorney Noah Parks has spent his life keeping people out of jail.  When he’s charged with the murder of a candidate for Charleston County Solicitor he finds himself on the wrong side of the law for a crime he says he didn’t commit.

No longer fighting for others and now relying on the help of the few people he does trust, Noah must fight to clear his name and find the real killer before it’s too late.

His search will lead him through a maze of deceptions, lies, family turmoil and treachery that spans generations.

The Solicitor is set in historic Charleston and the surrounding South Carolina Lowcountry where under the surface things are not always as genteel as they appear.


Amazon | Barnes & Noble

The sun’s arrival just as it cleared the horizon had always marked my favorite time of day. It wasn’t unusual to find me at dawn on the Carolina shore gazing to the east in anticipation, the ocean breeze softly brushing my face. The fleeting moments when the first rays of sunlight painted an explosion of color were more than enough to leave me knowing I was fortunate having witnessed it. Those, those were my favorite mornings and anything that followed was a bit less complicated, easier to handle.

I found myself in desperate need of such a morning.

But today there would be only cold concrete.

For the past five days, my sunrise had been a sliver of light crawling across the floor of my jail cell.

At first, I’d looked forward to it, but on the third day I realized I’d need a lot more to get me through the day, otherwise, that mere slice of sun would soon be pushing me into the icy grip of depression.

I’d quickly learned jail had a way of ushering in melancholy, even for the most optimistic. Most everyone inside, even the guards, were simply miserable.

My bail hearing had been a waste of everyone’s time. Accused murders don’t get bail with their first request, sometimes not on the second, if at all. The fact I’m a lawyer wasn’t helping. The last thing a judge wants to do is give the impression that a lawyer, particularly a criminal attorney like me, is entitled to special treatment.

Things change fast. Days earlier, my life, while not perfect, had been good.

I’d taken my girlfriend to the airport to catch a late-night flight to Chicago. She’d recently relocated to Charleston, but was wrapping up her ties to Chicago.

After returning from the airport, I turned on ESPN, eager to hear what the talking heads had to say about the South Carolina Gamecock’s next football game. As was the case for most Gamecock fans, their football season sanity ebbed or flowed with the team’s weekly performance.

It was a cool fall night and the windows were open as I watched TV from bed, my dog at my feet. Both he and I looked up as we heard a car outside–odd for that time of night in our quiet neighborhood.

The sound of the doorbell was even more unexpected, so much so I didn’t immediately get up. Rarely did anyone just drop by, especially near midnight. The second ring was immediately followed by a knock. I got out of bed, pulled on jeans and a T-shirt and went down the stairs. Austin, my Australian Shepherd, was barking and jumping beside me as I unlocked the door. He sat on my command.
I opened the door to the sight of a tall black man in plainclothes with a Charleston Police Department badge on his belt. Three uniformed Charleston County deputy sheriffs flanked him. Three police cars occupied my drive. An unmarked cruiser in the cul-de-sac completed the scene. Thankfully none had their lights on. I shifted my gaze back to the officers. Not a smile among them.

This couldn’t be good, I remember thinking.

 “Noah, how about I come in?” Emmett Gabriel said. He looked me straight in the eyes. We were the same height, just under six feet tall, but the lack of a smile, his badge, and the deputies that flanked him made him feel bigger and much stronger than me.

 I’d heard his voice many times before. At the police station, in his backyard, over a meal, on my back deck, other times through the years but never near midnight with other police officers standing on my front porch.

“Since when have you ever asked permission to come in the house?  What’s wrong?”

“Noah, let’s talk inside?”

I just stood in the doorway. Silent and motionless.

One of the officers behind him coughed, jarring me back to reality.

I stepped to the side. “Sorry, certainly, come in.”

“Wait outside,” Gabriel said to the deputies.

We walked down the short hallway into my living room in silence.

 “Where’s Anna Beth?”

A feeling of panic ran through me as he asked about my girlfriend.

“Is she okay?”

“As far as I know. She not here?”

Chicago trip.”

The feeling of panic faded to one of wonder, wondering why at midnight a detective I knew was standing, unannounced, in my living room while three other anxious officers were staged on my front porch. I asked why he was here. Wonder quickly faded with the next words I heard.

 “The officers outside have a warrant for your arrest.”

Having never been one to miss the obvious, I remember uttering my insightful reply, “A warrant?”

“Yes, for the murder of Andrew Stephens.

While growing up in South Carolina, Sean didn't realize it, but he was absorbing the styles, mannerisms, idiosyncrasies, dialects and the culture of his home.   Add to this the time he spent traveling the other Carolina for school and then North America for work, he collected a vast array of experiences and observations from which to draw upon and bring together in his writing.

After studying law in North Carolina, Sean settled in Charleston, South Carolina and instantly became enamored with the people as well as the city.  

One day he started writing and the words, generally, kept flowing. A page became a chapter which ultimately became a book known as The Trust.  After this the process started again and The Solicitor was the end result. Hopefully, if you are reading this you either have, or soon will have, your very own copy of one or both.   

The experience of taking two novels from conceptualization to print has been one of frustration peppered with increasing amounts of reward.  Each step from the first words hitting the page to ultimately holding a book in hand has been a personal reward.

When Sean is not writing he practices Family Law and works as a Domestic Mediator and lives with his Wife and an ever-expanding pack of rescue canines – the current count is 4.  As well, Sean can frequently be found wandering the lowcountry of South Carolina with his camera, playing guitar in assorted venues around Charleston or exploring the underwater world of the southeast.




Friday, December 1, 2017

When is writing like water?

Today I'm delighted to welcome author Dianna Vagianos Armentrout to my blog. I featured and reviewed her book, Walking the Labyrinth of my heart, just a couple of days ago, and here she is to tell you about it herself. Welcome Dianna, and thank you for visiting my blog.

Writing like WaterBy Dianna Vagianos Armentrout

Some people are sturdy as mountains. Others are like rivers, moving around and beneath and through vegetation and stones. Roots and shadows. My memoir, Walking the Labyrinth of My Heart: A Journey of Pregnancy, Grief and Newborn Death is fluid in its genre because I am not a mountain. I like to wander and wade and dive deeply into places and moments. When I found out that my unborn baby would die, I floated into my daughter’s life and death not knowing what the future held. Somehow I survived the unthinkable.

These days we see the blending of genres more and more. Novels can be inspired by real experiences, and memoir is never exactly true. The memory of our experiences changes as we change. We tell stories, but they sometimes contain the fictions of our point of view. The moment in time that we are attempting to capture is gone, and all we can do is remember.

When I put together my book, I wanted to include journal entries that I wrote when I was pregnant and found out that my baby would die. The journal entries are rough. They are not the refined writing of a graduate writer’s workshop, but I wanted to show that jagged, dark space to other families going through pregnancies with life-limiting and sometimes fatal diagnoses.

I started a blog. I wrote essays on birthing at home with a fatal diagnosis. I wrote about trisomy 18 and bereavement doulas. I wrote about grief. The longing for that which we cannot hold. These blog posts became another section of my book.

Poems poured out of me with Mary Rose’s milk. I was angry. I was shocked. I wanted my baby, and I wrote. Poetry is my first genre, so we have a section of poems too.

I studied poetry therapy for many years, and I wrote about the healing experience of writing through grief. Writing really can help us process the hardest moments of grief.

Why does my book contain so many different genres? I could not write a book about my pregnancy with my daughter, Mary Rose, in a linear narrative. My pregnancy and my grief afterwards waxed and waned with every step I took. My book is a manifestation of my own journey. I need more than one genre to express the different manifestations of grief and of creating my new life after the birth and death of my daughter.

Grief is also like water, though it can be stormy like the ocean. After Mary Rose died, I was not prepared for postpartum life without my baby. Many times I thought I was okay, and then I burst into tears. Again.

The book has many short chapters, short poems and excerpts. In the aftermath and shock of a difficult diagnosis during pregnancy, the brevity might be easier for a weeping mother. I also included some chapters on how to navigate through such a diagnosis. Do you send out birth announcements when your newborn dies? Do you plan a funeral? If the baby lives, do you want life support? How do we deal with social media posts about healthy pregnancies and babies when our hearts are broken? Where do we find support?

I offer my book to my readers, hoping that each reader finds something that resonates with her. Grief is lonely, but many of us are grieving. I wanted to give voice to the mourning mother who miscarried or lost a baby. I hope that we may comfort each other with our stories, as water comforts us in its many manifestations. River, ocean or lake; stormy or calm. Our babies were carried in water, and we are water too.

Where to find the book:

And where to find the author:

Thursday, November 30, 2017

How Cold is your Christmas?

Christmas is coming, and author Sheila Roberts is touring the internet with her latest Icicle Falls novel, Christmas in Icicle Falls. Feeling the need to get into the mood, I decided to read and review it...

Christmas in Icicle Falls is the first Sheila Roberts book I’ve read. It’s the last in the Icicle Falls series, which is just one of many series penned by the author, so I’m not sure how I’ve missed reading her novels so far. But it’s a very enjoyable standalone book, so a good introduction to the author’s characters, style and stories. Plus it’s a Christmas story, perfect for the season. It involves an ugly artificial tree, made beautiful with wise decoration. And it involves very real, messed-up human lives, made equally beautiful.

Single mom Sienna Moreno just wants a safe environment for her developmentally challenged son. Local author Muriel Sterling wants lots of people to find Christmas joy in her book. Friend Arthur wants Muriel to go on vacation with him. And the grouchy old man just wants… to be a grouch perhaps.

As the story continues, backstories add just enough depth to each character, creating believable quirks and compelling explanations, decorating human imperfection with touches of delight, and leading to happy conclusions. Simple acts of kindness add up. Simple misunderstandings retreat. And messed-up relationships give way to trust. It’s a sweet novel, with just enough tart for laughter, heartache and hope. It stands alone easily if, like me, you've not read the rest of the series, and it ends with sweet recipes too.

Disclosure: I received a free copy of this book and voluntarily chose to review it.

For more information about the book and/or author, including a short video, please read below:

Author: Sheila Roberts
Publisher: Harlequin Mira
Pages: 368
Genre: Women’s Fiction

When Muriel Sterling released her new book, A Guide to Happy Holidays, she felt like the queen of Christmas. She's thrilled when the new tree she ordered online arrives and is eager to show it off—until she gets it out of the box and realizes it's a mangy dud. But rather than give up on the ugly tree, Muriel decides to make a project out of it. As she pretties up her tree, she realizes there's a lesson to be learned: everything and everyone has potential. Maybe even her old friend Arnie, who's loved her for years. Except, she's not the only one seeing Arnie's potential…

Meanwhile, Muriel's ugly-tree project has also inspired her friends. Sienna Moreno is trying to bring out the best in the grouchy man next door, who hates noise, hates kids and hates his new neighbors. And while Olivia Claussen would love to send her obnoxious new daughter-in-law packing, she's adjusting her attitude and trying to discover what her son sees in the girl. If these women can learn to see the beauty in the "ugly trees" in their lives, perhaps this might turn out to be the happiest holiday yet.


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Chapter One
“This is the time of year to give thanks for all the wonderful people in our lives.”
- A Guide to Happy Holidays by Muriel Sterling
Thanksgiving, a day to spend with family, to give thanks for all your blessings, to … have a close encounter with your cranky neighbor’s shrubbery. Oh, yes, this was how Sienna Marks wanted to start her day.
Why, oh, why, had she ventured out in her car on an icy street to go to the grocery store for more milk when she could have asked her cousin Rita Reyes to bring it? Rita’s husband Tito worked at the Safeway meat department. He could have picked up a gallon.
But oh, no. She had to go out on her cheap no-weather tires. She should have stretched her budget a little further and gotten those snow tires like Rita had told her to do. “Here in the mountains you want snow tires,” Rita had said.
Yes, she did, especially now as she was skidding toward Mr. Cratchett’s front yard.
“We’re gonna die!” her nine – year old son Leo cried and clapped his hands over his eyes as they slid up and over Mr. Cratchett’s juniper bush. Sienna could hear the branches crunching under them, the bush equivalent of breaking bones. Madre de Dios!
The good news was, the bush brought her to a stop. The bad news was she was stopped right in front of Mr. Cratchett’s house.
Maybe she hadn’t damaged the bush too much. “It’s okay, honey. We’re fine,” she assured her son, and got out of the car on shaky legs. She probably couldn’t say the same for Mr. Cratchett’s landscaping.
She was barely out of her car before her neighbor stormed down the walk, an ancient navy pea coat thrown on over pajama bottoms stuffed into boots, a knitted cap pulled over his sparse gray hair. He was scowling. Great.
“What have you done to my juniper bush?” he demanded.
“I’m so sorry, Mr. Cratchett. “I hit a slippery spot.”
“You shouldn’t be out if you don’t know how to drive in the snow,” Cratchett growled.
She wasn’t sure how she’d learn to drive in the snow if she didn’t get out in it but she decided this wasn’t the time for that observation.
He leaned over the bush like a detective examining a corpse. “This thing will never come back. You’ve damaged it beyond repair.”
“I’ll buy you a new one come spring,” Sienna promised.
“You certainly will,” he snapped. “If you don’t, you’ll be hearing from my lawyer. You’re becoming a real nuisance.”
“So are you,” she muttered as she got back into her car.
“He’s mad,” Leo observed.
There was an understatement. “It’s okay,” she said as much to herself as her son. She put the car into gear, held her breath and inched toward their driveway. The car swayed as they turned in. Ooooh.
“I want to get out,” Leo said.
“Stay put. We’re fine.” She bit her lip as she braked – oh, so gently – and the car fishtailed to a stop right before she hit the garage door.
She let out her breath. There. Something to be thankful for.
She could see Cratchett standing on his front walk, glaring at her. “You shouldn’t be driving,” he called.
Yeah, well, neither should he. She’d seen him behind the wheel and he was scary even when there wasn’t snow. Honestly, what had she ever done to deserve inheriting him?
“Just lucky, I guess,” teased her cousin Rita later as Sienna recounted her day’s adventures to her family over their evening Thanksgiving feast.
There were plenty of people present to enjoy it – Rita, her husband Tito and their toddler Linda were present along with Sienna’s tia, Mami Lucy and Tito’s sister and brother-in-law and their two small children. It was Sienna’s first holiday celebration in her new house and she loved being able to fill it with company.
Especially on Thanksgiving, which was her favorite holiday. The food – turkey and pork, tamales, Mami’s arroz con gandules, coquito and flan for dessert, the music – salsa, merengue, and bachata, and, of course, time with family. With her parents and two brothers still in L.A. it was a comfort to be able to have her aunt and cousin living in the same town. It was also nice to have them right here to complain to.
No, wait. No complaining on Thanksgiving. She was simply venting. Justifiably venting. “I mean it’s not like I meant to run over Mr. Cratchett’s juniper bush.”
“You didn’t exactly get practice driving in snow down in L.A.” Rita said consolingly.
“That man.” She shook her head in disgust as she helped herself to more fruit salad. “Neighbors should come with a warning label.”
“This one should have,” Sienna said. “He shouldn’t be allowed to have neighbors. He should be hermit. Actually, he’s already close to one. He hardly ever comes out of that big, overgrown house of his except to yell at me.” Okay, maybe that was a slight exaggeration.
Or not.
“Mr. Cratchett’s mean to me, too, Mommy,” put in Leo.
Tito shook his head. “Threatening to call the cops over a baseball through the window.”
“I didn’t do that,” Leo declared hotly. “It was Tommie Haskell. Tommy said it was me.”
Poor Leo had taken the fall and Sienna had bought Mr. Cratchett a new window.
“Culo,” muttered Tito. “I should have come over and taken a baseball to the old dude’s head.”
Tito’s sister pointed her fork at him. “Then he really would have called the cops.”
“He’s been there, done that,” Sienna said. “Remember?”
“Yes, making such a stink when we had your housewarming party,” Rita said in disgust. “Too loud my ass. It was barely nine.”
“Maybe that’s what got us started on the wrong foot,” Sienna mused.
Tito frowned and shook his head. “No. The dude’s a cabrón.”
“Oh, well. Let’s not think about him anymore,” Sienna said. There were plenty of nice people in town to make up for her un-neighborly neighbor. She liked Rita’s boss, Charley Masters, who owned Zelda’s restaurant, and Bailey Black, who owned a teashop, was quickly becoming a good friend. Pat York, her boss at Mountain Escape Books was great, and Pat’s friends had all taken her under their wings.
“Good idea,” agreed Rita. “Pass the tamales.”
Venting finished, Sienna went back to concentrating on counting her blessings. So she didn’t have husband. (Who wanted a creep who walked away when the going got tough, anyway?) She had her family, new friends, a wonderful job and a pretty house. It wasn’t as big as Cratchett’s corner lot mansion – nobody’s was – but it had three bedrooms, two baths, and a kitchen with lots of cupboard space, and it was all hers. Or it would be in thirty years. And she had the sweetest son a woman could ask for. Her life was good, so more complaining, er, venting.

Olivia Wallace’s feet hurt. So did her back. For that matter, so did her head. Serving Thanksgiving dinner to all her guests at the Icicle Creek Lodge was an exhausting undertaking, even with help.
Thank God she’d had help. Although one particular ‘helper,” her new daughter-in-law, had been about as helpful as a road block.
“I was a waitress at the Full Table Buffet,” Meadow had bragged. “No problemo.”
She’d showed off her experience by setting the tables wrong, spilling gravy in a customer’s lap and then swearing at him when he got upset with her. She’d capped the day off by leaving halfway through serving the main course.
“Meadow doesn’t feel good,” Olivia’s son Brandon had explained.
Meadow didn’t feel good? Olivia hadn’t felt so good herself. She’d been nursing a headache for days. (Perhaps it had something to do with the arrival of her new daughter-law?) But running an inn was not much different than show business. The show must go on.
And so it had, but Olivia was still feeling more than a little cranky about the performance of one particular player. “Whatever did he see in her?” she complained to her husband as James rubbed her tired feet. Besides the obvious. The girl was pretty – in a brassy, exotic way. Brandon had always dated good-looking women.
James wisely didn’t answer.
Olivia had been longing to see her baby boy married for years, but she hadn’t expected him to sneak off to Vegas to do it. She certainly hadn’t expected him to commit so quickly, before anyone hardly had a chance to get to know her. Before he hardly even had a chance to get to know her!
Brandon had met Meadow when he was skiing. She’d been hanging out at the ski lodge at Crystal Mountain after her first ski lesson and there was poor, unsuspecting Brandon. They’d wound up having dinner together and then spent the night partying. That had been the beginning of private ski lessons followed by private parties for two. And then it was, “Oops, I’m pregnant.” And that was followed by, “Surprise, we’re married.” Of course, all this had taken place quite clandestinely. He’d only known this girl a few months. Months! And never said anything about her. Now, suddenly, here they were married. And, well, here they were.
Not that Olivia wasn’t happy to have her wandering boy home again, ready to help run the family business. It was just that the woman he’d brought with him was taking some getting used to. Actually, a lot of getting used to.
The couple had started out living in Seattle and Brandon had settled down and gotten a job working for large company that was slowly taking over the city. The benefits were great, but the hours were long, and Meadow had complained. So he’d called Mom and suggested coming back. The lodge would be passed on to him and Eric anyway, so of course, she’d gotten a little suite ready for them, one similar to what her older son Eric and his wife had, making them all one big, happy family.
With a cuckoo in the nest.
“She tricked him into marrying her, I’m sure,” Olivia muttered.
Olivia’s second son had always been a bit of a ladies’ man, but she’d never known Brandon to be irresponsible. The idea that he’d gotten someone pregnant – someone he barely knew and who so clearly was not his type – didn’t make sense to her at all. It was just so unlike him, In fact, the more she thought about it after hearing the news the more she couldn’t help the sneaking suspicion that the whole pregnancy thing had been a ploy to pin Brandon down. Olivia’s suspicion only grew when, a few weeks after they were married they told her the pregnancy had ended. It was a terrible thing to think, and yet Olivia couldn’t shake the feeling that there probably hadn’t even been a baby – only a trashy girl looking to snag a good-looking man and some financial security. How had she been able to afford ski lessons, anyway?
Okay, she had to admit that Brandon did seem smitten with Meadow. So there had to be something hiding behind the trashy clothes, the lack of manners, the self-centeredness, and haze of smoke from her E-cigarettes. Such a filthy habit, smoking, and so bad for your health.
“I’d rather smoke than be fat,” Meadow had said to Olivia when she had – politely – brought up the subject.
Olivia was a little on the pudgy side. Was that a slur?
Not only did Meadow appear to disapprove of Olivia’s looks, she obviously disapproved of her decorating skills. The first thing out of her mouth when she’d seen the lodge had been, “Whoa, look at these granny carpets.”
Granny carpets indeed! Those rose patterned carpets were classic, and they’d cost Olivia a small fortune when she first put them in. Plus, they complemented the many antiques Olivia had in the lobby and the guest rooms. Well, all right. So the girl had different tastes. (Obviously she wouldn’t know an antique if she tripped over one.) But did she have to be so … vocal?
She’d hardly raved over the small apartment that Olivia had given her and Brandon. She’d walked into the bedroom and frowned. “Where’s the closet?”
Olivia had pointed to the German antique pine armoire and said, “This is it. It’s a Shrank.”
“A what?”
“For your clothes.”
“I’m supposed to fit all my clothes in there?”
Taking in Meadow’s skimpy skirt and midriff-bearing top, Olivia had doubted that her clothes would take up much room. “I’m sure Brandon can remodel for you,” Olivia had said stiffly.
“I hope so.” Meadow had drifted over to the window and looked out. “Wow, that’s some view.”
At least she’d appreciated the view.
“It’s gonna be really cool living here,” she’d said, and Olivia almost warmed to her until she added, “Once we fix this place up.”
“So what do you think of Meadow?” Brandon had asked after the first he brought her home to meet Mom.
By then they were already married. It had been too late to say what she really thought. “Wasn’t this a little fast? I always thought we’d have a wedding.” I always thought you’d pick someone we wanted you to marry.
That was when he’d blushed and confessed that they were pregnant. They’d wanted to get married anyway, so what the hell.
What the hell indeed.
“Dear, this isn’t like you,” James said, bringing Olivia out of her unpleasant reverie. “You’re normally so kind-hearted and welcoming.”
“I’ve welcomed her,” Olivia insisted. She’d given the girl a home here at the inn with the rest of the family. That was pretty welcoming.
But you haven’t exactly taken her in with open arms.
The thought gave her conscience a sharp poke and she squirmed on the sofa. Her cat Muffin, who had been happily encamped on her lap, meowed in protest.
“If only she was more like Brooke,” Olivia said as if that excused her attitude. “At least Eric got it right.” Brooke was refined and well educated and loved the lodge. Not only did she truly want to be helpful, she actually was. She and Olivia were on the same wave length.
James couldn’t help smiling at the mention of his daughter. It had been Brooke who was responsible for James and Olivia meeting. “No one’s like Brooke,” he said proudly.
“She is one of a kind, just like her daddy.”
James, who had spent most of his life playing Santa Claus, was as close to the real deal as a man could come. With his snowy white hair and beard, husky build and caring smile, he embodied the very spirit of Christmas.
“Thank you, my dear,” he said, and gave her poor, tired foot a pat. “But, getting back to the subject of Meadow, I’m sure she has many redeeming qualities. All you have to do is look for them.”
“With a magnifying glass.”
“Olivia,” he gently chided.
“You’re right. I’m just having such a hard time warming to the girl.”
“I know. But this is the woman Brandon has chosen.”
Olivia sighed. “Yes, and I need to make more of an effort for his sake.”
And she would. Tomorrow was another day.
Another busy day. They’d be decorating the lodge for the holidays. Meadow had been excited over the prospect and assured Olivia she loved to decorate. Hopefully, she’d be better at that than she was at helping serve food.
The next morning, Eric was knocking on the door of Olivia’s little apartment in the lodge. “We ready to do this?” he asked James.
“Yep. Let’s start hauling up the holidays.”
There was plenty to haul up from the huge basement storeroom where Olivia kept the holiday decorations – ornaments to go on the eight-foot noble fir they’d purchased for one corner of the lobby as well as ones for the tree in the dining room, snow globes and red ribbons for the fireplace mantel and, of course, the antique sleigh which would sit right in the center of the lobby. It was a favorite with their guests and people were constantly taking pictures of it. There were stuffed Teddy bears and antique dolls to ride in the sleigh, mistletoe to hang in the hallways, and silk poinsettias to be placed on the reception desk. Decorating the inn was an all hands on deck day.
“Where’s your brother?” Olivia asked as he set down the box of toys for the sleigh.
“He’s coming. Meadow’s just now getting up. They closed down The Man Cave last night and she’s pooped.”
So, she’d recovered from her earlier illness. How convenient. “Maybe she’s too tired to help,” Olivia said hopefully. Playing pool all night could be exhausting.
No such luck. Fifteen minutes later Olivia and Brooke were sorting through the first bin of decorations when Meadow dragged herself into the lobby accompanied by Brandon. She was wearing tight, ripped jeans, complimented with a sheer blouse hanging loose over a low cut red camisole which perfectly matched the patch of hair she’d died red. The rest was a color of blonde that made Olivia think of lightbulbs. Olivia could just see the tip of the wings on the butterfly Meadow had tattooed over her right breast peeking over the top of the camisole. She made a shocking contrast to Brooke with her soft brown hair and tasteful clothes. Now almost eight months pregnant, she was wearing a long, gray sweater accented with a blue silk scarf over her black maternity leggings and gray ankle boots. Meadow even looked like a total mismatch with Brandon, who was in jeans and a casual, button down black plaid shirt.
“I feel like shit,” she confessed. “I think those fish tacos were off.” She shook her head. “Now I know what they mean when they say toss your tacos.”
The queen of refinement this girl was not. To think Brandon could have had sweet little Bailey Black for a daughter-in-law if only he’d gotten with the program. Bailey had carried a torch for him for years. Too late now. She was happily married. And Brandon was … trapped. So were the rest of them.
You’re going to have to make the best of it, Olivia reminded herself. Her son loved his new wife. He’d obviously seen something in her. She probably would too. If she looked harder.
James and Eric arrived in the lobby bearing more decorations. “You’re just in time,” Eric told his brother. “You can help me haul in the sleigh.”
Brandon nodded and followed the men back out.
Olivia pasted a smile on her face. “Well, girls, let’s get started.”
“All right. This is going to be fun,” Meadow said eagerly, and opened a bin.
Eager and excited to help, that was commendable.
Meadow pulled out a pink ribbon ball holding a sprig of silk mistletoe and made a face. “What the hell is this?”
“It’s mistletoe,” Olivia explained.
“Mistletoe.” Meadow said it like it was a foreign language.
“You’ve heard of mistletoe, right?” Brooke prompted and Meadow shook her head.
Both Olivia and Brooke stared at her in amazement.
“So, what is it?”
“You hang it up and then when you catch someone under it you kiss him,” Brooke explained.
Meadow shook her head. “Why do you need a plant for that? If you want to kiss a guy just kiss him!”
Good Lord. The child was a complete Philistine.
Brooke smiled. “It’s a fun, little tradition people enjoy.”
“Whatever,” Meadow said, unimpressed.
She was impressed with the sleigh though. “Wow, that’s epic.” The minute the men had set it down she climbed into it and tossed Brandon her cell phone. “Take my picture, babe,” she commanded and struck a rapper girl pose, complete with the weird finger thing and the pout.
An older couple was walking through the lobby, and the husband stopped to enjoy the moment. “Now there’s my kind of Christmas present,” he joked.
His wife, not seeing the humor, grabbed his arm and got him moving again. “Tacky,” she hissed.
Meadow flipped her off and Olivia’s cheeks heated.
Dear Santa, please bring me an extra dose of patience. I’m going to need it.

Watch the Book Teaser!

USA Today best-selling author Sheila Roberts has seen her books published in multiple languages and made into movies. She lives in the Pacific Northwest, dividing her time between a waterfront condo and a beach home. When she’s not on the tennis courts or partying with friends she can be found writing about those things dear to women’s hearts: family, friends, and chocolate.

Her latest women’s fiction is Christmas in Icicle Falls.