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Saturday, November 10, 2018

The Shadowy Horses by Susanna Kearsley - Review


In The Shadowy Horses by Susanna Kearsley, archeologist Verity Grey begins an excavation in Scotland. The Ninth Roman Legion was rumored to have camped there as they marched north from York to fight the Scots, and the owner of a remote manor house is convinced his property contains the bones of the lost legion.



From the first night in the manor house, Verity hears the horses thundering across the fields beneath her window, whinnying and snorting as their hooves pound the ground. Yet when she begins her first day of work, she discovers there are no horses within miles around.



The cook’s son has paranormal gifts that Verity vainly attempts to logically explain away. He sees the ghost of a Roman sentinel walking through the fields. Verity reminds him of his sister, so the phantom is determined to remain near her, watching over her and protecting her—which factors into the climactic scenes. The cook’s son also sees things before they happen and occasionally is consumed by other unseen presences.



As Verity begins the excavation work, she is joined by others including a handsome Scot named David so in addition to the ghost and the work, she finds herself caught up in romance.



I have loved every Susanna Kearsley book I’ve read. Her beautiful style reminds me of books I read while growing up; a modern-day Daphne du Maurier or Mary Stewart. The characters are complex, revealing themselves one layer at a time. The setting is described so exquisitely that I could smell the heather in the fields, the rain moving in, the fish market in the village. I could hear the shadowy horses thundering through the fields, I could feel the ghostly presence of one that can never leave his last encampment. Reading any of Kearsley’s books is truly an immersive experience.



There is a twist at the end that I didn’t see coming but in retrospect, all the clues were there, cleverly hidden in plain sight.



I definitely give this book five stars and I’m anxious to read another of Kearsley’s books as quickly as possible. They are addictive.


Watch the Book Tuber Video below:


Thursday, November 8, 2018

In Geography Lies Your Destiny


I have often heard the phrase “geography is destiny”. Originally a geopolitical theory that refers to certain geographic regions that carry strategic advantage, it can also be applied to the way your life unfolds, the opportunities open to you and ultimately to what you are able to achieve in life. This philosophy was brilliantly portrayed in the 2017 neo-Western murder mystery movie inspired by a true story, Wind River, starring Jeremy Renner and Elizabeth Olsen.






The story takes place on the Wind River Indian Reservation in Wyoming in the middle of winter. It is an inhospitable place, isolated from the rest of the world in a winter wonderland that can turn vicious in an instant. Early in the movie we learn the atmosphere becomes so cold that the air in the lungs can actually crystallize, leading to death. When expert tracker and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Agent Cory Lambert (played by Jeremy Renner) discovers a young woman’s body six miles from the nearest structure, he recognizes the telltale signs of pulmonary hemorrhage. The question is why she was so far from anything; tracing her footsteps, he comes to the conclusion she had been running for six miles—barefoot on ice and snow.



The Wind River Indian Reservation is a place forgotten by modern man, though it encompasses over 3,000 square miles as well as 3,500 square miles of water. It is the home of just over 26,000 Eastern Shoshone and Northern Arapaho Native Americans, descendants of people pushed onto the reservation from their original territory beginning in 1868, some 30 years after the Cherokee were relocated along the Trail of Tears to Oklahoma.



The Reservation has only a handful of people on their police force and because the FBI has jurisdiction on federal property, an agent is called in from Las Vegas when the coroner confirms the victim had been sexually assaulted. Jane Banner, played by Elizabeth Olsen, is unfamiliar with the unforgiving landscape and relies on Cory Lambert to assist her in the investigation.





The landscape itself becomes an antagonist. Regardless of the temperature in the room, you will find yourself shivering and reaching for an extra throw or blanket. The fact that Native Americans were forced to live there—and they survived—is a testament to the ability of human beings to adapt. Opportunities there are nearly non-existent; in one scene, a young man is asked why he didn’t get out when he might have been able to escape the poverty, high crime and hopelessness. One gets the sense that because these people have lived there for generations, sometimes the land itself prevents them from straying far, regardless of the opportunities that might be available to them elsewhere. It is as if their feet have roots grown deep into the frozen ground, fusing them forever to that place and time.



I admit I closed my eyes during a scene toward the end of the movie, where we learn in a flashback what occurred to the young woman and how she came to be outside in her bare feet, running for her life for six miles over ice and snow that would have stopped an average human being in their tracks long before it stopped her. By this time, the haunting landscape and the plight of its people had pervaded my spirit and long after the movie was over, I felt as if I was still there.



Missing person statistics exist for every demographic except Native American women. The life expectancy on the Wind River Indian Reservation is only 49 years and unemployment rates are more than 80%. (Bustle,2017) Though missing person statistics are not kept, Native American women are 10 times more likely to be murdered than other groups and experience rape and sexual assault at 4 times the national average. (NewYork Times, 2012)



If geography determines our destiny, it is difficult to fathom why anyone would remain in a place that appears destined to kill them—perhaps the original intent when these tribes were forced from their original territories. And yet it happens all across the globe. The invisible system that anchors us remain so strong that it is often difficult—if not impossible—to break free.


Wind River: five stars and highly recommended



Thursday, November 1, 2018

The Adventures of Blade and Rye



For nearly 20 years I have written suspense novels and historical suspense, so it may come as a surprise—to you and to me—that I have written my first children’s book, The Adventures of Blade and Rye.



Written for children ages 10 and under, The Adventures of Blade and Rye is written as a lyrical poem similar to the style I loved when I was a small child and listened to my mother reading The Cat in the Hat or The Night Before Christmas. The first things I memorized were stanzas from those book pages, and they instilled in me a love and appreciation for poetry.



The book is about two tiny fairies named Blade and Rye and their adventures when they discover Planet Earth. They fall in love with the Blue Planet and beg their teacher, Miss Indigo, to remain there to witness all the exciting things that occur in nature. They must find the perfect home, which takes them from mountain peaks to ocean depths. When they discover just the right spot, they are turned into two tiny blades of grass to keep them safe from wandering into danger. And there under the protective arms of a yew tree beside an idyllic lake, they bask in the sunshine, witness the moon’s appearance and discover life underground.



I have always loved angels and fairies and as I have researched my Scots-Irish ancestry, the love and appreciation for these wee creatures have only grown.



The official release date is November 22, 2018. Until then, pre-orders can be placed with local bookstores for the paperback edition, which retails for $11.99. The Kindle version is also available for pre-order at $4.99, and amazon has jumped the gun and is selling the paperback prior to the official release date. The book is 44 pages and full color inside and out, illustrated beautifully by Susan Fitzgerald, who truly makes Blade and Rye come to life.




Friday, October 5, 2018

Missing Simone


My collie Simone passed away this week. Many of my readers and social media followers came to know her and everyone that met her adored her. Her picture hangs in the Robeson County (NC) Humane Society offices; the no-kill facility that rescued her, a symbol of hope for all the dogs and cats that come through there, a promise of a better life that is possible to all.



Her own early years were marked with abuse and neglect, which was how she had come to Animal Control and discovered by RCHS volunteers. I was asked to foster her; though she was about two years old and should have weighed 75 pounds, she was barely 45 and completely traumatized. My job was to get her well so she could be adopted out, but I fell in love with her and she never left my home. I thought I was rescuing her, but it turns out, she was rescuing me.



I also had two foxhounds, Mattie and Skipper. Mattie taught her how to climb the stairs to my office so she could hang out, where the best water was kept (in the toilet), and how to patrol the yard. Skipper taught her where all the treats were and how to get them handed out. He cleaned her teeth and taught Eddie, a Jack Russell adopted a year later, how to clean them as well. She was patient as her jowls were lifted up by their muzzles while they worked on her.



After she’d put on weight, I brought her to be spayed. It was during surgery that the vet discovered she had given birth shortly before she was rescued at the pound, and she’d never fully healed. She had only been with me for a couple of months at that point and hadn’t yet figured out that she was in her Forever Home. When I picked her up, she appeared depressed, her head hanging, her steps slow but steady, following the leash but not really looking up. When we arrived back home and Mattie and Skipper greeted her enthusiastically, she sprang to life, running from room to room, jumping in each doggie bed before rushing off to the next. It was then that she knew she would always come back to us. She was family.



Eventually, Skipper passed away, followed a few years later by Mattie, and Simone became Big Sister to Eddie and Lucy, another Jack Russell adopted five years later. Her face lit up when they were near and she treated them as if they were her own puppies that never managed to grow up.





Simone and I grew older together. We slowed down considerably, her with arthritis and me with nerve damage, both of us favoring one leg and unable to walk far. We both grew hard of hearing until I realized she had to see me before she could hear me. And when she walked into a room and suddenly stopped and looked around, I knew she was wondering what she’d come in there for.



We had our routines; as I was getting dressed each morning, she would come to stand by my side until I loved on her and told her she was the most beautiful collie ever, the Claudia Schiffer of collies, and a sweetheart, too. More often than not, she would leave the room, circle around and come back in to hear it all over again.



She followed me to my office every morning for her dental treat and to lie at my feet while I worked, and she followed me downstairs at lunch and wherever I went.



Simone knew what so many humans don’t: that love and acceptance is all that matters. Though she had been abused and neglected, she greeted everyone that came to the house with the same silent dignity and gentle greeting—man or woman, black or white, two legs or four. It made no difference to her that she was black and the Jack Russells were white; she loved them anyway and they adored her.



She had gone to the vet the week before Hurricane Florence and gotten a clean bill of health. And earlier this week, she’d returned to have her teeth cleaned. When she came home, she was unsteady on her feet but we’d been told to expect that as the anesthesia took time to wear off. She laid on the patio listening to the birds singing, eventually coming through the doggie doors into the house, where she tried to get comfortable on the air conditioning vent in the living room and then in front of the tower fan in the bedroom.



I lay down beside her, telling her what a sweetheart she was and how everybody loved her. Her head was up, her ears erect, and she seemed to be watching something I couldn’t see. I dozed off and dreamed that she was about 3 or 4 years old and outside where Mattie and Skipper were greeting her as they had that day so long ago. Each was asking the other where they had been before taking off at breakneck speed to run and jump and play. When I opened my eyes, I realized only two or three minutes had passed and when I checked on Simone, she was gone.



Many religions believe at the moment we pass to the other side, we are greeted by someone we know, someone that loves us, because we all have someone we trust and love. I like to think as Simone passed, Mattie and Skipper were truly there waiting for her, eager to show her around. They no doubt have introduced her to Buddy, the Australian Shepherd that helped me raise them, and to Charmer, the Old English Mastiff who was Buddy’s best friend and “brother”. I have a feeling that my mom is telling her right now that she is a sweetheart, and her voice so like mine, is soothing her.



But the truth is I miss her. I miss her walking into the bathroom every morning to hear that she’s the Claudia Schiffer of collies. I miss seeing her sleeping in her bed with all four paws in the air. I miss listening to her snoring while I watch television. I miss hearing her paws behind me, following me everywhere, laying down in places where I’d have to step over her, cuddling in my arms like a true lady and then burping in my face.



I miss her.



Simone 2006-2018


Saturday, September 8, 2018

How Stressful Events Make Great Books





Conflict always drives fiction. In real life, we may wish for things to fall into place easily, days go by smoothly, and relationships unfold effortlessly. But in fiction, nothing can be easy—because easy equates to boring. Watch the vlog below for all the details, or skip through to the list below.






Plots and subplots take on greater significance if they contain one of the Most Stressful Events, as defined by the Holmes-Rahe Stress Scale:


Death of a spouse, a child or a close friend or family member. Especially when this takes place at the beginning of the book, it can take us on a journey to discover the cause of death or the events that unfolded culminating in the death. It can also serve as a departure point for the future, such as the surviving spouse learning to redefine his or her life without the one they love. It can also become an investigation into a double life or secrets hidden. And it can also open the door into the afterlife, such as Richard Matheson’s What Dreams May Come.


Divorce or marital separation. Fiction can begin with the separation, as my book, A Thin Slice of Heaven did, which began a journey for the spouse left behind. (See trailer below) The plot could include other factors with a divorce or marital separation as a subplot woven into the tapestry of the book. Or events could unfold that lead to a climactic scene involving the divorce or marital separation. In each of these scenarios, there must be a sense of moving on, such as Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore by Robert Getchell.




Imprisonment. I can’t mention imprisonment without bringing to mind The Shawshank Redemption by Stephen King, which begins with the imprisonment of an innocent man into a corrupt and cruel prison system. Imprisonment is also a common theme outside the law, particularly with the kidnapping of young women or children, leading the parents or someone close to the missing person on a quest to discover how and why they were captured—and of course, to attempt to free them. 

Personal injury or illness. This plot is meant to turn the character’s life upside down, forcing them to look inside themselves for the strength and the courage to survive. It is often used with the injury or illness occurring in the beginning of the book. The plot then brings the reader along for the daily struggle, causing us to empathize with their misfortune. It is often through reading books of this nature that we strengthen our ability to sympathize with others and appreciate their personal struggles and misfortunes. The injury or illness can also be used as a reason to keep the person in one place or incapacitate them in some way. An interesting book is The Art of Looking into Hitchcock’s Rear Window by Stefan Sharff, which provides a detailed analysis of the main character’s injury and his fixation on what is happening outside his window.


Marriage. This plot can revolve around an existing marriage and can lead the reader to the point where we’re unsure whether the marriage can survive the traumas inflicted upon it. It can also begin with a marriage of two unlikely partners, perhaps two people from different walks of life or separate cultures, people whose personalities are not compatible—or the wedding can be the focus of the book. It can also be the story of reconciliation, in which two people that walked away from one another are brought back together through extraordinary circumstances.


Work. This plot lends itself to an infinite variety of genres, as the characters’ vocations are key elements. It could begin with something traumatic happening at work that catapults our hero into a journey of mystery, romance or adventure. It could be a character study in how one person melts down due to work stress and how each decision that person makes impacts countless others. It can also include a new job or retirement, both of which cast the hero into a new situation. My book Vicki’s Key begins with Vicki leaving her job at the CIA after a failed mission, embarking on a new journey to a small town where she hopes—but doesn’t get—a peaceful transition to civilian life. (See trailer below.) Work can also include war, palace intrigue, historical backdrops, and a variety of locations and scenes.








In each of these situations, we place the main character into an unknown situation where they must adjust to changes they may not have wanted or even imagined. It is the conflict that propels the story forward, placing the reader into their shoes and causing us to ask ourselves what we would do if we were caught in a similar situation. We may even straddle the fine line between good and evil, sanity and unhealthy states of mind—or even circumstances that could cause an otherwise law-abiding citizen to go off the rails. In all of these situations, we know the hero—and perhaps other characters—will be transformed at the end of the journey.






Friday, August 31, 2018

Secrets of the Lighthouse



I love a great ghost story, and Secrets of the Lighthouse by Santa Montefiore is a unique one. The first page instantly drew me in as I pictured a young wife and mother looking at a lighthouse in the beautiful Connemara region of Ireland and a tiny chapel by the sea where family was gathering for a funeral. As the chapter drew to a close and I discovered the narrator, a woman whose shoes I'd set myself into, was actually a ghost watching her own funeral, I was completely intrigued. I had to find out what happened in the charred remains of the abandoned lighthouse.



In between the ghost’s chapters, we follow the story of Ellen Trawton, who has decided to run away from her family’s home in England and visit her mother’s sister Peg, whom she has never met. In fact, Ellen’s mother had been adamant that her family never visit Ireland so when Ellen arrives, she is shocked to discover that she not only has an aunt but a number of uncles and cousins. Ellen is running away from an arranged marriage she never wanted to a man she doesn’t love, as well as the pretentious trappings of her mother’s life—a life she wants her daughters to emulate. Aunt Peg’s home sits along the same coastline as the abandoned lighthouse and Ellen is intrigued with the rumors of what happened there, each piece of gossip more salacious than the last.



The author causes the village to come alive. I could feel the Wild Atlantic Way as the ocean’s spray reached Ireland's west coast, could smell the salt on the air and taste the rain that is ever present. Within the pages, I witnessed a large group of characters spring to life and yet I never felt overwhelmed by them all, and each was easy to remember. Each, in fact, carried a story of their own, a small piece of the larger puzzle that brought the mystery to life.



Secrets of the Lighthouse is a story of decisions made, often in haste and without regard for the consequences. In turn, they placed each character on a particular path, some by their own choice and others as collateral damage.



Ellen discovers secrets that were hidden for thirty years, secrets that impacted both her past and her future. Her mother’s story unravels to reveal the lies that were told, the life that was chosen—and that life which she left behind, the consequences of which reared up when least expected.



When Ellen falls for Conor, the ghost’s widower, she must decide whether to believe the tales told in the village pub or discover what really happened that fateful night at the lighthouse. As she grows ever closer to Conor, his dead wife must decide what she will do, where she will go, and whether to leave this life behind or continue haunting it.



If you enjoy stories set in Ireland, a ghost story, romance, mystery and adventure, you will enjoy Secrets of the Lighthouse. I am looking forward to reading more from this author.




Wednesday, August 22, 2018

Closure and the Hero




One major way in which fiction differs from reality is with closure. Readers need to have most of their questions answered by the end of the book or they feel dissatisfied. In reality, a lack of closure is commonplace and often leads to a great deal of angst.



A common circumstance that prevents closure is through a death, especially if the death is sudden or unexpected. We may have a tendency to believe that the people surrounding us will always be there and will always be available to answer our questions, when in reality none of us carry any guarantees. A loved one’s unexpected death might then leave us with unanswered questions for months—or even years.



In fiction, the plotline may begin with the death of a loved one. We find our hero suffering from heartbreak due to the physical loss as well as experiencing a sense of loss from all their unanswered questions. This, in turn, places the hero—and the reader—on a journey. A notable bestseller that uses this plotline is The Shack by Wm. Paul Young.



Or we might discover the deceased led a double life and the person we thought we knew was someone else entirely. In A Double Life by Flynn Berry, the deceased is someone that is murdered and the loved one—the hero’s father—is missing for nearly thirty years. In Claire’s journey to discover what happened, she is placed on a path that will determine whether her recently discovered, estranged father is a murderer. The book is inspired by the real life story of Richard John Bingham, 7th Earl of Lucan and better known as Lord Lucan, who disappeared in 1974.



In other stories, we discover things about the deceased that might have pulled the hero closer to their loved one, if only they had known. A notable one is Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Hg, in which a couple’s favorite child is found dead in a local lake, plunging the family into a journey filled with secrets and longing.



In other stories, the hero might have inherited property from the deceased, often from a distant relative they barely knew. The property is never in the hero’s hometown, but always in an unfamiliar setting, which takes us on a journey of discovery together. They often encounter secrets long hidden, a haunted property, or in forging a new life for themselves, they fall in love or otherwise are placed on a path they had never foreseen. Many times they confront problems, often seemingly insurmountable, and through the act of perseverance they come through the fire, forever changed.



In reality, not having closure is also increasingly common through ghosting, a term I (being of an older generation) was not familiar with until recently, although the AO (Always Online) generation considers it a fact of life. In this case, the loved one has not died but has simply become a ghost to someone with whom they had a relationship. The one that is left may have been unfriended or unfollowed on social media, have had their phone numbers and email addresses blocked, often rendering the other party impossible to reconnect with. This leaves even more unanswered questions as the biggest question of all—Why?—remains elusive. This is particularly frustrating when the parties live far apart, even on opposite sides of the world, preventing the party that was left from physically reconnecting.



One novel that dramatically covers this phenomenon is Ghosted by Rosie Walsh. Two people meet and fall in love and when one disappears, the other is left with a million questions. This is a page-turner that takes our hero on a quest to discover what happened to the man she loves.



Then there are novels in which closure doesn’t occur until decades later, such as Secrets of the Lighthouse by Santa Montefiore, the story of a woman that travels to Ireland and discovers thirty-year-old family secrets—and in so doing, discovers her future.



In fiction, unlike real life, authors must make sense of the journey we’ve put the reader on. In reality, much of our lives appear to have no rhyme or reason and we are constantly discarding those things our subconscious deems unimportant to fill our brains and our time with those things our subconscious considers important. Novels must dispense with the unimportant and focus only on what is critical to the plot. Every scene must perform double duty, and by the end of the book the reader must be satisfied why they were taken on this journey. The best books leave lessons behind. The best books contain characters that come alive in our minds and heart, characters that have become our friends or our foes during the course of the book and that remain with us long after we have finished that last page. To leave the character in limbo or the reasons unexplained is to leave the reader with the sense that closure has eluded them.



The exception is when a book leads us to the next in the series. We still require closure of those challenges that brought us through the plot with the characters, but we also begin to see clues that the characters’ stories are continuing. Perhaps they are given a new job, different mission, a move is imminent or a romance is beginning. We have become invested in the characters so we will eagerly await their next adventure as we have done with James Bond, Jason Bourne and others.



And in that continuing adventure we discover that the novels now imitate life, and once one chapter is laid to rest, another begins.