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We Do Remember, and We Can Never Forget

I won’t forget the heroes, the fallen, or how Americans came together in unity—a unity we must find again and strive to keep.

Each year, I think about that September morning when I climbed out of bed, turned on the TV, and realized American lives had changed forever.

I called my husband in the other room about a plane crashing into the Pentagon. Seconds later, tears rose in my eyes as we discovered the truth. Terrorists.

I’d grown up hearing the word in movies. In school, toward the end of the Cold War, teachers talked about protecting freedoms. I watched the wall come down while sitting in my freshman typing class.

But this attack, driven by hate, was different. It was on our soil. And, unlike Pearl Harbor, individuals, not an invading nation, carried it out.

As thousands of people died, everyday men and women became heroes. The skies quieted to an eerie silence, while we cried and mourned with our neighbors and communities. We prayed. For months, flags waved from houses and businesses, symbols of love for those who died and for our country. Americans were unified.

We became stronger as we put aside our political and religious discord, exchanging it for unity with our fellow Americans. No one concerned themselves with black or white, Christian or atheist. We were unified as we vowed to never forget.  

For me, it was more than remembering the heroes that rushed into collapsing buildings or brought down a plane before it reached its intended target. I determined to remember the grief I shared with strangers in the supermarket, and the solace we found in each other’s eyes and words, to remember the thousands of memorial services offered throughout the nation so no one had to grieve alone. I determined to value unity.

Today, I am reminded of a story of a king and his usurper whose kingdom was divided by discordant citizens who couldn’t agree. “We must worship the sun,” one would say.

No, the earth gives to us more bounteously,” argued the other.

As swords slashed at each other, the king and his usurper climbed a tower. With a blade at his throat, the king cried out, “Stop, we are under attack!”

The usurper turns to find a neighboring nation taking advantage of their kingdom’s division. Running from the tower together, yet separately, they turn toward their shared enemy. The clashing swords of the citizens, exhausted from battling each other, failed.

But when?

Did they fail during the invasion, or did they fail by refusing to find common ground in the first place?

For the past eighteen years, I’ve considered 9-11. I won’t forget. I won’t forget the heroes, the fallen, or how Americans came together in unity—a unity we must find again and strive to keep. Our discord and division deepen with each passing year. But those heroes became heroes by setting aside their differences.  

The word unity often appears in 9-11 messages. We do remember, and we can never forget. But what will we do with that memory?

Book Review: Reluctantly Yours

Besties June and Ellie made a pact twenty-five years ago, and now it’s time to see it through: help their grandchildren James and Sarah to fall in love.

Jessica Marie Holt has spread her delicate wings and written her very first rom com. Reluctantly Yours brings us two best friends, bickering grannies who long-ago made a pact to bring their grandchildren together. But first, they have to get the two stubborn adult grandchildren to like each other again. This hilarious story kept me happily entertained and is guaranteed to do the same for you.

My Thoughts About Reluctantly Yours

Growing up, I had one grandmother who kept a spot on the couch for her dog. We couldn’t sit there. She also kissed us on the lips with Dad in the background saying, ‘Mom, stop spreading your germs.’ And she piled National Geographics in the corner for decades. I loved her.

My other Grandmother lives further away and is now in need of help, but when I was younger she made the most amazing baked goods. She also tried to serve us a frozen turkey on Thanksgiving. And certain forms of dry humor soared right over her short, little head. I love her too.

Still, neither of my grandmothers can compare to the quirky, conniving, methods Ellie and June enact, all in the name of love and family. These two hilarious grannies definitely love their grandchildren, and they may, or may not, have their favorites. James and Sarah.

We’ve all been there: friends, sisters, parents, and fate try to set up the perfect, or not-so-perfect couple. My husband and I are the product of a successful set-up ploy. But have you ever considered, the bickering Bettys who’ve been besties for decades and have passed on their loveable, yet stubborn traits to their grandchildren that they want to see get together try? Spats, trips to the veterinarian, coffee, shared meals, more spats. And the kind of acting that usually only happens on stage. Filled with nothing but fun, Reluctantly Yours hits the mark, at least in this book.

Holt brings her wonderful writing skills to the table, showing her ability to cross genres without faltering. Best yet, Reluctantly Yours is the first in the Granny Pact Collection. I can’t wait to see what kind of a scheme these two loveable characters dream up next.

The Official Blurb

Ellie and June have been neighbors and best friends forever. Together, they’ve weathered it all—marriages, babies, strange wardrobe choices, terrible haircuts, small-town gossip—only to have their friendship come out stronger on the other side. 

But now, they’re up against a hurdle unlike any they’ve faced so far.

Unmarried grandchildren. 

Tragically—and inexplicably—James, Ellie’s absolute treasure of a grandson, is single. And so is Sarah, June’s unmatched delight of a granddaughter.

But these Grannies aren’t worried. They have an ace up their sleeve

The Granny Pact.

Yes, these doting grandmas have vowed to engineer the romantic happiness of their grandchildren—by any means necessary. 

Unfortunately, James and Sarah are not that easy to convince. And, unbeknownst to the grannies, their two grandkids share a past that will make their job much, much harder—and might even test the limits of their fifty-year friendship.

More Info

Purchase your copy of Reluctantly Yours on Amazon.

Follow Jessica Marie Holt on Facebook   &  Goodreads & Twitter

I received a copy of this book for free in exchange for this review. All opinion are honest and my own.

Book Review: My Christmas Darling

When Lucy Carpenter secretly suggests her Christmas novel to her boss for publication, all kinds of crazy ensues in My Christmas Darling by Vivian Mayfair.

Vivian Mayfair must have a love of holidays. Most of her humorous books revolve around fun-filled holidays. My Christmas Darling is no different. Be ready for a world of name, novel, and TV scene dropping that will make you pat your sleeping partner as you laugh. It happened to me.

My Thoughts about My Christmas Darling

When the Christmas bug bites you, do you curl up on the couch with your favorite snuggly blanket, maybe a mug of hot chocolate, and a Hallmark movie crafted after your favorite holiday romance novel? If you do, then this adorable book by Vivian Mayfair is your next read.

The descriptions and dialogue Mayfair created had me imagining some of my favorite Hallmark stars as I read. Sara Rue is my choice for main character Lucy Carpenter, who wants nothing more than to have her Christmas novel published and help her mom, who was blinded in an accident, along the way.

What better way to insert a comedic romance into a holiday than have the story revolve around the publishing of a Christmas novel? I couldn’t think of one. And this story takes has it all. Christmas decor, a grinch, a clueless elf who wants nothing more than to help, Ms. Claus spreading Christmassy goodness, and a misunderstood boy and girl that need to do nothing more than find each other to fix it all.

While I did enjoy My Christmas Darling, I do want to let my readers know there were a few word choices that made me wonder. When the main character thinks about the fragrance of her love interest, I was certain she’d say he stank, because the word ‘smell’ was used. I also wondered at the use of ‘confiscated’ when it was used to describe be seized in the hall for a kiss. None of it was significant to my enjoyment level, but it did pull me out of the moment a couple of times. I still recommend the book, especially at the $0.99 price point.

The official blurb

A SNOWDROP VALLEY BEGINNING…

Christmas has come to New York, but it doesn’t feel very festive for Lucy Carpenter. Single, disgruntled in love from past hurts, she disappears into the world of books as a manuscript reader for a mid-level publishing company on the East Side. Plagued with guilt for a mistake that took her mom’s eyesight, Lucy dreams of achieving financial success despite growing medical bills and unpaid rent. Her only hope of survival is to publish her little Christmas novel despite repeat rejections by big publishers. When her boss requests her publishing recommendations for the month, Lucy submits her manuscript under a false identity against strict company guidelines in what becomes the great holiday literary hoax of Manhattan where lies spin out of control and stockings are filled with coal instead of chocolates.

Known as the ice fish of Big Apple Books, William Harcourt longs for acceptance from a nitpicky father who rules the publishing industry with an iron fist. When a sweet Christmas manuscript about a father and daughter in a fictional book town crosses his desk, he believes it to be the ticket that will bring his company into the Top Five and finally gain him his father’s love. What he didn’t expect was to fall in love over email with an enchanting mystery author whose book thawed his wounded heart and opened his eyes to the true meaning of self-acceptance and self-love. My Christmas Darling is a heartwarming holiday romance to remind us why we love Christmas. This adorable love story draws you in fireside and proves how the spirit of the season goes beyond pretty wrapped packages under a tree. 

Cozy up with a crochet blanket and a cup of peppermint hot cocoa and absorb into a festive world where books reign and true-love wishes come true. Ideal reading for fans of sweet and clean contemporary romance authors such as Debbie Macomber, Sheila Roberts, Holly Martin, Tilly Tennant, and Debbie Mason.

More Info

My Christmas Darling releases September 15, 2019, and can be pre-ordered now for $0.99 on Amazon.

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I received this book in exchange for a this review. All opinions are my own.

Book Review: Sunlight and Shadows

Just as Betty’s life comes into focus and all she wants is almost within reach, tragic circumstances rip it all away in Sunlight and Shadows by Jessica Marie Holt.

Jessica Marie Holt, one of my favorite short-story authors, has released her first novel Sunlight and Shadows. Set in 1870 in North Carolina, this wonderful story whisks you away to where power tools don’t exist and the characters still remind you that some tribulations echo throughout time.

My Thoughts on Sunlight and Shadows

While technology advances and knowledge increases, some aspects of society never change. Secrets, jealousy, responsibility, and insurmountable pain lives within the pages of history similar to the way they exist in most of our digital journals.

Sunlight and Shadows allows us the benefit of another time period with horses and hand-built furniture as it deals with some of the same hardships we have today. The author provides us with another benefit by creating relatable characters with certain talents and undeniable faults.

I started this book and then struggled to put it down. It delves into the life of fictional character Elizabeth (Betty) Everleigh as everything she knows nearly tumbles into a pile of unrecognizable fodder. But as time continues and her life’s story becomes clearer, she finds it easier to relate to those that hurt her most.

Sunlight and Shadows includes some sweet romance and deals most with parent-child and sibling relationships. You’ll also find wholesome themes such as faith and forgiveness as Betty finds her way through life’s trials.

Well-written and edited, this book is a dream for lovers of period fiction as well as general fiction. As a historical fiction piece, this book includes that which is necessary for the story; however, the story is not based on historical events. Don’t let it stop you from reading it, though. It is phenomenal from start to finish.

The official blurb

At seventeen, the only thing Betty Everleigh wants for her future is what she’s always had–a cozy home, a loving family, and a quiet life just outside of town.

Just when her dream is in reach, a sudden tragic event shatters her simple existence. As she picks up the pieces, she learns that her idyllic life was just a façade, and the truth beyond it is more complex and heartbreaking than she ever imagined.

To pull herself and her family together, she must find grace enough to forgive, faith enough to let go, and courage enough to move forward.

More Info

Purchase your copy of Sunlight and Shadows on Amazon.

Follow Jessica Marie Holt on Facebook   &  Goodreads

Book Review: Hearts Unshackled (Royals of Andorvia Book One)

Princess Katherine wants two things in life: to care for the subjects of her kingdom and find a way to be with Naithanal. Can her dreams be realized? Find out in Hearts Unshackled.

Author Amy Klaus introduced her first novel to the world on July 15, 2019, and it isn’t one you’ll want to miss. Hearts Unshackled, the first book in the Royals of Andorvia series, brings romance and action together in a way that keeps you reading through the night.

My thoughts about Hearts Unshackled

Last year, I had the opportunity to beta read Hearts Unshackled for Klaus. The story immediately captured my heart. As she prepared to publish, I jumped at the chance to review the finished product for her. And it is, of course, even better.

Set in a fictitious kingdom, it deals with the immoralities of slavery and the difficulties that come with uniting various cultures. While it is plain to see that the author has strong feelings against slavery and sees value in caring for others, I wouldn’t label this a political book by any means. The intent is entertainment, and it entertains well. Given the choice, I wouldn’t have put the book down during the second reading any more than I would have through the first.

The main characters, Princess Katherine and Naithanal, as well as most of the side characters, are well-rounded, and I found myself cheering and chastising them regularly–sometimes at the same time. As with any good romance, readers experience the ups and downs that come with love. The push for Katherine to become queen isn’t easy for her or Naithan, and the immoral slave trade that infiltrates her kingdom only makes the situation trickier.

I highly recommend Hearts Unshackled. The perfectly clean read offers no swearing and has no inappropriate relationship scenes. While it deals with slavery, the main characters fight for humanity, and the violence involved during the action scenes is not described in gory detail. I would have no problem with my junior-high schooler reading Hearts Unshackled, and I can guarantee I’ll be reading it again.

The Official Blurb

A princess. An outcast. A fate worse than death.
Will their love triumph, or will they be torn apart before it ever has a chance?

Princess Katherine has never questioned her duty as the heir to the throne of Maledonia. Never, that is, until she meets a hunter named Naithan and her entire life is thrown into disarray – blissful, dangerous disarray. But in spite of her attraction to the young hunter and his simple lifestyle, as the Crown Princess, betrothed since childhood, bound by her duty, she will never be free to love.

Duty takes on an entirely new meaning for Katherine and Naithan when a fledgling slave trade threatens to divide and destroy Maledonia … and their families. Will they have the courage to risk everything they love to save innocent lives from a fate worse than death? Or will they become the slavers’ next targets?

More Info

Purchase your copy of Hearts Unshackled on Amazon.

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Short Story: The Storm

After her boyfriend breaks up with her in front of half the school, Hailey dashes into the storm.

Clouds billowed in the south as Hailey dashed outside, her flip flops twisting under her feet and her arms pumping at her sides. It didn’t take long for summertime dew to form on her brow, but she didn’t slow. The breeze concentrated around her, brushing over her skin and through her ponytail, relieving only the slightest amount of discomfort caused by the heat. She kept running.

Her physical angst had yet to suppress her emotional turmoil. Nothing could. It pummeled her mind harder than the hot, muggy weather exhausted her physique. Heartbeats thudded in her chest as roiling misery swirled within her stomach. How could he do that? Walk away as if she were nothing? Look at her and laugh when the burning sensation in her eyes had relented to tears?

The tops of the trees waved gently just before their trunks bent with fury from the first gust of wind. Hailey watched the tempest roar toward her as she gazed southeast. There, under the glory of the white clouds, was the swirling wall of dust and sand. Her foot slipped off her sandal and onto the hot concrete, but she sped on.

She’d been warned. Not worth it. Scum. Stay away. They’d all said the same thing. Still, Burk’s silky smile and that weirdly exhilarating tingle she got when he stood close enough for his breath to tickle her neck were intoxicating.

The first flurries of sand whipped past her, stinging her eyes almost as much as the tears.

“It’s over.” He made the statement in front of half the school as she stood with books in her arms, waiting for him to walk her to class.

She giggled. “Stop it, Burk. Come on.”

How had she been so stupid as to think he was joking? The soft gleam in his eye morphed into a sardonic luster, yet it hadn’t been enough to tip her off.

“I’m going to be late,” she said.

“I’m not stopping you.” He draped his arm over Lisa’s shoulders, who smacked her watermelon gum between blinding teeth framed by cherry-red lipstick. “Lisa has algebra.”

Wind lashed at her ponytail as the dust churned in umber sheets that latched onto her, sinking into hidden creases and lining her tear-streaked face. She squinted at the sky. A dim amber shone in the southwest, nearly concealed by the storm. Her arms still pumped as pain rose from her feet into her shins.

The last class of the day had ended, and she’d stared at the empty parking lot, wondering how to get home. Her backpack had fallen from her shoulder as she’d sunk to a bench. Why would Sarah have waited? She’d gone to the chemistry early, angry at Hailey for her servile attitude around Burk.

Sarah narrowed her eyes at Hailey. “You don’t have to do everything he wants.”

“I don’t,” Hailey sputtered. “Besides, he hasn’t asked me to do anything today.”

“So I didn’t see you slip him your algebra homework this morning?”

“I, I…he just wanted to compare answers.”

“With an eraser? Sure.” She turned her back on Hailey but stopped short with her first step. “He’s using you.”

The clouds, so gloriously white before, gathered over the roiling dust and sand. Though Hailey knew they were gray underneath, the dirt spun too thickly around her to see anything but filth. It wasn’t just on the outside, though, it also laced her insides, pouring in with every breath.

She’d let him cheat off her homework, given him answers in the guise of tutoring, prepared research for reports. And it took him breaking up with her to see it. A few silky sentences had taken who she was and twisted her into something she’d sworn she’d never become. She couldn’t recover.

Though her legs tired and her lungs burned, she continued. Rolling thunder soon crashed within the sky as fingers of lightening fought to reach her. Pain seared in her side, yet she pushed on as drops of water struck the pavement, drying seconds later.

The last car in the teacher’s parking lot had turned onto the road before she started home. A note hung on the door when she got there. Went to dinner for Grandma’s birthday, expected you sooner. Leftovers are in the fridge. Grandma’s birthday. Hailey had thrown her backpack against the wall and screamed. It hadn’t helped. Yanking the door open, she’d run.

And she hadn’t stopped.

A flash of lightning lit the sky, followed almost immediately by a crash of thunder. The sky burst open. Rain fell too fast for the dry ground to soak it up. Hailey’s ponytail plastered itself against her neck. Loose strands of hair stuck to her cheeks. Gritty skin softened, and Hailey jumped into the water rushing down the gutter. Water splashed her thighs. She stopped running. As she glanced up, the rain pelted her face and streamed toward her ears. Opening her mouth, tiny droplets caressed her dry tongue and throat. Arms wide, she spun in a circle.

So she’d been stupid—fell for a guy because he sent tingles down her spine? She wasn’t the first. Probably wouldn’t be the last. It hurt, but she could climb beyond the storm, start anew, blossom in a different way. But first…

She spun one last time and looked up the block. The house hadn’t changed. That was a good sign, right? After knocking, she waited.

“What?” Sarah had opened the door a crack and peeked through. “You’re soaked.”

“Yeah…” Hailey scratched the ground with her foot. “Burk broke up with me.”

“Oh.”

Hailey crinkled her nose. “You were right.” She startled as a crash of thunder ripped through the sky and the rain tempered. “I screwed up.”

“You did.”

“I’m not going to fall for that kind of thing again. I shouldn’t have in the first place.”

The corner of Sarah’s mouth raised, and she swung the door wider. “Well, he is pretty cute.”

“Not that cute.”

Sarah giggled. “Want some dry clothes?”

Hailey held her t-shirt out and glanced at it. “Nah. I’m good in these. See you tomorrow, okay?”

The door shut behind Hailey as she shuffled down the driveway. Sore muscles and exhaustion brought a smile to her face as she gazed at the street. A few fallen tree limbs blocked the sidewalk, and sand blanketed the road where water had run toward the retention basin. Lifting her eyes, she gazed at the sky. The last of the sunlight set behind the hills in the west, leaving red, pink, and orange painted across the remaining wispy clouds. Listening, she heard lizards rustling under the bushes and reveled in the fragrance of creosote and mesquite as it wafted through the fresh air of the renewed desert, cleansed by the churning monsoon.

                  Photograph by Alan Stark 2011

Book Review: The Kings Trial

Many have died traversing the King’s trial, but Yosyph has only one chance to save his people from the Queen’s wrath.

Many have died traversing the King’s trial, but Yosyph has only one chance to save his people from the Queen’s wrath.

After years of staying up at night and telling stories to her sister, M.L. Farb enters the world of fantasy with her newest book The King’s Trial. A story filled with adventure, royalty, heroes, and a smidgen of romance, this is a tale lovers of fantasy won’t want to miss.

My Thoughts about The King’s Trial

Though I write women’s fiction and read several genres, fantasy stands as one of my favorites. Don’t spend a second longer wondering why; it’s because I can’t fathom the amount of talent it takes to create worlds and abilities, let alone understand the finer points of swordplay. I’ve enjoyed it for several decades, and still do, when it’s written well.

Amazon is riddled with poorly written fantasy. In fact, as a past product review blogger, I eventually refused indie books in the genre. However, having read a few other stories of Farb’s and knowing her writing ability, I decided to give The King’s Trial a chance, and I’m glad I did.

Farb clearly paints a picture of the kingdoms where this story takes place. The abilities given to characters are not overdone and there are no ridiculous monsters. Swords, honor, courageous fair maidens, and a clearly stated evil exists. The main character fights his way through personal demons while exerting himself physically. The characters are well-rounded and easy to like – or not.

As in many fantasy stories, the main character in The King’s Trial has to trust a higher power. Obviously based on Christianity and the idea of faith, The King’s Trial is perfect for all ages. Those who are not Christian will find the same integral standard we all desire in ourselves and for our children: honesty, kindness, and selflessness.

Written in first person, from the perspective of two characters, readers enjoy two adventures and are rewarded with the desired suspense as they wind together. Plenty of twists and turns exist, and at no point will one become bored. I sure didn’t.

The official blurb

In a land where stories of the Shadow Demon keep children shivering in bed and tales of the Yorel bring hope to the commoner, Yosyph is both the reason for their fear and their hope.

By day Yosyph appears nothing more than a mute tavern-hand. By night he plans a revolution and slips through shadow, rescuing those marked for death by the xenophobic queen.

When he learns that thousands of his people will be sent as slaves to the mines, he must choose—fight the royal army with an ill-prepared rebellion or journey to the land of his ancestors through the deadly King’s Trial. If he succeeds, he’ll win his kins’ loyalty and their help.

His journey grows complicated when he rescues a maiden and enrages a prince, but if he doesn’t return with help in time, the people he’s loved and secretly served will be gone.

More Info

The King’s Trial is available on Amazon beginning July 16, 2019.
Enjoy your free e-copy if you pick it up July 16-17, 2019.
Enjoy it for $0.99 July 18-22, 2019

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The Worlds of M L Farb

Pining Picnic

After Noelle loses her husband to war, Gran takes her on a picnic.

Noelle held the flag to her chest, pleading with herself to not cry. Not again. Months had passed since Dave had returned home in a box draped by the flag in her arms. His dream of serving the nation through military service had been realized. So had her greatest fear. Now she spent her days wishing his arms still wrapped around her.

A knock on her bedroom door brought her glassy-eyed gaze into focus. “Come in.”

As the door swung toward the wall, Gran peeked from behind it. “I thought I’d find you in here.”

Noelle pulled her knees to her chest and folded her arms around them—the flag ensconced by her body.

“Why don’t we go visit our men?”

Eyeing her grandmother, Noelle shook her head.

“Come on, I’ve got a special day planned.”

Gran held out her hand, and Noelle eased hers into it. “Can we pick up some flowers?”

“They’re waiting for us in the car.”

Shuffling outside, Noelle slipped into the passenger’s seat and stared out the window. She’d knelt at Dave’s grave several times, but words always refused to come. Why would they? It wasn’t like Dave listened. What purpose was there in visiting a grave and whispering to someone who couldn’t hear? Still, she kept trying. Hoping.

“What a beautiful day to remember our husbands,” Gran said as they drove to the cemetery. “I married your grandfather before Vietnam started. A private first class in the army. He was so proud of his enlistment, wanted to serve the country he loved.” Gran smiled wanly. “We had two children by the time the conflict bubbled over. Vietnam brought nothing but ugliness. And the day they told me he’d died, I did too.”

Noelle turned toward Gran without making a sound.

“Dave joined for the same reason, didn’t he?” Gran asked.

“Yeah.”

“Except the business in the Middle East was already full-blown.” Gran raised a brow. “Not much of a question he’d end up there.”

Noelle looked at Gran. “None.”

Gran nodded. “They both protected us and this nation. Same as all the others.

“My father spent his time in France after being drafted during World War II.” Gran tightened her grip on the steering wheel.

“Why do people do this?” Noelle asked as she glared Gran. “Join the military to die?”

“They never join to die. They join to serve and protect.”

“I’m not sure that’s what’s going on now.”

“Maybe not, but that doesn’t change their sacrifice.”

Noelle took a deep breath as they pulled up to the cemetery. Clasping her hands together, she begged her heart to quiet and the pins to stop pricking her lungs. Neither did.

As she stepped out of the car, she turned to help Gran, who shoved a blanket into her arms.

“What’s this for?”

“Our picnic.”

Noelle’s eyes widened.

“It’s an old tradition my mother taught me, used to be a fairly common practice. Some cemeteries don’t allow it anymore.”

“Wonder why?” Noelle’s voice dripped with sarcasm, and she tried again. “So, we go sit on the graves and eat?”

“Something like that,” Gran said with a smile as she smelled the flowers.

The walk from the car to the gravesites invited the sun to burn Noelle’s shoulders. A picnic on a grave in the heat—fun. At least Grandpa had a tree next to him that shaded both headstones.

As Gran set the flowers on top of Grandpa’s tall marker, Noelle dropped the blanket to the ground.

“Spread it out, would you?” the older woman asked.

Gran started dividing the flowers between the two graves. Red, white, and blue carnations. The blanket flicked to the ground with a flourish, just in time for Noelle to see her grandmother post a small flag next to each of their loved ones’ graves. The older woman whispered soft words Noelle couldn’t hear as she traced the edge of Grandpa’s headstone with her fingers. Tears gathered at the edges of her creased eyes, worn from years as a single woman. Noelle startled as Gran broke out into a peal of laughter.

How could she laugh? Pain like this never subsides, it couldn’t, could it?

A moment later, Gran lowered herself to the blanket, her knees popping on the way down. “I can get down, but you might have to help me up later.”

Gran studied her husband’s headstone, then patted her knees and faced Noelle. “Your grandpa wasn’t one of those poster-child soldiers. ”

She paused and smiled at what must have been a memory.

I remember one day he showed up at home with his uniform ripped in several places, buttons missing, mud covering him from the top of his head to the end of his boots, and the biggest dumb grin on his face I’d ever seen. After I pushed him into the backyard and told him to strip down before coming in my house again, he took the hose and sprayed it right at my backside.

Next thing I knew, we were wrestling for control of the hose. In the end, he wrapped his arms around me, his shirt off and his pants dripping with water, and told me he’d fought the grizzly and won.

“What do you mean, you fought the grizzly?” I asked.

His deep voice thundered next to my ear. “You don’t know about the grizzly?”

I’d heard about a lot a different antics with the boys, but nothing about fighting a grizzly, so I shook my head.

“Well, let me tell you, it’s the scariest bear you’ve never seen. The boys took me up the mountain, blindfolded me, and set me in the middle of a field. Next thing I knew, a claw swiped across my back. Tore my shirt, right there.”

He held up his shirt, his fingers wiggling through four sharp-cut slits in the back. I whipped him around fast, but he just threw his head back and hooted, “It doesn’t hurt.”

Four shallow scratches lined his back. I searched the rest of his torso and arms. Little pricks appeared on his forearms, and he had a decent scratch along one of his hands.

“No bear did this.” I eyed him until he slowly shook his head.

“Not a bear. Three men with razors attached to broom handles.”

“What?” The scream left my mouth before I could reign it in. I smacked his arm. “How do you get involved with this stupidity?”

“There was no harm. Only I was blindfolded, and they were careful.”

“Careful?” I huffed. “Those scratches and your sliced uniform say different.”

“Nah, it’s just an initiation of sorts.”

“Into what?”

“The squad. I’m the new guy, remember?”

“Hazing.”

“Hazing or not,” he said as he sidled back up to me, “I took that grizzly down faster than anyone else. Beat the record.”

Gran shook her head, laughing as she stared at the headstone. “Crazy coot!”

Noelle leaned her head back. The sunlight spread over her face as her body filled with laughter too.

“Dave’s squad dropped him two miles from base with a gallon of water and a pink camo T-shirt they’d picked up from who knows where.” Noelle rubbed her hand across her husband’s headstone. “Luckily, he ran into a 24-hour-fast-food joint and talked some soldier-smitten girl into letting him call me. When I picked him up, he turned my angry glare into a fit of giggles.”

She turned and patted the grass below her. “You always knew how to make me smile.”

Tears ran down her face, and she rolled to her belly, facing his headstone, but away from Gran. “I miss you. You whisked me off my feet and then left me alone. I love you for who you were and hate you for dying.” She brushed the dirt away from his name. “I’ll get over that last part.”

She sniffed and let out a little giggle. “I found all those notes you left me. The one behind the toilet—it’s a good thing I love you.”

Her words continued, and as they did, the tension that had roiled through her muscles and stiffened her joints eased.

She picked up the sandwich Gran had set next to her and ate it as she talked about her life. The way people at work looked at her and stopped talking when she walked by. The old women at church who took her hand and held it while studying her with sad eyes before shuffling away in silence. She mentioned crying herself to sleep. Then she told him how his squad members stopped by one at a time.

“They loved you.”

Stories of their past together slipped from her lips as she ate the apple pie Gran had packed. These she shared with Gran, and Gran shared others with her.

Decades that had once divided the two widows collided. Styles changed, technology advanced, but grief and loss seemed to transcend time.

The day slipped by, as they walked, cried, hugged, and shared. Soon, the sun dipped in the western sky, and Noelle exhaled peacefully, a smile reflecting nothing but tranquility on her face. “Thanks, Gran.”

Gran clutched her hand. “It won’t go away—the pain. Tears return. But holding it inside yourself only hurts more.” She nodded toward Dave’s grave. “He’s stronger now than he ever was. Let him carry it with Christ. You can do that, right?”

Noelle wrapped her arms around Gran. “Next time I’ll pack the lunch.”

Book Review: Sea of Strangers

Jeanette leaves Topeka, Kansas, and her fiance, Dr. Phillip Wayment, to attend nursing school in New York, in order to escape her Uncle Rod.

Amelia C. Adams, author of the bestselling Kansas Crossroads series, also brings us the Nurses of New York series. Book one, Sea of Strangers, follows Jeanette from Topeka, Kansas, to New York, where she will study to become a nurse under Dr. Frank Russell, a friend of her fiance Dr. Phillip Wayment.

My Thoughts on Sea of Strangers

Well-researched with perfectly formed sentences and immaculate editing, not to mention a high rating on Amazon, I struggled to pinpoint the reason I didn’t connect with Sea of Strangers better.

I’ve always enjoyed reading historical fiction, especially those that take place in the mid to late 19th century in the United States. Pioneers, the gold rush, early politics, Coal miners, North versus South, it all interests me. I was the middle-schooler who wanted to know the stories of the Oregon Trail characters, especially the banker. I usually connect well with the stories, but this time I felt something was lacking.

I easily dismissed the problem as coming from poor editing or a lack of writing skill. As stated before, the technical aspects of the book were great. But I still found myself wanting to put it down.

In the end, I determined I didn’t connect with the characters. To me, they felt flat. Jeanette has no fault. Sadie, her friend, sweetly rambled. It was the same with every character, though, one characteristic, but nothing more.

On top of that, we know nothing about Uncle Rod, the antagonist, except that Jeanette chased him away with a gun at some point not featured in the book. Perhaps that lack of knowledge comes from not reading the Kansas Crossroads series, in which case, more information should have been provided in this series.

The story follows Jeanette, but the action, especially the rise and fall of the plot is minimal. I as read, I continued to feel as if I were listening to a Barbie or Strawberry Shortcake cartoon. The book consists of mostly dialogue, which often comes across as wordy as opposed to natural. I struggled to picture the characters’ movements. Even when they were described they seemed stiff or cartoon-like in my mind.

Still, I find value in the book. I know. How can I write such a slanted review and then turn and say I find value? As an adult, this book isn’t for me. It doesn’t capture my attention. However, a middle grader or early high schooler interested in historical fiction (and I was greatly interested in historical fiction at that age), may find the book has great merit. It’s short enough to be read quickly. It has plenty of easily-read dialogue. The action isn’t graphic, and there is no swearing. Even more, the end has a great moral to it.

Sometimes we look at books and think only of what they are to us. We can’t do that. Most well-written and moral books have a place in society; we just have to find it. I truly believe this is the case with Sea of Strangers. Though I’m unsure, I believe Adams wrote this story with all audiences in mind, but for adults more than children. Nothing on the Amazon or her website deters from that surmisal, but I suggest Sea of Strangers be read by middle graders.

The Official Blurb

Jeanette Peterson left behind the man who loves her to go to nursing school in New York, promising to come back in six months and marry him. His love is the only thing that sees her through the trials ahead. When the time comes to make the toughest decision of all, will she choose justice or mercy out of many shades of gray?

From Amelia C. Adams, bestselling author of the Kansas Crossroads series, comes this novella about one girl’s desire to follow her dreams and the man who encourages her from miles away.

More info

Purchase your copy of Sea of Strangers on Amazon.

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Book Review: The Rift Between Us

When Dad died. Maria, Lauren, and Avery figured they’d never see each other again. Why would they? They hadn’t spoken to each other in two years. But even from the grave, Dad plans to see them become a family again, in The Rift Between Us.

Rebecca L. Marsh, author of When the Storm Ends, now gives fans a second novel: The Rift Between Us. Another wonderful women’s fiction piece, none of my followers will want to miss this great story, filled with life-like characters and real-life problems.

My Thoughts on The Rift Between Us

We look across the auditoriums, restaurants, and church pews at all the people who have life figured out and wonder what’s wrong with us. We’ve gained so much weight our shoes don’t fit, our kids fight nonstop, and the dog has yet to find the patch of grass in the backyard. When is it our turn? When do we get to live a perfect life? And with each question we ask, we refuse to let anyone in on our secrets. After all, what would they think if they knew the truth?

The preface isn’t new. If anything it’s timeless. We listen and enjoy stories with such themes because no matter how much we try to remind ourselves that no one has a perfect life, we forget.

Marsh takes this simple theme and builds her story around it. A widowed father of three daughters raised them into adulthood. Unfortunately, as adults, the secrets they keep from each other are too heavy for any one of them to carry alone. They need sisters, but only Dad knows it.

When trying to bring his girls back together in life fails, this dad gives it one more shot after death. If they want their lofty inheritances, they have to fulfill a difficult task.

The climax of The Rift Between Us comes earlier than in most books, and Marsh spends a good amount of time wrapping up the resolution. In most stories, I find a long resolution boring. However, this wasn’t the case this time around. It’s during the resolution that the characters grow, similar to how we grow in real life. And considering the genre, I find this acceptable and even necessary for this story.

Readers of The Rift Between Us follows the points of view of sisters Maria, Lauren, and Avery. Marsh’s exceptional writing brings depth to each woman, as we experience their anger, fears, and passions. Don’t be surprised if you find yourself with tears in your eyes searching for a box of tissues. These characters are sure to touch your heart. They sure touched mine.

Official Blurb

After a family dinner turns into a bitter fight, sisters Maria, Lauren, and Avery decide to go their separate ways. Their father warns them that someday they will need one another. When he dies suddenly, they learn that he intends to make sure that they do. He’s left them a substantial inheritance, far more than any of them ever imagined.

There’s just one catch. If they want the money, they will have to spend two weeks together at a secluded lake house and follow all of their father’s instructions—no matter how strange.

Their task seems simple enough, but each one is holding onto painful secrets and old grudges the others know nothing about. But if they can learn to trust each other again, they might be able to mend the rift between them and give their father his dying wish.

More Info:

Watch Amazon for The Rift Between Us. Coming July 2019

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