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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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Book Review: My Fault

After Cleo runs over Grayson when she shouldn’t have been driving, all she wants to do is make amends. But he’s so darn cute, leaving him alone becomes nearly impossible in My Fault by RJ Conte.

RJ Conte may have written nine novels, but she’s only kissed one boy, and she married him! Perhaps that’s what leads her to write such entertaining love stories as My Fault. This humorous love story takes readers into the mind of Cleo Stanton, who after 30 days in the clink, wants nothing more than to make it up to the guy she ran over with her car.

My Thoughts on My Fault

Cleo Stanton is the type of character you love to watch annoy others. The sweetest, quirkiest gal who has absolutely no clue about social graces. The girl in the back of your college English class who dressed in loud, mismatched clothing and talked her neighbor’s ear off but still managed to know all the answers, has nothing on Cleo. Nothing.

She rambles. Rambles in text messages. Rambles out loud and in her mind. Nothing stops her. But I found I didn’t mind. Her rambling made my nights more enjoyable. I laughed. My husband looked at me funny, and I laughed some more.

Cleo knows how to connect topics too. Wombats, head-babies, and uvulas all come into play, and even though I don’t dress like Cleo or talk like Cleo, somehow, I relate to Cleo.

My Fault is filled with humor, page after page of it, and most doesn’t come from unusual situations, but from the thoughts running through Cleo’s head. They’re fantastic! But it’s not all humor. Toward the end, RJ Conte takes the story through a twisty tunnel and a couple of serious topics appear. Don’t worry, she tackles them with grace and brings the story together stupendously.

As a Christian rom-com story, you know God comes up. Cleo has a knack for praying. I’d consider it irreverent, but knowing Cleo as I do, for her, it’s classic. Besides, God may not be fictional, but Cleo is. More importantly, we see where God’s hand plays a part in Cleo and Grayson’s lives and, hopefully, can relate to such miracles ourselves.

This short book will have you laughing and maybe crying. Maybe both. Either way, I’m certain you’ll love Cleo as much as I do.

Official Blurb

“I realized his eyes had lost that wary look. They were the bluest blue. Bluer than my favorite coffee mug. Bluer than the Solonaise County Public Pool when it’s actually been cleaned at the beginning of the summer before all those little kids in their floaties come and pee in it.”

Quirky Cleo Stanton has a problem: she’s falling for the guy she ran over with her car when she should not have been driving.

A devout Christian and quietly mysterious, Grayson Fox is as cute as he is kind, begrudgingly putting up with Cleo and her motor mouth. But will he ever forgive her for crushing his leg? Can she break him out of his shell? And what hilarity will ensue when the flamboyant Cleo tries to draw him out?

More Info

Purchase your copy of My Fault on Amazon

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Book Review: The Stationmaster’s Cottage

When Christie Ryan attends her Gran’s funeral against her fiance’s wishes, she’s suddenly faced with an unexpected inheritance in The Stationmaster’s Cottage by Phillipa Nefri Clark.

Phillipa Nefri Clark, an Australian author of women’s fiction, released a new edition of The Stationmaster’s Cottage in April. Newly edited, this novel from the River’s End series stands alone with ease and brings to life characters from two generations with overlapping love stories.

My Thoughts on The Stationmaster’s Cottage

We look at our families and their histories and wonder at our ancestors’ lives. How did they live? Were they happy? Are there aunts or uncles we know nothing about? What about cousins? As we dive into boxes left behind and find pictures, documents, and keepsakes we know nothing about, mysteries unfold before our eyes. Can we put aside those mysteries? When I discovered my own family history mystery, I couldn’t, and neither can Christie.

Christie Ryan finds her own family history mystery, and it’s a doozy! Moreover, it seems to include the moody artist that lives on the beach. Add to that a fiance that asks her to spend more time with him, and then seems interested in everything but her, and the story of the stationmaster’s cottage lines up.

It sounds like a romance, but there is plenty more to this novel. Christie struggles to find herself and determine what she really wants in life. She also finds herself yearning for more information about the great-aunt no one told her about. In the meantime, she deals with contradicting emotions over Gran’s death.

This book is written exceptionally well. The characters come to life and draw you in. Where one-dimensional characters are often used by authors, Clark adds just the right amount of dimension.

The Stationmaster’s Cottage is easy to recommend and is a book you’re sure to love.

Official Blurb

“There are secrets in that cottage. Questions needing answers.”

Those words gave Christie Ryan a reason to stay in River’s End, when she should have gone home after Gran’s funeral. Inheriting a rundown cottage, far from her jet-setting life, she is drawn into a fifty-year-old mystery.
Who wrote the letters hidden in the attic, an outpouring of love to a woman Christie suspects she is related to? What is the significance of a damaged painting kept by Gran but clearly painted in this seaside town?

Local artist Martin Blake may have the answers she seeks, but refuses to help. His dog adores Christie, but Martin keeps his feelings locked away.

As Christie faces difficult decisions about her own future, will the consequences of righting old wrongs be too high a price to pay?

More Info

Purchase your copy of The Stationmaster’s Cottage on Amazon.

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The Monson Month of Jubilation Giveaways

Celebrate June with eight chances to win a digital copy of When Love Is Lost by Kameo Monson.

During the month of June, my family celebrates from start to finish! With so many exciting days how can we not? Birthdays, anniversary, Father’s Day, Flag Day, we celebrate them all. This year, we invite you to join the fun by entering the Jubilation Giveaways to win a digital copy of When Love Is Lost.

Cleaning, cooking, volunteering, attending church . . . Deb lives a monotonous life. Stuck in a loveless marriage, she doesn’t know where to turn or what to do. One day, out of the blue, a mysterious man enters her life, and her once boring existence is born anew. As he fills her heart with love, joy, and hope, she must decide whether her marriage is worth saving.

Betty’s life is nothing but fun, glamour, and shopping, especially where Deb is concerned. But can she continue hiding her torturous past from her best friend? When her past comes back to haunt her, Betty struggles to survive in a world where no one knows the truth of her reality.

A young, pregnant mother of two, Mariah makes new friendships with Deb as she continues her blissful journey through motherhood. But while her husband is recovering from an accident, new terrors threaten to destroy the happiness she’s worked so hard to build.

Can all three women come together to fight the battles of life? Find out in WHEN LOVE IS LOST. A novel that shines a new light on love and friendship, and keeps readers yearning for more as they cheer for three incredible women journeying through the ups and downs of life.

Giveaway Dates:

June 3rd: Kameo’s Birthday
June 9th: Kameo and McKay’s 24th Wedding Anniversary
June 10th: Jesse’s 17th Birthday; Uncle Kevin’s Birthday (2 copies)
June 13th: Mary’s 13th Birthday; Cousin Caia’s 20th Birthday (2 copies)
June 14th: Flag Day
June 16th: Father’s Day
June 19th: Dad’s Birthday
June 29th: Anne’s 15th Birthday

Giveaway info:

No purchase necessary. Ages 18 and up. For each event, one digital copy will be emailed to the winner(s). Winner(s) has the option to receive a MOBI or EPUB. Dates with multiple winners are listed above. Each giveaway will run for 24 hours. Winners of one giveaway are excluded from the remaining June 2019 giveaways. Total number of copies available is ten. Value/per copy is $2.99. Chances of winning are determined by the number of entries. This giveaway is run by Kameo Monson in Maricopa, Arizona.

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Book Review: Love From Left Field: A Billionaire Romance

After losing her husband to PTSD, Cambria Henshaw searches for a way to start over in Love From Left Field: A Billionaire Romance by Jenny Rabe.

Jenny Rabe, author of three sweet romance novels, has a knack for bringing love to life, especially in the beginning stages. Perhaps that’s because she experienced 150 first dates before getting married. Either way, Love From Left Field will cause your skin to tingle and your heart to flutter, just like when you first met the love of your life.

My Thoughts on Love From Left Field

While I often explore love in my writing, I’m not always so keen on reading romance novels that don’t delve deeper into the raw parts of the experience. And love is an experience. We feel it, yearn for it, seek it, and revel in it once we have it. It’s no wonder so many books are filled with it. But it takes an understanding, a connection to oneself and others, to create a romance story that doesn’t come off as ridiculously cheesy. Rabe has that understanding.

Love From Left Field explores love after loss, love after betrayal, PTSD, and grief. It honors those who have served and those who are serving in the military. The characters come across as real human beings, albeit, one is incredibly rich. It’s the kind of book you read on the beach because it’s easy to follow, and the kind you read in the library because you want to digest the whys and what fors.

This incredibly clean read won’t drag you down, but it will help you better appreciate your life and the lives given to keep you free. Enjoy splatters of paint, dusty baseball fields, good looking people, and dutiful dogs.

The Official Blurb

After losing her husband to PTSD, Cambria Henshaw desperately needs to start over, so she packs up her paints and moves to Harker Heights, Texas. Inspired by welcoming surroundings and friendly people, Cambria begins to paint one portrait after another, with one small problem: haunted by survivor’s guilt that keeps everyone at a distance—and her heart safely guarded—she can’t bring herself to finish any of them.

Brian Davidson thinks he’s finally put his past behind him. As an anonymous CEO billionaire, he’s sure this small Texas town will be his refuge from the spiteful ex who smeared his name through the mud in the national papers. But when someone starts stalking his baseball practices, threatening to expose his identity, he worries his ex is back for more revenge.

When Cambria and Brian are thrown together during a service opportunity through their grief group, the attraction is undeniable, but so is their hesitation. As the two of them battle their inner demons and their real-life enemies, they must both decide what they’re willing to risk for a 9th-inning chance at “home-run” love.

More Info

Purchase your e-book or print copy of Love From Left Field on Amazon.

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I ordered this book free from Amazon. All opinions are my own.

The Boatswains

The Boatswains captures events that took place in Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, on the USS Arizona. And was written in remembrance of those who died serving our great nation.

USS Arizona, Pearl Harbor, December 7, 1941

John climbed from below to the deck of the USS Arizona still drowsy from the night ashore Oahu with his twin brother, Jake. Being assigned to the same battleship made his time in the service more endurable. The two had enlisted together, and although they hadn’t always served on the same ship, a sailor on the Ellet had provided the means for John to return to the Arizona a year ago.

The sun pelted John’s eyes with light, and he squinted as they adjusted to the open sky. After strolling to the fantail deck, he pushed a broom over the wooden planks, his mind filled with memories of his night on the town. A dull scratching reached his ears as a vibration buzzed at his hands. Pausing, he bent down and pocketed the small screw picked up by the straw bristles. He always found something.

Glancing up, John casually waved to the burly sailor who nodded as he strolled past, probably on his way to the mess hall.

Grabbing chairs, John’s crew quickly worked to set up for church services. His stomach growled at the thought of breakfast, and he looked forward to eating his scrambled eggs and ham next to his brother. Luckily, with enough people, setting up chairs took little time.

Moments later, a few beads of sweat formed on John’s brow from the humidity gathered in the mess hall. Maybe he could snag a table near a fan. Either way, his tray, overflowing with eggs, ham, and hash browns, called to him, and his stomach growling again as he searched the room for his brother. Perhaps Jake was running late.

As John approached a table, the sky rumbled, and apprehensive sailors jumped toward tiny windows, pointing and yelling about smoke from Ford Island darkening the sky.

John’s heart lurched into his throat.

Planes with painted red balls on the underside of gray wings buzzed in the sky. He cursed. “The Japs are attacking!”

Dashing past the men not yet to their feet, he ran through the hatch, flinging his hand into the alarm button. Before the shrill wailing had a chance to sound, an explosive crack broke, throwing him to the floor.

Ignoring the pain now pounding in his head, elbows, and tailbone, John laid hand over fist and climbed up the ladder, rushing to his station at gun turret four. An explosive cacophony rang through the sky as the USS West Virginia, berthed next door, sank—the men who hadn’t died now swimming toward the safety of Ford Island. Black smoke from the Nevada also stained the horizon on the other side of the Arizona.

Grasping for a single formed thought, horror banded John’s chest as a bomb struck the gun turret where he stood then careened below deck before exploding into flames.

John bolted for his turret captain yelling, “We can’t just watch this, we have to do something!” He grabbed his captain’s arm. “My brother’s on the anti-aircraft batteries. They need help, and I know what to do!”

His captain waved him off, granting permission.

Mayhem shot through the ship as two more bombs struck the USS Arizona on the port side. How was she still floating? No signs of anti-aircraft fire lit the charred sky. Nothing.

A wall of hot air struck John in the chest, deflating his lungs and stealing his voice as he rose into the air and then plummeted to the deck thirty feet away. His body flailed on the marred planks he’d swept only minutes before.

Crawling to his knees, another blast sent a scorching orange and black cloud into the sky. Wooden planks scratched at John’s legs as he slid across the deck. A fourth bomb had exploded the battleship’s store of gunpowder, thrusting the ship into the air.

Tears, oiled with soot, trailed down his face as he ran back to the gun turret. Commander Fuqua swung a dripping water hose through the air as he attempted to extinguish the flames surrounding himself and other men. The injured fell to the deck in front of John, their odorous skin sluffing to the ground.

“Get them to the boat!”

Fuqua screamed the order, and John twisted in confusion until his gaze landed on the captain’s gig. Hoisting the closest man over his shoulder, he worked to control his own shaking.

One after another, John helped men onto the boat. Each of the faces seared into his mind. And though he could no longer recognize most of them, he knew none of them were Jake.

“Abandon ship! Get off this ship!” Fuqua called, but John ignored him. “Do you hear me, sailor? Now!”

John shook his head and threw his shoulders back. “I’m not going. My brother’s on this ship.”

“You’ll go now!” Fuqua shoved John and the man he carried onto the boat. “Now!”

Trying to fight the strength of the acting captain quickly became impossible, the weight of the other sailor heavy on his shoulders. John slumped down to the floor of the boat, his chest heaving as he held back tears.

He no longer attempted to lift his gaze to the sky. The once beautiful, sunny day now oozed with nightmares. Thoughts of his brother rammed his skull. The walking corpses around him proof of what he might find. But he had to search. He had to go back. He couldn’t leave Jake.

Dropped off at Ford Island, John stumbled to a bunker where other unfortunate survivors stood. They watched the Arizona as it burned, black clouds hiding the ship itself from view. Smaller boats floated through the attack, attempting to rescue men from the water. Other, less fortunate men, swam the distance to shore. Some stepped straight from the USS Arizona into the water that lapped at their scorched toes.

John formed fists, his broken and grimy fingernails still able to pierce his skin as his knuckles whitened. “I’m going back.”

He whispered the words at first, his throat raspy from smoke inhalation. Then he raised his head, meeting the eyes of the one willing to meet his. “I’m going back!”

The words exited his lips with force. The burly sailor who’d passed him on the deck stared back at him. A boatswain.

“You?” John asked.

The tall man, with formed muscles under his burned uniform nodded. “Yeah.”

“I’m John.”

“Chester. Friends call me Chet.”

They didn’t bother to shake hands, choosing to walk toward the fight instead.

“Boatswain?” John eyed Chet from the side.

“Seven years and counting.”

“Four for me. You have someone back home?

Chet lifted his head, scanning the destruction before them. “Wife and baby girl.”

Silence pervaded as John thought about Jake.

“How’d you get ashore?” he finally asked.

“Fuqua forced evacuations, didn’t he?”

Seeing an adrift boat near the incapacitated USS Nevada, John and Chet entered the water. Once so inviting, it now burned John’s skin as much as the flames. Debris and bodies filled the waves and shoreline around him. He focused on rescuing his brother.

As the men reached the abandoned dinghy, they lifted their arms from the water. With slicks of oil sticking to each limb, both climbed on board.

Splintered planks knocked against the side of the boat as they steered toward the Arizona. Billows of smoke covered what remained of the deck, obscuring their view of survivors. John watched the water for survivors, but none surfaced.

As John met Chet’s eyes, the man looked away. Turning, John focused on where the man had been gazing. The main mast and tower—and Jake’s station—were gone, tilted in a mass of flame. At least Chet hadn’t tried to deter him.

The tiny boat skidded against the rear of the sinking ship, its deck beginning to submerge.

“I’ll wait so we can leave fast.” Chester looped a rope to a groaning scrap of metal. “Make it quick.”

Jumping out of the skiff, John stepped onto the abandoned deck. Nothing but noxious, black fog, curled by the rising heat, moved. As he gazed toward the mast, his body shook. He knew. Jake was gone.

But John wouldn’t leave alone.

Dashing through the fog, he searched the rear of the Arizona until he came across three sailors struggling to breathe—struggling to move. Their charred skin sluffed from burned backs. One by one, he carried them back to Chet, who helped load them in the dinghy and pushed off the second John climbed aboard.

The three rescued men lay coughing and lethargic. Unable to scream away their pain. John saw it in their eyes and in the stunted rise and fall of their chests. He moved toward Chet.

“We got to get outta here.”

The words left his mouth in time with the buzz of aircraft.

“More Japs!” John dove down, covering his head.

Gunfire rained around them, Hospital Point visible, but so distant. The ruins of the sunken West Virginia and the capsized Oklahoma were now dwarfed by the flames jumping from the other ships and the oil-slicked harbor.

The racket around them still couldn’t cover the crackling of their craft as it exploded. Coughing out the water and oil he’d swallowed, John frantically writhed in the thick liquid as he searched for the others. Minutes passed, gunfire continued, his body tired. Nothing but debris surrounded him. They were gone. Chester was gone.

Stroke after agonizing stroke, he swam toward Ford Island. The sky, basted in black, gave no sign of the time. Finally, he pulled himself to shore, oil covering his body. An abandoned rifle with two bandoliers of ammunition appeared to wait for him near a tree.

They’d taken his brother, his friends…Chester. Diving into a crater formed during the raid, he hunkered down, ready to take any Jap that came his direction.

The next day, as accounts came in, John learned that the USS Arizona had been hit by four bombs in fourteen minutes. By the end of those fourteen minutes, much of the Pacific battleship fleet burned in unglorified flames.

The U.S. entered the war and John fought. He fought for his brother and for Chet and for the others that were lost, but most of all, he fought because it was his job.

USS Arizona

Facts

More than 2000 American’s died during the attack on Pearl Harbor, 1,177 of them served on the USS Arizona. Only 335 men from the USS Arizona survived. One of them was John Anderson, who died November 14, 2015, at the age of 98. Commander Samuel Fuqua, then acting captain, also survived. He died on January 27, 1987.

John Anderson
Commander Samuel Fuqua
Chester Clay Rose, 1941

Works Cited:

McKinnon, Shaun. AZ Central. 5 February 2015. 21 May 2019. https://www.azcentral.com/story/life/az-narratives/2014/12/04/uss-arizona-pearl-harbor-attack/19788571/.

WW2HQ. 2015. 21 May 2019. http://worldwar2headquarters.com/HTML/PearlHarbor/shipsPearlHarbor/ship-positions-pearl-harbor.html.

The Mother

This story is dedicated to my sister, who has always had a mother’s heart.

Papers slid into a folder before Allie secured them in her bag. The assignment she’d given her students always took forever to finish grading, but she loved reading the stories of their mothers. At home, she’d make a few comments on each story; the kids liked that. The rest of the week, they’d work on the handmade gifts. This year, she’d chosen paper flowers in paper mache vases. Each story would be copied to a small scroll and hung with ribbon on a painted vase.

She stepped through the classroom door to the outdoor walkways they called halls. The emptiness of the school, eerie to some, always brought her comfort. Laughter and smiled filled them during the day. Designed with outdoor entrances, sunshine brightened each room, and nothing darkened the halls she walked now, not with the echoes of life lingering so close.

Pushing a graying hair behind her ear, she studied the ground. Home was different.

Within a few minutes of leaving work, she opened the door to her small house and slipped off her shoes. Tension relaxed in her shoulders as her toes wiggled from their pinched positions. Quickly piling a few cookies on a plate and pouring a glass of milk, Allie settled down on the couch with the thirty stories.

Erik’s story fit him perfectly. A day spent racing dirt bikes through the sand. Every time his mom wobbled on her bike, he zoomed over and helped steady her. Allie smiled and attached a dirt bike sticker to the top. She’d spent days searching for those stickers after realizing how much he loved dirt bikes. Encouraging him to learn with dirt bike word problems had made a difference too. Once behind, his work in every subject now showed promise others said he’d never achieve.

A few minutes later, she swallowed some milk, barely containing a snorting giggle. In class, Allie had explained that some children didn’t live with their mothers. Some lived with grandmothers, aunts, foster moms, or their dads. Shelly was one of those kids. After losing his wife, Shelly’s dad continued to raise her alone. Shelly’s story included a lavish tea party where her dad dressed up in a skirt and boa. She took special care to roll curlers in his hair and call him Mrs. Smootsworth.

As she continued to read, her emotions flooded through her as she thought of each student. People tended to think a room full of kids meant someone getting left behind, but not in her classroom. At least she hoped not! With no children of her own, she had to dote on someone.

Sometimes the process left a hole in her heart. Parents sent teacher appreciation gifts, and students drew her pictures and left her notes. But none of that was the same as being a mother. Not this week. This week she prepared all of her students to recognize their own mothers. And they should. After all, Mother’s Day was Sunday. Still, she had never gathered her own baby in her arms in the middle of the night for a feeding. And when she visited the park, no child ran to her crying because they fell. No one called her mama, mommy, or mom. It stung.

Standing to carry her plate and glass back to the kitchen, she stopped when a soft knock sounded at the door. Who could that be?

On her tiptoes, she peeked through the peephole, glad she’d remembered to turn on the porch light. Wendy?

“Well, hello? How’s my favorite niece and grand nephew?”

Tears fell from Wendy’s swollen eyes as she carried a young baby in a carrier through the open door. “Aunt Allie…”

The flustered mother fell into her arms, sobbing as she tried to speak. Only incoherent mumbles reached Allie’s ears, and she wrapped her arms around her niece and walked her to the couch.

Wendy and Allie had a special bond. One they’d developed when Allie opened her home to her sister, Ruth, years ago. For three years they’d lived in the same house. During those years Allie often played with Wendy and her brother after work. Though she never disciplined the children outside of her authority as homeowner, she did had fond memories of late-night conversations and lots of ice cream bars.

“You take that cute little boy out of that seat and curl up on the couch. I’ll get the ice cream bars.”

The corners of Wendy’s mouth rounded up slightly with a grateful sigh.

“Don’t leave me waiting. What brought you to my porch this late at night.” Allie asked. “I thought you were coming Saturday morning.”

“I was. I am,” Wendy stuttered, then bowed her head. “Matt’s out of town on business and…”

Tears filled her eyes again as she accepted the ice cream bar from Allie.

“And?”

Wendy’s chin quivered as she struggled to blink back the tears, staring at the baby. Adam. “He just cries.”

“He’s not crying now.”

“He will.” She twisted her fingers around each other in a continuous movement. “I haven’t slept in days, not really, and I can’t do it alone anymore. Can we stay here tonight?”

“Is that all!”

Allie reached for Adam, whose little body pulled into a tight ball before letting out a wailing scream. Wendy’s eyes glazed over, but Allie never slowed, easing her hands under his head and pulling him close.

“Grab yourself some cotton to plug your years, then get yourself to bed,” Allie said.

“I can’t leave him with you.”

“I won’t hurt him.”

Wendy stared at Allie, who shooed her away as she bounced Adam in her arms.

Allie stared at her great nephew. “Your mama needs to sleep. What have you been doing keeping her up all night?”

He continued crying, and she swaddled him in a blanket, binding his arms and legs.

“I know, life if hard. God plops us here on Earth and everything’s different. Bright then dark. Bodies that hurt. And you’re so little, you don’t understand any of it, do you? Well, you just sit here with me, and we’ll figure it out together.”

A couple of hours later, Allie slid between the sheets she’d laid out on the couch, a sleeping Adam next to her in his carrier. Any crying from a hallway or bedroom promised to wake up Wendy, and Allie would not have that.

The next morning, she scrabbled some eggs and fed Adam a bottle before knocking lightly on Wendy’s door. Her groggy niece opened the door, looking better rested.

“I see you got some sleep. Eggs are on the stove, and Adam’s been fed. You can stay as long as you’d like, but I think your mom might like a visit.”

Wendy pulled a face, her nose crinkling. “Yeah. I wasn’t ready to listen to her nagging.”

“Nagging.” Allie shook her head. “Your mother doesn’t nag, she worries.”

“Worries about what?”

“About you. About Matt and Adam. She’d have done the same thing I did last night.” Her voice softened as she smiled. “I’m glad you came here, though.”

Wendy’s shoulders lowered, the tension leaving. “Me too.”

When Allie returned that evening, Wendy was gone. She ambled through the lonely house to the kitchen and ate a cookie, then cracked open a book. It had been a while since she’d had time to read, and she planned to enjoy it, especially after the day in the classroom.

Billy’s vase broke into a crumpling paper mache heap, similar to his sad, crumpled face. Jane called for her to examine her work’s progress every few minutes, reveling in the praise. On top of that were the usual behaviors, an unintentional pencil stabbing, a couple of scraped knees, and three gabbing girls.

Saturday passed quicker than Allie had hoped, and once again, she woke up to Mother’s Day. After dressing for church, she walked into the building and sat in her chair where she smiled at the people walking past. Some mothers wore corsages, others boasted about breakfast in bed, while more whispered scathingly about how their family never did anything for them.

No one knew how much she wanted children. They didn’t understand that her dreams of a family had never been realized. How could they?

The sermon revolved around motherhood. A godly purpose. At the end of the service, children handed out small potted plants to all of the women. Each bloom emphasized the idea that every woman was a mother in her own right. Even if she had no children, she helped raise others.

Hogwash.

At home, Allie placed the plant on the mantle and snuggled onto the couch with her book. Sentences floated through her mind as she read the words, but Mother’s Day had stolen her focus. Was there something wrong with her? No chance of marriage. No children. Is that what God thought of her, that she wasn’t good enough? That she wasn’t worthy of such love? The thoughts stung, and the burning in her eyes increased. Why not her? Had she not given enough? What had she done wrong?

A knock at the door brought her head up. She turned the knob and found Wendy holding a bouquet of flowers. “Happy Mother’s Day!”

This time Allie scoffed.

“Aunt Allie?”

“Have you had a good day?” Allie asked.

“Matt got home last night and made me pancakes this morning. It’s been nice.” She studied her aunt’s face. “How about you?”

“Normal, I guess. I get all the gifts and appreciation, but none of the children. Win-win, right?”

Wendy ignored the comment and scanned the kitchen cabinets for a vase. Once the ends of the flowers were trimmed and the flowers brightened the table, she pulled Allie to the couch.

“Have you never paid attention to all the children you have?”

Allie rolled her eyes. “Students are not the same thing.”

“Maybe not, but you helped raise me. How old was I when we lived with you?”

“Nine.”

“As I recall, you made me lunch, took me to school, hugged me when I struggled, and listened when I needed to talk. That’s a mother. When I think about raising my children, you’re as much an example as Mom.”

“What else was I going to do. Ignore you while you lived in my house?”

“Aunt Allie, you did so much more, or I wouldn’t have come here earlier this week. I love Mom, but I needed you and your mothering. Can’t you see that?”

Allie shrugged.

“Maybe God didn’t give you children because he knew how much the rest of us needed you.”

Allie reached over and patted Wendy’s knee. “Never looked at it that way before.”

“Well, I have, because I continue to need you.” She grinned at her aunt.

“Motherhood doesn’t determine who you are. You determine what motherhood is.”

Allie lifted herself to her feet. “Stay for lunch. I think I’d like to hear more about Adam while we enjoy our much-needed break.”

Book Review: The Trouble with Prince Charming

With a little help from her fairy godmother, Nikki Baker got it all: the boy and the kiss. But dating the hottest guy in school comes with more than magical butterflies, and wading through the gossip, lies, and betrayal has her mind doing backflips in The Trouble with Prince Charming.

With a little help from her fairy godmother, Nikki Baker got it all: the boy and the kiss. But dating the hottest guy in school comes with more than magical butterflies, and wading through the gossip, lies, and betrayal has her mind doing backflips in The Trouble with Prince Charming.

Kimberly King, author of The Trouble with Fairy Godmothers, has added to the Magical Troubles Collection with book two: The Trouble with Prince Charming. It may not have as many spinning wands, but the magical story brought a lot of purple sparkles into my life.

My Thoughts about The Trouble with Prince Charming

Usually, when I review middle-grade books, I have children in mind, and I try to read through with their perspective. But when King asked if I wanted to review The Trouble with Prince Charming, I said yes for me. If you can’t tell, I wasn’t disappointed.

King wraps this fun story together with such incredible humor; I hardly stopped laughing. Perhaps walking down memory lane caused some of that, but most of it came from her writing abilities.

The story isn’t exactly new. An average girl has snagged Prince Charming and still struggles to fit in. When she does (if she truly does), she looks back at her life and realizes what it’s really all about. It’s a coming of age book set in a humorous background where fair godmothers exist. Who doesn’t love this trope?

In The Trouble with Prince Charming, Nikki’s godmother only makes a couple of appearances, but she’s there when Nikki needs her. I liked it this way. After all, the story of her fairy godmother is over. This story is about Nikki and the boy. What makes Prince Charming Prince Charming, anyway?

Squeaky clean, this is a book I highly recommend to everyone. If you don’t generally pick up indie books and pass by this one, you’re missing out. The Trouble with Prince Charming comes with a best-seller quality and an indie price tag!

The Official Blurb

Sixteen-year-old Nikki Baker finally has everything she’s always wanted: confidence, popularity, and the hottest guy at Forest Hills High. Thanks to her fairy godmother’s help, happily ever after is hers for the taking. But being at the top of the food chain is a dangerous place to be. Gossip, lies and betrayal lurk at every corner while she struggles, holding onto a boyfriend everyone wants for themselves. Expectations run high with a guy who’s used to getting what he wants, but Nikki’s not so sure she’s ready to meet his demands. She must decide whether to trust her own heart, or rely on the fairy godmother who got her there in the first place.

More Info

Purchase The Trouble with Prince Charming for Kindle or in print on Amazon, or read it on Kindle Unlimited.

Follow Kimberly King on Facebook

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

Book Review: Dreamland by Nick Clausen

Everyone has reoccurring dreams, but Louie’s weren’t reoccurring, not exactly. You see, Louie’s dreams always had the same setting, but instead of repeating, they continued.

Everyone has reoccurring dreams, but Louie’s weren’t reoccurring, not exactly. You see, Louie’s dreams always had the same setting, but instead of repeating, they continued.

Nick Clausen is no ordinary horror story author. After having 30 books traditionally published in Denmark, he decided to independently publish them in English. And unlike some foreign books, his translation of Dreamland reads as if it were written in English first.

My Thoughts about Dreamland by Nick Clausen

After attempting to read a couple of books written by authors who speak American or British English as a second language, I stopped considering most of them for review. Language is a tricky thing, and certain nuances can’t be learned. But when I received Clausen’s review request, I decided to consider it. 30 traditionally published books is no small feat, and he promised the book had been proofread by a native-English speaker.

The book sounded interesting enough: a boy visits his dead father in Dreamland. Besides that, a lot of my ancestors came from Denmark. I can even tell you where to find it on a map, so it’s like Clausen and I are family or something. OK, that might be taking things a little far. Either way, I decided to review the book.

It didn’t take long for me to immerse myself in the story. The main character, Louie, is a twelve-year-old boy who has strange dreams. They’re strange because they always happen in the same place, but they aren’t always the same. He eventually figures out that the man in the blue suit is his father, who died when he was one.

In time, Louie discovers that Dreamland isn’t only about desires and hopes. Nightmares also come from Dreamland. And as his two worlds merge, catastrophe lurks around the corner waiting to strike.

I quite enjoyed the translation of Dreamland. The words and story remained vivid, and though there were one or two places where I giggled at an error, there were much fewer errors in Dreamland than what I regularly read in books written by native speakers. I call that a win!

The story kept me well-entertained and supplied me with moments to stop and think. Then I could feel both for Louie and for his mother.

Had I realized Clausen wrote horror, I may have stayed away from this book; however, Dreamland has very little horror, in my opinion. In reality, it seems more like suspense and paranormal. I have no problem with either of those.

I enjoyed Dreamland and easily recommend it to those who enjoy suspense and paranormal, with a tiny bit of horror thrown in.

The Official Excerpt

“Dreamland is merely a small part of the dreamworld,” his dad said. “All around us is this. I call it the outskirts. That’s where nightmares come from.”
     Louie stared out into the wasteland and felt a growing discomfort.
    “Something lives out there,” his dad went on, his eyes searching the horizon. “Once in a while, they come close enough to the border to be glimpsed. And if you listen carefully, you can hear their voices.”
    Louie held his breath and listened. The silence on this side of the edge was deep and calm, only interrupted by bird song now and then. On the other side, a cold wind howled.
     “Do you hear them?” his dad asked.
     “I only hear the wind.” But as he said it, he realized the wind was the voices. It was a chanting choir of faint fragments; whispering, giggling, alluring.
“… hi, Louuuuie …”
“… how sweet he is …”
“… come out here …”
“… we’ve been waiting for you …”
“… visit us, Louuuuie …”
    They kept saying his name. The sound made him shiver. The voices seemed to rise and fall with the wind, but at the same time, it seemed like they came from inside his head. There was something drawing, almost hypnotic about them. Louie wanted to step closer, just so he could hear them a little more clearly …
     “Louie?”
     Dad’s voice pulled him back, and he looked up.
     “Don’t listen anymore. If you listen for too long, you end up taking the bait. The reason I show you this is so that you can understand where the voice you heard is coming from. It’s the creatures out there who have been trying to reach you through your dreams.”
     Louie stared out into the darkness and tried to see the creatures. He thought he saw a group of glowing, wavy figures in the dark. They stood side by side, twisting in a hypnotic dance. He stepped a little closer to his dad. “What do they want with me?”
    “They want to drown you in bad dreams until your mind breaks down. They will try to lure you any way they can. They will lie and tell you anything to make you follow them. And if you do …” Dad caught Louie’s eyes. “There’s no way back if they catch you …”

More Info

Purchase your copy of Dreamland on Amazon

Follow Nick Clausen on:
His website
Twitter
Instagram
Goodreads

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