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As stated last Thursday on my blog, I will be releasing my Christmas-themed short story scene by scene through the rest of October and November. Stay tuned each Thursday for the next installment, and enjoy!

 

Chapter One—Scene One

I wrapped Sam’s ratty red-plaid shirt around me more securely as I sat on the couch and watched the snow pelt down from a leaden sky, indiscriminately covering both the immaculate lawn in front of my house and the mess my new neighbors had created while moving in. The mess didn’t surprise me. Debbie had always been surrounded by mess and half-completed projects back when I knew her as a kid growing up. Apparently, she hadn’t changed.

I still couldn’t believe that spunky little Debbie Doram, now McCorkmick, had moved back to Moffat’s Landing. The biggest shock came when she and Mickey bought the house next door to mine.

I’d always liked my former neighbours, the VanWoordens. They were friendly but discreet. We had coffee back and forth several times a year, but they never intruded into our lives, although Jerry and my Sam did collaborate on a few yard projects. I hated to see them leave, but Mrs. V was beginning to show signs of Alzheimers and her husband needed a low maintenance home where he’d be able to care for her.

I couldn’t have been more surprised when Debbie and Mickey bought the house. They were anything but discreet, as far as I had observed. As if to prove the fact, my doorbell rang—not once but three times—and, if my door hadn’t been locked, Debbie would have burst right in. As it was, she called to me through the door while I set aside my photo albums and carried my tea to the kitchen table. She was bouncing up and down by the time I unlocked the door.

“Jeannie!” she squealed as she wrapped me in a hug. “I can’t believe we’re next door neighbors.”

I extricated myself from her smothering hug and stepped back. “I go by Jeanne now,” I said, as she brushed past me.

“You got the coffee on, Jeannie?” she asked.

“It’s Jeanne,” I insisted, but I don’t think she heard me.

“So? Coffee?” Her brown eyes danced in her round face, surrounded by the bobbing auburn curls I remembered from high school, now streaked faintly with gray.

I took a steadying breath. “I don’t drink coffee.”

She shrugged. “Tea? Water?” She grinned widely, showing her beautiful teeth. “I bet you drink water.”

Her effervescent grin gave me a dull pain at the base of my neck. I glanced at the hall clock. Ten a.m. Time to dust and vacuum through the house. I doubted Debbie would understand. If I made her a cup of tea, maybe she’d go home and leave me to my work.

“What about this weather, eh?” she commented. “I haven’t seen a lot of snow these past thirty years. Texas doesn’t get much. I can hardly wait to go sledding and skating and make snowmen when the grandkids come. You have grandkids, Jeannie?”

I opened my mouth to answer but she was talking again. “We have eight now, mostly in Texas, a few in California. Have you been to California? Great place to visit but way too ‘out there’ for me.”

I couldn’t imagine. I led the way to the kitchen and plugged in the kettle.

“Whoa! Nice place you got here. Bet I could eat off the floor! My place is still in shambles, but I’m hoping to at least have the kitchen straightened up by Christmas.”

“Christmas!” I couldn’t help but comment. “That’s a whole month away.”

“Yeah.” She grinned and winked. “But I can do it.”

I was about to ask Debbie what kind of tea she wanted, but she beat me to it.

“Just don’t give me any of that herbal junk.” She pronounced the “h” in herbal. “Makes me gag. If I’ve gotta have tea, then give me the strongest you got.”

She reached past me into the tea cabinet and rummaged through it, knocking several boxes out of place.

“Hmm. Guess I’ll risk Earl Grey. Where’s the sugar?”

She pulled open the next cabinet, stepped back and shot me a look of disgust. “Has someone been filming a kitchen organization show from your home? Geez, Louise! You scare me.”

Frowning, I pulled out the seldom-used sugar bowl and handed it to her, then took the cream carton from the fridge and reached for the cream pitcher.

“Whoa, girl!” Debbie said. “Don’t fuss over me. If you make a big production of it every time I drop in for coffee—I mean tea—you’ll wear yourself out.”

My headache had crept forward to my temples.

“Don’t mind if I do,” said Debbie as she settled her rounded frame into Sam’s kitchen chair. I sat across from her, picking up my morning tea to finish it. She propped her elbows on the table, hands wrapped around her cup, and smiled at me with sadness in her eyes. Here goes, I thought.

“So how have you been doing these thirty years since I left you for life’s adventures?”

This time she waited for me to answer but I needed time to come up with something acceptable. I took a sip of my lukewarm peppermint tea, hoping it would calm the sudden sharp pain in my chest, and rubbed the rim of my cup with my thumb as I fumbled for words.

“Well, it’s…I’ve been…” I looked into her eyes, now soft with compassion. “It was a good life till Sam left me.”

“Left you?” Two deep ridges formed between Debbie’s eyebrows. “I thought he died.”

I didn’t look away. “Yes. He died and left me alone.”

She stared a moment longer, then smoothed out her features and reached across the table to lay a hand on my arm. There were tears in her eyes.

“I know, Honey. I always got Moffat’s Musings, even when we were in Texas. I read Sam’s obituary and my heart broke for you.”

Her words, meant to comfort, only pinched the nerve of grief that pulsed constantly within my chest. But Debbie, who had rarely been comfortable with silence when I knew her, carried on.

“What happened anyway? The paper said it was sudden.”

The pain in my chest spread to my gut and I set down my cup to hug myself. It was so difficult to put into words.

“He, ah, he was working in the driveway clearing snow. We had an early winter last year and he didn’t want it to pile up on the driveway and get icy, so he tried to keep it cleared.”

I could still see Sam attacking the heavy snow with his new yellow snow shovel from Canadian Tire, his green knit toque pulled down over his ears, breath coming out in white puffs.  A former farmer, he dubbed the backyard and driveway his “back forty,” and claimed it as his own turf.

“Sam always whistled while he worked. It didn’t register with me right away, but suddenly I realized he had stopped whistling. I looked out and there he was, lying in a heap in the driveway.”

On edge with the telling, I stood and moved to the kitchen window where I’d been that terrible day almost a year ago. “I heard a shout and saw our neighbour, Mr. VanWoorden, running toward him.”

I grasped the countertop with both hands to still their shaking. “I ran out the door and Mr. V yelled at me to call 911, so I did. The ambulance only had to come from the hospital two blocks away, and it probably only took five minutes, but it seemed like hours.” I leaned against the counter, remembering.

“I held Sam, begged him to stay with me, begged God not to let him die, but somehow I knew he wouldn’t make it. The EMTs tried their best, but they couldn’t bring him back. Massive heart attack.”

I turned to look at Debbie and was surprised to see tears running down her face. I picked up the Kleenex box and took it to the table for her. My own eyes were dry. Maybe I’d cried out all my tears through the months of being without Sam. She grabbed a couple of tissues, wiped her eyes and blew her nose. Then she jumped up.

“Oh Jeannie, I’m so sorry. You’ve lost the love of your life and I’m sitting here bawling my eyes out. I’ll get us some fresh tea.”

She plugged in the kettle again and fished around in my cabinet for whatever kind she thought I liked. “Here you go,” she said. “Chamomile. That’s relaxing, isn’t it? Oh girl, you’ve gotta learn to make coffee. This Earl Grey just isn’t cutting it.”

She refilled my cup with hot water, then added some to her own, along with two spoons of sugar and a generous splash of cream straight from the carton. Then she sat down across from me at the table again.

“So how have you been managing everything this past year? Did you have family here to help?”

“Emily—that’s our daughter—came out to stay with me for a couple of weeks, but she has a life out in Vancouver, and a job she apparently likes, so that was that. I had to pull up my socks and deal with reality.”

“What does that mean?”

Her question stumped me. Most people are content with stock answers because they really don’t want to delve into personal pain. But Debbie had never been most people. I rubbed my forehead to ease the ache. My fingers were cold. I was always cold.

“It means I’ve done what I had to do, asked for help when I needed it, hired a few people when I couldn’t do something myself. I’ve adjusted.”

Debbie frowned. “You’ve adjusted. Does that mean you’re coping or you’re content?”

I remembered Debbie being nosy and it irked me now.

“Yes.”

Her eyes narrowed and then she snorted. “You and your dry humour. At least you didn’t lose that.”

I couldn’t work up a smile for the life of me. Even when she was young she could move from caring to crass in very short order. I’d have to learn how to handle her if we were going to live in such close proximity. Set a few guidelines. Be upfront with her.

Suddenly she stood, carried her cup to the sink and set it down. “Well, Honey, I gotta go. Poor Mickey is up to his eyeballs moving furniture so I’d better tell him where to put it. He hates moving stuff too many times, poor guy, but I’m not sure myself where I want it all.”

She opened the door to leave, then turned back. “Too bad it snowed again. Makes everything wet and messy. Well girl, keep your chins up and I’ll see you later. Drop by for coffee if you can handle the mess. I’d love for you to meet Mickey. By the way, I love your shirt.”

I sensed sarcasm in her comment because the shirt, with its tattered tails, didn’t suit my image, not even at home, even though it was clean. Debbie came back over and hugged me, then walked out the door hollering “bye” as she went.

I sank into my chair, rested my head on my arms on the table and sighed deeply.

 

** Come back for the second scene next Thursday, October 18th.

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“This book is about a girl who was raised by monkeys,” a friend said recently. She had the book in hand, and I was interested. Thinking The Jungle Book. She lent me her copy and I read it in a couple of days.

The Girl with No Name is the fascinating account of the life of Marina Chapman, kidnapped from her home in Colombia in the early 1950s at the age of almost-five, and growing up in two of the country’s most frightening jungles: the rainforest and the city.

This is, according to an afterward by the ghostwriter, Lynne Barrett-Lee, the first of two novels, as Marina’s life is filled with more fascinating detail than can be told easily in one volume. I haven’t been able to find the second installment, but there is apparently a documentary about Marina on the National Geographic channel, so I’ll take a look there.

According to the story, Marina was picked up and drugged by kidnappers, then dropped off in the jungle as they ran for their lives, and subsequently cared for by capuchin monkeys for about five years. Marina’s memories of her monkey family are detailed and sweet. I think the specific word picture that sticks with me most, clean-freak that I am, is how she remembers being groomed by the capuchins and all the bugs and insects they found in her hair and ears. I shudder. But, if her story is true, and I tend to believe it is, she displays an amazing ability to adapt and survive.

As difficult as Marina’s rainforest survival was, the memories are sweet compared to the abuse she suffered at the hands of well-meaning or outright evil people in the city.

This book is penned by a ghostwriter, since Marina’s language skills were somewhat compromised by the years she didn’t speak. I found the story flowed with lovely descriptive phrases and color that delighted me and suited the character. I read mostly fiction, so this was a departure from my normal reading patterns, but I enjoyed it. Thanks, Kathy W. for lending it to me.

To delve more deeply into Marina’s story, check out these sites:

It’s your choice to believe it or not, but either way, this story is a captivating.

Hi! October is moving along quickly, we’ve had a couple of snowfalls—although the wet stuff has disappeared—and I’m thinking about Christmas.

I have a Christmas-themed short story I’d like to share with all of you who take the time to read my blogs. It consists of eight scenes, so beginning next Thursday, October 11th, I will be releasing one scene each Thursday.

I really enjoyed writing this story for several reasons:

— I usually write historical fiction, and sometimes I need a break from the past

— I was challenged to write something beyond my usual genre

– this story has a contemporary setting (instead of historical)

– it is written in first person (instead of third)

– it’s located in North America (not Russia or China)

— Without giving anything away, the story really took off when I “met” Debbie. She’s many things I’m not, and she gives life to the story.

So…stay tuned for October 11thfor the first installment.

Thanks for being there. Feel free to sign up for my infrequent newsletters on my website opening page for further news.

Jan

Janice L. Dick, Author

 

 

 

By the time this blog appears live, I will have been and gone to my favourite annual writer’s conference: InScribe. It’s a treat I look forward to every year, and this one’s accessible; I can drive there or ride with a friend.

Conferences are superb confidence boosters, in that our association with other writers helps us to believe we really are writers too.

Conferences are comfortable places for introverts to network! We’re most of us—but certainly not all—introverted types that gather at writing conferences. We spend a lot of our time in solitary, with only our computers as companions, and mostly, we’re okay with that. But from time to time we need more than virtual input. A conference is a time when we can reach out to others who understand our boundaries. Maybe we can find someone who can fill a gap in our writing life: a story editor, a cover designer, a formatter. And just maybe we can fill a gap in someone else’s writing needs as well.

Conferences are memory makers. We meet people we’ve met before and renew our acquaintance. We meet people we’ve never met before, and often our personalities will click. Or we meet people we’ve heard of but never met, and find out they are accessible and normal folks. We feel surrounded by friends of like mind.

If there’s a conference in your area, save up your bucks through the year and take advantage of it. You won’t regret it.

JAN: How long have you been writing and how did you come to it?

EMILY: I’ve been writing since I was five years old. My first piece of work was a short play that I made my grandma act out with me over and over until we both had the lines memorized. I think only a grandma could have been that patient.

JAN: Who are some of the people who most influenced your decision to write?

EMILY: I don’t know that I exactly decided to write so much as being a writer is who I was. But I have had some major cheerleaders who kept me from giving up. I already told you about the early support from one of my grandmas, but my other grandma always loved my writing and told me how I made pictures with my words. Even once she was declared legally blind, she used her electronic reader to read the books in my Maple Syrup Mysteries. My parents paid for probably my first five writer’s conferences when I couldn’t afford to send myself, and my husband now copy edits all my books for me.

 

 

JAN: Sounds like a lot of great support. What’s your preferred genre?

EMILY: I love mysteries because of the puzzle to solve. When I’m reading a mystery or watching one on TV, I’m always trying to figure it out before the reveal. As a writer, I want to play fair—so the reader could figure it out—and yet keep everyone guessing until the end with interesting twists and reveals.

JAN: Why do you write?

EMILY: I like to joke that I write because I didn’t want to stop playing make-believe when I grew up. The truth is more that I feel God gave me the ability to write, and I want to use the talents He gave me to serve Him.

JAN: How and where do you write? Are you a plotter or a pantser?

EMILY: Where I write depends on the season. Canadian winters aren’t conducive to writing outside, so I write at the kitchen table. (We’re moving soon and then I’ll have a dedicated office!) In the summers, though, we have a screened-in area where I can write in the fresh air and breeze without fighting off mosquitos or flies. That’s my favorite spot to write.

I’ve also spent a lot of time writing in hospitals and doctor’s offices. People looked at me sideways, but if I hadn’t been willing to work in the time I had, I wouldn’t have been able to put out the number of books I’ve put out in the last two years.

I write my first draft on an AlphaSmart Neo because it’s a dedicated word processor that keeps me away from distractions. I’m also learning Dragon dictation, and I hope that’ll speed things up for me.

I’m a hardcore plotter. I tried pantsing a novel (I won’t reveal which one in my series), and not only did it take me three times as long to write, but it was my least popular book. Not fun.

JAN: Been there, done that! I need to plot too. Where do you get your ideas? What inspires you?

EMILY: A lot of my story ideas start with the murder situation or motive. In my book Tapped Out, for example, I wanted to do a locked-room style mystery where the murderer would have had to walk by my main character’s client and kill his wife within earshot of him. It added two levels—was her client being honest and how was this possible? The book I’m working on right now, Sugar and Vice, started with the question “Why would someone want to kill a hundred-year-old man at his own birthday party?” Those sorts of naturally-intriguing ideas make it fun for me to write the books.

My inspiration comes from all over—things I see in the news, something I’ve read when I’m studying murder methods (yeah, weird, but a hazard of the trade), or something that’s actually happened. In all those situations, real life is only a jumping off point. From there, I start asking “But what if?” Sugar and Viceis a good example again. My grandpa recently turned 90. Leading up to his birthday, he always talks about how old he’ll be and how he’s lived the longest of anyone in his family. That started me wondering.

JAN: How do you research and how do you know you can trust your sources?

EMILY: I use a combination of books and the internet to research. When I was writing my Maple Syrup Mysteries, I also talked to people who’d worked a maple syrup farm. I try to stick to scholarly or government sources whenever possible, or sources that have an acknowledged reputation for accuracy. If I’m not sure about the credibility of the source, then I try to make sure I can confirm the information from multiple sources.

This is less important in some genres than others, though. I have to do my best to get details right about causes of death, but my genre (cozy mystery) expects the sleuth to have a level of involvement within the case that a normal person wouldn’t ever be allowed to have. So I think it’s important to get right what you can, but to also understand where the tropes of your genre allow you some leeway.

JAN: What do you like most / least about writing?

EMILY: Often I like the actual writing part the least. I like coming up with ideas and characters, and I like having written, but I’m not sure I like the actual writing.

JAN: I understand completely! Writing takes so much determination and concentration. What are some of the best methods of promoting your work?

EMILY: I’ve used advertising almost exclusively, particularly newsletters that advertise 99-cent sales and Amazon Marketing Services. I’ve also given away a lot of my free prequel novella through Instafreebie and multi-author events.

But here’s my philosophy about promoting. The best practices are always changing. What worked for me might not work for anyone else. The best thing to do is to experiment, and always work on building a list and then building relationships with the people on that list.

JAN: Thank you for that candid response. I agree it’s not a one-method-fits-all deal. What are your favorite / most effective social media?

EMILY: None. Social media isn’t a priority for me, and I don’t like it much. I do have a Facebook page, but I might post a couple of times a month.

JAN: That’s honest, and plays on your answer to my previous question. How do you balance professional time with personal time?

EMILY: Sunday is the Sabbath. I don’t work on Sunday. That time is set aside for church, and then for rest and spending time with my family or friends.

During the week, it’s always hard to find the balance. Because this is my full-time career, I try to make sure my days are spent on professional activities. My family needs my income to survive. My job isn’t a nice bonus income. It’s a necessity.

That said, life rarely runs smoothly. Over 2016, I missed over three months of work due to medical appointments/needs. I work at times when most people wouldn’t—like in ER waiting rooms—because sometimes I have to in order to both be there for the people I love and still earn a living.

JAN: What are you currently reading? Do you prefer digital or print?

EMILY: I have about three books on the go right now—one writing business book (Newsletter Ninjaby Tammi Labrecque), a Christian theology book, and a not-yet-released cozy mystery by Heather Day Gilbert called Belinda Blake and the Snake in the Grass.

I’m definitely a digital girl. My Kindle fits so nicely in my purse, and it’s lighter in my hands than most books. I’ve been reading more since I got it than I did before because of the convenience.

JAN: What are some of your favorite things? What makes you unique?

EMILY: My favorite activities are painting, board games, and walking. I also love to bake.

What makes me unique is probably my propensity to adopt stray cats. We have seven right now. Some people take vacations. My husband and I take in strays. We find a lot of joy in rescuing frightened, sickly creatures, nursing them back to health, and giving them a safe home.

JAN: What keeps you going in your writing career?

EMILY: I like to eat and pay my electricity bill so I can take hot showers—just kidding. A couple of things keep me going. The first is the knowledge that, even on the frustrating days, I’m blessed to have this job. I wouldn’t want to be doing anything else. The second is the emails from readers. Knowing how much people are enjoying the books and the characters makes me want to always improve and to keep putting out books.

JAN: How is your faith reflected in your writing?

EMILY: This is a two-part answer as well. I feel it’s important to be able to provide clean entertainment for people, so my books have no swearing, no gore, and no sex scenes.

Beyond that, I write for the general market, so one of my readers has called my books “stealth evangelism.” I try to show Christians as they truly are, not as the media likes to portray them. I also try to show my Christian characters as people who still have struggles and challenges, but whose faith helps them deal with those.

My main character Nicole in my Maple Syrup Mysteriesstarts out the series as a non-Christian and then comes to faith. Her conversion happens off page, but I show her going to church, trying to understand what this means for her life, and using prayer and memorizing Bible verses to help deal with her anxiety problems.

JAN: What are some things you learned from your own writing?

EMILY: My writing reminds me that each person I meet has their own private story. They have struggles and worries and fears that I know nothing about. I think it’s made me more compassionate to others.

JAN: What is your ultimate writing goal?

EMILY: Continue to grow, continue to be able to do this as a full-time job, and write 100 novels/novellas before I retire. (I’m currently working on number 11 in that last tally if anyone is keeping score.)

JAN: I wish you a long and healthy life! You’ll do it! Do you have any advice for beginning writers?

EMILY: Take your time to get ready before you publish. I thought I was ready to be a published author long before I really was. When I look back now, I’m so grateful that self-publishing wasn’t an easy option because I would have put my writing out there before I was strong enough in the craft or knowledgeable enough about what it takes to run a business.

JAN: Thanks so much for your responses and a peek into your writing life. All the best in your future as you continue to learn, grow and put out great books.

If you want to know more about Emily and her books, go to her website.

September 2018 New Releases

More in-depth descriptions of these books can be found on the ACFW Fiction Finder website.

Contemporary Romance:

A Baby for the Minister by Laurel Blount — Jilted at the altar, Natalie Davis has no one she can turn to—until Jacob Stone steps in. The single minister’s drawn to the beautiful mommy-to-be and wants to help…even if it goes against his congregation’s wishes and could cost him his job. But when she refuses to accept charity, can he convince her she’s more than a ministry project? (Contemporary Romance from Love Inspired [Harlequin])

Courting Her Secret Heart by Mary Davis — Deborah Miller lives a double life as an Amish woman—and a fashion model! All photography is forbidden in her Plain community, so she must keep her job a secret. But when Amos Burkholder starts helping at her family’s farm, hiding the truth from him is impossible. And soon she must choose between the Englischer world of modeling and the Amish man she’s come to love. (Contemporary Amish Romance from Love Inspired [Harlequin])

12 Gifts of Christmas by Lena Nelson Dooley — Can Malcolm MacGregor, a contemporary descendant of Scottish lairds, capture the heart of Brazilian-Italian beauty, Alanza Cantalamessa, in 12 days? (Contemporary Romance from Whitaker House)

All Made Up by Kara Isaac — Katriona McLeod has never gotten over Caleb Murphy, the one guy she’s ever loved. When she accepts a job as a make up artist on the latest looking-for-love reality TV show, Falling for the Farmer, she discovers to her horror that Caleb is the leading man and she’s cast as one of his harem. But she hides a secret that means that even if she wanted a second chance with the guy who broke her heart she could never have it. (Contemporary Romance, Independently Published)

An Amish Holiday Wedding by Carrie Lighte — On the brink of losing her bakery, the last thing Faith Yoder’s interested in is courting—until Hunter Schwartz returns to Willow Creek. After hiring him to deliver her treats to a Christmas festival, Faith’s determined their relationship will stay strictly professional. But despite a secret that’s kept her single, Faith can’t help but wish she and Hunter could become husband and wife. (Contemporary Amish Romance from Love Inspired [Harlequin])

Cozy Mystery:

Deadly Holiday by Marissa Shrock — The Christmas season greets Georgia Winston with a new boyfriend (maybe), a Christmas program to run, and a man dying at her feet. (Cozy Mystery, Independently Published)

General Contemporary/Women’s Fiction

From the Lake to the River by JPC Allen, Bettie Boswell, Carole Brown, Sandra Merville Hart, Tamera Lynn Kraft, Sharyn Kopf, Michelle Levigne, Cindy Thomson, and Rebecca Waters — Set in Ohio, in the past and present, these nine short stories and novellas by Ohio authors cover a wide range of genres, topics and locations. From Troy in the west to the North Coast and south-central Ohio. From Lake Erie to the Ohio River. From romance to YA adventure, with touches of mystery and humor. Dealing with historical events and situations, such as floods and the lasting effects of the Civil War. With characters involved in square dancing, theater, and music. Dealing with loss and danger, a second chance at love and taking a chance on love for the first time. Chances are good, no matter what you have a taste for reading, you’ll find something to like. Welcome to a taste of the Buckeye State! (General Contemporary from Mt Zion Ridge Press)

Place Called Home by Brenda S. Anderson — While building his graphic design company, Nate Brooks is focused on the future he’s dreamed of: traveling around the country from the comfort of his renovated school bus. But when he picks up a wounded, mysterious hitchhiker, those well-laid plans take a backseat to protecting her. Hobbled by her injury, and unable to keep running from her controlling ex, Tessa fears she’ll never find freedom. Or has she found it with the family who graciously opens their home to her? And will Nate’s protection put his family–and his heart–at risk? (Women’s Fiction, Independently Published)

Swimming in the Deep End by Christina Suzann Nelson — Jillian Connors has big expectations for her teenage daughter, Gabby, an Olympic hopeful—until Gabby becomes pregnant with her boyfriend Travis’s child. Meanwhile, Margaret Owens is furious that Gabby’s condition jeopardizes her son’s baseball scholarship. In the midst of the family drama lies the fate of the unborn baby. What does the future hold for him? (General Contemporary from Kregel Publications)

Historical:

Hidden Among the Stars by Melanie Dobson — A gripping time-slip novel about hidden treasure, a castle, and ordinary people who resisted the evils of the Hitler regime in their own extraordinary way. (Historical from Tyndale House)

Everything She Didn’t Say by Jane Kirkpatrick — A Victorian woman who traveled 15,000 miles by stage between 1870-98 decides to tell the story behind her memoir believing her husband will never see it. (Historical from Revell – A Division of Baker Publishing Group)

Enya’s Son by Cindy Thomson — This retelling of the early life of St. Columcille and his mother will usher readers on a fateful journey through ancient Ireland’s monastic centers, her wild coastline islands, and the land Columcille believed was filled with holy angels, a place where he felt safe … yet was destined to abandon. (Historical, Independently Published)

Historical Romance:

Victorian Christmas Brides by C.J. Chase, Susanne Dietze, Rita Gerlach, Kathleen L. Maher, Gabrielle Meyer, Carrie Fancett Pagels, Vanessa Riley, Lorna Seilstads, and Erica Vetsch — Faced with the daily extremes of gluttony and want in the Victorian Era, nine women seek to create the perfect Christmas celebrations. But will expectations and pride cause them to overlook imperfect men who offer true love? (Historical Romance from Barbour Publishing)

Esther’s Temptation by Lena Nelson Dooley — Saddle weary, former deputy US Marshal Jac Andrews rides into Denton, Texas hunting a swindler-and-daughter criminal team and finally feels he’s caught up to them. Unfortunately, he becomes distracted by the lovely redhead, Esther Brians. Esther, feeling like an old maid surrounded by all her close friends who are happy married couples, is drawn to the intense gaze, blue as the Texas sky, of an unknown cowboy. But several things cause her to become wary of his intentions—and his spiritual well-being. Has this unsaved lawman captured Esther’s heart or will the Lord deliver her from the temptation of Jac’s presence? What will it take for Jac to win this lovely lady and become Esther’s husband? (Historical Romance, Independently Published)

The Sound of Distant Thunder by Jan Drexler — Katie Stuckey and Jonas Weaver are both romantics. Seventeen-year-old Katie is starry-eyed, in love with the idea of being in love, and does not want to wait to marry Jonas until she is eighteen, despite her parents’ insistence. So much can happen in a year. Twenty-year-old Jonas is taken in by the romance of soldiering, especially in defense of anti-slavery, even though he knows war is at odds with the teachings of the church. When his married brother’s name comes up in the draft list, he volunteers to take his brother’s place. But can the commitment Katie and Jonas have made to each other survive the separation? (Historical Romance from Revell – A Division of Baker Publishing Group)

Romantic Suspense:

Loving the Texas Negotiator by Mary Connealy — Beth Garrison is the top hostage negotiator in Rocky Ridge Texas. She’s called in to a task force to investigate a killing that is a copy cat of her first bust as a rookie cop. The Valentine Killer.
Tate McCade, with the best arrest record on the force and a reputation for steamrolling anyone who gets in his way, heads the task force. He’s had a run-in with Beth and her oversized ego. He’s got a bruise on his face to prove it. Rather than have the pleasure of busting her back to walking a beat, he has to work with her. And the clock is ticking because there’s a woman and child missing and nothing about the crime adds up. (Romantic Suspense, Independently Published)

Speculative:

Guardian of Ajalon by Joan Campbell — The poison tree path is Shara’s road home. . .if she and her companions can survive the journey. In the danger and darkness of the forest, her only respite is in the story unlocked in the Old Tongue book. In this vivid world, Shara finally discovers what she has longed for all her life: the key to the secrets of her past. Yet time is running out for Shara—and all of Tirragyl—as Lord Lucian, King Alexor, and the royal army attack the Guardian Grotto to claim the powerful Guardian Rock. Unwilling to sit idly by as her kingdom is destroyed, Queen Nyla leaves her hiding place to recruit a most unlikely army—the Charab. But how can she win over the infamous assassins who have been oppressed by her family for generations? (Speculative Allegory from Enclave Publishing)

In case you’re new to Alan Bradley’s Flavia de Luce Mysteries, I’ll give you a quick review: Flavia de Luce is a 11-12 year old girl (her age changes as the story progresses) from Buckshaw, a rundown estate near Bishop’s Lacy, some distance from London. She lives with her father, Colonel de Luce, and her two sisters, Ophelia (Feely) and Daphne (Daffy). Flavia must constantly beware of the meanness of her sisters, but she has her avenues of revenge. Her bedroom is situated in “the unheated wing of Buckshaw” in what used to be Uncle Tar’s chemistry lab, and Flavia knows her elements. She keeps stumbling over corpses and following through to investigate the conditions of their demise. An old soul, but a sturdy one, she steals our hearts. The stories are set in the 1950s. Full series review here.

Book 8 of the Flavia de Luce Mystery series, Thrice the Branded Cat Hath Mew’d is no less engaging than its predecessors. Flavia is back from banishment to a girls’ school in Canada, back at her beloved Buckshaw, when she is asked to run an errand for a friend. She arrives at the given address, only to discovery a body in a distinctly peculiar position. In true Flavia fashion, she does not scream or run, but makes meticulous observations as to the body and its surroundings.

Author, Alan Bradley, continues the Flavia saga with wit, charm and plot lines that do not follow assumed direction. The characters satisfy our expectations with their uniqueness. Example: Mrs. Mullet, the cook at Buckshaw advises: “…no good tryin’ to see into next week when your feet is still all tangled up in yesterday. If all that nonsense worked…why don’t they use it on the stork exchange?” (page 152, paperback)

Bradley’s descriptions move past cliche: “All of which had bounced off Undine’s back like H2O off an Aylesbury duck.” (page 228) His words promote moods apropos of the action: “It is at moments…of great distress—that time becomes treacle and things go into a peculiar, oozing sort of slow motion…” (page 278)

Bradley’s writing draws me in with its distinctive style and remarkable content. And he keeps up the suspense until the final page. In this case, the final few lines. Not at all what I was expecting.

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