Tuesday, October 30, 2018

Love, Loss and Lagniappe by Richard Robbins #vbt @rrobbinsbooks


LOVE, LOSS AND LAGNIAPPE by Richard Robbins, Literary Fiction, 186 pp., $3.99 (kindle)


Title: LOVE, LOSS AND LAGNIAPPE
Author: Richard Robbins
Publisher: Evolved Publishing
Pages: 186
Genre: Literary Fiction

Life is good for Dr. Drew Coleman, a successful young eye surgeon living in Uptown New Orleans, and he knows it. Having met and married his beautiful medical school classmate, Kate, the two settle happily into the routine of raising their two young daughters.

Drew’s charmed life is soon shattered by devastating news, causing him to go on a ten-year transcontinental journey of self-discovery, during which he explores the nature of God and Man, the divine inspiration for many of New York’s landmarks and artistic treasures, and the relationship between the found and the lost souls passing on the street. He meets a number of memorable characters, including the young blue-haired runaway, Blue, who renounced her given name when forced to leave her Minnesota home with her girlfriend, Anna.

In time, he discovers and explains the scientific basis for the meaning of life, and is finally found, or finds himself, setting the stage for a bittersweet and memorable ending.

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Spring 1982
Drew picked up his pace as he walked across campus on a steamy Saturday morning. He was scheduled to lead two Admissions Office tours for high school juniors and seniors starting in five minutes. It would likely be a busy week, since seniors had recently received their acceptance letters and the deadline to reply loomed only weeks away. Furthermore, as Spring Break had hit for northeastern high schools, there would be a roomful of well dressed New Yorkers and Bostonians soaking in the “local culture.” And they did not like to be kept waiting.
Drew had no time to stop for coffee on the way over, which might become a problem. Although he could grab some standard coffee free from the student cafeteria, this morning called for the good stuff. There would be pots of his favorite PJ’s coffee in the Admissions office, but they reserved that coffee, along with fresh croissants, strictly for the visiting students. Admissions required tour leaders to follow three essential rules: don’t flirt with the visiting students, don’t flirt with the moms, and don’t touch the refreshments.
At least he still had enough time to admire a lovely New Orleans spring morning. Spring in The Crescent City brought its own special feel. The morning sun burned the dew off the grass, creating the humidity for which New Orleans was famous—or infamous. The magnolia and cherry blossoms had burst into full bloom, creating a white and pink pastel background for the canvas of Victorian homes and buildings that gave Uptown New Orleans its distinct character.
The morning was typically quiet—few places as peaceful as a college campus at 8:45 on a Saturday morning. It would soon come alive with the sounds of backpack-sporting students purposefully going about their ways, but for now, he enjoyed having the campus to himself.
For an eighteen-year-old from Florida—the land of strip malls and perfectly straight roads, where each fountain-fronted community’s location was described as if on a Cartesian grid—New Orleans, with its unique architecture and culture, felt like a European movie set. Or a dream.
As he crossed the quad and walked under the breezeway of the library, the massive outline of Gibson Hall, which housed the Office of Admissions, came into view. Tour guides had been taught extensively about Gibson’s checkered history. It bore the name of Confederate General and US Senator Randall Lee Gibson, the first President of Tulane University. The massive Romanesque structure sat majestically across from the grand entrance of Audubon Park, separated only by St. Charles Avenue, with its anachronistic but still quite functional open-air Street Cars.
As he approached Gibson Hall, a familiar voice called out to him. “Cutting it a bit close, aren’t we?”
Drew looked over at his friend Matt, who held a steaming cup of cafeteria coffee, calm and sweat free, looking as if he had been there just the right amount of time.
“Made it with almost a minute to spare. Why come any earlier than you have to?” replied Drew. “What’s it look like for today?”
“A big group, lots of kids from New Jersey and Maryland. I talked to a few of them while they were signing in.” Matt blew on his coffee.
“That’s not what I was asking. Anybody cute? Anyone from Hollywood Hills High?”
“Dude, you know the rules. Plus, you see them for an hour and a half, then never again. Why even make the effort?”
Drew shrugged and shook his head. Classic Matt, perfectly rational.
Matt, along with their friend Clayton, was one of Drew’s two best friends from Hollywood Hills. As seniors, the three of them had decided to attend Tulane together. Matt, at six feet four inches of solid steel, was the picture of youthful vigor. Drew figured that’s what he got from eating a macrobiotic diet before anybody had ever heard of macrobiotic, and from working out every day.
Matt was a lefty and a heckuva baseball player, and such an intimidating presence that during baseball practice, Drew would literally shake in his shoes hoping that Matt would not hit the ball to him. He was also the most disciplined person Drew had ever known, numbering all his shirts and wearing them in sequence so that they each received the same amount of use.
Perfectly rational.
Although Drew didn’t think of Matt as naturally funny, unlike most unfunny people, he appreciated good humor, which made Drew like him even more. He could live a hundred years and never find a better person or a truer friend.
Thursday morning tours followed a routine schedule: half the group took a walking campus tour from 9:00 AM to 10:30 AM, while the other half sat through an information session. Then, from 10:30 to noon, they switched. As the clock turned to 9:00 AM, the tour leaders headed to opposite corners of the admissions office to divide up the large group.
As Matt turned to throw away his cafeteria coffee, Drew called out to him, “Hold on there, big guy. Give me that cup.”
In the activity of the moment, Drew took the cup, snuck over to the refreshments table, and filled it up with a generous helping of PJ’s coffee.
None of the cafeteria stuff today. Time for High Test!
As long as he kept it in the cafeteria cup, he figured they would never discover his petty theft. He also gave a longing eye to the Croissants, glistening in their buttery glory, but thought better of pushing his luck.
Fueled and ready, the sweat from his morning rush finally drying, he stood ready to give his standard welcome speech to his group, complete with well-rehearsed laugh lines and fake self-deprecation. Nothing made him feel bigger than giving admissions tours as a college freshman to high school juniors and seniors. At that age, each year felt like a graduation. The difference between being a high school junior and senior had been big, but the difference between being a high school senior and college freshman was huge.
Drew felt it, and he loved it.
He took a long sip of the forbidden coffee and put his Trojan Horse of a cup down on the long mahogany table, as he had dozens of times before. He then turned toward the group and looked up, and....
One particular visiting student, standing eagerly near the front of the group, immediately captured his attention. He became momentarily disoriented and his vision blurred a bit, then sharpened directly upon her. Everyone else in the room—as far as he was concerned—had vanished.
Petite, she stood just a little over five feet tall, and wore a blue, checkered jumper with a white Lycra t-shirt underneath. Small and curvy, she carried those five extra pounds that looked so good on a young girl but less so on a grown woman. She kept her short brown hair cut in a bob just below her chin, and her eyes....
What is with those eyes?
He couldn’t really describe their color—he guessed the closest would be green—but they were made up of so many different colors that they seemed to sparkle in the spring sun.
She stood near the front of the group along with her parents. Her father, a dignified looking man, had a face that seemed to be balancing the forces of decorum and tenderness. Her mother was a little taller than she was, beautiful in her own right with long brown hair, an elegant cream blouse, and pants that flared slightly more than expected, suggesting there might be more to her than suburban mother.
Drew calmed down, took a deep breath, and stammered his normally smooth welcome speech to begin the tour. As they started walking, he covered the history of Tulane University, its location in Uptown New Orleans, and its proximity—or lack of proximity, depending on the feel of the group—to the French Quarter. Although he mostly stuck to the standard script, for some reason, every sentence he uttered seemed to have the word “great” in it.
“How are the freshman dorms?”
“Great.”
“The meal plan?”
“Great.”
“Greek life?”
“Really great.”
His heart raced, and he wondered if he’d drunk just a little too much PJ’s coffee.
As they walked back and forth across the campus, he offered the usual—“Here’s the Science building. There’s the Library. Look at the beautiful Magnolias.”—all standard stuff. However, all the while, all he could focus on was, “Where is she?” And... “Don’t flirt.”
At the end of the tour came the questions. The first always came from some overeager kid who imagined Drew might actually have some influence on his application. That kid would then proceed to ask a series of questions to show everyone how smart he was, or how well he could craft a question.
He began with an anemic, “What is the student-to-faculty ratio?”
Really? That’s where you’re going with this?
The real answers were either, “Dude, it’s in the damn booklet,” or, “Dude, is the difference between 11:1 and 13:1 going to make you choose here or not?” Nonetheless, he dutifully replied, “The student-to-faculty ratio is 12:1, which is amongst the lowest in the nation.”
Once the little gunner was sufficiently self-satisfied, the real questions began, ranging from the routine to the unusual. Tour guides loved to report back to each other the questions they had never heard before. They were well prepared for the common questions, and well trained never to make up answers for the unusual ones. Drew particularly loved, “Why did you choose Tulane?” That let him get into his discussion about The Great Universities of the South—Vanderbilt, Duke, Emory, and Tulane. He was happy to compare and contrast the strengths and weaknesses of each, which the group generally found interesting, but again, he carefully avoided the real answer: “I didn’t get into Duke or Vandy. And Atlanta vs. New Orleans? No contest there.”
Finally, she asked a question. Looking directly into Drew’s eyes, she leaned forward to make sure nobody else was about to ask a question, and softly but confidently said, “Hello, my name is Kate. I’m a senior from Virginia.”
Her voice was different than Drew had imagined. Actually, he hadn’t imagined her speaking at all.  “I’m Drew,” he said, “a Freshman Biology Major from Florida.”
You don’t look at a Magnolia Tree and wonder what it will sound like. You just admire its essence.
Drew focused on the small details of her body language, the details that made each person unique, but which others generally overlooked or ignored. Like how she kept her hands folded in front of her waist in a slightly defensive position, yet still leaned forward at the waist as if to hear his responses more closely. How she nervously flicked at her nail polish with her thumbs as she switched her gaze from his right to his left eye and back again. How she furtively glanced over at her parents, perhaps making sure she didn’t seem more interested than was appropriate.
Drew didn’t remember her question in its entirety, and barely made it through the answer without embarrassing himself. What he was sure he would never forget was the eye contact.  People rarely made eye contact when they spoke. Maybe it was a defense mechanism or a primitive way of avoiding dominance contests, but people generally avoided it or kept it to a minimum. While answering her question, Drew pointed at this or that building or monument, but near the end, he looked towards her, and their eyes locked onto each other’s for one beat longer than usual.
That was it. Drew felt it, and more importantly, he could feel that she felt it too. He knew she did, or at least he thought he knew.
Cue the Oxytocin. I’m hooked.
He remembered that she was from Virginia, that her father was some sort of high-level government official, and that she was choosing between Tulane and the University of Virginia.
That one’s a tough sell.
He could make the case that Tulane was the better choice, but he couldn’t compete with the in-state tuition.
As they discussed the pros and cons, the Admissions Counselor called out, “Session one tours, come into the auditorium for information sessions. Session two tours, meet your tour guides in the main hallway.”
Damn, I forgot. It’s time for the next tour. Is that it? Is it really over?
He didn’t want it to end. If he finished his next tour quickly enough, perhaps he could be back before her information session let out, and would have the opportunity to see her again.
Rock and roll!
He proceeded with the canned speech—history of Tulane, here’s the Biology building, here’s the Library, nice school, nice town, yada, yada... good luck next year, guys. Then the questions started, and they kept coming: student to faculty ratio, Greek life, what’s the crime rate like here—lots of prep from the admissions office for that one.
C’mon, c’mon, let’s move it, guys. Let’s go back to admissions. Maybe the other group is still there.
The other group was gone.
The information sessions left plenty of time for questions and therefore varied in length. This must have been a short one, and just like that, she was gone. An emptiness descended upon him, and he felt like an hourglass with a hole in its base. Should he have gotten her phone number or address? He could get in trouble for that, but perhaps he could have done it in a way that would have seemed helpful rather than inappropriate. Could he have found a reason to ask someone in the Admissions Office for her information? No, that was strongly discouraged, he remembered.
The hell with it! I’m having a leftover Croissant. Shoot me.
He looked towards the quad and saw Matt bringing his group back, his curly blonde hair bouncing briskly above the crowd.
As Matt walked back, he called to Drew, “Beat me today. That hasn’t happened in a while.” Matt’s tours were always perfectly predictable in length, as he said just what he needed to say—no more, no less, and all on point.
Drew’s varied based on how late he was out the night before, whether he was able to score some coffee, and the personality of his group, but however those factors came together, they usually added up to a longer tour than Matt’s.
“I kinda rushed it a bit today,” he said. “I wanted to get back before the 10:30 info session let out.”
“Why, do you need to talk to someone in admissions?”
“No, to an applicant.”
“Dude, don’t go there. You know the rules. I’d rather them catch you with the coffee, and by the way, are those croissant crumbs on your shirt?”
Drew ignored the accusation. “Something happened today. I can’t describe it, but it was overwhelmingly powerful. I met someone, someone special. We only said a few words, but there was something there, something I’ve never felt before, something I didn’t know I could feel or... that could even be felt.”
“I know, some of them are pretty cute, and they look at you like you are the coolest kid in school.”
“Yeah, she was cute, but that’s not it. Well, that’s part of it, but there’s more.”
“And now she’s gone, so let’s go back to the dorm, put on some shorts, and go play some ball.”
Exercise as the cure, and good for you too. Very rational. Love that Matt.
This time Drew glided across campus, not noticing the buildings, the trees, the bustling campus, or Matt. People often said there were a few moments in your life for which everything else could be described as either before or after. Sometimes it was obvious, sometimes less so. Drew experienced this feeling years ago when his father passed away prematurely. He would then have to be the “man of the house,” with all its attendant responsibility and baggage. He felt it when he was accepted to Tulane and realized his days of living in Florida were over forever. Now, walking back to his dorm, he had the odd feeling that this was another of those moments.
Clayton greeted them as they walked into the room, wearing old gym shorts and a Miami Dolphins t-shirt. Matt had been up at 7:00 AM, worked out for an hour, showered, and made it early to Gibson Hall. Drew had woken up at 8:40 AM, threw on some clothes, and hustled there just as the tours were starting. Clayton still had sleep in his eyes.
“Bro, its after noon,” Matt said. “We’ve led four tours, stolen a croissant and coffee, and fallen in love already. Throw on some shorts and let’s ball!”
“I’m in,” replied Clayton, as he opened his dorm dresser to retrieve slightly less worn shorts and a different Dolphins t-shirt.
Drew loved that Clayton was always in for whatever.
Clayton stood a solid six feet tall, thin but not skinny, with dark black hair and a face that looked vaguely Eastern European. Whip smart but not as funny as he thought he was, he at least got points for trying, and was always up for fun. At the age of thirteen, he’d achieved a minor degree of local celebrity by advancing to the national finals in a basketball foul shooting contest. He routinely sank between twenty-two and twenty-four out of twenty-five shots, including in each round leading up to nationals. In the finals in Kansas City, however, he made only fourteen out of twenty-five. Nineteen would have won.
Clayton had been devastated, but his friends were compassionate. They called him The Kansas City Bomber. Forever. It really hurt his feelings. That made it funnier.
Boys.
As they walked to the gym, Clayton looked over at Drew and said, “So you’re in love? It happens to me every day here.”
He was right. Ten thousand young students enjoying the first freedoms of living away from home, combined with alcohol, made for a volatile mix. Crushes and broken hearts routinely followed.
Drew shook his head and sighed. “No, I’m talking about something different. You should have seen her. I’m talking about something special, something lasting. I felt it in an instant, and I can’t think about anything else.” He gazed glass-eyed at a worn Larry Bird poster on the far wall, as if trying to see his own thoughts, and asked Clayton, “Do you believe in love at first sight?”
Clayton replied, “Dude, love at first sight is an illusion, an imaginary idea, like Unicorns, or Abs.”
“I like them taller,” said Matt.













Richard Robbins has always liked telling good stories, but it was not until his youngest child left for college that he was able to find the time to put them into print.  His first novel, Love, Loss, and Lagniappe was inspired by actual events in his life, and utilizes Richard’s Medical and Business School background to explore the journey of self-discovery after heartbreaking loss, while revealing the scientific basis for the meaning of life (You’ll have to read it to find out!).

Richard is currently working on his second novel, Panicles, a multi-generational story of the intersecting fate of two families and the price of fame versus the simpler pleasures of a grounded life.
Richard lives in New York City with his love and inspiration, Lisa, his wife of thirty years (and counting), near their beloved grown children.

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Monday, October 22, 2018

Winter at the Beach by Sheila Roberts #holidays #holidaybooks #vbt @_sheila_roberts



WINTER AT THE BEACH by Sheila Roberts, Women's Fiction, 384pp., $5.98 (paperback) $6.99 (kindle)


Title: WINTER AT THE BEACH
Author: Sheila Roberts
Publisher: Harlequin/Mira
Pages: 384
Genre: Women’s Fiction

Jenna Jones, manager of the Driftwood Inn, a vintage motel in the Washington beach town of Moonlight Harbor, is convinced that a winter festival would be a great way to draw visitors (and tourist business) to town during those off-season months. Everyone in the local chamber of commerce is on board with her Seaside with Santa festival idea except one naysayer, local sour lemon, Susan Frank, who owns a women’s clothing boutique in town. The beach gets hit with storms in the winter, no one will come, too close to Christmas. Blah, blah. What does Susan know?
It turns out that Susan knows a lot. A big storm hits during the weekend of the festival, wreaking havoc with the parade and producing power outages all over town. Including at the Driftwood Inn.
Jenna finds herself with a motel filled with people, all with no power. What to do? Enlist the help of friends, of course. Her friends take in many of the stranded visitors, and Jenna and her Aunt Edie take in the others, stuffing them into Aunt Edie’s house next door to the Driftwood.

All the guests come with their own unique stories. The last thing Taylor Marsh wanted was a getaway with her husband. His refusal to give up on his dying business is taking them down financially and killing their marriage. But her sister Sarah (she who has her financial act together and never lets her sister forget it) insists this will be fun for both their families. It will only be fun for Taylor if her husband gets eaten by a giant squid. Then there’s Darrel Wilson, who planned the perfect anniversary getaway for his wife, who’s been undergoing chemo. So much for the perfect anniversary. And the sisters, Lisa and Karen, who can’t seem to go on a sister outing without it turning into a Lucy and Ethel adventure. Unlikely roommates, all of them. But perhaps each one has a valuable lesson to share with the others. And perhaps, what looked like a disaster will prove to be the best holiday adventure of all.

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Jenna Jones, who manages a vintage motel, the Driftwood Inn, is sure her idea for a holiday festival will bring business to her Washington coast beach town of Moonlight Harbor. Let’s see how her proposal goes over with the Moonlight Harbor Chamber of Commerce…
 “Okay, that takes care of old business,” Brody said. “Now, I think Jenna has some new business.”
Oh, boy. She could hardly wait to see what Susan would have to say about this.
She cleared her throat. “Actually, I have a suggestion for a way to bring down more visitors during our slow time.”
“We’re all for that,” said Patricia Whiteside.
Susan clamped her thin lips together and gave Jenna a look that dared her, the newbie, to come up with something.
Jenna’s nervous twitch put in an appearance. Don’t blink. She blinked one last time and cleared her throat again. “Well, I was just thinking about other towns I’ve visited in the past and one that came to mind was Icicle Falls.”
Susan rolled her eyes. “The cheesy German town.”
“A lot of people find it charming,” Jenna said. “It’s awfully pretty, and they’ve done a great job of making themselves as authentic as possible. They always have something going to get people up there. In fact, I did some research online. They have festivals all year long, including a chocolate festival. Their tree-lighting ceremonies on the weekends in December bring in thou- sands of people.”
“So, are you proposing we have a tree-lighting ceremony?” Susan mocked.
“No, but I am proposing we have a holiday festival.”
“We just had a festival in August in case you forgot,” Susan said snidely.
What was with this woman anyway? The town had done a good deed by putting on a festival to help Jenna raise money to restore the Driftwood after she experienced a financial setback. It had been such a success that the chamber had decided to make the Blue Moon Festival a tradition, with proceeds going to help other businesses in town in need of assistance. Jenna had benefited and other local businesses would as well, and Susan resented it? She was a crab in the pot. If she couldn’t succeed, she didn’t want anyone else to, either. And everyone knew her shop wasn’t doing that well, especially now that Courtney was selling her own designs over at the Oyster Inn.
Well, pooh on her. Jenna handed papers to both Tyrella and Brody to start passing around the table.
 “People love festivals. Remember how many came down for the Blue Moon one?”
“That was in the summer,” Susan reminded her.
“I know. But people also love holiday festivals. We’re looking for ways to get visitors down here in the winter. Why not put together a giant holiday party in Moonlight Harbor?”
Patricia Whiteside was reading Jenna’s handout. “Seaside with Santa, that’s cute. And I like all the suggestions you’ve made for activities. I really like the idea of making use of the pier.”
“The weekend before Christmas?” Susan objected, frowning at her handout. “Who’s going to want to come to something then? People will be getting ready to go see family, and they’ll be finishing up their shopping.”
“Why shouldn’t they finish it here?” Jenna argued. “We have all kinds of cute shops. We have great places for them to stay while they shop and plenty of restau- rants where they can eat. They may even want to stay here for the holidays. All we need is an event to lure them down. A festival could do it. And who doesn’t like a parade? Look how many people turn out for the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade.”
“Look at the floats they have in that parade,” Susan countered. “What sort of floats would we be able to put together down here?”
“Okay, maybe not the most impressive parade ever,” Jenna admitted, “but I bet we could come up with some- thing.”
“I could get some of my employees to dress up as mermaids,” said Kiki, “and stick ’em on a flatbed truck strung with fake seaweed.” She grinned, clearly taken with her idea.
“We need more for our Moonlight Harbor Queen and her princesses to do,” put in Nora. “They love riding in those old convertibles. You’ll let us use your vintage Caddy, right, Ellis?”
“Well...” Ellis hesitated. “If it rains...”
“Which it probably will,” said Susan. “Come on, people, be practical. You know what it’s like down here in the winter, all wind and rain.”
Patricia pooh-poohed that objection. “We’ve survived plenty of storms.”
“Well, I think it’s a bad idea,” Susan said, scowling across the table at Jenna.
Maybe it was. Jenna’s left eye began to twitch.
“I think it sounds great,” said Elizabeth MacDowell. She and her twin sister, K.J., were new members of the chamber. They’d opened their arts and crafts store, Crafty Just Cuz, in September, and it was already one of Jenna’s favorite places to hang out.
“We do need more business in the winter,” said Cindy Redmond. “There’s no getting around it. And doing something for the holidays could be fun. I say we give it a try,” she added, and Jenna’s eye stopped twitching.
“We’d have to get moving right away,” Nora said, pulling another sheet of paper from her yellow tablet. “Who can help?”
“I can,” said Ellis.
“Me, too,” Brody said, smiling at Jenna. “Jenna, it’s your idea. You’ll have to chair the committee.”
“Me?” she squeaked. Not that she couldn’t take charge. She was a firstborn, and Responsibility was her middle name. (Although her sister, Celeste, would probably argue that her middle name was Bossy.) She didn’t have a problem with rolling up her sleeves and getting to work, but she also didn’t want to offend old- timers like Susan Frank. “I’m sure someone else...” she began.
“Your idea, you have to do it,” Susan goaded.
Jenna raised her chin. “I can do it.” She’d survived rehabbing the Driftwood Inn. How much harder could it be to organize a festival?
In three months. Blink. Blink, blink, blink.
“Do I have a motion that we sponsor a Seaside with Santa Festival for the weekend before Christmas?” Brody asked.
“So moved,” said Ellis. “I’m with you, kid,” he told Jenna.
“I’ll second,” Nora said and reached across the back of Tyrella’s chair to give Jenna’s shoulder an encouraging pat.
“All in favor?” Brody asked.
“Aye,” chorused almost everyone.
“Opposed?”
“Nay,” Susan Frank said. “I’m telling you all, this is a bad idea. Make sure you put that in the minutes,” she told Cindy.
“Motion carries,” said Brody. He smiled down at Jenna. “Looks like we’re going to be putting on a holiday bash.”
“Holiday disaster,” Susan grumbled from her side of the table.
What did Susan know? Blink, blink, blink.














USA Today best-selling author Sheila Roberts has seen over fifty books, both fiction and non-fiction in print. Her novels have appeared in many different languages and been made into movies for both the Lifetime and Hallmark Channels. She writes about things near and dear to women’s hearts – love, friendship, family and chocolate.

Her latest book is the women’s fiction, Winter at the Beach.

Website Link: http://www.sheilasplace.com
Twitter Link: https://twitter.com/_Sheila_Roberts?lang=en
Facebook Link: https://www.facebook.com/funwithsheila/
http://www.pumpupyourbook.com



 


Monday, October 15, 2018

The Water Is Wide by Laura Vosika @lauravosika #vbt #timetravel #historical #fiction


THE WATER IS WIDE by Laura Vosika, Time Travel/Historical Fiction, 451 pp., $16.99 (paperback) $4.99 (kindle)


Title: THE WATER IS WIDE Author: Laura Vosika Publisher: Gabriel’s Horn Press Pages: 451 Genre: Time Travel/Historical Fiction

After his failure to escape back to his own time, Shawn is sent with Niall on the Bruce’s business. They criss-cross Scotland and northern England, working for the Bruce and James Douglas, as they seek ways to get Shawn home to Amy and his own time.

Returning from the Bruce’s business, to Glenmirril, Shawn finally meets the mysterious Christina. Despite his vow to finally be faithful to Amy, his feelings for Christina grow.

In modern Scotland, having already told Angus she’s pregnant, Amy must now tell him Shawn is alive and well—in medieval Scotland. Together, they seek a way to bring him back across time.
They are pursued by Simon Beaumont, esteemed knight in the service of King Edward, has also passed between times. Having learned that Amy’s son will kill him—he seeks to kill the infant James first.

The book concludes with MacDougall’s attack on Glenmirril, Amy and Angus’s race to be there and Shawn’s attempt to reach the mysterious tower through the battling armies.

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As the shadows lengthened, Shawn cleared his throat. “Any thoughts on where to spend the night? Is there a Holiday Inn around here?”
“There’s no inn of any sort.”
“Yeah, and that’s a problem,” Shawn said, “because last time I slept in the great outdoors, a wolf climbed into bed with me, and it didn’t really end well for either of us.” He rubbed his thigh, where a long scar would forever remind him of the night.
“You did well.” Niall cocked a grin at him. “It almost makes me glad to have you at my side, despite your infernal complaining.” The sky over the leafy canopy grew grayer as they climbed another hill.
“I haven’t complained for half an hour, and considering I’m stuck with you, that’s pretty impressive.” An owl hooted, low and mournful. “I’m pretty sure that knocks a couple months off any Purgatory time I’d racked up.” The river crackled, cold water splashing against thin ice on the edges, beside them.
Any time?” Niall chortled, a candle against the darkening wood. “You’ll be fortunate to get as high as Purgatory, and if you do, you’ve racked up so much time there, they’ll have to kick the rest of them straight into Heaven to make room for all the Purgatory you need!”
“I don’t think it works like....” Shawn stopped at the top of the hill, staring at the sight before them. “Holy ruins, Batman. What is that?”
Niall and his pony halted by his side. The animal tossed its head, and nuzzled Niall’s arm. Before them stretched a wide expanse of broken stone walls, stone buildings with mouths and eyes gaping wide in the twilight, on either side of a long road. One vast length of wall held numerous niches. Thirty yards away, crumbling walls enclosed rows of short, stout, stone posts. Beyond it, a stairway led down into a dark maw. Bushes sprang from cracks. Trees grew in and among the abandoned structures. Shadows stretched everywhere, as the sun sank, sending fiery orange and pink rays down the center road, lighting the mist that swirled along it.
“That,” said Niall with a smile, “is our inn. God provides.” He touched his heels to his pony, starting down the gentle slope.
Shawn coughed loudly. “Uh, yeah, He sure does. The question is what has He provided? What is this place?”
“A Roman fort.” Niall led his pony down the center path, the remains rising on either side. A bird called somewhere in the trees.
“The Roamin’ in.” Shawn used English for the last two words. “God has a sense of humor.”
Niall smiled, pointing to the stairs leading down. “There. ’Tis indoors.”
“It’s a pun,” Shawn clarified. “It’s a whole lot funnier if you see it spelled out.”
“No doubt,” Niall agreed. “Shall we gather firewood? Keep any more wolves from climbing in bed with you?”
“Yes, let’s. And what keeps away the ghosts of the Roman legionnaires? Or their victims?”
“One sight of your face ought to scare any spirits back to the underworld.”
“If that doesn’t work,” said Shawn, “your pathetic attempts at music will.”
“Perhaps you could brag of your exploits with women.” Niall grinned. “Even Hades is better than having to listen to that.”
Shawn laughed. “You’re jealous.”
They picked their way over the darkening path strewn with stones. In the trees above, an owl hooted.
“What happens tomorrow?” Shawn nodded at the limping pony.
Niall’s mouth was taut. “We hope he’s better. If not, we let him rest, and spend the time learning to play the lute. We’ve shelter, walls and a roof, which is more than we expected.”
They stopped before their intended room. Shawn sighed. It would do no good to stay in the open, but the stone structure, with its empty eyes and stone stairs descending into darkness, was hardly welcoming.
“We’ll need wood,” Niall said. They tethered the ponies to a tree springing up near the ruin, left the lute beside them, and set out to gather branches.
The sky was now deep blue, the ruins cloaked in shadow. A wolf howled in the distance. The air grew chillier as they worked, till a night among ghosts looked inviting, even homey, as long as it was warm. They piled the kindling on the lowest step outside their chosen abode, where it would warm the room, but send its smoke up into the sky. Niall scraped flint, and soon, they had flickering light by which to eat their hard bread and berries. Shawn settled back, content with his stomach less than empty, and pulled out the lute. He adjusted a couple tuning pegs, tried a few chords, and began one of the songs he’d played on guitar. Niall relaxed against another wall, watching his fingers, humming along. “Let me try,” he said at last. Shawn handed it over, giving instruction as Niall leaned over the strings, working his fingers into unfamiliar positions for chords, and picking out melodies.
Outside, a pony whickered. Niall and Shawn froze, looking to the doorway, where they could see only black night beyond the glowing fire. Niall laid the lute down gently. “We've been careless,” he said softly. They reached for their knives.
“I’m kind of hoping it’s only a ghost,” Shawn whispered back. The familiar tingle of adrenaline began, a tremoring of the nerves in his arms. His muscles tightened. “Do we wait for whoever it is to come in?”
Niall shook his head. “And wait for a whole army to come in on us? If I’m to die tonight, ’twill be fighting for my life.” He rose, back against the wall, and inched around till he stood pressed by the doorway, where the fire crackled. On the other side, Shawn did the same, his heart pounding hard. Niall pointed to his chest, then to Shawn, and held up fingers in a silent count: One. Two. Three.
He sprang over the small flames, into the night. Shawn leapt behind him, knife ready, heart beating triple time, nerves screaming! The fire threw shadows across the pony, who balked against his tether. Shawn saw nothing. But he heard the crack of a twig just beyond the light. He and Niall lunged. The single crack grew into a panicked flurry of rustling leaves, cracking twigs, branches snapping back in their faces as they gave chase. Shawn ducked and swerved, saw Niall ahead, veered, and suddenly, there was a pile of arms, legs. He dropped his knife.
“Get down!” Niall roared. Shawn threw himself to the ground, hands over his head.
All became silent for a heartbeat...two.
Then the forest erupted with sound!
“I didn’t mean you!” Niall said indignantly.
“I’ve done naught, Milord! Don’t kill me!”
Then Niall was laughing, great gusty roars of merriment. “Shawn, get up! You’re hiding from a boy!”
“Don’t kill me! I can help you! I can help your hobin, Milord!”
Shawn inched his hand from over his eyes to see the dark shape of Niall sitting astride a boy who managed to flounder, fight, and cower, all at once, while protesting. He climbed irritably to his feet. “You said get down!”
“I meant him.”
“You staged this because your lute-playing sucks!” Shawn threw back into the night. “You needed a distraction.”
“Thank goodness at least you can play a lute, because the way you fight, a mouse would have gotten the better of us!”
The boy looked back and forth between them. He stopped struggling. “Milord?”
Shawn realized both their faces were showing. He recoiled into shadow. Niall climbed to his feet, his knife at the ready. “Get up.”
“He’s just a boy,” Shawn sighed. “Put your knife away.”
“Aren’t we sending boys to war?” Niall asked. “What makes you think a boy can’t kill?”
Shawn had no answer. He could think only of the boys to whom he’d taught trombone, so many years ago in the future—boys in sports jerseys, with trimmed hair, worrying about who to ask to prom. This boy stood before them in tatters. He wrapped his arms around his skinny body. His hair hung past his shoulders. Clarence. His father’s killer, as he’d last seen him, flashed through Shawn’s mind. Yes, boys could kill. He didn’t want to believe this one would. He just didn’t want any more ugliness in his world.
“What’s your name?” Niall demanded.
“I have none,” the boy said.
“No name? How can you have no name?”
The boy shrugged. “My parents died long ago, my mother in childbirth, and my father in battle. A farrier found me and took me in. He didn’t know my name.”
“Surely he called you something?”
“Red.” The boy’s shivering increased.
“Niall,” Shawn said.
Niall pressed the boy, ignoring Shawn. “And why are you not with him now?”
“He was....” Red’s teeth clacked together. He clenched them tight, rubbing his hands up and down his arms, and tried again. “He was killed when the soldiers came through. I ran into the forest and hid. They were afraid to follow me into the ruins.”
“Niall, he’s cold.”
Niall’s knife remained pointed at the boy. “Which soldiers?”
“They were English, Milord. Meaning no offense, Milord.” His teeth clattered again. “If you’re English.”
“Niall!” Shawn stepped forward, his anger growing. “He’s just a kid! He’s about to....”
Before he finished, the boy collapsed. Shawn was under him, catching his sagging body before it hit the ground.












Laura Vosika is a writer, poet, and musician. Her time travel series, The Blue Bells Chronicles, set in modern and medieval Scotland, has garnered praise and comparisons to writers as diverse as Diana Gabaldon and Dostoevsky. Her poetry has been published in The Moccasin and The Martin Lake Journal 2017.

She has been featured in newspapers, on radio, and TV, has spoken for regional book events, and hosted the radio program Books and Brews. She currently teaches writing at Minneapolis Community and Technical College.

As a musician, Laura has performed as on trombone, flute, and harp, in orchestras, and big bands. She lives in Brooklyn park with 5 of her 9 children, 3 cats, and an Irish Wolfhound.

Her latest book is the time travel/historical fiction, The Water is Wide.

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Monday, October 1, 2018

Darkest Before the Dawn by Mike Martin @mike54martin #mystery #vbt


DARKEST BEFORE THE DAWN by Mike Martin, Mystery, 266 pp., $14.99 (paperback)



Title: DARKEST BEFORE THE DAWN Author: Mike Martin Publisher: Ottawa Press and Publishing Pages: TBA Genre: Mystery

Darkest Before the Dawn is the latest adventure of Sgt. Winston Windflower, a Mountie who finds himself surrounded by a new family and a new life in tiny Grand Bank, Newfoundland. There are signs of trouble that may disturb his pleasant life, including a series of unsolved break-ins and the lack of supports for young people in the most trying time of their lives. But there are always good friends, good food and the sense that if we all pull together, we can find a way to get through even the darkest days.

Ghosts, mysterious deaths, and a new character enliven the pages as Windflower and Tizzard and the other police officers awaken the secrets that have been lying dormant in this sleepy little town. The deeper they dig the more they find as the criminals they seek dive deeper behind the curtains of anonymity and technology. But more than anything, this is a story of love and loss, of growing up and learning how to grow old gracefully. It is also about family and community and looking after each other. Of not giving up hope just before the dawn.

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Winston Windflower was surrounded by women. Literally
and figuratively. At home, his beautiful wife, Sheila Hillier,
was busy minding the new joy of their lives. Amelia Louise was just
over a month old, and she was the most beautiful thing that the
RCMP sergeant had ever seen. Right in front of him was a gaggle
of ladies from the Grand Bank United Church Women. He was
finishing up the latest in a series of seminars the local Mounties
were conducting on how to make your home safer.
The sessions were in response to a series of break-ins around
the Burin Peninsula in recent months. There had been ten reported
in Grand Bank alone. This was concerning to the locals who were
used to living in a community where you never had to lock your
doors at night. It was disturbing to the RCMP as well because they
had no idea who was behind this latest crime spree. Usually, that
was the easiest part of their job.
Break and enters were often carried out by drug users looking
for quick money for hits or professionals who would stake out a
home or business that had particularly valuable assets. There were
random robberies for other reasons, too, but ten in one small town
was more than unusual. What was even stranger was that houses
had been broken into, and nothing appeared to be missing.
That had startled the RCMP and scared the local women
who had come out tonight to hear about double bolts and security
systems.
“We never had to lock our doors around here,” said Mabel
Bennett.
“Who is doing this, Sergeant?” asked Rachel Mahoney.
“Is it drugs?” asked Barb Pritchard.

Windflower was trying to respond but the questions kept
coming.

“They don’t know yet,” came a voice from behind him. Wind-
flower turned to see who had come to his rescue. It was Betsy

Molloy, his administrative assistant.
“The whole detachment is working on it, and they’ll find them,”
continued Betsy. “The Mounties always get their man,” she stated
confidently.
That seemed to assuage the gathered women, who parted to
let the RCMP officer slip through. He nodded and smiled as he
politely refused all offers for coffee and cake and squeezed his way
out of the church hall.
Outside, he exhaled a sigh of relief and breathed in the first
warm night air of spring. It was early June, but the weather had been
unseasonably cold for this time of year. There’d even been morning
frost up until a few nights ago. Tonight was calm and beautiful and
mild. Windflower hoped that would be a harbinger of warmer days
ahead. But he had learned from living in this part of the world that
unpredictable was the norm when it came to weather. The good
news was that if you didn’t like the weather at the moment, you
only had to wait about an hour and it would be different.
He didn’t really care about wind or weather tonight. He
couldn’t wait to get home to see Sheila and their baby. He drove
home quickly and was welcomed by yet another female in his life,
Lady, his five-year-old collie. She was still a puppy at heart despite
her age and wanted to jump and play with her master. Windflower
pacified her with a pat on the head and a Milk-Bone biscuit and
ran upstairs.
Sheila was putting a new pink onesie on the baby who was
looking at her mother.
“She knows who you are,” said Windflower, creeping in behind
her. The baby moved her eyes towards him.
“I think she knows you, too,” said Sheila. “Come and say hello.”
Windflower sat on the bed next to Sheila and grazed his baby’s
cheek with his finger. Then, he touched her tiny fingers, and it felt
like she was trying to grab on to him. It may have been reflex, but
Windflower was overjoyed at her reaction. Maybe she does know me, he thought.
As he was pondering this question, Amelia Louise closed her
eyes and was soon fast asleep.
“Put the kettle on, and I’ll be down in a minute,” said Sheila,
who picked up the baby and carried her to the bassinet next to the
bed.
“Okay,” said Windflower. “I’ll take Lady out for a quick spin
too.”
Windflower went downstairs where Lady was waiting none too
patiently for him. Her spirits lifted when he grabbed her leash after
plugging in the kettle.
“Let’s go girl,” he said. She didn’t need to be told twice. Lady
was quite happy to sniff and snort her way all along the roadways
in Grand Bank. She did her business and barked at dogs on the
route to let them know that she had the best master in town. She
was disappointed when Windflower took the short way back home.
But once there, she was quite content to lie at his feet as he sat in
the living room with Sheila.
“So, tell me all about your day,” said Windflower.
“It’s not very exciting,” said Sheila. “Eat, poop, sleep. Repeat.
But I’m not complaining. We have a beautiful, healthy baby girl.”
Windflower smiled. “Well, I couldn’t be happier, with her and
with you.”
“Thank you, Sergeant. What’s happening out in the big world
of Grand Bank? How did your meeting go at the church?”
“They’re worried. Can’t say as I blame them.”
“It’s a big shift. Especially for those who have lived here all of
their lives. What is going on?”
“Don’t know yet, but as Betsy says, we always get our man.”
Sheila laughed. “Good thing Betsy was there. She’s always
helping out with the church ladies.”
“She certainly helped me out tonight. We’ll figure it out. We
always do. In the meantime, lock the doors when I’m not around.
I don’t want anything happening to my two favourite ladies in the
world.”
“Make that three,” said Sheila, laughing again, as Lady pushed
herself up against Windflower for one more rub.

He started to stroke her when his cell phone rang. “Boss, it’s
Jones. We’ve got a situation. We got a call about a shooting up near
the seniors’ club.”
“Injuries?” asked Windflower.
“A teenager,” said Jones. “I’m on my way.”
“I’ll be over in a sec,” said Windflower.
“Bad news?” asked Sheila.
“I’ll call you,” was all he said back.

Sheila didn’t ask any more questions. They liked a layer of insu-
lation between his police work and their personal lives. He gave her a peck on the cheek and patted Lady as he left to drive to the
seniors’ club, hoping for the best and fearing the worst.
The reality was somewhere in between.











Mike Martin was born in Newfoundland on the East Coast of Canada and now lives and works in Ottawa, Ontario. He is a long-time freelance writer and his articles and essays have appeared in newspapers, magazines and online across Canada as well as in the United States and New Zealand. He is the author of Change the Things You Can: Dealing with Difficult People and has written a number of short stories that have published in various publications including Canadian Stories and Downhome magazine.

The Walker on the Cape was his first full fiction book and the premiere of the Sgt. Windflower Mystery Series. Other books in the series include The Body on the T, Beneath the Surface, A Twist of Fortune and A Long Ways from Home, which was shortlisted for the Bony Blithe Light Mystery Award as the best light mystery of the year. A Tangled Web was released in 2017 and the newest book in the series is Darkest Before the Dawn.

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Room for Grace by Daniel & Maureen Kenner @alwysroom4grace #memoir #vbt


ROOM FOR GRACE by Daniel & Maureen Kenner, Memoir, 179 pp., $16.00 (paperback) $2.99 (Kindle)


Title: ROOM FOR GRACE
Author: Daniel Kenner & Maureen Kenner
Publisher: Silver Boot Imprints
Pages: 179
Genre: Memoir & Biography

Stage 4 cancer for her and a debilitating disease for her husband: life crashed down in an instant. Maureen Kenner found resilience, however, in the lessons she learned from her Special Ed students in Providence, RI. Her students lived with their hearts opened despite struggles of the highest magnitude. Through these students, Maureen gains courage, humor, and the strength of spirit to face her devastating realities, head on. Maureen’s oral history was captured by her son Daniel who tenderly wrought this book out of their recorded conversations. Through anecdotes and hard-earned lessons, Maureen tackles challenge after challenge and reframes daily struggles with a positive outlook allowing her to transcend and conquer mortal fears with dignity and room for grace.

PRAISE:

“Maureen Kenner was one of those people who brightened every room she entered. Thanks to Room for Grace, that light is not extinguished. Although her story shares great sadness, Room for Grace is a book of hope and a celebration of life that sheds Maureen’s light on us all.”
—Ann Hood, Author of The Obituary Writer and The Red Thread

“In these pages, you will find a story like no other. Maureen’s story is one of courage and love, a story that will move you to your core.”
—David Flink, Chief Empowerment Officer, Eye to Eye

“The piercing light of Maureen’s compassion, love and intelligence, will leave every reader wanting to reach out in the spirit of service and live life to the fullest.”
—Annie Lanzillotto, Author of Hard Candy: Caregiving, Mourning, and Stagelight

“Buddy Kenner was a big-hearted teacher, universally beloved by all, a warrior for the arts and their importance in the curriculum. Amazing and unique guy. Read this book.”
—Tom Chandler, Rhode Island Poet Laureate Emeritus

Room for Grace is available at Amazon.


STAGE 4

Mary Poppins was my nurse on Day 6. “Pretend you’re at summer camp,” she joked, encouraging every step I made toward healing and recovery. “We’ve got a whole bunch of activities for you to choose from.”
“But instead of Newcomb and color wars and collecting orange salamanders or dancing to Tommy James and the Shondells,” I said, “today’s activities at the hospital include pain med management, ice chip crunching, and Dammit! Doll whacking…”
“Don’t forget IV pole walking,” she teased. “I always know when you’re coming because your IV pole is the squeakiest.” She tenderly guided me back into bed.
“But instead of early morning skinny dipping,” I said, “someone signed me up for the johnny gown flash mob.”
That really made her laugh. “I wish all my patients worked like you.”
“Well, you help make it easy,” I admitted. “I loved sleepaway camp. I’d pack my trunk with stamped stationary and Razzles, pick-up sticks and jacks. And my Magic 8-Ball. My bunkmates and I thought we could predict the future. Go figure. I could never have predicted this.” She wrapped a warm blanket around my feet. “One year,” I continued, “I was the last camper to be picked up and, on the way home, my sisters teased me that my parents wanted to leave me there.”
“That’s one of the reasons I love my job here,” she smiled. “The staff is a family. We’re planning a barbecue together this weekend.”
It was August 2013. 
Dr. David Sanfred, our family practitioner, walked into my room at 6:45 a.m. and stood at the end of my hospital bed. “Maureen, we’re getting ready to send you home soon,” he said. And then, “It’s time to talk.”
It was time to face what I’d avoided all week.
“I’m sorry to tell you, but it’s very serious.” Though by our family’s side for many difficult situations, I’d never heard Dr. Sanfred’s tone this methodical. “We thought it was Stage 1 but the cancer metastasized from the colon to your umbilicus and has advanced to Stage 4.”
The hospital symphony went silent. I turned my head and watched the early morning sunlight peek through the window. “Is it curable?”
He gave my hand a soft pat. “No, it is not curable.”
I heard myself gasp.
I was in a panorama shot. I saw Mary Poppins outside the thin curtain share morning notes with the nurse coming on. They whispered, glanced sympathetically in my direction. I struggled for breath and gripped the Dammit! Doll.
“Will I be able to go back to my classroom?” 
“No,” he cautioned, “you will not be able to teach right now. But soon. We hope.”
The tears kept coming. Mary Poppins came back into the room. She reached out and hugged me gently, with so much affection I could feel her heart break.










Daniel Kenner rocked out to Bob Dylan’s “Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door” while other infants sang “Mary Had A Little Lamb.” A proud member of Actor’s Equity, SAG-AFTRA, and National Players Tour 60, Daniel was a Presidential Arts Scholar at George Washington University and Scholarship recipient at The British American Drama Academy. Directed the Washington D.C. premier of Sarah Kane’s Crave. Author of the manuscript, Roux. Winner of the Rhode Island Playwriting Festival for his World War II letters home drama, Fields of Sacrifice. Adapted Les Mis√©rables for high school stages.

Maureen Kenner’s heart was in the classroom. For thirty-five years she was a Special Education teacher in the Providence Public Schools. Born and raised in Dobbs Ferry, New York, Maureen graduated from Rhode Island College with a degree in education and later earned a Master’s Degree from Providence College. Maureen was a vital influence at the Vartan Gregorian Elementary School at Fox Point, working tirelessly as a mentor for the betterment of all children and their families. Honored with many accolades throughout her career, Maureen was awarded Providence Teacher of the Year in 2003. Living with cancer, as a model patient, Maureen exemplified integrity, courage, grace, and hope. For thirty-one years, through sickness and health, Maureen was the beloved soul mate to the late Jacob “Buddy” Kenner, her intense love recognized in 2016 as a Rhode Island Caregiver of the Year.

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