Told You Twice

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cover told you twice

Told you Twice – Book Review – by Kristen Heitzmann:  Alexis (Exie) Murphy is engaged to the ‘perfect’ man and looks forward to a Grace Evangeline wedding and a happily-ever-after life. She’s willing to give up her talents and the essence of who she is in order to have the stability she craves and to make Jeffrey happy.  Then she meets Bo.
Bo Corrigan is a talented New York stage actor and model. No woman can resist him, and his playboy lifestyle and gambling are the stuff of legends. But all that is the persona he wants others to see. When he meets Exie, he is shaken to the core, for she sees the real man beneath the role, and she senses the tragedy, sorrow, and guilt that drive him in his brilliant performances. Bo convinces Exie that they need to explore the connection between them, and so Exie puts her engagement on hold and starts to get to know this complicated man. Unlike Jeffrey, Bo encourages her to pursue her many talents, and Exie’s extraordinary ability as an artist and musician begin to unfold. Then Bo’s past catches up with him, and dangerous forces threaten to destroy their fragile beginning.
I loved this book! I’ve read all of Kristen Heitzmann’s books, and it is an understatement to say she has a gift for character development. The people in this story are deep and complicated, with good qualities opposing their faults, weaknesses, and messy lives. They are searching for happiness and love, but they don’t know how to achieve it. I loved Exie’s goodness and her positive outlook on life, and I ached for her. She doesn’t see that Jeffrey will snuff out the creative flame within her, and that eventually she will be an empty shell. As an artist, I enjoyed her exploration of art and the overwhelming need to create what is within one’s soul. As Bo’s story unfolded, I mourned for his troubles and the tortured person within who needs to be loved and to find a purpose in life. I also really enjoyed the continued story of Grace Evangeline and Devin Bressard, who are now married and raising their little girl. Devin is over protective of his cousin, Exie – and who can blame him? Grace worries about everything, and their amazing verbal sparring from Told You So continues. In the background is Eileen, their wealthy friend who plays parent to them — matchmaking, protecting, and loving, even when her own health is in jeopardy.
This book also takes a compassionate look at those who are homeless and struggle with mental illness and drug addiction, and the heroes who reach out to them. Kristen Heitzmann proves that a story can be gritty, real and superbly moving without including a lot of swearing and graphic sex. She has written a beautiful, complicated book that touched me deeply. I recommend it to everyone. Five Stars!

I Eat Books

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stack-of-books-images

I eat books. For breakfast, along with my cereal, fruit, and milk, I eat the bread of life found in the scriptures. For lunch, along with a peanut butter and jam sandwich, I’ll add a chapter or so of Harry Potter, or perhaps a chunk of the Dead Sea Scrolls (in English). Afternoons, I need a snack. Fruit, chips, or chocolate? I might read a little of Saffy’s Angel, by Hilary McKay, or maybe start a mystery, like Truth Stained Lies, by Terri Blackstone. Or how about a romantic suspense like Moon Dancing, by Anna Zogg? Usually though, I spend the afternoon writing, because if I let myself get caught in a story, I won’t get anything else done that day. For supper, along with the meat and vegetables, (if my husband isn’t there to talk to), I’ll add a generous helping of Brandon Sanderson’s The Alloy of Law, or Marie Rutkoski’s The Winner’s Kiss. Sometimes I’ll enjoy a couple of pages from my Greek textbook. I keep these reading meals short because there’s a lot to do every day, and my dog wants to walk. But when I’m in bed, and it’s quiet, with only my lamp shining in the dark, then I begin the true banquet at my fingertips. Books are stacked on my nightstand, and in my Nook and Kindle are hundreds more. Sometimes I feel like a lemon meringue romance, like Working It Out, by Rachael Anderson. At times I’ll have a cozy cup of mystery like Woof at the Door, by Laura Morrigan. Other times I want a sweet chunk of paranormal fantasy, like Silver, by Cheree Alsop. Then there are the books which touch my heart deeply, stir my imagination, and keep me up late, like Greensleeves, by Eloise Jarvis McGraw, or Moon-Flash, by Patricia A. McKillip, or Where the River Ends, by Charles Martin. These are the true meals, the books that inspire me to be a better writer and a better human being. I love books.

Happy Father’s Day

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Gardiner's Book

Happy Father’s Day to my foster father, Gardiner Smith.
Gardiner and Fay were a young couple with two small children when they felt inspired to move to a village in central Alberta, where he began to teach science at the local school.  One day the teachers had a staff meeting, and a social worker told them that two teenage girls needed a new foster home. Gardiner went home and talked to his wife about it. They felt strongly that they should take us, and after Christmas they welcomed me and my sister into their family.
For the first time, we had a normal, stable home with parents who loved each other and were committed to each other. They taught us through word and example what the gospel meant. Gardiner was a humble person who had seen his own trials in life.  He observed the world around him and thought deeply about things.  We helped him in the garden, watched as he crafted furniture from wood in his workshop, and listened to his stories that illustrated the things he was trying to teach us.  I appreciated his efforts, his dry humor, and his insight.  Listening to his stories was like sitting at the feet of a wise master teacher.  Through the years, they added seven more children, and we so enjoyed interacting with them.  In this loving environment, I grew and flourished.  A light had turned on in my life, and I was thirsty for knowledge.  Gardiner gave me the confidence to apply to college and pursue a teaching degree.  Because of their example, I had the courage to marry and have children.  When I left home for college, he and Fay continued to write, call, and provide a summer home.  It wasn’t until Sam and I had two small children of our own that I understood the sacrifice they had made and the great love they had for us. Because of them, I knew how to parent my own children.  The great blessings I enjoy today are because of their wisdom, guidance, and love.  I am who I am because of him and Fay.  I will never be able to repay this debt, and my heart is full of gratitude.  Happy Father’s day to a wonderful man.

Tea with the Black Dragon

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cover Tea with the Black Dragon

Book Review:  Tea With The Black Dragon, by R.A. MacAvoy:  Martha Macnamara flies out to San Francisco to meet her estranged daughter, Liz, who is in some kind of trouble.  When Liz doesn’t show up for their meeting, Martha is left not knowing where to turn.  Then the bartender in the luxurious hotel where she is staying introduces Martha to the mysterious Mayland Long, a wealthy Chinese man who lives in the hotel.  The bartender tells Martha that she and Long have a lot in common: they both have unique ways of looking at life, and they both love to read.  He laughs when he whispers that Mr. Long once told him that he used to be a Chinese black dragon who drank tea and loved to read.  Martha and Mr. Long become friends, and she asks him to help her find her daughter.  Then Martha disappears, and Mayland Long must rely on his intelligence, enormous strength, and his ability to understand people to sort through the clues and find both women before it’s too late.

I really enjoyed this mystery.  The magic of the dragon is there, but it’s subtle.  Mayland Long, or Oolong, is stuck in human form.  He deals with fatigue, gunshot wounds, and hunger just like any other human, yet he has the determination to keep going.  Plus, he has some special skills that help him just when he needs them.  Mostly, he is a curious, gentle soul who has searched for centuries for truth, and when he finds Martha, he knows he has found his truth.

Martha is delightful — a talented violinist who sacrificed her career to raise her daughter (which Liz resents) after her husband abandoned her.  Now she tours with a Celtic band, earning just enough to get by.  She has the ability to see the real person beneath the surface, and she is not afraid to say what she thinks.

The story takes place when computer technology was in its infancy and cassette tapes were used instead of CDs, but this only makes the book more interesting and does not distract from the story or the charm of the two main characters.

A Study in Mystery

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question markFor six weeks, my husband and I have been taking a writing class.  A Study in Mystery, taught by the entertaining and highly knowledgeable Johnny Worthen, has taken us from the history of the mystery genre to inventing our characters, to outlining scenes and figuring out where to put the clues, and on to actually writing the mystery novel.  I have enjoyed every minute of it.  It’s forced me dig deep to create solid characters and understand their back stories and motives.  I’ve always been a pantser, so it’s been very good for me to outline and study the flow of my story and see whether everything all fits together.  I have enjoyed hearing all the ideas from the other members of the class.  My husband has an exciting novel in the works as well.  My book in progress, The Sea Child, has seen some major improvements. (The Sea Child is a YA fantasy murder mystery involving Selkies, a mythological people who live as seals in the sea, but shed their skin to become human on land.) Thanks to Johnny Worthen for a great class.

Here’s an excerpt from The Sea Child.  Enjoy!

A body lay on the beach.

For a few moments I didn’t recognize it as a person. A storm had raged last night, and a lot of flotsam had washed up on our part of the California shore – seaweed, driftwood, a dead seagull — and it might have been my eyes playing tricks on me, kind of like what happens when you’ve had so little sleep that you start seeing things out of the corners of your eyes. But then my eyes adjusted, and I saw that it was indeed a body. Human.

“Jack, Barney, stay here. There’s a body on the beach.” I left the breakfast dishes, dried my hands with a towel, and started for the back door.

If I’d been thinking, I wouldn’t have said anything. My brothers had had enough tragedy in their lives, and they didn’t need any more. Of course, being boys, they raced to the back door, clattered down the wooden stairs that led down the cliff to the beach, and were almost to the body before I’d got out the door.

Cursing myself, I chased after them. Tad, our Airdale, loped down the steps, and Biggie, our Jack Russell Terrier, bounced behind him. They both outran me, barking and wagging their tails. They circled the body and sniffed, but didn’t growl. With growing dread, I approached. I should have just called the police. I should have called… who? There wasn’t anyone I could trust, and I knew it.

I stared at the body. It was a girl, maybe about fifteen, with black hair reaching to her waist and tangled in seaweed. Her skin was the color of pearl, as if it had never seen sunlight. There was something exotic about the shape of her face, but I couldn’t quite figure out what it was. She wore a full-length, green dress with gold embroidery around the neckline and armbands — something you’d wear to a wedding or a high society party. The green would have been emerald if it hadn’t been saturated with sea water.

“She’s beautiful,” Jack said.

I caught his expression and sucked in a breath. My brother was fifteen, and as far as I knew, he hadn’t fallen for a girl yet. The past six months had been too traumatic, and he’d been too busy with sports before that. But now he had that look on his face. Sort of dreamy, as if he’d found his one true love. I didn’t like that at all. Not one little bit. I had enough to do taking care of my brothers without having to fend off potential girlfriends.

Barney’s reaction, being only nine years old, was more of fascination, as if the girl was a new kind of bug he was examining under his magnifying glass. “Is she dead?”

I gazed at her and felt an overwhelming sadness. If I’d known about her last night, I could have come and helped her. But then, maybe she’d been dead a long time. How was I supposed to know? We hadn’t been allowed to see our parents’ bodies. Too much damage from the car accident, they’d told us. For us, it had been as if they’d gone away for the weekend but had decided to extend their vacation. But they weren’t ever coming back.

I crouched beside the girl, wondering if I should try CPR or rescue breathing or something. She didn’t look or smell rotten. Should I feel for a pulse? I took her wrist. Her skin was so cold.

“Should we call 9-1-1?” Barney asked.

I was about to say, yes of course, and why hadn’t I thought of that before? But then she opened her eyes.

 

Where the River Ends

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cover Where the River Ends

Book Review:  Where the River Ends, by Charles Martin:

Doss Michael’s wife is dying of cancer. The only thing left on her bucket list is to take a trip down the St. Mary’s River (where Doss spent his childhood) to the sea, and Doss will do anything to make her last days happy. So, the grieving artist gathers up the supplies, steals the medicines necessary to keep Abby out of pain, buys a couple of canoes, and they set off in the middle of the night. Easy, right? It would be, except that Abby’s Senator father is rich, angry, and over-protective. He immediately sics the police on them, claiming that Abby has been kidnapped and that Doss Michael is a monster. They are hounded by thieves, but they also find help in unexpected places. The 130-mile-long river itself conspires against them, and storms drench them as they struggle towards the sea. They lose all their supplies. Everything goes wrong, and yet Doss is determined to fulfill his wife’s last wish.
This was a very moving book, which takes you through a series of flashbacks as Doss remembers his life with Abby, all the while battling the outside forces that conspire to stop them. By the end of the story you understand that this trip was really Abby’s gift to Doss. It is a deep look at what real love means, and the courage it takes to love when everything is against you.  Beautifully told.

 

Harry Potter and Expecto Patronum

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cover Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban

I’ve been sick the last couple of days.  As I rested, I began to reread the Harry Potter series.  I love J.K. Rowling’s books.  They’re just as fresh, alive and fun as the first day I read them.  I finished #3, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, and I began to think about how Harry uses the Expecto Patronum spell to get the dementors away from Sirius Black and his earlier self.  In case you don’t remember, the dementors suck all the happiness and goodness away from a person, leaving them with only the negative.  If the dementors use the kiss of death, they suck a person’s soul away too.  Terrible creatures!  Anyway, Harry tries to learn to do the Expecto Patronum, but he has a hard time because he has so few happy memories, and they aren’t strong enough to overcome the evil he is facing.  Finally, (spoiler alert) he is able to do it, partly because of the love he has for his parents, who gave their lives for him, and partly because he knows he’d already done it.

I closed the book and asked myself, “What is my Expecto Patronum?”  As I look back on my life, I’ve had a lot of hard experiences, sad memories, and difficult trials.  If I stopped there, it would leave me feeling as if I’d had contact with a dementor.  But shining along the pathway of my life are the jewels, memories of happy moments and joyful experiences.   Some are intensely spiritual, such as when I was baptized.  Getting married to Sam was definitely one.  Many involve my children, such as at their births or special moments in their lives when I was so proud of them for what they had accomplished.   One day my daughter-in-law brought my grandkids over.  They came in the door, looked up at me, grinned, and shouted, “Amaw!”  Then they rushed to me and hugged me.  I overflowed with happiness.  That was definitely an Expecto Patronum moment.  Then there are the personal creative moments, such as the day I finished a painting, took it to art class, and they oohed and ahhed over it.  I realized that I had created something quite good.  It felt amazing. When I finish the first draft of a book, and type The End, I feel a great sense of fulfillment, even though I know there is more work to come.  Last year I attended the League of Utah Writers conference, and they announced the winners of the contests.  When they got to the short genre fiction category, they called out my name.  I had won!  It was so totally unexpected that I almost fainted as I walked up to get my prize.  Now that was an Expecto Patronum!

So, don’t let the hard, sad, or negative experiences of life get you down.  Don’t give up on your writing or art, or whatever you do to express yourself creatively.  Don’t let the dementors win.  Think about your Expecto Patronum moments and keep fighting on.  You will triumph. And thank you, J.K. Rowling!

Of Wind and Winter (Tale 1 of the Snow Queen)

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Book Review:  Of Wind and Winter (Tale 1 of the Snow Queen), by Danyelle Leafty:

Cover Wind and Winter

Aneira is 9 years old when she is kidnapped by Baba Yaga, and if she ever hopes to see her family again, she must help the witch. What starts out sounding like a straightforward task soon becomes complicated, for everyone Aneira encounters wants something in return for their help. And then there is the mysterious Lord of Winter himself and his beautiful land to consider. Aneira must learn to listen to her heart and make the best choices possible in a world where there are no easy answers.
This lyrical story reminded me of the Riddle Master series, by Patricia A. McKillip. The settings are stunningly beautiful, with vivid description that puts you right there in the scene. The characters are a complicated mix of good and bad qualities, each with their own agendas. Baba Yaga is horrible and creepy, and yet by the end of the book I feel sorry for her and understand her better. Aneira is a little girl who just wants to go home to her family, but she is also kind, quick-thinking, and full of courage. She dares to do the right thing even when it is going to be really hard. The ending was not your typical fairy tale ending, but it was logical, fit the story, and left you with the sense that there will be more to Aneira’s story later. I look forward to reading Danyelle’s next book.

Twilight (No, not the vampire story)

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Book Review:  Twilight, by Kristen Heitzmann:

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Laurie Prelane returns to her hometown with her two small children, hoping to escape a dangerous situation and a husband who has lost his way.  There she is forced to confront personal issues that she never resolved as a child and teenager, including her old sweetheart, Cal.  Danger follows her, and soon she and her children are again at risk.
Cal Morrison used to be the best firefighter in town until a tragedy left him unable to do his job.  Now he dresses in a clown suit and does public education on fire safety.  When Laurie comes back, he wonders if they can rekindle the old flame and make a new life together.  But both Laurie and Cal are so scarred from their pasts that they hide their true thoughts and feelings.  It will take a series of crises to get them to open up to each other and begin the road towards healing and real love.

I read this book years ago, and I was very frustrated by Cal and Laurie.  Why couldn’t they just tell each other what was really going on inside?  Cal, I thought, had an excuse, with his PTSD, but Laurie?  She needed someone to shake her.  She didn’t even tell Cal that she was still married, and it was obvious that he was falling in love with her.  Come on, girl, I wanted to say, what is wrong with you?  Can’t you recognize a good thing when you see it?  But I read Twilight again in February as I was on my way to my aunt’s funeral, and it was as if it was a different book.  What made the difference?  Life happened to me.  People get hurt, and they hide away who they really are, hoping to shield themselves from being wounded again.  I now understood Laurie, and why she tried so hard to dig into her little foxhole and cover her head.  I saw her mother, the stiff, unemotional Marjorie, who hadn’t dared to express anything honestly for decades, and I understood her too.
Tragedies happen.  People make mistakes.  The consequences don’t go away by themselves.  Like a stone thrown into a pond, the ripples spread out and effect everything and everyone in their lives.  But as this story shows so dramatically, there is redemption and forgiveness.  If we will dare to be honest, if we can dare to love, we can find our way, and grow and learn from the experiences we go through.  Kristen Heitzmann does an amazing job of showing the real people beneath the masks they wear.  This book moved me deeply, and has made me determined to be not only a better writer, but a better person as well.

 

 

 

Greensleeves

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Book Review:  Greensleeves, by Eloise Jarvis McGraw

cover Greensleeves

 

Shannon Lightley has reached the end of high school and wonders what to do.  All her life, she’s been pulled in many directions and has tried without success to fit in.  She’s lived all over Europe with both sets of famous parents, lived with her aunts and uncles in America, and now her father is demanding that she go to a European college.  She doesn’t know if she even wants to go to college.  She’s lonely, confused, and aching to find some real meaning in her life.

Then her Uncle Frosty offers her a chance to live on her own and do something for herself.  He needs an investigation done:  an elderly woman has died, leaving a substantial inheritance to a group of people in Portland, Oregon, and the will seems shady.  The daughter, who is contesting the will, isn’t even mentioned.  Shannon volunteers to go undercover for the summer.  She assumes the identity of Georgetta Einszweiler Smith — a plain, unintelligent girl with a bad hairdo, blue eye shadow, and a flat American accent.  Then she rents a room in a boarding house, which turns out to be the same room where the late Mrs. Elizabeth Dunningham, died.  Shannon finds work as a waitress in a café nearby, dons her green uniform (from whence comes her nickname, Greensleeves), and the drama begins.  Shannon expects to find a group of money grabbers who coerced an elderly woman out of her wealth, but as time goes by and she gets to know each of the recipients listed in the will, she realizes that nothing is going to be that simple.  For one thing, there is the handsome, intelligent, George Maynard Sherrill, a college student better known as Sherry, who sees through her performance and is patient enough to want to find out who she really is.  The more Shannon gets to know the different people, the more she realizes she doesn’t know herself at all.  And when Sherry professes his love for her, she doesn’t know what to do.

This was an incredible book, full of laughter and unexpected twists, and just as relative today as when it was first published.  I really loved it.  Shannon is a delight, with her outrageous and unique way of solving problems and her quirky sense of humor.  The story is also painful, for Shannon’s struggle to understand who she is and what she wants out of life is one that everyone goes through.  Shannon sees the potential of each of the people she meets, and she grows to care about them.  She understands why Mrs. Dunningham bequeathed money to them.  With Sherry’s help, she struggles to overcome her own shyness and fears.  Shannon has the maturity to recognize the difference between physical attraction and real love, as contrasted by the angry, passionate artist, Dave, and Sherry, who is gentle, patient, and loves to learn.  Shannon sees the kind of man Sherry needs to become and the things he needs to do with his life in order to be truly happy, and she has to make some painful decisions.  She realizes that some things must wait for when one is truly ready.  This book haunted me, and I was awake until late thinking about my own life.  Are we all just playing a part?  When do we step out from behind the roles and masks we wear and be our real selves?  Do we know who we really are?  Greensleeves will move you, make you laugh, and then make you cry.  It’s definitely worth reading over and over.

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