The Twelfth Child

By Bette Lee Crosby

 

Book Synopsis

An uplifting tale of trust, love, and friendship from a USA Today Bestselling Author of Women’s Fiction…

Papa wasn’t someone who’d flat out kill a person, but he sure knew how to destroy a woman from the inside…a slice of spirit, a piece of pride, a chunk of heart, until one day there’s nothing left but a walking around shell to do the cooking and laundry…thus begins the story of Abigail Anne Lannigan, a willful daughter determined to overcome the past.

Leaving the Shenandoah Valley of the early 1900’s behind, Abigail finds a way to survive in a world of joblessness and speakeasies. Now, at the tail end of her years, her best friend is accused of embezzling one million dollars and Abigail is helpless to save her. She knows the truth of what happened, but will never have the chance to tell.

Reminiscent of Fannie Flagg’s “Fried Green Tomatoes” the May-December friendship of these two unforgettable women is sure to settle in the soft spot of your heart.

The Twelfth Child, told in the timeless tradition of Southern Fiction, is a novel rich with emotion, humor, and tenderness. A Historical Mystery set in the 20th Century, this is a story of love, friendship and one woman’s struggle to survive America’s Great Depression.

Winner of: FPA President’s Book Award Silver Medal, the Royal Palm Literary Award for Women’s Fiction, and the National Association of American Pen Women Fiction Award.

My Review

Growing up with a father who preferred her twin brother, Will, Abigail Anne Lannigan was continuously trying to win her father’s love, but he had a heart of stone.  After Abigail’s mother passed away, life became increasingly hard for Abigail.  Her father wanted her to quit school and take care of the household chores, and marry someone of his choosing at a young age.  Abigail Anne had bigger plans and, with the help of her teacher, found her way to Richmond, Virginia.  The woman she lived with and worked for passed away and she was expelled from the woman’s home by the probate court.  Life grew tougher as she tried to eek out a living as a dancer at a speakeasy during the Depression years.  A tough, courageous, and determined woman, Abigail Anne faced many trials and tribulations during her lifetime and became successful in her own right.

When Destiny Fairchild, with her heart of gold, moved in across the street the two formed an unlikely friendship, given their age differences. It is their friendship that gives heart to this story.

The ups and downs of Abigail Ann’s and Destiny’s story will keep you turning the pages.  Their saga is well fleshed out with real-to-life situations.  Their characters are undeniably plausible and equally loveable.  Another character is Elliott Emerson who is nothing but bad news.  I disliked him from the moment he appeared.  He personifies greed, dishonesty, and all else on the ugly side of human nature.

As with all the books by Crosby, I thoroughly enjoyed THE TWELFTH CHILD.  Her style of weaving warmth, a bit of cozy mystery, and a touch of fantasy into everything she writes makes Bette Lee Crosby one of my favorite authors.  As I say after reading each of her books, this is my favorite. But the truth is, they are all so good it is impossible to choose one book over another.  Reading Crosby’s books, one gets the sense that you are sitting in the room while the author tells the story.  She writes with a soothing Southern voice that brings a sense of realism to her fiction.

About Bette Lee Crosby

USA Today Bestselling and Award-winning novelist Bette Lee Crosby’s books are “Well-crafted storytelling populated by memorable characters caught up in equally memorable circumstances.” – Midwest Book Review

The Seattle Post Intelligencer says Crosby’s writing is, “A quirky mix of Southern flair, serious thoughts about important things in life and madcap adventures.”

Samantha from Reader’s Favorite raves, “Crosby writes the type of book you can’t stop thinking about long after you put it down.”

“Storytelling is in my blood,” Crosby laughingly admits, “My mom was not a writer, but she was a captivating storyteller, so I find myself using bits and pieces of her voice in most everything I write.”

It is the wit and wisdom of that Southern Mama Crosby brings to her works of fiction; the result is a delightful blend of humor, mystery, and romance along with a cast of quirky charters who will steal your heart away. Her work was first recognized in 2006 when she received The National League of American Pen Women Award for a then unpublished manuscript. She has since gone on to win nineteen awards for her work; these include The Royal Palm Literary Award, the FPA President’s Book Award Gold Medal, Reader’s Favorite Award Gold Medal, and the Reviewer’s Choice Award.

Crosby’s published works to date are Beyond the Carousel: A Southern Saga (2017), Silver Threads (2016), The Regrets of Cyrus Dodd (2016), Baby Girl (2016), What the Heart Remembers (2015), The Loft (2015), Memory House (2015), Passing through Perfect (2015), Wishing for Wonderful (2014), Blueberry Hill (2014), Previously Loved Treasures (2014), Jubilee’s Journey (2013), What Matters Most (2013), The Twelfth Child (2012), Life in the Land of IS (2012), Cracks in the Sidewalk (2011), and Spare Change (2011).

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Not By Design

A Getting To Mr. Right Series

By Carol Balawyder

Not Byy DesignBook Blurb

Not By Design: A Feel Good Novel
In a life turned upside down, Felicity finds joy is sometimes just around the corner.
Ever since she first appeared in Getting To Mr. Right, Felicity Starr has been struggling to find her own kind of contentment. Now, at thirty-five and living in Rome, Felicity is about to break into the world of fashion design, and caught in a flurry of plans for her wedding when calamity strikes.
Her father’s sudden death brings into question the whole meaning of success. Then Marco, the man she’s about to marry, leaves her when he learns of her Multiple Sclerosis diagnosis.
Forced to return to Montreal, Felicity finds her life thrust into unexpected turns. As she confronts the on-going challenges presented by her disease, she gains the strength to let go of old beliefs and face her inner truths.
Love, friendship, and rewarding work come in different forms and Felicity finds it all in ways she never imagined – in a life that’s not by design.

My Review

When I began reading Not By Design, I expected it to be a twist on a traditional romance novel but was delightfully surprised to find it was much more than just a variation of the conventional romance.  Felicity left her father’s company in Montreal and moved to Rome to pursue her career in art causing a rift between Felicity and her father that could not be healed.  While in Rome, she found love and a proposal of marriage, along with a diagnosis of multiple sclerosis. When Marco, her fiance, learned of her diagnosis, he said, “Arrivederci.” Frightened about what was in store for her in the future, Felicity decided to move back to Montreal where she could have health insurance and be near her life long friends Missi, Suzy, and Campbell. But what frightens her the most is whether or not with her diagnosis, will she ever be able to find true love.

The characters were true to life, and as much as I loved Felicity from the start, I equally disliked Marco.  Felicity had a love-hate relationship with her mother Nicole in the beginning, but I was happy to see some of the walls between them torn down and a much better mother-daughter relationship take hold.  I love characters that serve to lift up a friend or family member. Missi, Suzy, and Campbell convince her to get a puppy and a cane. Her friend Eduardo, who ran an art gallery, and her new found friend Jeff who walked his dog Clyde at the same dog park where Felicity walked her dog Bonnie, all figure into Felicity’s acceptance of her multiple sclerosis and her outlook on the future.

The book was well researched, and the story took us through Felicity’s depression and hopelessness for future happiness to learning to lean on friends for the love and support they so willingly gave, and finally to acceptance of what her life with MS would be, and making the best of it.

I don’t often read a book straight through, but I couldn’t put this one down.  I honestly can’t find anything I didn’t like about it, other than Marco.  It was a heartwarming story of a person learning to accept and live with a debilitating disease.  There is no reason for me to not award Not By Design five stars.

File Size: 2161 KB

Print Length: 164 Pages

Simultaneous Device Usage: Unlimited

Publication Date: January 31, 2016

Sold by: Amazon Digital Services LLC

Language: English

Genre: Contemporary Romance

About the AuthorCarol Balawyder

Carol Balawyder holds an undergraduate degree with a major in English Literature and a graduate degree in Criminology. She has taught English in various colleges in Montreal, Concordia University and Ho Chi Minh University of Technology in Vietnam. During this phase of her teaching career, she developed teaching material including Open For Business (Harper & Row), Windows on Sci-Tech (Thomson Publishing) and Pour Etre Ganganat (Beauchemin Publishers).

In the second half of her teaching career, she taught criminology in Police Technology and Corrections Programs. She helped set up and animate a writing workshop for women in prison and has worked in halfway houses and drug rehab centers.  She has self-published Mourning Has Broken (a memoir on grief) and her Getting to Mr. Right Series. Her short stories have appeared in Room Magazine, The Canadian Anthology of Fiction, Mindful.org, Between the Lines, Carte Blanche and she was given an honorary mention for a play submitted to The Canadian Playwright Competition.

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Website – http://carolbalawyder.com/

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Books 2 and 3 of Bette Lee Crosby’a Memory House Collection

The Loft

Book BlurbThe Loft

CAN A SINGLE MEMORY SAVE THE LIFE OF SOMEONE YOU LOVE?

Annie Doyle believes the answer is yes, but will she find it in time?

Fifty years of memories are hidden in the walls of the loft. Now Ophelia Browne is leaving the house and she’s leaving some very powerful memories behind. Annie needs to find just one… the one that will save Oliver’s life.

On the day of their wedding, Annie sees only happiness ahead, but when an accident calls her and Oliver back to Memory House, her world is changed forever.

After only three nights in the loft, Annie must now find the single most meaningful memory in Oliver’s mind. If she finds it in time, she can save his life, if she doesn’t…well that’s something she can’t afford to think about.

Readers will welcome back the much-loved characters from Memory House and enjoy a few new friends!

My Review

The Loft picks up where Memory House ended, and we are once again in the company of Annie Cross, Ophelia Browne, and Oliver Doyle.  As Annie and Oliver are starting their honeymoon, Ophelia, who is 90 years of age, has a heart attack while driving and goes off the road. Annie and Oliver return to take care of Ophelia.  Realizing she will not be able to climb to her loft bedroom that her deceased husband Edward built, Oliver decides to hire architect Max Martinelli to recreate the loft in a wing on the first floor.  He and Annie plan to surprise her with the plans when she comes home.  However, while at the rehab center, Ophelia makes new friends who all live in Baylor Towers, and begins to see that returning to the Memory House to live with Oliver and Annie would stifle their relationship.  She remembers what it was like when she and Edward were newlyweds.  Ophelia wants Oliver and Annie to experience love the way she and Edward did so many years before.

Max (Maxine) is so much like Annie they become close friends immediately; they both can detect the memories left behind.

Max is trying to get over her love affair with Julien Marceau. They met in Paris when Max was in college, and when Max returned to the U.S., Julien was supposed to follow, but Max never heard from him again. Annie understands and tries to help her move on.

Annie’s life is perfect, but then the unthinkable happens.  Is she strong enough to face this new challenge on her own? Will she be able to find the right memory for Oliver? There is much more to the story than the hints I’ve given here, but I wouldn’t want to give away any spoilers.

The Loft is the second book in the Memory House Collection. See my review of Memory House,  Book One of the series, here. You can certainly read The Loft without having read Memory House, but you will better understand the relationships if you do read it first.

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What the Heart Remembers

What the Heart RemembersBook Blurb

CAN YOU TRULY TRUST THE MEMORIES OF YOUR HEART?

Max Martinelli spent her junior year of college in Paris, and fell in love. Julien was a wickedly handsome young man who was crazy in love with her, or so she thought. He was a free-spirited artist and she an aspiring architect—impressionable, young, and standing on the brink of womanhood.

That was over three years ago but the memory of him still haunts her. Max’s life is stuck on hold because she can’t stop wondering what would have happened if she had gone back. Was Julien simply part of the magic of Paris? Or was he meant to be her destiny?

After a New Year’s Eve party that ends in disaster and bad dreams, Max decides to find out once and for all. She is going to return to Paris and search for Julien. But will her search bring forever after happiness or a truth so ugly it will change her life forever?

What the Heart Remembers is Book Three in the Memory House Series

My Review

When I finished reading The Loft, I wondered how the author could write another book in the series; Book 3 did not disappoint.

Ophelia sees the sadness in Annie’s friend Max. Max thinks her memories of Julien are happy memories, but Ophelia knows otherwise, “If she doesn’t find a way to rid herself of those memories, she’s in for a sorry life.”

Max doesn’t want to find a romantic interest. She still loves Julien and imagines the worst has happened to him. Convinced he would have come to the U.S. as promised, it’s the only thing that makes sense to her. When she tells Annie she is going to go to Paris to find Julien, Annie tries to discourage her. Max is determined to find her true love, but it turns out it isn’t who she expects to find.

While reading of the experiences Max endures in Paris, there were times I wanted to shake some sense into her, and other times I just wanted to comfort her. Her unrequited love for Julien drove her to find him, but when she did, was her feeling for him justified?  Will she ever find true love, and will it be with Julien or someone else?

Crosby creates a sense of suspense when Max is knocked down. This mysterious turn of events with Julien coming to Max’s rescue, and then later when she discovers her wallet and cell phone missing, leaves a lot of questions to be answered.

Once again, I recommend that you read Memory House (Book One) and The Loft (Book Two) before reading What the Heart Remembers (Book Three). The books in the Memory House Collection lead from one to the other. To get a true sense of who the characters are, where they’ve been, and where they are headed, it is best to read all three in proper order.

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Additional Comments

As with all of Crosby’s books, I felt as though the author was sitting beside me telling the story in her soft southern voice. As with Memory House, The Loft and What the Heart Remembers are books you will begin to read and before you know it, you have finished the book.  The plots, with a bit of magic, lots of feel good moments, and always a lovely romance, will enthrall you. Bette Lee Crosby has a wonderful ability to create characters that will continue to speak to you long after you’ve finished reading.

When you meet Ophelia and Annie in the first book of the series, Memory House, you will learn about their pasts and what draws them together.  Then, enter Oliver and by the time we get to book two, The Loft, Oliver and Annie’s friendship deepens and they get married.  Enter Max and the blossoming friendship between her and Annie. What the Heart Remember elaborates on the confidences shared, the concern, and the shared celebration of that friendship.  This is a not-to-be-missed series.

Author InterviewBette Lee Crosby

  1. Who or what inspired you to become an author?

My mother, born and raised in the mountains of West Virginia, was not a writer, but, she was a wonderful storyteller. Not realizing that at heart I was my mother’s daughter, I studied art intent upon becoming a graphic designer. My first job was that of a packaging designer, but it was a short-lived career. Faced with an immediate deadline and a blank space where the copy should have been, I began to write. I never looked back, and it didn’t take long for me to realize that my love for words far outweighed any design skills I acquired along the way.

  1. You’ve written six novels, in those books, which character is your favorite and why?

I suppose I’d have to say Ethan Allen of Spare Change and the reason why is because he is the type of kid I imagine my mom being when she was his age. She came from a family of eleven siblings and they were what many of us would consider poor; so she had to be resilient and determined to survive. And although she wasn’t one to toss around obscenities indiscriminately, she could cuss up a storm when she was really mad. When Mama started cussing we knew to step aside and mind our manners.

  1. Is Ethan Allen is modeled after your mom, is there a character that you’d modeled after yourself?

There is probably a bit of me in every character, but the one most like me would probably be Olivia Doyle in both Spare Change and Jubilee’s Journey. Like Olivia, I have quirky ideas about life, I am an eternal optimist and regardless of the odds, I will always go down swinging. When life takes a turn for the worse, that’s when you need to be strong, draw on your Faith and cling to the love of those around you…which is pretty much what Olivia does.

  1. What is your favorite quote?

It probably depends upon when and where you ask me. I would love to be deep and profound like so many brilliant writers, but I’ve learned over the years that I am still my mother’s daughter – sometimes irreverent, always a story-lover, but seldom brilliant. So here is the quote that most closely reflects my own thinking…”The problem with people who have no vices is that generally you can be pretty sure they’re going to have some pretty annoying virtues.” Elizabeth Taylor

  1. What advice would you give to an aspiring author?

Be yourself. Discover what’s in your heart and create characters you love or love to hate. Never allow yourself to follow in the tracks of another author simply because he or she sold a million copies of their book. If you stumble on that pathway, your readers will know; your characters will sound shallow and superficial. But if you’re true to yourself and work to develop your own voice it will ring loud and true with believability. It isn’t something that happens overnight. I wrote four novels before the fifth was published, but the truth is that the first four didn’t deserve to be published, they were all part of my learning curve. So, stay with it and learn from the writers who inspire you, from the books you love, and from the books you hate. You learn something from every book you read, and sometimes that something is what not to do. Most of all enjoy every minute you spend writing—because if you’re not writing for fun, you shouldn’t be writing.

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Email: betteleecrosby@gmail.com

Copies of these books were given to me by the author in exchange for an honest review.

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Your Own Kind

By Linda Fagioli-Katsiotas

 

Your Own KindBook Blurb

If Kareem had not found the photo of Sarah, there never would have been that explosion at the gas station and Alexandros wouldn’t have fled, but life is full of “if-onlys,” especially for seventeen-year-old Sarah Petit.

It is 1974 and Sarah finds herself alone in East End. She’s become involved with Andreas, a troubled young man with a drug problem; and with Kareem, a lovesick newspaper boy; and with Alexandros, a new immigrant who barely speaks English but clearly knows what he wants.

All four have grown up in drastically different worlds, but they’ve somehow been thrown together, and with one misguided decision after another, they set in motion a series of unstoppable events that lead to violence and heartbreak. Maybe life would be easier if people would just stick with their own kind. But what does that really mean?

This is a story of yearning and desire, of the basic need to connect with others and the expectations of culture and tradition that sometimes keep us from real love, a love that is truly with someone of our “own kind.” 

First Chapter of Your Own Kind

Everyone was asleep when the Turk’s son came looking for Sarah that morning. With a thick willow branch tucked under his arm, he walked on the edge of the dirt road with long angry strides. The sun had just become a thin red line in the east and the bitter smell of wet reeds was coming off the marsh near the lake as he rounded the corner and made his way to the front of the Middleground Boarding House. Mrs. Middleground was the first to hear the commotion, awakened by the thuds of the branch hitting the windshield of the red car. As the shards of glass fell against the metal hood, she raced to the window, her sluggishness momentarily forgotten. She’d fallen asleep in the chair the night before. The magazine she’d been reading had slid to the floor and lay with its spine open—the cover showing its beaten state—torn and creased, last year’s edition of The World in Pictures:1974. Ordinarily she wouldn’t have thought much about seeing the Turk’s son outside her window, especially in the morning. That was the boy’s usual routine after his newspaper deliveries. He always appeared on foot at the front of the boarding house, meeting with Sarah to do whatever it was they did together. And then they’d drive off in that blue Impala of hers. Well, in Mrs. Middleground’s opinion—and she had many of them—he was much too young for Sarah. Three or four years can be an enormous difference in age, especially at that time of life. She peered through the lace curtains and shook her head. That boy couldn’t have been more than thirteen or fourteen.

Mrs. Middleground was a woman with many philosophical principles for life, though they changed more often than her boarders. The fishermen were her steady renters but the young people who were there to work during the summer season would come and go like a stubborn rash. They all seemed to follow the same foolish path—living an entire lifetime in that short three month period before leaving East End with nothing to show for it. Or at least that’s how Mrs. Middleground saw it, and she figured the reason the Turk’s son was hanging around that year, was because he’d just gotten old enough to know there were girls at her boarding house. But now as she held open the curtain in her trailer window, watching him swing the branch at the red car with such venom, she was caught between intrigue and genuine fear.

Sarah was lying in bed, suspended between a dream and reality when the noise started. She heard the shuffle of feet in the hallway and opened her eyes to see Alexandros fighting to get his arms into a tee shirt. In an instant she was behind him, following him out to the yard. She pushed her hair away from her face but it fell back into her eyes as she came up next to him and saw his damaged red car.

“Kareem, What are you doing?” she cried.

Sarah was the only boarder who knew the Turk’s son by name. To the others, Kareem had always been no more than a moving piece of the background, an early morning paperboy who threw rolled up newspapers onto lawns while balancing on his bicycle seat. It wasn’t until he’d started coming around the boarding house that they’d heard Mrs. Middleground refer to him as The Turk’s Son. And there he was, on that unusually warm spring morning, having fully emerged from the scenery with all the fire and rage of a real live person.

Kareem’s insults hit Sarah like a blow to the head and it took her a second to realize that the crumpled paper he was thrusting into Alexandros’ hand was actually a photo, her heart pounding into her ribs as Alexandros looked at it and then at her—his expression impossible to read. By then, the sun was already sitting on top of the boarding house, its heat pushing through the elm branches and burning holes into her back. She wanted to grab the photo from Alexandros and explain, but there were no words and then Kareem was gone, disappearing into the brush around the lake and a police car was pulling up onto the dirt.

It was all a mistake—a terrible misunderstanding, but how could she stop the movement of a boulder falling from a cliff? She knew—though she tried to convince herself otherwise—if she hadn’t stayed in East End, none of this would be happening. Those were the thoughts that pushed her as she ran to the blue Impala and got in, hoping to get to Kareem before the police. She at least owed him that, and she made it half way to Main Street before the vibrations hit the side of her car and a deafening blast slapped against her face through the open window. Her body went ice cold, the chill starting at the base of her spine, running up her back and stopping at the nape of her neck. She knew—without knowing—it was over. Nothing would be the same after this.

She pulled to the side of the road when she saw the line of police cars blocking the intersection, and she left the Impala to join a small group of onlookers moving toward the ocean, toward the tower of black smoke that was billowing above the dunes. As her pace quickened and she broke from the group, a cop with a walkie-talkie grabbed her by the elbow, the static buzzing from his hand and voices spitting commands out of the small gray speaker.  His thick fingers pushed against her skin, but she’d already gotten as far as the IGA and there was something lying in the street—something that made her want to yank her arm from his grasp and run to it. But his grip was too tight.

“Move back.  Crime scene.”

He ordered her back to an invisible line where others had gathered.

“Move back. C’mon, move!”

The smoke was starting to turn a light gray; a strong sea breeze smeared it across the cloudless sky, shading the sun with an artificial twilight. Sarah listened to the hum of conversation around her, not really hearing it until a hand on her shoulder startled her.
“Sarah?”
It was Oscar. So much time had passed since the last time they’d seen one another, she almost didn’t recognize him with his crew cut. But with Karen Marie there, standing beside him, Sarah knew who he was, and in a flood of relief, she folded herself against his chest and let the tears come. Karen Marie put her arms around them, so Sarah was in the center of the embrace and couldn’t see the red car parked across the street with its front wheels sunk into the sand or Alexandros, who had been running toward her, suddenly stop. She simply closed her eyes, willing herself to be back in time, back in Owl’s Head with her family, back in the general store. But the past is a closed door, though Sarah longed for it anyway, pressing her eyes tightly together until she could see herself sitting on the stool behind the dated wooded counter beside the old brass resister. And she was home again.

Type of Book: Paperback and ebook

Publication Date:  May 2, 2015

Publisher: Self-Published

Word Count:  84,200 of literary fiction

My Review

I fell in love with the story of Your Own Kind immediately.  It is one of relationships between parents, parents and their children, neighbors, people of different nationalities. It is about finding love where we least expect it.  Your Own Kind explores the ins and outs of relationships where all is not as it seems.

There is a lot of backstory to explain how the characters got to where they were. For the most part this was helpful, but at times, it was perplexing. There was also a lot of jumping around from one period in the characters’ lives to another (past and present). This too, was a cause for some confusion.  There were a number of supporting characters, and I feel it would have helped move the story along if the author had narrowed down the characters to those with the most significant roles.

With all of this in mind, my original statement stands. I absolutely enjoyed the story. Even though I felt there were issues with the structure,  I would recommend Your Own Kind to anyone who enjoys fiction with well-defined characters, and a strong believable story.

About the AuthorLinda Fagioli-Katsiotas

Linda Fagioli-Katsiotas lives on Long Island with her husband, Nick. She teaches English to newly immigrated English language learners at her local middle and high school. This is her first work of fiction, though she has also written a memoir entitled, The Nifi, which inspired her creation of a blog with the same name.

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I received this book from the author in exchange for an honest review.

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Running to Stay Upright

By Sharon Wright

My Review:Running to Stay Upright

No one is immune to tough times, including Liz and Dan Burgess.  A downturn in the economy affected Dan’s architectural business. Liz worked in the business with him, but with no money coming in she is forced to seek employment outside the home to keep them from losing their house. It is unthinkable. Their house, designed by Dan, is the only home their children have ever known.

Leaving her family to go back to the corporate world is truly difficult for Liz. She worries that things will not get done in her absence, that Dan is having an affair, and that she will turn back into the person she used to be, the corporate go-getter who did had neither patience nor understanding of women who had families.

Liz has a wonderful circle of friends who are very loyal to one another and ready to help each other with the any problems.  When it becomes evident that one of their friends is in an abusive marriage, Liz suggests they work to raise money to support a shelter.  Though they each have their own issues to worry about, they are a formidable force when they work hand-in-hand.

Sharon Wright’s novel RUNNING TO STAY UPRIGHT is about real-life circumstances, but is ultimately positive in tone.  It is definitely not a depressing story, but rather one of hope, of courage in tough times, of love, and of the bonds of friendship.

A lot happens to the Burgess family, but to give too much information would mean including spoilers.  The characters are numerous, but I had no trouble keeping them straight.  The author does a fantastic job describing them in a way that makes them each memorable. This is quite a task when there are so many who add to the story. The plot progressed quickly and kept my interest from page one through the end of the book.

I have to mention the cover.  When I first saw the cover, I could not get over the fact that it did not look like the cover for a book I would read.  I just didn’t get it.  While reading the book, a lightbulb lit up, and it made perfect sense.  This is an excellent lesson in not judging a book by its cover before you’ve read it.

I give RUNNING TO STAY UPRIGHT five stars because a book with a plot and characters that pulled me in so completely and didn’t let go of me until days after I finished it, can only be a five star book.

Synopsis:

Liz Burgess wakes up one morning to realize she is about to lose everything – and it’s all her fault.

Her husband’s love and trust; her daughter’s innocence; her family’s cherished home; and her own sense of safety and control are spinning with alarming speed beyond her reach.

Her struggle to heal long-buried fears and rebuild her family’s shattered dream takes her on a journey of hope and discovery that will touch anyone who has experienced loss and climbed back to a new understanding of what is important in life.

 Blurbs:

“In this fast-paced, emotional novel, Sharon Wright gives us a family facing the terrifying prospect of losing their business, their home, and even each other as their lives spiral out of control.  The lessons they learn about friendship, forgiveness, love, and the raw courage it takes to embrace change with grace instead of fear will resonate with every reader.”

-Holly Robinson, author of “THE WISHING HILL” and “BEACH PLUM ISLAND”

“This is a beautifully written story about a woman struggling to hold herself, her marriage, and her family together in tough times.  Wright’s dialog crackles, her characters quickly feel like old friends, and her plot moves at a brisk pace from suburb to city to rural area as she explores the complex emotions that accompany unwanted change.  You’ll easily recognize the pressures brought to bear upon this family, and you’ll come away inspired by the courage and resilience of ordinary people unwilling to give up their dreams.”

-Elisabeth Elo, author of NORTH OF BOSTON

Chapter 1 of RUNNING TO STAY UPRIGHT

Liz jolted awake, her heart pounding. Dan’s breathing raggedly sawed on.

Sliding her legs out from under the covers into the winter chill, she sat up at the edge of the mattress, feeling like she had on a baseball cap two sizes too small. With a sigh, she traded the down comforter for her slippers and chamois bathrobe and trudged away from the sleigh bed that was still calling her name.

Charles, her high school sophomore came skidding around the corner from his room.“Mom, I forgot to do my Romeo and Juliet thing. I need a paper plate.”

“Ugh, and I need tea. I think you just shot my brain out the back of my head.”

“Mom, I’ll get a zero.”

“You should have thought of that last night. It’s time for breakfast.”

His eyes rolled as he turned away down the stairs. She knocked on the bathroom door.

“Francine, we’re going down.”

A series of crashes, a screech, then the bathroom door flew open. “There’s no water!” Half of the red hair Francine inherited from Liz was a frizz; the other half, a pigtail.

Their red hair was the only thing they had in common these days, and Liz’s now came out of a bottle. Everything else about Francine was from her dad. Liz envied how Dan could effortlessly fly along with their middle child while she stumbled along behind, trailing a series of afterimages.

“Mom! How can I get ready for school without water? Britty and Ashley and I are going Lady Ga-Ga today.”

Liz wondered if M-O-M could be uttered without its being bleated? And, if this intel meant Francine’s head would sprout some sequined protuberance after breakfast?

“I’ll see what’s up with the water.”

“But, Mother! YOU won’t be able to fix it!!”

“Thanks. Go eat.”

Francine downshifted to a coo, “Mums, could you just bring me up a cup of tea? I’m not hungry.”

“No. Breakfast is…” Francine joined in a mocking drone, “…the most important meal of the day.”

Liz blew her nose into a tissue retrieved from her robe pocket. “Anyway as you reported, there’s no water for tea.” This provoked an aggravated moan and stomp downstairs.

Hesitating at the top of the stairs, to put a buffer between her and the descending adolescent scorn, Liz straightened Dan’s photo of a white-washed town above the Aegean Sea. It’d been one of their many pre-kid travels when she’d been a corporate executive with 5-star hotels, dinners out with Cristal champagne and filet mignon, floor tickets to rock concerts, car service, bonuses, and eager subordinates. When Francine was born after Charles, she’d given it all up for diapers, and the abrupt shift to the mind-numbing repetition of teaching manners and playing “I see with my little eyes…” had

been brutal, although helping Dan with his architectural business had helped. Ironic how now that she might be going back, all she could think of was the commuting, the politics and the exhaustion. Even crap like this morning seemed like a luminous treasure.

As she headed down, her footing faltered, almost slipping off the tread. She put her hand out to brace against the wall. She hadn’t told anyone about her job search because that would have meant admitting out-loud how bad things were. She rubbed her forehead. It was her fault. Her problem.

But, today she’d tell Dan.

Charles clambered down the staircase directly across the double-height Great Room from the one she’d just come down and scooted into the pantry by the backdoor. She crossed through the sitting area into the kitchen and reached up to get five cereal bowls from the bamboo cabinets Dan had installed lower to accommodate her 5’2” reach.

He’d custom designed the whole house for them, from the granite countertops quarried in his New Hampshire hometown to the mural he’d painted on the wall above her head of the woods across the street. But now, thanks to her, they might lose everything to the bank in a few months. She rewrapped the tie on her robe, tightening its hold. She had to act normal.

The kettle whistled. “Charles, where’d you get the water?”

His auburn shoulder-length hair draped, like a tent, over his tureen-sized bowl of Crispix. “Outside. Used snow.”

“Brilliant.”

Charles shrugged off her compliment about his tea resourcefulness.

“Just hoping that pumping you with caffeine might get me my much-needed paper plate. A total Me move, Mom.”

“Well played, Padawan.” Liz lifted down four of the pottery mugs Francine had made, like the cereal bowls. “Do you guys want English Breakfast or Hu-Kua? Oh wait, we only have P.G. Tibbs left.”

Charles shook his head. Francine bubbled, “Tibbs is good, Mumsie.” Well, at least her pubescent flares were brief. “And, thanks for making Kashi last night, Mummers.” Or, maybe this shift meant she wanted something.

“You’re welcome.” Setting the tea to steep, Liz took the phone down cellar to check the circuit breakers and then called the service number on the water pump. A woman with a voice like walking on gravel assured Liz that someone would come later that morning.

Trudging back up the cellar stairs, Liz joined Charles at the island with her microwaved Kashi. “Wasn’t this assignment written in your planner?”

“I didn’t look till this morning.”

“Charles, you’re supposed to check you planner every night.”

“I had play rehearsal, and Duncan needed help getting a game up on the computer. Then, we kinda got playing till dinner.”

“What about after dinner?”

“I dunno.”

“Go get dressed.” Francine, loving this exchange, smirked at Charles as he shambled upstairs to get dressed. His response was to swipe her legs off the arm of the chenille-covered chair she was flopped across.

Liz’s childhood had been so different, coming home to find her mother passed out on the floor: a spilled glass of scotch, the ice melting into the rug, dried vomit clotting her hair. Unfair, familiar smells when other kids got to open their front doors to roasting garlic or logs burning in the fireplace.

She pressed the palm of her hand against the small of her back and got up to retrieve the lunches Dan had made last night to put in the kids’ backpacks, after which she searched the pantry for a paper plate. Moving the step-stool over to the paper goods, all she could find were small waxed ones with Christmas trees on them. She called over to Charles, who was now dressed and back downstairs, “How about tracing a plate on card stock?”

“Brilliant.” He grinned, echoing her earlier compliment, slung his backpack onto one shoulder, plate to trace in hand, and with the shuffling glide endemic to teenage boys, headed outside to Evergreen Design’s office on the second floor of the garage for the card stock.

Liz heard Duncan, seven-years old and still nestled in that blissful period between the terrible twos and the terrifying teens, run from his room to dive on top of his slumbering dad for their morning wrestle ritual. She set aside Dan’s tea to steep.

“Mother, where’s my blue suede skirt?” Francine’s frantic appeal hurled down the stairs.

“Last I saw, it was under your bed.” With a growl, Francine stomped back to her room in the turret’s second floor. Why that girl’s heels weren’t bruised purple was a mystery, but it was no surprise that she couldn’t find something in that maelstrom of a room. Dan had designed their bedrooms for sleeping or solitude, free from clutter, distractions, and all electronics, to encourage everyone back into the common rooms. Francine managed to bury his spartan approach in a sliding mountain of stuff, but it

was equally effective in forcing her back downstairs to escape her mess.

This was the only home their kids had ever known, and the only place she’d lived where she’d felt at home. Her breath caught in her throat, as the truth flashed its stark simplicity. Her anxiety about going back to work in Boston was rooted in her not wanting the kids to feel abandoned like she had. She wanted them to know the security she hadn’t, but ironically by avoiding going back to work in Boston for so long, she’d actually brought her shaky childhood to their doorstep. Her fingers clutched her mug as Duncan and Dan rumbled down the stairs. She reflexively plastered a grin on her face, having learned long ago how to stuff and smother her emotions. Stuff, smother & smile.

“Hey Mom, why didn’t the hungry shark attack Sally when she was swimming nearby?”

She cleared the fear from her voice with a cough. “Umm, because it was a sand shark?”

“Nah, it was a MAN eating shark,” Duncan crowed. “Sally’s a girl, and the shark’s a man eater – get it?” Dan tousled his son’s hair as Duncan sat down at the table to drink his orange juice. Liz poured her youngest’s cereal and milk.

Dan gave her a kiss. “Morning, Babe. How’d you sleep?”

“Fine.”

“Hey Mom, look!” Duncan pointed at the mural his Dad had painted on the wall above their heads: hawks soared; a newly hatched duck family waddled in a line beside the pond; turtles sunned themselves on a log; a buck watched from within the darkened woods. “The deer has Happy Magic; the rainbow’s right on his eye.” One of the tiny spectrums, that splashed across the room when light streamed through the skylights and chandeliers that Dan had made out of welded metal and crystals, had landed on the mural. For years, the kids had stepped on these mini rainbows with a sing-song “Happy

Magic!” for good luck.

“Lucky Bucky.”

Duncan lit up at his mom’s silly rhyme. She turned to yell upstairs, “Francine,

time to go.” Her voice deepening as she punched out the ‘go.’

Duncan yelped, “I’ll get her!”

Dan pointed, “Dishwasher.”

“We don’t have any water; the pump guys are coming later.”

Unfazed by her information,

Duncan spun around, discharged his dishes and ran upstairs to put his sister on notice. Liz followed him to the bottom of the stairs and screeched, “Francine, now! The bus will be here in two minutes.”

“Where’s Chuck?” Dan asked.

“He’s out in the barn doing homework he forgot. Francine!”

Her daughter ran downstairs and past her with a quick kiss and petulant, “I feel so gross.”

“You’ll live.”

“Don’t worry. If you keep moving, no one will notice the smell.”

She moaned, “Da-aad…I am so taking a shower in the girls’ locker room as soon as I get to school,” and with this last salvo launched, the door swung shut behind their red-headed pixie, adorned with a glittered paper tiara in rather weak homage to pop music’s reigning GaGa.

Liz warmed her tea in the microwave and headed through the French doors into the den. Duncan, still at the magical age where he could solve a problem in long division but thought a new pair of sneakers would make him run faster, was kneeling on the turret’s semicircular window seat, watching his brother and sister at the end of the driveway.

When the bus came, Duncan waved like a frantic mother bird distracting a cat. His older brother shot a quick look to the den window and nodded just before he boarded. Francine, the tweenie limboing betwixt child and woman, today gave her little bro a big wave and smile.

“Time for the lovey chair!” Duncan crowed and jumped into Liz’s lap for the next morning ritual. Cradling him, his legs and arms sprawling out of her embrace, Liz ambushed him with a barrage of kisses, squeezes, and tickles from all sides; something she hadn’t learned from her parents but from watching Dan with the kids. Duncan grinned with his whole face, “I’ll still be your baby even when I’m bigger than Daddy and have a scratchy face?”

“You’ll always be my baby, even when you start smelling like Charles.” She was rewarded with peels of tinkling laughter. “Even when we aren’t together, my love’s wrapped around you, just like this.” She squeezed him to her chest, rather embarrassed by this propaganda in case she began working somewhere else, although she wasn’t clear which of them it was intended to comfort.

“Mommy, I can’t breathe.” Liz burrowed her nose into his tummy so that he wouldn’t notice her distraught expression. “Can I go play?” Liz nodded, and Duncan peeled himself out of the chair.

She retrieved her tea. Holding the mug in both hands, she blew and watched her breath scatter

the liquid surface. Rhapsody in Blue curled in from the baby grand piano in the library on the other side of the bedroom stairs.

It was the normalcy of mornings like this that made her ache to shield the status quo like an avenging angel. She tentatively took a sip of tea, but it brought little relief. Liz sighed, feeling brittle. Is this what happened when you lived a dream? When you got more than you believed you deserved? Lately, she’d felt as though she was only visiting a life that any day could be pulled out from under her, rolled up and taken away. She stared out the turret windows at the bare, grey trees scratching at the sharp blue sky and all she could think was that today was the day she would break Dan’s heart.

She traipsed up to get dressed. As she pulled on a dark blue turtleneck and jeans, The A Train lifted through the floorboards. After quickly running a brush through her short hair, she hustled down the stairs, calling Duncan to the bus.

They stopped by the garage, where Dan was waiting by the office door since Duncan was now too big to be kissed at the bus stop. Things were always changing, but now they were scrolling past at Google speed. She should have Dan video her waving goodbye at the end of the driveway, so if she got a job in Boston, Duncan could remember how she used to be there when he left for school.

As the bus pulled away, Liz watched a hawk fly over the woods. Usually when she felt like this, she’d go sit on the big rock beside the pond to regroup, but today the short walk required too much effort.

She groaned out loud as she headed back up to the house. She and Dan had played by all the rules: college, master’s degrees, marriage, careers, kids. They’d worked hard, paid their taxes and volunteered. But then, one night, perhaps while they were sleeping or distracted by life’s details, the rules of cause and consequence had shifted. It must have, because what was happening to them now was not how it was supposed to go.

About the Author

Sharon WrightSharon Wright grew up in the Connecticut River Valley amid potato and tobacco plants, pretending in the woods, building forts, playing tag.

It was her minor in dance at Bates College, not the BA in Psychology that led to NYC.  The intention to manage a dance company morphed into a career in finance.

After working for large investment firms in NYC & Boston, Sharon left to raise the kids and wrote a book about bond investing, GETTING STARTED IN BONDS.  The book led to appearances on TV, radio, and in print.

She began life coaching, founding Inner Wealth Coaching, and eventually added a herd of horses to the staff.

During this time, Sharon wrote two novels; the first to be published is RUNNING TO STAY UPRIGHT.

Wright’s goal is to live life fully, to never congeal, and to invite those around her and her readers to a joyful place!

To learn more about Sharon Wright or to contact her:

  1. sharonwrightbooks.com
  2. facebook.com/runningtostayupright

RUNNING TO STAY UPRIGHT is published by Bellastoria Press, June 2014, 266 pages.

Genre: Women’s Commercial Fiction

Available in print and e-books. To buy RUNNING TO STAY UPRIGHT, click:  Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Apple I-Book, Kobo

The author provided me with a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

THE CHRISTMAS PIN SOCIETY by Marianne Coyne

 

The Christmas Pin Society

 

Who doesn’t love a good Christmas story!  THE CHRISTMAS PIN SOCIETY by Marianne Coyne is just that and more.  It is an inspirational account of a group of friends who get together each year at Christmas for lunch and a gift exchange, but the caveat is the gifts have to be Christmas pins.  Some were nice pieces of jewelry and some were just a few dollars. This tradition continued for years until life got in the way. Some of them moved, one got divorced, and, well you know, life often takes a different turn. Then one year, Emma, came up with a plan that she thought would draw her friends back together and revive their old tradition, but in reality, it was much bigger than that. I can’t tell too much without giving too much information.

This novella is about giving from the heart, about true friendship, and about sacrifice.  It is definitely a ‘feel good’ story. The characters were everyone’s next door neighbor.  They were a mix of people who got along together in spite of their differences.

Would I recommend THE CHRISTMAS PIN SOCIETY? Absolutely!

Marianne Coyne packed a lot of story into a relatively few number of pages.  She writes from the heart.  If you would like to know more about Marianne, her books, and her art, please check out the following websites:

Her blog Leisure Lane, her Amazon Author Page, or her Goodreads Author Page.

To purchase THE CHRISTMAS PIN SOCIETY and Marianne’s other books:  Amazon.

The Banks of Certain Rivers by Jon Harrison

The Banks of Certain Rivers

THE BANKS OF CERTAIN RIVERS will draw you in immediately with its backstory where we meet Neil Kazenzakis (Mr. K), husband, father, friend, teacher, coach. It is here that we learn first of his wife Wendy and son Chris, and the terrible accident that Wendy has in a swimming pool that left her in a permanent comatose state. Their son Chris, an eighth grader, witnessed the accident.

We move forward a few years and find that Neil has more to deal with than seems humanly possible.  His wife Wendy remains in a nursing home, he and Chris both are still struggling to move on, and he is caring for his mother-in-law Carol, while at the same time, maintaining her home.  On top of everything else, Neil has fallen in love with Lauren, the nurse taking care of Carol.  Neil must tell Chris, but fears it is more than a young person can handle given the state of his mother’s health.  Add to all this is a video that went viral showing Mr. K knocking a student to the ground. Can he prove his innocence and that the video is a fake?  With his job and reputation on the line and Chris’ loss of respect for him after Neil tells him he has been in a relationship for two years, Neil feels his life is spiraling out of control. With the determination and help of understanding and caring friends, Neil is able to move forward.

I don’t like spoilers, and this book is difficult to talk about without revealing too much. It is well written with a plot that will keep you turning the pages. It is about love and redemption, loyalty and trust.  It is about putting what life throws at you into the proper perspective and getting on with one’s life.

The characters were so well developed that I felt an immediate bond with each one.  I wanted Wendy to recover, and at first didn’t like Lauren because I felt she stood in the way of that recovery. I wanted to hug Chris and help him through the murky waters of grief, sadness, distrust, and disappointment.  It was so much to put upon a teenager.

There is no doubt in my mind that this is a five star book.  Once I started reading, I was unable to put it down.  With so many layers to the story and personalities elaborated so beautifully, this is one book I wholeheartedly recommend.

 

About the Author

Born in Michigan, Jon Harrison studied English literature and geological sciences at Ohio University. A lover of the outdoors, he moved to Jackson Hole, Wyoming, in 1994 and has lived there ever since. When not writing, he enjoys skiing, running, and climbing.

The Banks of Certain Rivers is his first novel.Jon-Harrison_9659-1200px

Follow Jon Harrison on:

Webpage – Harrison Pages

Twitter – @HarrisonPages

Goodreads – Jon Harrison Author Page

FaceBook – The Banks of Certain Rivers

 

Buy The Banks of Certain Rivers

 

IMG_1110 I was fortunate to have the opportunity to meet Jon Harrison at Books by the Banks. Shown here on the right with author Catherine McKenzie on the left.