Friday, February 3, 2023

Sharon Sala's Missing Will Keep You Reading All Night!

 


Ally was already up and setting out the sausages and bacon she’d cooked for breakfast when her father and both brothers came into the kitchen. 

“Something smells good,” Porter said, and stole a piece of bacon. “Are we having biscuits?” Danny asked. “Isn’t this Sunday?” Ally teased. Danny grinned. “Yes, it’s Sunday, and yes, I know, we always have biscuits on Sunday. Just thought I’d ask.” 

“Scrambled or fried?” Ally asked, referring to the eggs she had yet to cook. “Scrambled works for me,” her father said. Ally gave him a cool glance, then nodded. They had yet to smooth over the rough patch they’d had when she’d gone to Granny Devon’s, and she wasn’t going to be the first one to say “I’m sorry,” because she’d done nothing for which she needed to apologize. She began breaking eggs in the bowl as the men poured coffee, got butter and jelly from the refrigerator, as well as the salt and pepper shakers out of the cabinet, and set them on the table. Within minutes, they were seated with plates of fluffy yellow eggs, scrambled to perfection, at each place. 

Gideon looked at each of his children until he had their complete attention; then he bowed his head and blessed the food. He was on the verge of saying amen when he paused and added the words, “Bless the cook that prepared it, amen.” 

Ally looked up to find her father’s gaze upon her. She sighed. It was all the apology she was going to get. “Porter, pass Daddy the meat,” she said, then took a biscuit and passed them on. 

Gideon worried all through the meal, hoping he hadn’t left his little bit of news too late. It would be horribly embarrassing to have company over after church and not have a meal to offer. He poured himself a second cup of coffee from the pot on the table, then took a third biscuit and buttered it up. “Good bread, daughter,” he said quietly. 

“Thank you, Daddy,” Ally said, then glanced at the clock and got up from the table. “I’m going to get a roast out of the freezer and put it on low heat in the oven so it can cook while we’re at church.”

Gideon nodded approvingly, then slapped his knee as if he just remembered something. “Did I tell you we’re having company at noon?” Ally turned. “No, and please tell me it’s not the preacher because I don’t have anything special baked for dessert.” “No, no, nothing like that,” he said. “It’s just Freddie Joe.” She frowned. “Detweiller?” “Yes.” “Is he bringing his children?” “No, I think they’re at their granny’s for the weekend. He mentioned wanting one of my bull calves to raise for a new breeding bull. I told him he’d better come pick it out before I cut ’em all.” 

“I’ll put extra vegetables in the roast. It will be fine.” Gideon breathed a quick sigh of relief. It was a lie, but it had served its purpose. The only stock on the Monroe property that Freddie Joe was interested in was his daughter. 

Gideon had almost gotten over his guilt at deceiving his daughter when they pulled into the church parking lot. As soon as they got out of the truck, they joined other members of the congregation who were moving toward the doorway. The preacher was standing on the steps, greeting his parishioners, as well as paying special attention to the children who were accompanying their parents. Ally’s focus was on one of her old classmates, who was coming to church with a new baby. While she was happy for her friend’s little family, it only enforced the lack of her own. 

She was halfway up the steps when someone suddenly grabbed her by the forearm. “Ally Monroe, is this you?” “Good morning, Granny Devon,” she said. There was a smile on the old woman’s face as she started to answer, then her sightless eyes suddenly rolled back in her head. She moaned, then she spoke. 

“There’s a man who’s done evil. There’s a man who’s done bad. There’s a man who comes walkin’. There’s a man who’s so sad.”
The prediction gave Ally the chills. She remembered the previous warning that had come to her the night she’d had supper with Granny Devon. Now it seemed that evil still threatened her family. Before she could move, Gideon wrenched the old woman’s hand from his daughter’s arm and pushed Ally up the steps. When he got even with the preacher, he turned and pointed. “You tell that old woman’s family if she won’t stop witchin’, to keep her at home.” The preacher was taken aback by Gideon’s anger, which embarrassed Ally to no end. 

As they moved into the church, Ally pulled away and whispered angrily, “You had no right to talk to Preacher John like that. Granny Devon doesn’t mean any harm, and you know it. Besides, nobody else is bothered by her predictions. I don’t know why you’re always so hateful about her. She’s a sweet old lady.” 

“She’s not right,” Gideon muttered. “And I’m not discussing this with you again. Take your seat by your brothers.” Ally sat, but only because to do otherwise would have caused a bigger scene than what her father had done. She was in the house of God and knew how to behave, but she stayed angry with her father, just the same. 

When the services were over, she got up and walked out on her own, and was already seated in the truck with the motor running and the air conditioner on high when her father and brothers got in. Gideon took one look at her face and resisted the urge to issue his normal set of orders about wasting fuel just to make cold air. He had bigger fish to fry than saving a few pennies and wisely drove them all home in silence...

 Freddie Joe Detweiller was sitting on the front porch when they pulled up the driveway. Ally’s mind was already on the things that needed to be done before dinner would be served, but to her surprise, Freddie Joe jumped up, took off his hat and opened the front door for her as she came up the steps. 

“Good day, Ally. Something is sure smellin’ fine inside this house,” he said. “Just roast,” Ally said. “I thank you highly for allowing me to your table.” Ally shrugged. “Thank Daddy. He invited you.” Freddie Joe had an odd expression on his face as he looked at Gideon. Gideon nodded formally, then quickly looked away. 

Freddie Joe came to himself in time to jump in front of Ally. He opened the door, then stepped aside, bowing slightly as she passed. As she stepped over the threshold and into the living room, she couldn’t help but notice that his hair was thinning at the crown. Then he smiled at her, and it was all she could do not to recoil from his yellow, tobacco-stained teeth. Still oblivious to the true reason for his presence, she paused to speak to Gideon...


Sala has presented us with a country setting in which  activities are mostly about the community, family and the church... I enjoyed reminiscing about my earlier years in this same environment, especially when she used one of my earlier colloquials of "crick" for creek. Yes, I, too, lived near a crick and had to work hard to change to the correct pronunciation... LOL

Ally's was a woman of 28 and had a birth defect of a crooked leg. She could walk, but it was normally with a drag for one foot.  She lived with her father and two brothers and had essentially taken over housekeeping duties when her mother died. But her father was a kind man and even though he wasn't quite sure how to do it, he wanted to keep his promise to his beloved wife and mother that he would help ensure Ally had a fulfilling life. Problem was, that most men were put off by her disability, fearing that her children would also be lame and they didn't want to risk that...

But when a neighbor proposed that he be allowed to call on Ally, her father, Gideon, thought this might be the answer, since he'd lost his wife and had three children already to take care of. Needless to say, Ally was not happy, especially when she learned her father had acted on her behalf and without talking, first, with her.

Ally, of course, wanted a different life, plus she had a dream early in her life that, one day, a tall dark man would come walking out from the woods surrounding their place and come to her and ask for a drink...

Still, even when it happened just as she had dreamed, she couldn't quite believe it... But, even Grannie Devon had given her hints over the years through her "sight" but lately, it was more about danger as well.

“Look to the family. Look to the heart. Danger around you. Trouble will start.” 

Ally frowned. It was the last thing she’d expected to hear, and yet it wasn’t enough to tell her how to prevent it, or save herself and her family from ruin. “How, Granny? How will the trouble start?”


Wes Holden was the man who walked out of the woods... And, indeed, he asked for a drink of water!

But Wes may have been a dream for Ally--maybe even a God Incident. However, he was totally confused and had earlier been in a hospital when he went through a trauma nightmare from which he couldn't wake up. Wes had been doing fairly well upon his return from Afghanistan, but he was still having constant flashbacks that placed him right back into the middle of battle. It was his wife and son who were slowly bringing him back...

Until they were both killed in a domestic terrorist attack at the commissary at which they were shopping. Sometimes, when evil wins a battle, God intervenes and takes what is left of His chosen and helps them to find the way to where someone is now needed... It's not easy to understand, yet, it does show that God cares and loves His people and will provide strength to continue on in a new life.

For surely, there was a new battle to fight for Wes Holden. In the West Virginia Hills where he had wandered into one day. He had been in shock and had no memory of what had happened to his family...

Until he did... 

Colonel Wes Holden had been through a lot, but what he now needed was to get out of the hospital--without anybody knowing that he had regained some of his memory. They had found a step-brother who was willing to take him (and his government check!) Wes knew only one thing, this was the way to get him out of the hospital, under medical discharge. He would deal later to get away from the one individual with whom he would never be safe, and planned his escape!

Even from the beginning, Ally could not escape how Wes, in essence, had fulfilled the dream that she'd had all her life. With her mobility problem, she was shy and hesitant to deal with a stranger, but when Wes came knocking, she not only gave him water, a meal...but also a place to stay! She had inherited a small cabin nearby and had Wes moving in that very day. Without ever mentioning it to her family!

While the relationship began between Ally and Wes, there was evil underway by a man who was out to make big money selling drugs... And Ally's two brothers were caught up in what would become a major disaster. 

The story builds up from a drama to a point when what is happening is so tense that I, for one, wound up reading through the night to see how the story ended. With more than a touch of horror, Sala shares still another way just how one evil man can turn against anything or anybody that does not fulfill his needs. The villain, a science professional, who is also a sociopath, caring not what he was doing to harm others, was soon confronted by Wes, Ally, and, finally, her brothers, although it came too late for the two men who had hired on to make some quick money, only to begin to understand what was happening.

Of course, the ending was exactly what we wanted to have happen. But just how close disaster had come had included having to call in the DEA, the FBI and even the CDC... 

Sala's stories are realistic, yet allow for the goodness of humanity to come through as winning that seemingly constant fight. Thriller Suspense fans will love this one! Highly recommended...

GABixlerReviews 


Wednesday, February 1, 2023

Carole P. Roman, Award-Winning Children's Books Author Presents Her Latest - Henrietta Hedgehog's Prickly Problem

I've been reading the children's books written by Carole P. Roman for over a decade... and I enjoy each one! In this time when we are even more involved with children and what affects them in school, church, or even at home, it is important to gently but specifically talk about things that bother all of us, from grade school to adult!

Using animal characters often helps to take the child out of this world into a make-believe world where things that make us different in America, can be explored without pinpointing the real differences. In the case of bullying, this may be especially important. I don't think this book is about bullying per se, rather it is a book about getting to know and liking--and love ourselves, no matter what we look like... 

https://www.thechildrensbookreview.com/2023/01/carole-p-roman-henrietta-hedgehogs-prickly-problem

Read or Listen to Interview with Carole


The minor twist used by Carole in identifying the issue facing Henrietta Hedgehog's prickly problem, was perfect... You see, Henrietta was not liking who she was--a hedgehog that had quills on her body, which, at certain times, would help her against any enemy that might attack another. She knew that if somebody got too close to her, though, they could be hurt, even if she didn't mean to hurt anybody!

What to Do? Henrietta wanted to just not go to school. But her mother wouldn't allow that. So, thinking about those she knew in her class, she remembered that Bella Beaver was somebody she thought looked nice, so she made a mask to wear that made her look just like Bella...

But when she got to school, Bella took one look and thought that Henrietta was making fun of her front teeth, which were Bella's prickly problem for seeing herself as needing to change... Wow! Henrietta soon realized that everybody had something that they didn't like about themselves...and that the others still were willing to be...a prickly hedgehog, a beaver who didn't like her front teeth, a squirrel who doesn't like his "squeaking" voice...and many others who came to talk to Henrietta and tell her that they still liked her, even with her quills!

How about you? Is there anything that you don't like about yourself? Well, think about it and be open to talk about your problem with your mother, or even your teacher... Sometimes, you'll find that the problem you have really isn't prickly at all!

GABixlerReviews

Wednesday, January 25, 2023

Amanda Flower's New Series Featuring Emily Dickinson Bound to be Must-Read for Dickinson Fans Plus Mystery Fans!

 

Because I could not stop for Death— 

He kindly stopped for me— 

The Carriage held but just Ourselves— 

And Immortality. 

—Emily Dickinson



“Mr. Allen, the party is not dead,” Mr. Dickinson said."Am I not still a Whig in the eyes of Congress?”
“But for how long? I tell you the Whigs are all but gone, and it’s over slavery. The nation is being ripped in two because of it. Those who are left standing in the middle are the ones who will be torn to bits when this all blows up,” a red-faced man said from the other end of the table. Perspiration gathered on his forehead as he spoke. 
Mr. Dickinson set his wineglass back on the table. “There are other issues that my party is more concerned with. Economic stability is at the forefront.” 
“How can the economy or any of these other so-called issues be more important than this one?” Mr. Allen wanted to know. 
“All topics of the law are given their due,” Mr. Dickinson said. “I agree that this issue of slavery seems to be coming to a head. Every time a new state or territory is added to the Union we have to ask if this new addition will be slave or free. It’s a ridiculous question to ask. What we should be asking is how this new territory will increase the wealth and power of the United States of America.” 
“When you do that,” a second young man spoke up, “you are displacing the Indians who live in those places.” 
“Let’s not get into that,” the red-faced man harped. The young man looked like he wanted to argue more but pressed his lips into a thin line. “Where are the Indians going to go if we continue to push them west?” 
Emily chimed in. “Will we push them into the ocean?” “This is not a discussion to be had at the dinner table in mixed company,” Mr. Dickinson said. “Politics is men’s work.” 
“Men’s work, women’s work. I can scream the number of times I have heard that. What if my interests are supposed to be reserved for men? What am I supposed to do with those?” Emily wanted to know. 
“They can’t be your interests,” the young and bearded Mr. Allen said. 
“How can you tell me how I can and cannot feel?” Emily asked. “If you stub your toe and experience pain, what should I say to you? Well, as a man you should be stronger than that. That should not hurt you. I don’t think you would like that.” 
“That is not the point I’m making.” 
“I see, but it is the point that I’m making, which is the difference,” Emily said archly. 
“Mr. Allen, it seems that you have met your match in Miss Dickinson here,” a man with sandy-colored hair that was going gray at the temples said. 
“Westward expansion is not the main concern,” Mr. Johnson spoke up in his gruff voice. “Our country is being torn in two over the issue of slavery as Mr. Allen said.” 
Everyone at the table looked at the stable owner. “And what is your view on it?” Emily asked, holding her glass in the air. 
“My view is of no importance,” he practically growled. Emily set her empty glass on the table. “I think your view is very important, Mr. Johnson. Is it not true that a young man was killed in your stables a few weeks ago? There are murmurings in Amherst that he was in some way involved in the Underground Railroad. Is that not true?” 
I froze in my spot against the wall. How could Emily just come out and say that? She had to know that it would send Mr. Johnson over the edge. 
Mr. Johnson glared at her. “I had a stable hand that was killed by a horse because the stable hand was careless. That’s all there is to it. When people are around horses they forget that they are large and powerful animals. That’s what my employee did and now he is dead. It’s no one’s fault but his own.” 
I gave a quick intake of breath. When I did I grabbed the attention of Matthew. His head turned in my direction, and his eyes went wide as if he realized that it had been me standing there the whole time. In the hotel uniform, I had been overlooked by everyone at the dinner table, including Matthew. It was far too easy to see servants as fixtures in a room instead of the real people that they were. 
“You seem to be very determined to blame young Henry for his own death,” Emily said. Mr. Johnson’s jaw twitched, but he didn’t say anything back. “Emily,” Mr. Dickinson spoke up. “That is enough.” Emily frowned but did not argue with her father. She knew that she had pushed the conversation as far as it would go. 
Mrs. Dickinson cleared her throat. “Mr. Campbell,” she addressed the balding man who had been speaking to Matthew when I first came into the room. “Have you had an opportunity to speak to Mr. Milner? He’s our postmaster in Amherst.” She gestured at Mr. Milner who was sitting across the table from her next to Matthew. Mrs. Dickinson smiled at Mr. Milner. “I’m sure you already know that Mr. John Campbell is the postmaster general for the nation.” 
Mr. Milner pulled on his collar. “I do.” 
“Oh!” Mr. Campbell said in a friendly voice. “How nice to meet one of our postmasters from a small town. Every member of the postal service is important. We are making so many vast improvements because of the hard work of the men on the front lines of delivering the mail.” 
Mr. Milner’s face turned red. “Thank you, sir. We all try to deliver the mail in a precise and timely fashion.” 
Mr. Campbell nodded. “I know this very well.” 
“Mr. Milner told my sister and me that he was in Washington for a postal conference this week. 
Were you at that conference as well, Mr. Campbell?”
Emily asked. 
The postmaster general wrinkled his brow. “I don’t know anything about a postal conference happening this week in Washington. Usually, I’m notified about such events. I do hope that my secretary did not make a mistake and leave this off my calendar for the week.” 
“No, sir.” Mr. Milner took a sip from his wineglass and then set it back on the table. “The conference was a small regional affair. As much as we would have been honored to have you be a part of it, sir, we know your duties are far too demanding for our small gathering.” 
“Yes, that must be it,” Mr. Campbell said absently. 
“If it was a regional meeting,” Emily said, “it does not make much sense that you meet so far from home. There are many big cities in New England to meet.” “Emily,” Mr. Dickinson said in a measured tone. 
Mr. Campbell opened his mouth as if he wanted to say more on the matter, but Mr. Johnson stood up from the table. 
“Thank you for the kind invitation this evening, but it is time for me to leave. I have pressing business that I must attend to.” 
Mr. Dickinson’s face turned red. “Please stay, Mr. Johnson. I hope my daughter speaking out of turn has not caused you to leave.” 
“It hasn’t,” Mr. Johnson said, but I believed that everyone knew that it had. 
I noticed then that Mr. Milner stared at the table and his arms were pressed closely to his sides. It was almost as if he was trying to make himself as small as possible. 
“Good evening.” Mr. Johnson stomped out of the room. When he was gone, Mr. Milner looked up and seemed to visibly relax. 
Mr. Dickinson cleared his throat. “I want to apologize for my guest’s behavior. I was hesitant to invite him here tonight with so many esteemed guests at my table, but he is a businessman from Amherst. I invited him out of duty. I regret that decision now.”
“Yes, that was quite rude to leave the dinner party like that,” Emily said. 
Mr. Dickinson glared at her. I would say that Emily was in a whole heap of trouble as far as her father was concerned. 
Without taking the time to think about it, I went through the door after Mr. Johnson. By the time I made it to the lobby, he had his coat and hat in hand and was striding out of the hotel. I hesitated. What did I do now? Follow him? By myself? Was I crazy for even thinking it? Outside of the hotel I watched as Mr. Johnson climbed into a carriage and a moment later the carriage was underway down the busy street. “Miss Willa, you look like you’re lost.” 
I turned and found Buford standing on the sidewalk. “That man who just came out of the hotel. I—I think he’s up to something.”
 “I do too. That’s why we need to follow him.” 
I looked over my shoulder to find Emily standing in the middle of the sidewalk in her ball gown. Buford began to untether his horse from the hitching post. “Then we better go before we lose sight of him.” Emily ushered me to the carriage. 
I climbed inside and she came in after me. The wide hoops of her skirt took up most of the space between us. Buford called to Betty Sue, the horse, and the carriage rolled into traffic. I stared at Emily. 
“How?” I couldn’t even think of the best way to ask the question. 
“How did I get here?” she asked with a smile. 
“Yes, did you walk out of your father’s dinner party too?” My eyes were wide. She looked out the window of the carriage. 
“Not exactly. I said I had a headache and needed to lie down. I’m sure my father is using that right now to explain my behavior to all of his guests. I helped him by leaving. He will say something to the effect that women don’t know what they are saying when they have a headache or some such nonsense. The key to the nonsense that men say about women is to use it to our advantage as I did in this case.” She opened the window and stuck her head out. 
“Buford is good at following. He is keeping a delivery wagon between our carriage and that of Mr. Johnson’s. I’m sure Mr. Johnson has no idea we are behind him.” 
I folded my hands in my lap. I was alone with Emily in the carriage. I went along with her like I always did, but how could I trust her when I knew either she or her sister stole my brother’s diary? I considered saying something about it, but it seemed the more pressing issue at hand was the fact that we were following Mr. Johnson. I asked, “And what are we going to do when we catch up with him?” 
“I haven’t settled on that part yet.” 
I bit the inside of my lip. She had better settle on it soon, because I had a feeling that Mr. Johnson would not like it if we showed up unannounced. The small window between the driver’s seat and the carriage opened, and we heard Buford’s voice. “It looks to me like he’s stopping at the Washington Monument. You want me to follow him?” 
Emily’s skirts made a ruffling sound as she scooted closer to the window to be heard. “Yes, don’t lose him!” 
The wagon jerked as Buford snapped his switch in the air to encourage Betty Sue to trot faster. A moment later, the carriage rocked to a stop. 
I peered out the window and saw the foot of the Washington Monument twenty or so yards away. I could only make it out because of the gas lampposts throughout the public grounds. The sun had long set. “What do we do?” I asked in a hoarse whisper. 
She opened the carriage door. “We get out, of course.” Without waiting for Buford to help her, she hopped out of the carriage. 
Even with my trust in Emily waning, I groaned and followed her.
~~~

Flower's first novel featuring the character, Emily Dickinson, is interesting inasmuch as the Point of View is by a maid that had recently been hired into the Dickinson household. The period is pre-Civil War and Emily's father is at the close of his congressional seat in Washington.

There is talk of slavery being an important issue in upcoming elections. Indeed, the Underground railroad is already underway. Still, there are Black men who have already been freed and living in Amherst, Massachusetts, where the family homestead is still located... 

“There is always a reason to write,” 
-“Words fall differently on the page 
than they do from the lips. 
There is more control, more thought,
 and more possibility.”

The story starts as Willa, a young orphan who has been working for 8 years in domestic work, comes to apply for the position at the Dickinsons. She meets with the Housekeeper and after being interviewed, was about to leave, when Emily, came into the room and declared that they had found the maid that they needed. The Housekeeper was hesitant and asked, "Are you sure, Miss Dickinson?" And Emily confirmed that Willa was to stay...

Right away we wonder what had led Emily to make a decision on hiring. Something that was delegated to staff and, with few exceptions, "the help" would be seen but rarely involved with other than their work. Perhaps, I wondered, whether Emily had seen a kindred spirit in this young woman, who, when forced to work, had started early and had already moved from job to job to improve her living conditions.

Or, was it merely a part of the plot that was needed by the author, so that she could have a new member of the staff describe everything there, including Emily, to the readers? Well, if so, then that was certainly a grand idea because I found myself thoroughly enjoying meeting the renowned poet through the eyes of a maid who would be living with her and the family for many years... 

Perhaps a combination of the two? For, almost immediately, Willa's brother is killed in what was to be called an accident, but that, in Willa's mind could not have been. Henry was Willa's younger brother and she had been taking care of his since their mother had died. Henry, somehow had found his way into the new bedroom where Willa was staying and spent time with her talking about what he'd been doing and that, in fact, he had a new and wonderful opportunity which would provide sufficient funds for both of them to begin to live different lives.

Time quickly passed and Henry was killed by a horse, kicked to death. I must stop, here, and ponder the apparent possibility of that type of death being common in early years... For, it was that same type of accident that had killed my father before I was born...

But Willa refused to believe it. Of course nobody else knew that he had come to visit her. But she also knew that Henry had a true gift of working with horses and other animals and that there was no way that one would turn on him...

Miss O'Brien, the Housekeeper, immediately gave her a little time to go to her bedroom, but indicated she would have to realize that it would be required that she continue her work. And grieving would have to be done on her own time...

Once again, Emily intervened not only about giving Willa time to grieve, but she also listened to what Willa said about her belief that it was not an accident. And made a commitment to Willa that the two of them would work to discover exactly what happened!

Emily and Willa first went to "the scene of the crime" where they met a good friend of Henry. Jeremiah was a freed Black man who saw Henry as his best friend. They slept together in a horse stall covered with hay and spent each night there with the horses. Jeremiah, too, felt that Henry's death was no accident...

At the same time, Jeremiah was not there when the accident occurred and could not, or would not, explain where he was. Nevertheless, he showed the burns on the horse's body and where it was that Henry was pushed against the wall. Something would have had to occur to make the horse react...and it wasn't Henry who did it! The three agreed on that!

The story soon takes readers to Washington, D.C., where Willa (who was named as ladies' maid to the two sisters to permit her involvement) and Emily started to investigate... For there were a number of men in Amherst who they felt were suspicious. And two were also scheduled to be in Washington! Additionally, rumors had been going around Amherst that a slave catcher had been seen and was paying for the return of slaves who had escaped in the south and were on the run to the north...

I enjoyed the outspoken brave words that often poured out of Emily's mouth. One in particular must have been a puzzle to those in the conversation...
 ...Did you enjoy this morning’s services? My father did a fine job, did he not?” Miss Dickinson looked at him down her petite nose, which was quite an accomplishment seeing how she was a foot shorter than the twins. “I did not go to church. I am not a member of this church as you well know. Carlo and I were just out for a morning walk. That’s our means of worship.” The twins looked at each other. “Surely, that is just an oversight,” Urschel said. “You have not taken the time to finish your membership. Our father would be happy to welcome another member of the Dickinson family into his flock.” 
“You are assuming that I intend to. My god is not there.” She pointed at the white meetinghouse with its peaked steeple. The twins were confused. “If he is not there, where is he?” “If you must ask, you will not understand the answer. Therefore, there is no purpose in answering a question that does not need to be asked.” She looked to me. “Willa, Carlo and I have finished our walk. We will accompany you home. Since you ran into me on the way home, it will explain the delay to Miss O’Brien.” I nodded and started to follow Miss Dickinson.

Let me close by sharing directly from Amanda Flower about her dream... This literary masterpiece has been created as a result of the fascination of the author for this Writer... What a Tribute! I loved it and You Will Too!

To write this book is an actual dream come true. I have been a fan of Emily Dickinson since I was fifteen and was assigned the poem “I heard a Fly buzz - when I died” to memorize in high school. Ever since I have been fascinated with the poet and her work, and considering the content of the poem, it’s not surprising I was destined to write mysteries. Emily has inspired me as a writer, but as a mystery novelist, not a poet. The unanswered mysteries of Emily’s work and life are what I find more interesting. The first novel I wrote inspired by Emily was a contemporary cozy mystery, Crime and Poetry, where the sleuth interprets Emily’s poems to solve the crime. Because I Could Not Stop for Death is the first time I have written Emily as a character, which has been exciting and challenging. So first and foremost, I want to thank Emily Dickinson for her life and work, without which this novel would not exist. I would also like to thank the countless Dickinson scholars who helped me with this work by making their analysis and research available in books and articles. I read so many accounts of Dickinson’s life for this one novel. It would be impossible to share them all. However, most noticeably I would like to thank the following: Richard B. Sewall, the author of The Life of Emily Dickinson, and Aífe Murray, the author of Maid as Muse: How Servants Changed Emily Dickinson’s Life and Language.



GABixlerReviews

Tuesday, January 24, 2023

For Every Love: Three Romances by Nadine C. Keels - With... Soundtrack Featuring Classical Jazz!

 


Wow! I've just binge-read all three books in the trilogy, For Every Love. Actually, I read each book and immediately wanted to download the next one...and the next... But I wanted to spotlight that these three novels have also been captured in a set! Your Choice!


Soundtrack, If You Will

I’m not the only author who often has a theme song or two that accompanies my writing. The music for each one of my stories is usually an original composition, heard exclusively via my remarkable humming (please hold your applause). But for Love Unfeigned, I, full of nostalgia, reached back for the smooth sounds of some standard and classic jazz I became familiar with during my childhood. Here are the songs that most inspired the romance between Lorraine and Isaiah. Taking a listen definitely brings the mood(s) of the story to another degree of life…

“Sweet Lorraine”

“Dancing on the Ceiling”

Admittedly made me a little teary–twice–as I wrote about Lorraine’s “Boy.” Performed by the legendary Ella Fitzgerald.

Girls mostly played with girls, and boys mostly played with boys. Even being as girly as I was, with my dolls and flowery tea sets at home, I wasn’t one you would usually find in a big group of other girls during recess at school. However, I did play with a girl in my third grade class, Sara, more than I did with anyone else. Auburn-haired, heavily-freckled, faithful Sara could be trusted for jump rope, for plenty of laughter, and for the trading of a fair share of secrets. I regarded her as my best friend, and whenever one of us did happen to be found in a larger bunch of girls on the playground, the other was sure to be there. Unless, of course, she or I was absent from school that day. Nevertheless, I wasn’t opposed to playing with boys every so often. They proved to be the best competition for me at wall ball. I was hailed as the best girl Wall Baller in all of third grade, and when I started running out of boys my age to beat, a classmate suggested that I should try to play with some of the bigger kids. I considered it, looking to Sara to see if she thought it was a good idea. When she only shrugged, I told her, “I’ll do it tomorrow, if you come with me.” I was nervous the first time Sara and I went to get in a different wall ball line with fourth and fifth graders. Earl, my fourth grade virtual twin, poked his kinkily-curled raven head out of the front of the line to smile at me. “What’re you doing over here, Raindrop?” he called down the line. “I’m here to play, Early,” I called back. “And I’m here to watch,” Sara piped up, eager to justify her young presence in this older crowd. A boy I recognized to be from Earl’s class shook his head. “She can’t play with us. We’ll kill her.” He pointed back at me with his thumb. “Earl, man, get your sister.” “Nobody’s gonna kill her,” my brother asserted. “If she wants to play, she can play. She’s pretty good, anyway.” “Psh.” The boy looked back at me with a mischievous grin, which was gleaming with braces on his teeth. “Maybe pretty good for an itty-bitty.” I judged that I wasn’t much smaller than the boy talking, and I obviously wasn’t much younger, but I felt disproportionately embarrassed because I thought the boy was cute. I had a thing for braces. I wasn’t sure which side of chance I was on when I actually got the opportunity to contend against him at the wall, but I played what might have been my scrappiest round of wall ball up to that point in my playground career, the bright beads on my many, swinging black braids clicking soundly together as I ran, jumped, and pounded at that bouncy yellow sphere with a resolute fist. I didn’t defeat every kid I faced that day, but I did win the respect of the entire line by beating Braces Boy. “Well, Lori, you shut him up, at least,” Sara congratulated me once I was out of the game, when I’d been trumped by my last opponent. I looked over to see that Braces Boy had abandoned the wall ball line to go join a group of kids over at one of the tetherball rings. I felt vindicated, silently agreeing with Sara as I got back in line, but it wasn’t many days later that I found out Sara and I hadn’t been completely right. That Friday after school, I was out along the side of the driveway of my house, squatting in a patch of soil, rocks, and plants to watch the activity of my favorite colony of ants there when Earl arrived back home from a neighborhood trip he’d taken on his bike. Pulling into the driveway with him, also on a bike, was Braces Boy. “Hey, Itty-Bitty,” Braces greeted me. “What’re you doing over there in the dirt?” “She’s babysitting her ants,” Earl told him as they dismounted their bikes to lean them against the driveway fence. I rose from my squatting position. “I’m not ‘in’ the dirt,” I informed Braces Boy. I was ridiculously glad to see him and was just as determined not to show him so. “And don’t call me Itty-Bitty.” Braces grinned. “Touchy. Mad that I let you win in wall ball at school?” “You didn’t let me win, I hammered you,” I said, wiping my hands across my jeans and stepping out of the soil patch. “Hammered me, my foot,” Braces guffawed, his hands going into the pockets of his own jeans. “I wouldn’t be caught dead trying hard against a lil’ third grade chick. What do I look like?” What did he look like? I wasn’t about to tell him that he looked like the very glory of boyhood, standing there: dark brown hair that avoided being a mess but didn’t appear to care more than it had to, with a shock of it falling over his forehead; skin, somewhere between the colors of almond butter and cinnamon, that was thoroughly acquainted with the sun’s rays; thick, dark eyebrows; and that irresistible sparkle of metal in his mouth, impishly flaunting itself now, for my benefit. That is, I wasn’t about to tell him how cute he looked. I shrugged. “Well. If trying looks stupider than losing, then it is a good thing you lost.” Earl broke out laughing at that. “I didn’t lose,” Braces argued the point. “I let you win.” “Aw, give it up,” Earl chided his buddy, giving Braces a push on the shoulder. “You said you were thirsty. Let’s get some juice and get out of here.” Earl and Braces turned and headed into the house, and I was again squatting by the ant colony...
~~~

With these latest reads by Nadine C. Keels, she is now  proclaimed to be on my favorite author list! With all the chaos going on these days, I've needed to turn to Christian fiction to regain strength and belief in God's love for all of us. Keels has done it well with this trilogy that includes tragedy, rejection, renewal, and just plain fun to close out the trilogy.

Love Unfeigned begins in the early years of our two main characters. In my past readings, there has not been too many books that begins the narrative in their childhoods. Whether the author remembered her early life--or whether or not I have forgotten most of mine, or because of my life with a single parent, I had no relationships to those drawn by this prolific, caring author. For me, coming from a small town where there were not so many students in our schools, I enjoyed the experience of watching the relationships at that early age.

Lorraine and Isiah are the two main characters who begin and continue some type of relationship into higher grades in school and then ultimately are physically split due to their choices for higher ed. I was "wondering" through most of the book as each chapter was titled "Me." I immediately started wondering...why... And then, my anticipation began for something to happen. I must say that I need to just stop at this point. I've already said too much, but readers will discover a mystery within this book. One that can only be solved by one person. And it's not the reader!

Proceeding on to the next book will start with the relationship between Lorraine and another high school classmate...


~
“With You on My Mind”

It’s amazing how we can sing such songs with a smile, but, alas, we do. *Sigh.* More Nat King Cole and oh-so-needful tenor saxophones to help, well, tell it right.
~

The sound of a human body banging into a row of lockers and the resulting barrage of laughter somewhere down the hall from the school commons made me grimace. With fleeting annoyance, I rehearsed to myself how stupid the whole concept of Freshman Day was. The stupidity would only compound when its participants would carry on in the school’s central areas, where faculty members were more likely to see it all and break it up. Still, my annoyance disappeared as my focus was absorbed back into the book in my hands. Midmorning break between classes gave a guy like me just enough time to get a meaningful portion of a chapter in, and I’d rather not waste that limited time minding other guys’ business. Even now, as a high school sophomore, the first Friday of the school year wasn’t any special day for me, aside from how I would Thank God It was Friday as much as anybody would. The fact that it was designated as the first Freshman Day of the year by tradition didn’t change my life any, except for the additional noise the day brought along with it. There wasn’t one freshman or another I was interested in hunting down and beating up any more than any sophomores last year had been interested in hunting me down. Freshman Day was a time for popular ninth grade males and incoming frosh athletes to run away scared from popular and athletic males in tenth grade (and from a few semi-popular and unexceptional athletes in the junior class who didn’t quite understand that they should’ve retired from Freshman Day involvement and looked that much cornier still chasing down youngbloods to roughen up). No sophomore idols or jocks on the prowl for younger meat would’ve cared anything about a skinny-ish, baby-faced, ultra studious-type dude whom nobody who was anybody had heard much of. Names like mine and those of my friends weren’t really heard until they were announced at the school’s quarterly academic awards assemblies. While most students found those assemblies boring, some of the folks who hadn’t cared before would take note of the names and/or faces of classmates walking up to the stage in the auditorium to accept their awards. Those names and/or faces would be duly filed away in the minds of students who wanted to know which people might have the best homework assignments to copy from. Not that I resented it when classmates who hadn’t finished their work asked to copy off of mine. It didn’t exactly do my ego damage to know when other people knew there was something I was good at, and the cooler a guy truly was, the cooler he took it when I’d turn down his request to see my work before the start of class. So, no, Freshman Day didn’t entail special activity for me or for the others with me in our row of three guys and three girls lining one wall of the commons during break, using the time for extra reading or studying. We would save our talking for lunchtime, and besides the jotting of notes or the flipping of pages, the only real movement that would happen along our row in the commons would be the passing down of a communal bag of potato chips or crackers or something. It went without saying that at least one of us always brought along a snack to share with the group. On this first Friday of my sophomore year, I barely looked up to receive an open bag of cheese puffs from Dennis, who’d been my main sidekick since he and I met each other back in middle school. I wouldn’t have looked up again after the Freshman Day commotion that went tearing in and out of the commons at that moment if the noise hadn’t been accompanied by the muffled sound of a female yelp. My eyes jumped upward to peer into the crowd of students milling around, some of them apparently laughing about the stampede that had flown past, others just talking and laughing in general. Scanning toward the direction I thought I’d heard the yelp from, it took me a minute to identify who must’ve been its issuer: a girl standing alone, pushing herself away from the wall she’d likely been shoved against. She had an open cup of chocolate pudding in her hand, and some pudding was smeared over her mouth and cheek. I sucked my teeth. “Idiots,” I muttered, handing the cheese puffs back to Dennis. “What?” Dennis inquired, adjusting the glasses on his face as he looked up from his own reading. “They pushed her” was the only explanation I gave as I shut my book, hoisted my backpack by the straps over my shoulders, and made my way through the throng over to the girl in the pudding predicament. “Good morning. I’m sorry,” I greeted her with an apology to get her attention, and her eyes widened when she turned and realized I was talking to her. “I’m sorry.” Her eyes whipped up and down over me, perhaps to determine if I’d been a part of the passing commotion or not. “Sorry for what?” she asked. I recognized her, a girl new to the school who was the only other sophomore in my chemistry class, a class that was otherwise full of juniors. “Sorry they ran into you like that,” I clarified, briefly bending to the floor to pick up the plastic spoon I assumed she’d been about to use. “Folks need to watch where they’re going.” She held up her cup of pudding with an embarrassed but droll look. “My fault for trying to lick the lid. Wasn’t paying attention,” she declared, the lid in question sticking straight up where it was still partially attached to the cup. “Here,” I said, stowing my book under my arm and digging into a pocket of my jeans, finding it empty, and then digging into the opposite pocket. I pulled out a folded handkerchief, extending it to her. She gazed down at the handkerchief before looking back up at me. “Guys really carry those things around?” One of my shoulders rose and dropped. “I do.” She appeared skeptical, her eyes narrowing in thought. “I know I’ve seen you somewhere.” “Third period chemistry. I’m Arthur Simmons. You’ll have to remind me of your name, Miss…?” Her skepticism clearly deepened. “Miss?” I nodded. “Certainly not ‘Mrs.’ already,” I answered, then stopped to check, “Are you?” After blinking in disbelief at me, she finally replied, “Alexis. Alexis Prescott.” “Oh, right. Miss Alexis. Yeah, we’re in the same chemistry class. Here,” I repeated, jiggling the handkerchief. She slowly shook her head, releasing a nervous giggle without a smile as she waved my offer away with her free hand. “Oh, that’s all right. I don’t want to get it dirty. I’ll go clean up in the restroom.” It was my turn for my eyes to whip up and down over her, noting the light brown skin of her plump face; her kinky chestnut curls wrangled into a frizzy puff of a low ponytail; and the dull, shapeless dress curtained over her pudgy body. They weren’t things I’d say about her, but I knew plenty of other kids around here would start asking each other if anyone else saw “the frumpy fat girl with food all over her face” if she didn’t hurry up and resolve this. I would know. I’d been taking both good-natured ribbing and enough mean-spirited guff from other kids about my looks ever since my adolescent arms and feet had first lengthened out way before the rest of my body had gotten the memo about a growth spurt. Even now, two weeks away from turning sixteen, not all of my lanky self had caught up with the rest of me yet. I took a step closer to Alexis, lowering my voice. “Well, sure, you can go rinse off the stickiness after, but you don’t have to walk all the way there like…” I slid the handkerchief into her hand. “Hang on to it if you want. I’ve got more.” She stared at me a second longer, and then she threw her shoulders back, making her backpack bounce behind her. “Hm.” She handed me her cup of pudding, saying, “Well. If you wouldn’t mind holding that for me then, sir,” and with a dramatic flourish, she flung my proffered square of cloth open and began dabbing it daintily over her mouth. “I thank thee, Mr. Arthur, for the lending of thy blessed kerchief to this damsel in distress.”

~~~

During the first book, although Lorraine and Isaiah had become close friends as a response to Isaiah and Lorraine's brother, Earl, being close. Isaiah had even started going to church with the family. When it came time for college decisions, since Earl and Isaiah were both a year ahead of Lorraine, Lorraine realized that there would also be a big change for her own life. After all, both boys were her only close friends, other than Sara, her best female friend. 
But while Lorraine was involved during that time (the first book), one young man had become so attracted to Lorraine that he could only see her as somebody he wanted in his life--even then as a life partner... So, while the first book is written from the point of view of Lorraine, the second is from the point of view of Arthur Simmons... Who is somewhat of a nerd, or, more a male student who is not involved in sports... You know him. I know him. He is one of those you come to know when he starts receiving academic awards... He's a nice guy who, on the first day back to school, sees a young girl who looks lost and stops to help her and make sure she begins to feel comfortable in her first time in a new location.

But while he was busy getting back into the routine, he was also listening for anybody who mentioned Lorraine--or maybe even catch a glimpse of her in the halls or at lunch. And when he'd gained enough courage, he began to ask Lorraine if he could call her... For a long time, she would never exactly say 'no" but just not at that time, mentioning she had just come out of an ongoing relationship.

This book mainly focuses on a group of students, all of who were readers, good at something and had grown up together from grade school. More specifically, Arthur was a major part of this group, but his limited interaction with Lorraine was separate and apart of how this group functioned, mostly going to events as a group, as opposed to individual dating... But because of interests and his first contact with Alexis, the lost freshman who he invited to sit with his group for lunch, Arthur began to spend time studying and interacting with Alexis more than the other girls in the group. So, even though there were insinuations by some of his friends, he still held out hope for getting with Lorraine... 


~
“Too Young”

Hey…there’s the proverbial “they” who tell you this and that about love–but, this time, really, who are “they”? Even more Nat King Cole, folks.

“Welp. We might as well, ’Telle.” With that suggestion directed her way and the accompanying hand held out to her, Chantelle Jackson let her gaze move from the proffered hand and up into the eyes of Dennis Lawson. Those brown eyes sparkled down at her from behind a pair of black-framed glasses. Eyes that were full of life and so much…fun. Chantelle resisted the niggling urge to let a sigh loose. Fun. Here she was, the maid of honor sitting at the now nearly empty head table at the Saturday evening wedding reception of two of her best friends. The halter neck, garnet red gown she had on was one of the most elegant garments that had ever graced her wide-shouldered, gently curved form, the flow of fabric accommodating her few extra pounds in such a way that she’d had no need for extra shapewear or the extra effort to avoid breathing all day. She’d recently forgone her usual abundance of long braids to wear only her thick, natural hair for a while, and today she wore a flower above her ear, adding a burst of color to her dark billow of hair. It was the closest she would come to wearing a tiara on this occasion, since she wasn’t the bride, but the blossom in her hair still made her feel queenly. That is, she’d felt queenly for most of the day. Queenly and vibrant and full of anticipation, going about her bridesmaid duties with a light step in her fine dress, on the lookout for the potential moment when she’d know that Dennis had taken notice. There he was, the best man at the wedding reception of two of their best friends, the jacket of his black tuxedo presently missing as he stood there in a garnet cummerbund and matching bowtie that flashed in red against the white of his shirt. His black hair was styled in a fresh buzz cut with a hint of waves on top. He looked smart and snazzy, the essence of his usual swagger there. Swagger he wore like no other geek-at-heart on the planet could. Chantelle had wanted this swaggering and smart geek-at-heart to take notice of her today, in a way he apparently hadn’t in any of the previous years of their decade-long friendship. Perhaps Chantelle had put too much trust in her hopeless yet hopeful romanticism, imagining that, regardless of the fact that Dennis had seen her all dressed up before, the special love in the air at the nuptials of Alexis Prescott—now Alexis Simmons—and Arthur Simmons would influence Dennis and finally give him ideas. Ideas that would lead to something more intimate than the fun in his eyes. But, nope. Couples had joined the bride and groom out on the floor to dance to the jazzy Christmas music from the live band playing in the reception hall, led by Arthur’s older brother, a vocalist who also played the guitar. (Leave it to Alexis and Arthur to choose a Yuletide theme for their spring wedding, a choice that only those two lovebirds fully understood. Yes, the new Mr. and Mrs. were their own kind of geeks too, bless their hearts.) Chantelle had done most of her hostessing, Dennis had delivered the main reception speech and proposed the toast, and the two of them were now free to join the others out on the floor, but there was no humble and gentlemanly “May I have this dance?” from Dennis. There wasn’t a dashing request tinged with longing, a “Would you do me the honor?” to the maid of honor. Instead, Dennis suggested that Chantelle dance with him because they were here, there was music, and other people were dancing, so, welp, the two of them might as well. At that moment, Chantelle no longer felt so queenly. She felt comfortable, like the effortless, trouble-free, comfortable choice to be Dennis’s dance partner at a party. Granted, her twinge of disappointment wasn’t a particularly comfortable one, but that wasn’t anyone’s business but her own. No use letting on. Chantelle remained seated at the table and smiled a mild challenge up at Dennis until she meant both the challenge and the smile. “Don’t know if I can manage it, best man. Been a long day. My puppies are yipping.” Dennis didn’t back away. “One hundred percent your fault.” He dropped his outstretched hand and surprised Chantelle by getting down, kneeling near her chair. Gasp! Dennis was getting down on one knee on an evening when so much love was in the air. As Chantelle certainly hadn’t imagined quite this far, she could hardly control the spinning of her wits for a second. But it was only a second, as the outdated language that scrambled through her imagination involved a gentleman asking for a lady’s hand, not a gentleman asking for a lady’s foot. Or, as Dennis ordered her more so than he asked her: “Gimme your foot.” Chantelle shifted her sitting position, scooting her yipping puppies away from him. “Beg your pardon?” “Your foot. Give it here. And give the other one here too, while you’re at it. Chop-chop.” Chantelle didn’t chop-chop. She took her time before scooting back in Dennis’s direction, and he waited until she tugged her skirt to lift the hem of her gown above her ankle and curiously lifted one of her feet a degree from the floor. Belying his brash bossiness, Dennis’s touch was tender as he began to remove one of Chantelle’s high-heeled shoes. “If you would opt for less torturous ways to decorate your feet than all of these restrictive straps attached to stilts that wreak havoc on your arches,” Dennis scolded, grinning as he did so, “your precious pups wouldn’t yip so much.” Chantelle wiggled her toes with the relief of it all once she was free from the painful prettiness of her shoes, and after Dennis stowed the heels away under the table, he stood back up, holding his hand out to Chantelle. She accepted it this time, staring down at their fingers coming together, Dennis’s skin a deeper brown than hers, although the sun would slow-toast her into a darker tone as spring moved into summer. “Humph. ‘We might as well,’” Chantelle repeated with a shake of her head once she and Dennis were out on the dance floor, gliding and swaying to the spirit of Christmas. “Sometimes I wonder if you’ve got a single romantic cell in that brain of yours.” “No need to wonder about my brain cells. I’ve got romance coming out of my ears.” Dennis nodded toward the newlyweds, over there in the center of the floor. “Those two wouldn’t have jumped the broom today if it wasn’t for me. You know I’m the one who told Arthur to go for it in the first place, last year. He would’ve let Lexi get away otherwise.” “Beg your pardon again, but I was the first one who said something about Arthur and Alexis getting together, back in high school. Remember? He resisted it then because he thought it was weird, the idea of dating a friend.” Chantelle’s voice slowly lowered as the end of her commentary slipped from her mouth. Dating a friend. “He wouldn’t have thought it was weird if he hadn’t been distracted by that other what’s-her-name at the time,” Dennis scoffed, as if he couldn’t very well recall what’s-her-name’s name. “Folks who date should be friends, if they can help it.” Chantelle’s eyebrows flew up. “You think so?” she blurted before her voice was ready, giving her words a wobble. If Dennis heard the wobble, he didn’t show it. “Absolutely.” He shrugged a nonchalant shoulder. “I mean, who’d want to date an enemy? It’s already a hassle going out with somebody you like. Why make it even harder on yourself by going out with somebody you can’t stand?” In spite of herself, Chantelle laughed. “Enemies become lovers all the time. Opposites attract, and all that. Besides, from where I’m standing, dating has never looked like much of a hassle for you, Romeo.” “Ah. That’s the mark of a master, Chantelephone. Masters of an art make it look easy to folks on the outside looking in.” Dennis pulled her nearer to him, until they were virtually cheek to cheek. “And don’t call me Romeo. He only got—like, what?—two seconds of bliss with his Juliet before everything tumbled downhill and crashed. That won’t be me.” “Oh, no, never you. Never the master.” A chortle bounced in Chantelle’s throat. “Now, I would pick apart what your deluded definition of ‘master’ must be in this case, but I prefer to save my breath about rational stuff for people with sense.” “Yeah? Well, if you’ve been saving your breath with me all these years, you’ve sure been doing a yakety-yak-yakkin’ job of it.” “Says you. But you’ve no idea how much breath I’ve saved, Jawbone.” Chantelle might have come up with more of a reply than that, but the feel of Dennis’s chin barely grazing her temple quieted her for a few heartbeats. She didn’t even flinch at the trace of stubble that had crept onto his clean-shaven face over the course of the day, as her increasing relaxation left no room for flinching. And regarding relaxation… “I’ve gotta say, though,” Chantelle spoke up, “you did quite a job today, keeping Arthur relaxed. Weddings look so dreamy in movies, but whenever I’m at the real thing, the bride floats and cries and/or smiles her way down the aisle, caught up in the happiest day of her life, while the groom is up there clenching his hands and sweating buckets, looking a nanosecond away from passing out. Arthur looked great, though. You must have fed him a steady stream of your bad jokes in the hours beforehand to keep him laughing—at you.” Dennis chuckled. “I can neither confirm nor deny that. But I think only a single guy knows just how daunting the prospect of taking on a whole, entire, real-life wife can be. So I reminded Arthur how careful a planner he is, that he wouldn’t have asked for Alexis if he wasn’t ready to take care of her. I told him not to forget that she’ll be taking care of him just as much.” He paused to spin Chantelle to the music before he gathered her back to him. “I’m sure you had a lot of encouraging yakety-yak for Lexi.” Chantelle smiled at that. “Any encouragement might have drifted right on past her. She was already in raptures, mostly just needed someone to keep her from sailing off on a glorious cloud with her veil on backwards.” That brought another chuckle from Dennis before he sent Chantelle into a second spin and then tucked her in close. Chantelle’s insides leapt. Oh, goodness. This man hadn’t any business being such a rhythmic and soulful dance companion for her if none of the romance coming out of his ears had anything to do with her. Chantelle’s eyelids lowered as she melted into the music and her dance companion’s familiarity, breathing in the scent of aquatic cologne blended with living Dennis. She’d partnered with him enough times since high school to be aware of how he’d subtly changed over the years. His transition from adolescence to manhood hadn’t turned him into a hulking mountain of muscle, but Chantelle was fine with not feeling like she was tucked against something that had been chiseled from a block of granite. Dennis was warm and emanating with verve. He wasn’t too wide for her to get her hold a good ways around him whenever they hugged, but the strength about him didn’t have to come in bulk for her to feel it, for her to know good and well that she was in the arms of a man. This man. The problem was, at some point after their high school days had ended to give way to their college days and beyond, moments like these and plenty of others Chantelle shared with Dennis had been contributing to her ever-intensifying notion that this man might be the only one for her. After high school, the two of them attended the same university in a big city an hour away from their hometown. Chantelle went out with her share of guys, and Dennis did his own dating around, but even while that was happening, Chantelle’s friendship with Dennis deepened in college. Chantelle liked to think that she and Dennis became a new “home” for each other during that phase of their lives. Sure, the two of them still poked and joked and jabbed at each other as much as they ever had, but there was far more to what had grown between them, only growing stronger after they’d graduated and come back to town, reuniting with people they knew and loved, people like Alexis and Arthur. Chantelle lifted her eyelids to peer thoughtfully over Dennis’s shoulder, through other dancing wedding guests and party members, and over at the bride and groom. Alexis and Arthur had officially become a couple a year ago, after their friendship had survived a period of separation. The hopeless and hopeful romantic in Chantelle had been hoping for those two friends of hers even at times when she hadn’t been at liberty to say so, and she’d been rooting aloud for them ever since they’d announced they were an item. The way they overcame serious personal obstacles to be together made them such an inspiration to Chantelle. This time, when the niggling urge came to her, she did let a sigh loose, though not too heavily, not wanting Dennis to ask what was the matter. Would Chantelle still be entertaining what she’d come to feel for Dennis if she hadn’t been watching Alexis and Arthur’s journey? Had something impressionable in Chantelle gotten the inclination to copy what was working out beautifully for two lovebirds who were close to her, even though Dennis had given no indication of a desire to pursue anything further than friendship with her? Dear Lord. Help. “Are your puppies all right?” Jarred out of her reflections, Chantelle couldn’t process Dennis’s question near her ear right away. She stalled. “What?” “I heard that sigh.” Dennis’s hand at her back gave her a reassuring pat. “We can go sit back down if this is painful.” A delicate smile tugged at Chantelle’s lips. Yes, this could indeed be painful. Talking and swaying with Dennis in an atmosphere of matrimonial celebration, springtime’s promise, and jazzy Yuletide warmth could be downright agonizing if she thought about it too hard. So she wasn’t going to think about it too hard. At least, she’d stop it for now and save the hard thinking for whenever she’d chronicle this night in her journal. “Hey,” she said. “You told me we might as well, didn’t you? Yes? Great. So you’re stuck with this.” She went so far as to snicker. “You’re in dawdle mode. Such wonderful live music in here, and you haven’t even dipped me yet.” Drawing back a little to look up into the sparkling eyes behind those black-framed glasses, Chantelle tightened her hold on her dance companion’s hand and shoulder, issuing a soft and saucy order. “Chop-chop, best man.” To his credit, Dennis didn’t challenge her or take his time. With an indulgent grin at her, he chop-chopped, and Chantelle basked in being so securely held and smoothly dipped into the spirit of Christmas. 

~~~ 

The final book in the trilogy updates readers on the interaction of the group of Arthur's friends, minus Lorraine. (She was not a member of the small group of friends routinely interacting) As the two books end, the third begins with the time period when all of them have reached high school graduation or college. A number of those friends had moved away, got married or were now involved with new activities. 

Arthur had found his partner and there were only two individuals remaining... I'm glad they were kept for the closing book. It is fun. it is frustrating. And it is a perfect example of friends becoming more than...

Chantelle and Dennis had always seemed to be the last chosen...for bowling, for dancing... They were the last two who would normally wind up dancing with each other... Now the pairing was even more visible. Arthur and Alexis were already dating and everybody else had left the area or were in committed relationships. 

Dennis had always played the "ladies man" so that Chantelle had no reason to assume he cared for her...like...that... And Dennis had some problems with self-confidence, even though he played the clown and was often dating a lot, but the girls loved his company and none had ever seemed to go further... Perhaps it was because Dennis wasn't really trying... until now... And both Chantelle and Dennis realized that something just had to be done to move their lives forward... 

Each of these books can be read separately. But I promise you that you, the reader, will not experience the full impact of the overall story being told by this excellent writer/author. Nadine has the capacity to consider the ramifications of all things related to the Christian life of her characters. And she makes it a part of the narrative.

As the cast of characters are growing up, they are in church, they are studying scripture and having assignments for youth study... So that, when each was considering their lives, the faith component was very much a part of everything. So, than, when tragedy strikes in book 1, everything that happened thereafter seems to flow from that story of Lorraine and Isiah. 

And when Lorraine and Arthur had made their own analysis of their friendship, it allowed both to begin to consider their own options... Seriously, I figured that this was going to be a series of each being separated and moving on to find true love. But, even then, the author understands that isn't really how life is, is it? Friends in school? Sometimes they make it through into adult life. Most don't. And that's ok. Because we must all follow our own path...

But for teens, in particular, it is a very tough time. And it may be even worse these days as "texting" is the chosen method of communication. How, I wonder, do our children ever get to really know who and what their friends really are, related to, even, basic moral issues... Keels' choice to start the various relationships early in life allows her characters to learn about their, for instance, involvement in church as well as learning personal interests of each other and allowing each to share and receive important feedback on what their futures may encompass.

Me? I like this writer on a personal level. I've gotten to know her on line... But, it is through her books that I have formed a closer awareness of the writer. Nadine Keets talks the talk and writes the words, based upon her Christian faith and attention to how that affects all other parts of her, and others', lives. In doing so, she is fulfilling her desire to share what she knows and instill encouragement, courage, and love, even when joy is not a daily occurrence, or even an ongoing emotion. 

Share her words with your teenagers. And read them yourself as parents so you may also understand what things may be affecting your children's lives! The Trilogy is Highly recommended...

In addition to the jazz, I must include some Georg Friedrich Händel, in honor of the Northwestern Philharmonic’s wonderful holiday performance at Larkspur Hall. (Were you there?) Ladies and gentlemen: the “Overture” of Handel’s Messiah.



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