Monday, July 19, 2021

SAFE HARBOUR by Mike Martin


SAFE HARBOUR
Author: Mike Martin

Publisher: Ottawa Press and Publishing
Pages
: 264
Genre: Mystery

BOOK BLURB:

Sgt. Windflower is on a special assignment in St. John’s and adjusting to life in the big city. He is navigating traffic, a difficult boss at work and what seems like an epidemic of missing girls. He becomes more interested when he discovers that one of the girls is from Grand Bank. Then a girl approaches his RCMP van one night and he is pulled into the underlife of the capital city. But he still manages to enjoy all of the good things in life. His family, old and new friends, and the love of living so close to the Atlantic Ocean. Welcome back to St. Windflower Mysteries.

CHAPTER ONE

Windflower looked across the lake. Well, he would have if he could have seen anything through the thick blanket of fog that had been sitting on Quidi Vidi Lake for the past seven days. One whole week, he thought. Every day since they had arrived in the port city of St. John’s, it had been the same. Windflower knew the lake was out there because he remembered running around it as his daily exercise when he was temporarily stationed here a few years back.

Sheila Hillier, his wife, knew the lake was out there as well. She’d spent a couple of months doing rehab at the nearby Miller Centre when she was recovering from a serious car accident. If there wasn’t any fog, she could look out her window in May and see the rowers getting their practice in as part of their training for the Royal St. John’s Regatta, an annual event that took place down there in August.

But it was a long way from spring as Windflower gazed out his window at the typical scenery for a January morning. He was the first one up, except for Lady, his collie, and Molly, the cat who never seemed to sleep anyway. She would close her eyes sometimes, but Windflower had never come into a room with her in it when she wasn’t awake and watching him. Windflower liked this time of day when his two children got up. They were Amelia Louise, his soon-to-be two-year-old daughter, and his almost-daughter, Stella, who he and Sheila were fostering.

He liked this house on Forest Road, too. It wasn’t similar to his and Sheila’s in Grand Bank on the southeast coast of Newfoundland, but for a rental it suited them perfectly. It had four bedrooms, two and a half baths and a large backyard for the kids to play in and, if the weather held, for Windflower to barbeque. But the likelihood of the weather staying just simply foggy and damp was not good. There was snow in the forecast and more snow coming after that.

Windflower had been in snowstorms in St. John’s before. It was hard to miss one if you travelled here regularly in the fall, winter or spring. And they didn’t come with a few flakes or a few inches of accumulation. No, snowstorms here often meant feet of snow, sometimes in the double digits, and he had come out some mornings to look for his car, only to find it buried under a virtual mountain of snow. The worst storms came in double or even triple waves. That’s when a storm system would blow through and dump one load of snow and then drift out to the nearby Atlantic Ocean. Unfortunately for the good people of St. John’s, it would blow back in and repeat the damage—sometimes more than once.

Windflower grabbed his anorak and hat and took Lady out to the backyard. He also brought his smudging kit. Inside were small packets of his four sacred medicines: cedar, sage, sweetgrass and tobacco. There was also an abalone shell, a small box of wooden matches and an eagle feather fan that had been gifted to him by his grandfather many years ago.

He placed small amounts of each medicine in his abalone shell and lit them with a wooden match. Smudging was a way to cleanse his body, mind and spirit, and how he smudged was to use a fan or the feather to pass the smoke from the burning herbs over his head and body. He even sent the smoke under his feet.

He had been taught to pass the smoke over his head to give him clear thoughts and wisdom, over his heart to keep it pure and lead him to wisdom, and under his feet to let him walk a straightforward path in his daily life. He would also allow the smoke to linger around him as long as he could to remember that he was not alone in the world. Then, when he was finished, he would lay the ashes on bare ground so that all negative thoughts and feelings would be absorbed by Mother Earth. Lastly, he would pray. Today his prayers were all about gratitude.

This was a good morning to be grateful, thought Windflower. Amelia Louise was a happy, healthy child. Sheila was happy to be back in school full-time as she pursued her dreams of an MBA. And little Stella, their four-and-a-half-year-old who’d been through a lot in her life, including the recent loss of her mother, was starting to settle into their household. Windflower himself had just started a new assignment as public outreach coordinator with the regional Royal Canadian Mounted Police office in St. John’s.

Sergeant Winston Windflower had been a Mountie for all his working life. After training in Regina, he was posted to British Columbia for two years on highway patrol and another couple of years in Halifax before arriving to the province nine years ago for a posting in Grand Bank. Wow, he thought. That was a long time. Most of his career had been spent in the field and on the ground, so he was a bit apprehensive about this job in St. John’s. It was only for a year, but it was his first desk job. He wondered if he’d become stir-crazy sitting in the office so much. But that was something else he could pray about.

His last prayer was for himself. He didn’t pray for patience. His uncle told him never to pray for patience because Creator would only send more opportunities to practice it. Instead, he prayed for calmness and guidance, and for the wisdom and courage to ask for help. That was something he wasn’t very good at, and something he surely needed.

His prayers and rituals complete, he and Lady went back inside to start the rest of their day. Things happened quickly in his house once everyone was up in the morning. Windflower put on the coffee to get himself ready. Soon, he could hear Amelia Louise calling out and Sheila moving to get her. He went upstairs and saw that Stella was also awake but shy and uncertain about what to do.

Windflower went through her clothes for the day with her. Stella was going to school for the first time, junior kindergarten, and Windflower could tell she was both excited and afraid. He and Sheila had talked to her about it again last night to try to reassure her, and this morning Stella was trying to put on her brave little girl face. But she started to cry as Windflower was leaving, so he went back and held her. Once she stopped crying, he left her to get dressed and went downstairs.

It was Sheila’s first day back at school, and she was looking a little anxious too. Windflower went to her and gave her a hug.

“I guess it’s a big day for everybody,” said Sheila. “New job for you, Stella and I both going to school and Amelia Louise to daycare. Are we out of our minds?”

Windflower laughed. “It will be different, but once we all get our routines down, it’ll be fine,” he said. He poured both of them a cup of coffee. “I’ll make some oatmeal if you check on Stella. She looked like she might be having second thoughts about this school thing.”

“Like the rest of us,” said Sheila. “I’ll leave Amelia Louise to help you.”

That was one way to describe Amelia Louise’s activities while Windflower got breakfast ready. From teasing the cat, to trying to pull Lady’s tail off, to upsetting Sheila’s craft basket in the living room, Amelia Louise kept her father busy and alert. But somehow he managed to slice up some fruit and get everyone a bowl of oatmeal with nuts and maple syrup. An even bigger miracle was getting everyone out the door on time.

Windflower helped Sheila put Amelia Louise in the car so she could drop her off at daycare first and then take Stella to her kindergarten class. She would go into Memorial University later for her first morning class. He was fine. He could take his time and walk over to the RCMP offices across the lake, the one he couldn’t see for the fog. He cleaned up, got the pets all organized and started his first morning walk to work.

ORDER:

https://amzn.to/2SW4lJM

About the Author


Mike Martin was born in St. John’s, NL on the east coast of Canada and now lives and works in Ottawa, Ontario. He is a long-time freelance writer and his articles and essays have appeared in newspapers, magazines and online across Canada as well as in the United States and New Zealand.

He is the author of the award-winning Sgt. Windflower Mystery series set in beautiful Grand Bank. There are now 10 books in this light mystery series with the publication of Safe HarbourA Tangled Web was shortlisted in 2017 for the best light mystery of the year, and Darkest Before the Dawn won the 2019 Bony Blithe Light Mystery Award. Mike has also published Christmas in Newfoundland: Memories and Mysteries, a Sgt. Windflower Book of Christmas past and present.

Mike is Past Chair of the Board of Crime Writers of Canada, a national organization promoting Canadian crime and mystery writers and a member of the Newfoundland Writing Guild and Ottawa Independent Writers.

WEBSITE & SOCIAL LINKS:

Website: www.sgtwindflowermysteries.com

Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/mike54martin

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/TheWalkerOnTheCapeReviewsAndMore

Thursday, July 1, 2021

Read my First Chapter: 'The Art of Betrayal: A Kate Hamilton Mystery,' by Connie Berry

AUTHOR: Connie Berry

WEBSITE: https://www.connieberry.com

PUBLISHER: Crooked Lane

FIND OUT MORE: 

1. Amazon: The Art of Betrayal: A Kate Hamilton Mystery: Berry, Connie: 9781643855943: Amazon.com: Books

2. Barnes&Noble: The Art of Betrayal: A Kate Hamilton Mystery by Connie Berry, Hardcover | Barnes & Noble® (barnesandnoble.com)

3. Booksamillion: The Art of Betrayal : A Kate Hamilton Mystery by Connie Berry (booksamillion.com)

4. Indiebound: The Art of Betrayal: A Kate Hamilton Mystery | IndieBound.org


ABOUT THE BOOK: 

American antiques dealer Kate Hamilton is spending the month of May in the Suffolk village of Long Barston, tending her friend Ivor Tweedy’s antiquities shop while he recovers from hip surgery. Kate is thrilled when a reclusive widow consigns an ancient Chinese jar—until the Chinese jar is stolen and a body turns up in the middle of the May Fair. With no insurance covering the loss, Tweedy may be ruined. As DI Tom Mallory searches for the victim’s missing daughter, Kate notices puzzling connections with a well-known local legend. Kate’s most puzzling case yet pits her against the spring floods, a creepy mansion in the Suffolk countryside, the murky depths of Anglo-Saxon history, and a clever killer with an old secret. 


ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Connie Berry is the author of the Kate Hamilton Mysteries, set in the UK and featuring an American antiques dealer with a gift for solving crimes. Like her protagonist, Connie was raised by antiques dealers who instilled in her a passion for history, fine art, and travel. During college she studied at the University of Freiburg in Germany and St. Clare's College, Oxford, where she fell under the spell of the British Isles. In 2019 Connie won the IPPY Gold Medal for Mystery and was a finalist for the Agatha Award’s Best Debut. She’s a member of Mystery Writers of America and is on the board of the Guppies and her local Sisters in Crime chapter. Besides reading and writing mysteries, Connie loves history, foreign travel, cute animals, and all things British. She lives in Ohio with her husband and adorable Shih Tzu, Emmie. 


FOLLOW CONNIE BERRY: 

Website: www.connieberry.com

Facebook: https://facebook.com/thekatehamiltonmysteryseries

Twitter: https://twitter.com/@conniecberry

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/conniecampbellberry

Pinterest: https://www.pinterest.com/@conniecampbellberry



CHAPTER ONE:

Long Barston, Suffolk, England

The fourth of May was one of those glorious spring days in England that almost convince you nothing evil could ever happen again. Mild, green-scented air wafted through the open door of Ivor Tweedy's antiquities shop. A curious bumblebee meandered inside, had a quick look-around, and buzzed out again in search of the window boxes along Long Barston's main street.

I was perched on a stool behind the counter, polishing silver, when I heard a soft cough. 

She stood framed in the doorway, clutching a large striped tote bag as if it held her firstborn—a ridiculous image because the woman had to be in her late sixties. Her thick, iron-gray hair was pulled into a coil at her neck, and she wore a pair of those light-sensing eyeglasses that never quite make it to clear. She was obviously ill at ease, which in itself wasn't unusual. Antiques shops often attract timid souls hoping to raise a little cash by selling grandma's pearls or grandpa's collection of vintage cameras. They come expecting to be cheated.

"Hello." I pulled off my latex gloves and came around the counter, feeling like a kindergarten teacher on the first day of school. "Welcome to The Cabinet of Curiosities." 

The woman stepped into the shop. I couldn't see her eyes behind the darkened lenses, but she seemed more wary than timid, which set off alarm bells. Twice in my life I'd been offered stolen property—in both cases, the items brought in by dodgy looking men in their twenties. This woman looked respectable, even old-fashioned. She wore a well-cut linen skirt, a crisp white blouse, and flat orthopedic sandals. An expensive but well-worn Gucci handbag hung from one bone-thin arm. "I was expecting the owner, Ivor Tweedy." 

"I'm afraid Mr. Tweedy is recovering from surgery. I'm filling in while he recuperates."

"You're American." Her lips thinned in disapproval.

"I am." Obviously.

Once, this woman had been quite beautiful. I could see it in her bone structure, the line of her mouth, the way she held her head and shoulders. 

She studied me for a moment. Her eyes shifted to the small-paned front window. "Do you have somewhere more private?"

"Of course." I grabbed the binder Ivor used to record sales and commissions. "Just let me lock up." I closed the shop door, shot the bolt, and flipped the Open sign in the window to Closed. "My name is Kate Hamilton. And yours?" When she didn't answer, I tried another tack. "Have you brought something for appraisal?"

"Not for appraisal, no." Now that she'd been out of the sun for a few minutes, her glasses had partially lightened, allowing me a glimpse of pale, hooded eyes. "I have something I wish to sell."

I led her through a maze of display cases to an alcove furnished with an early Regency pedestal table and two folding campaign chairs that, according to Ivor, had traveled with Wellington into the Battle of Waterloo. 

Once we were seated, the woman settled the carry-all on her lap and peeled down the fabric, exposing a large, roundish object swathed in bubble wrap. 

"Be careful. It's heavy." She handed the bundle to me.

"Well, let's take a look." I placed the object on the table and used the edge of my thumbnail to peel back a strip of clear tape. That's when I felt it—the tingling in my fingertips, the flush of heat in my cheeks, the pounding of my heart against my ribcage. I've experienced these symptoms from childhood in the presence of an object of great age and beauty. 

Some would call it a gift. I've always thought of it as an affliction. My father, who taught me about antiques, had half-jokingly called me a divvy—an antique whisperer—born with the ability to spot the single treasure hidden among the trash that frequently passes for antiques. He wasn't right, of course. My eyes can be fooled by a masterful fake as easily as the next person. 

It's the internal symptoms that never fail. 

The client watched me, her bony fingers clasping and unclasping in her lap. 

I peeled back a layer of bubble wrap and took a sudden breath. 

Even before the wrapping was fully removed, I knew what was inside. The technical term is húnpíng, a distinctive type of stoneware jar found in the Han-dynasty tombs of early Imperial China. 

The final layer of wrapping slid away. Each húnpíng is unique—some fairly simple, others wonderfully complex. This example was nothing short of dazzling.

The bulbous jar had the earthy gray-green glaze known as celadon, typical of the period. The lower two-thirds of the vessel featured a procession of mold-pressed figures—leaping chimera; riders astride coiling, dragon-like creatures; peak-helmeted warriors wielding long pikes, ready to strike. The fullest part of the jar culminated in a wide mouth supporting a fantastical, multi-storied architectural complex with triple-tiered, tiled roofs and curved corner eaves surrounded by gates and pillars, each entryway guarded by a pair of oversized guards. I tilted the jar to peer at the bottom. Unglazed, unmarked—typical of the Han period. 

"Do you know what this is?" I asked.

"Some kind of urn?" 

"It's an ancient Chinese funerary jar from the Han dynasty. In English we call it a soul jar or spirit jar."

"Han?"

"They ruled much of China for four centuries, roughly 200 B.C. to 200 A.D."

"Is it valuable?"

"If authentic, very." 

"Oh, it's authentic. How much is it worth?"

"My guess would be thirty or forty thousand pounds, but to be sure I'd have to consult someone who specializes in early Chinese ceramics. I'm not an expert." 

She blinked and shoved her glasses higher on her nose. "How long would that take? To consult, I mean."

"Two or three days, perhaps a week." I clicked open my pen. "First I'll need your name and the history of the piece, as far as you know it."

Her shoulders stiffened, as if I'd asked to see her bank balance. "My name is Evelyn Villiers. My husband bought the urn forty years ago in Hong Kong. He traveled a great deal for business and often purchased pieces for his art collection. If necessary, I can tell you the name of the shop and exactly what he paid for it. He kept meticulous records."

"That would help," I said, tossing my earlier caution to the wind. This woman actually had documentation. "It's a wonderful piece. May I ask why you're selling?"

"Not for the money, if that's what you're thinking." Mrs. Villiers snapped open the clasp on her handbag and pulled out a white handkerchief. "My husband died eighteen years ago. We had one child, a daughter. When I'm gone, she'll inherit a large trust fund from her father. I can't stop that, but I refuse to let her inherit his art collection as well. I've decided to sell now, while I'm able." She met my eyes, as if daring me to criticize. 

Criticism was the last thing on my mind—pots calling kettles black and all that. My own daughter, Christine, and my son, Eric, had recently (and unexpectedly) inherited twenty thousand pounds each from their Scottish aunt, a sum I'd persuaded them to invest in a money-market account in Ohio. Eric's share would help pay for his doctoral degree in nuclear physics. Christine had intended to spend hers, meaning it would have been gone in months, with no more to show for it than a handful of receipts—and very possibly a lady's Rolex. Christine's latest boyfriend, the son of an Italian manufacturing executive, had a Rolex. Doesn't everyone?

Mrs. Villiers cleared her throat, and I put my parenting issues aside. Whatever had caused a rift between this woman and her only child had been a tragedy, and I wasn't about to take advantage. 

"We'd love to help you sell the jar, Mrs. Villiers, but you might want to consider Sotheby's or one of the other large auction houses in London. Buyers from all over the world receive their catalogs. Wealthy Chinese collectors are paying top prices for objects like this. I'm sure you'd realize more from them than you could from us."

"No public auctions. No catalogs." Mrs. Villiers pinched her lips together. "I insist on doing this privately, without publicity. That's why I came to you…well, to Mr. Tweedy. Just write a check. Whatever you think is fair."

I felt my cheeks turn pink. Ivor's checking account currently held just about enough to cover expenses for the month of May. "I'm afraid we're not in a position to purchase the piece outright. If you're sure you want us to handle the jar, I suggest consignment. We find a buyer. You get the proceeds, minus a reasonable commission. Why don't I show you our standard contract? If you're satisfied, we'd be happy to handle the sale." I turned to the back of the binder, snapped open the rings, and pulled out a printed legal document. As I organized the papers, I tried to make conversation. "Will you be going to the May Fair on the green this evening?"

She mumbled something that sounded like wagon bell.

I looked up. "Sorry? I didn't catch that."

"I said if you can guarantee my privacy, I have more to sell. A lot more."

That was not what she'd said, but I let it go, swept away by the glorious possibilities. What Mrs. Villiers was proposing was nothing short of a miracle—a source of high-quality antiques without any financial investment on Ivor's part. This woman wasn't offering an odd piece now and again but an entire collection, and if the húnpíng was any indication of the quality, a collection that would place The Cabinet of Curiosities among the highest tier of England's private dealers. I couldn't wait to tell Ivor. "What sorts of things did your husband collect?"

"Like the urn—you know, pottery, porcelain, paintings. Old stuff. Special figurines as well—nearly fifty pieces. I can't remember the name, but they're marked on the bottom with crossed swords."

"You mean Meissen." My heart kicked up a notch.

She brightened. "That's right. Meissen." 

 The famous Meissen factory near Dresden was the first European manufacturer to crack the closely held Chinese secret formula for true hard-paste porcelain. Europeans called it "white gold" in the eighteenth century, beloved for its translucency, resilience, and pure white hue. The Chinese had been producing porcelain since the seventh or eighth century, exporting it all over the world. Then came Meissen with its crossed-swords mark, creating stunning pieces that surpassed even the Chinese in beauty. I couldn't wait to get my eyes on them.

"And jewelry," Mrs. Villiers said. "Wallace loved fine jewelry." 

She obviously hadn't shared that interest. Except for a small heart-shaped locket around her neck, she wore no jewelry of any kind. 

"We have a tiered commission structure," I said. "The higher the sale price, the lower the percentage." In the description column I wrote Chinese Húnpíng Jar, Han dynasty, approx. 16" high and 11" wide. Value to be determined. "Now, if it's all right, I'll take a few photographs. That way you can take the jar home until I've arranged for an expert to examine it."

"No. I want you to keep it." 

"All right—if you're sure." I turned the consignment form toward her and handed her my pen. "Read through the contract carefully. The payment terms are in the final paragraph. Print your name, address, and telephone number there, and sign at the bottom." 

While Mrs. Villiers examined the contract, I used my cell phone to snap several images. I couldn't believe our good fortune. I felt like pinching myself. Finally, laying the jar carefully on its side, I took a shot of the unglazed bottom. 

Mrs. Villiers turned over the final page. Placing her index finger at the top, she drew it down slowly, stopping briefly at the final paragraph. At the bottom, she printed out her information and added her signature.

Mrs. Evelyn Villiers

Hapthorn Lodge, Hollow Lane,

Little Gosling, Suffolk. 

She'd included a phone number. Her signature was a squiggly line. 

Standing, Mrs. Villiers smoothed her skirt and gathered her handbag and the now-empty carry-all. "Thank you for your assistance."

"My pleasure." I held out my hand, and she took it. "I'll put a copy of the contract in the mail. And I'll telephone you when I've arranged for the appraisal."

"No mail," she said firmly. "And I never answer the telephone. Text me at this number, and I'll contact you." Picking up the pen I'd provided, she scribbled a different number at the bottom of the contract. 

"Of course. I'll be in touch soon." Something floated in the air—a vague uneasiness. Why didn't Mrs. Villiers answer her phone? To avoid telemarketers?

I stood at the front window and watched her cross the High Street and turn left toward the river. She scurried past the shops—shoulders hunched, head bent—until she disappeared down a side street. Had she driven herself, or was someone waiting for her?

That was the least of my questions about Mrs. Evelyn Villiers.

I checked my watch. If I left immediately, I could be at The Willows by eleven thirty.

Time to break the good news to Ivor.



Tuesday, April 20, 2021

Read My First Chapter: 'Complicit' by Amy Rivers

Genre: psychological thriller/suspense 

Author: Amy Rivers

Website: www.amyrivers.com                    

Publisher: Compathy Press

Purchase link www.compathypress.com


ABOUT THE BOOK 


A tangled web of deception and duplicity where predators are shielded by respectability and no one is safe

 

Kate Medina had been working as a forensic psychologist and loving every minute until a violent attack left her shaken to the core. Retreating to her hometown where it's safe, she accepts a job where the prospect of violence is slim to none. As a high school psychologist, Kate tends to the emotional needs of the students. It's not the career she envisioned for herself.

 

Five years later, a student disappears, leaving the school in crisis and Kate at the helm of another traumatic event. Roman Aguilar, the lead detective, reaches out to Kate for assistance. Kate's position at the school and her training make her an ideal ally, but her complicated relationship with Roman puts them at odds. 

 

When the girl's body is found, changing the focus of the investigation to homicide, Kate finds herself in the middle of a situation she never anticipated. What started as her desire to help puts Kate directly in the crosshairs of an enemy who remains largely in shadows. As her past and present collide, Kate is dragged into the middle of a dangerous game where only one thing is clear-no one can be trusted.

Wednesday, April 14, 2021

Excerpt from Rosemary Mild’s new memoir, IN MY NEXT LIFE I’LL GET IT RIGHT

My Quirky Crusade


A zillion books, articles, and workshops are out there on how to be a better writer. If you put them end to end they’d probably circle the earth. 

In the writing of dialogue, there’s a current style these days for authors of mystery and suspense fiction. The standard appears to be the verb “said.” For instance, “I feel miserable,” she said. “My car broke down,” he said. 

We’re taught that “said” is a good verb and we should use it—and rarely anything else. And above all, ditch the adverbs! Here are a few examples of adverbs that tell instead of show: 

“…she said angrily, spitefully, sweetly, happily, morosely.” Instead of showing: “I’ll never come back,” she shouted. 

Elmore Leonard (author of Get Shorty) said something like “Let’s kill all the adverbs.” Lawrence Block wrote a book for writers of fiction, Telling Lies for Fun and Profit. He said that if your characters are good and your dialogue is natural, “let them talk to each other. And stay the hell out of their way.” 

The same rule goes for piling on the adjectives. The Maryland Writers’ Association newsletter once had a cartoon of a speaker at a podium in front of a large audience. A sign on the wall behind him read: “Adjectives and Adverbs Anonymous.” 

But getting back to the word “said.” I’m launching my own personal crusade to do away with the persistence of it. My point is, the word “said” is boring. Downright booooring! I miss the old-fashioned authors’ extravagant animal sounds, such as: “He barked, he yelped, he bayed, he grunted.” “She snarled, she screeched, she warbled, she bleated.” 

Now I ask you: Aren’t those verbs more fun? I intend to indulge in them. But I promise you, I will never write “The horse-faced woman neighed” or “whinnied.” You have my word on that.




Acclaimed novelist Rosemary Mild pulls back the curtain on life, love, loss, and everything in between in her new book, In My Next Life I’ll Get It Right.  In this charming, entertaining, and heartfelt collection, Mild dances to her own captivating tune. With a keen eye, wicked wit, and sparkling delivery, she produces a collection of essays ranging from the hilarious to the serious, from the practical to the irreverent. Clever, pitch-perfect, and polished, Mild’s conversational tales are destined to strike a chord with readers.

Mild writes with candor, compassion, and honesty in a voice that brims with humor and wisdom. Her essays run the gamut from gritty observations on everyday life to laughing at her own wishful thinking tempered with tough reality. In My Next Life I'll Get It Right has it all.

No subject escapes the pen of Rosemary Mild—wife, mother, grandmother, great-grandmother. Readers will delight in her Hawaii adventures; “Senior Decade”; brief encounters with the famous; medical mishaps; and her rocky road from blind dates to lasting love. Join her as she takes on sailing, skating, Jazzercise, football, marathons, and more—and come along as Mild lays bare a mother’s heart-wrenching loss. A collection that is at once timeless and timely, In My Next Life I’ll Get It Right is utterly irresistible.

Find out more about the book

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Rosemary Mild is an award-winning essayist whose work has appeared in the Washington Post, Baltimore Sun, Chess Life, and countless other outlets. When not dreaming up outrageous essay ideas, Rosemary Mild and her husband, Larry, wallow in crimes and clues that include their popular Paco and Molly Mysteries; Dan and Rivka Sherman Mysteries; two Hawaii suspense/thrillers; and three gripping story collections. They have two stories in the 2021 anthology Kissing Frogs and Other Quirky Tales. Rosemary has also authored two memoirs: Love! Laugh! Panic! Life with My Mother; and Miriam's World—and Mine, in memory of the beloved daughter they lost in the terrorist bombing of Pan Am 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland. Fout out more HERE


Sunday, April 11, 2021

HIS KILT DROPPED HERE by Kathleen Shaputis




Title
: HIS KILT DROPPED HERE: A MAGICAL REALISM SCOTTISH ROMANCE
Author: Kathleen Shaputis
Publisher: Clutter Fairy Publishing
Pages: 170
Genre: Magic Realism Scottish Romance

BOOK BLURB:

Rogue Bruce enjoys running a Scottish castle turned bed-and-breakfast with her Aunt Baillie from America. They specialize in hosting romantic Elizabethan-themed weddings, complete with resident ghost, Lord Kai. But love is something Rogue is not the least bit interested in. Content with her work, she requires no male accompaniment for happiness.>A new delivery service brings Bruce MacKenzie, a Thor look-alike in plaid and denim, fetching more than the usual number of groceries from town, while Jonathan Olson, a snobbish, dark, Rhett Butler type, arrives at the castle to administer a writing seminar for aspiring authors. With two men after the heart she’d thought safely locked away, Rogue is flattered and confused. But when things start to take a sinister turn, danger befalls Rogue and those dear to her. The musical soundtrack of Rogue’s life flares from complacent, to dizzyingly romantic, to heart-thumping scary in this sizzling triangle.

ORDER YOUR COPY

Amazon https://amzn.to/3oSL72D

FIRST CHAPTER

“Who created these torture devices for women?” Rogue Bruce muttered as the high-heeled ankle boots her glittery Seattle friend, Rafael, had picked out for her squeezed her toes. Her steps made soft clicks on the temporary polished flooring as she dashed around the white-silk-draped chairs inside the reception tent set up on the castle grounds. She lifted her floor-length emerald skirt of fluff and ribbons and screamed internally about her aching feet. “Spike heels make my legs look better, she tells me. Heels? Seriously? Buried under twenty yards of bloody material, who will even notice? I swear, and this dress weighs a ton.”

And why must my bloody underwear be authentic if no one knows or sees it? Seriously, another full day of endless agony in this restrictive Elizabethan costume of layered torture is maddening. You know an evil man must have created the corset. No woman would have designed something so miserable and called it fashionable. How many times had she pleaded with Aunt Baillie to let her wear something soft, something comfortable like pants and a jacket during these events? Her aunt’s normally sweet face would transform into a stony glare, forcing Rogue to relent and don one of the many costumes made specifically for her as owner of the Scottish estate.

“The Baillie Castle Bed and Breakfast promises a fairy-tale environment for couples in love and bridal parties creating a stop-time fantasy for families and guests,” Rogue mimicked her American aunt and business partner. “Remember, these expensive weddings pay the taxes and daily upkeep of your renovated castle.”

Rogue could barely breathe in the tightly wrapped bodice as she rounded out of the heated white tent, her eyes on the temporary stone path placed in the soggy Scottish mud. Plowing into something solid, Rogue cursed and frantically reached out, wobbling on the spiked heels. Grabbing at anything, her fingers found soft, crushable flannel before warm, strong hands wrapped around her wrists. Staring at the manly fingers holding her steady, Rogue’s eyes traveled up the long, chiseled arms of a young man to his concerned face, locking eyes with her.

“Ya be all right, miss?”

His baritone voice tickled her ears, causing the breath to catch in her throat as the heat from his grasp flushed in a wave across her face. All she could handle was a weak nod. Staring at his serious face framed with shaggy blond hair, a chill breeze lifted the bangs from his ruddy forehead. His oddly green eyes blinked above a well-freckled nose and broke the spell.

Rogue stiffened her body and checked her balance before pulling her arms away. “Of course, I am. Just dinna expect anyone to be in the reception area this time of the afternoon.” Rogue brushed her trembling fingers against the flounce of her skirt. “It’s the middle of May, and the paying guests are huddled by the fireplaces inside as if it were bloody January, wondering why the wedding isn’t in some tropical place like Hawaii.” Trying to control her nervousness but having trouble drawing breath in front of such a gorgeous male creature, she asked, “Who are you?”

“Aye, sorry, “My name is Bruce, Miss Rogue, Bruce MacKenzie, delivery service from the village.” The man pulled gloves from a back pocket. “I was checking with Putney one last time to be sure she has all she needs for today before I leave.”

“Ya seemed a wee bit familiar, but we’ve a crowd of local security today on the grounds. Ya could have been one of the guards. You’ve the size and all.”

“Aye, I’ve had to show credentials a few times today.” The edge of his full lips pulled into a crooked grin. “I’ve been delivering vegetables, breads, and such to Putney from town over the last nine months since my da passed away. I’ve seen you now an’ again in the stable door, I have, with your hands full of currycombs or muckrakes during my times here. Nice to see there’s a lady side of ya.”

Rogue steeled herself not to bark something rude at his personal remark. Who admitted to watching someone without her knowing? And what did he mean about her lady side? Wearing some historical costume had nothing to do with who she was inside. The man had the manners of a goat. She took a slow, deep breath, forcing something polite. “Putney has mentioned good things about ya and, uh, ya service.” She bowed her head, clenching her teeth.

Keeping her head down, willing her pounding heart to return to normal, Rogue clutched her skirts. “Well, I, uh, I have much to do before the wedding. I best be going.”

Bruce tugged on his gloves, shuffling his feet. “I hear everyone has to clear the premises before the ceremony. Is some big movie star taking vows this time? I dinna bring near the crates of caviar or champagne Putney usually orders for the fancy events ya hold here. Seemed a bit odd.”

“Aye, this inna our typical wedding booked at the Baillie Castle, but the oldest daughter of some actor trying to dodge mass publicity if ya must know. The family requested utmost privacy for their ceremony, a simpler affair.” Her voice dropped to a loud whisper despite herself. “I’m thinking she’s in a family way and alcohol will be limited.”

Nodding his head, Bruce wiped a gloved hand under his nose. “I need to get back to the shop. Tell Putney to call me if she needs something.” He scuffed the toe of his worn boot against one of the stepping stones. “See ya, Miss Rogue.”

The sight of his retreating backside in tight jeans sent a warmth of fiery hormones cloaking her against the dampness of perspiration. Rogue’s mind blanked; with no idea what she was originally going to do before the sudden run in with the delicious jerk of a delivery guy, she picked up her skirts with a swish and headed toward the castle’s kitchen.

She had never felt such an intense frustration and intrigue talking to a strange man, let alone a local one. With the castle being a romantic spot for weddings and celebrations, she had met gorgeous, rich men from around the world. Yet the flash of his green eyes while he held her hands, sent irritating bolts inside her thumping heart. Blowing her cheeks out, she wrinkled her nose. “‘Nice to see there’s a lady side of ya’ he has the nerve to say.” She pounced across the moat’s wooden bridge, ignoring the dancing caps of windblown onyx water below, and into the kitchen. The heavy oak door closed against the outside coolness as aromas of spices and sweet bakery smells wrapped her in a warm, soothing hug.

“Child, you’ll be snapping the heels right off those shoes, clunking that way. Dinna Miss T-Cup and Rafael show you better than that?” Putney looked over her thick shoulder, her plump cheeks red from the heat of the oven, a strand of damp, gray hair dangling from her tight bun. “Did ya learn nothing ladylike from those glitzy drag queen friends of yours and them spending so much time trying to coach ya?”

Rogue blinked at the feisty cook, a natural foundation of castle life since the first day she’d arrived years ago. “Ah, Putney, donna I wish the girls were here this very minute.” She pinched a broken piece of scone and popped it in her mouth. How she would love to pick Rafael and T-Cup’s glittered brains right now about a certain delivery guy she’d run into, literally. Why would he think clothes made a difference, a lady? What was wrong with the jeans and boots she typically lived in? Local chauvinist.

“Ya had your way, they’d live here full time. Poor wee things would wither away if stuck out here in the wilds as they say of the hielands, from sheer boredom if nothing else.” Chuckling, she smacked her hip. “They exhaust me during their visits from America. And donna get me started on the smooth-talking Mr. Gillian Nation and his plume-waving ways. He’ll get no mocha, whatcha, latte crazy coffee from me just for his bit of flirting.”

Rogue gave a single nod, staring beyond the cook’s shoulder, her motionless hands still holding a scone. The delivery guy had seen her often during his trips to the castle? Why had she not noticed this local hottie before? Why hadn’t Putney said anything? She nearly slapped her hand against her forehead. Putney had done nothing but talk about Bruce MacKenzie. The old woman had given speeches and passionate soliloquies all winter long about the new single businessman Rogue should be concentrating on, as she wasn’t getting any younger. She’d pretty much ignored the cook’s deluge. Good-looking single men came in and out of the bed and breakfast, but that didn’t mean she needed to introduce herself to each one. She was quite content between her work here at the castle and taking care of her horses.

“Girl, the bloody sky’s falling.” The cook kept her voice even, not changing her tone. “The moon will be full and purple with stripes tonight, I hear.”

Another vacant nod to whatever Putney was rambling about would tide her over. Rogue popped a bite of scone in her mouth. He must get those muscles from lifting and carrying such heavy bags of flour and sugar for all the baking going on around town every week. And who knows how many other deliveries he makes in a day? An independent man at least, inheriting his work much like I did.  

Rogue stared at the cook without focus, watching the older woman turn back to the pastries and silver platters, running a work-reddened hand across her damp forehead.

An ancient looking man with angel-white hair shuffled into the room, wearing fancy black suspenders against the crisp white shirt his wife, Putney, forced him to wear on these occasions. Before speaking a word, his eyes caught Putney’s, and Rogue caught the cook tilting her head back toward her on the other side of the room.

Robbie twisted to peek around the vision of his hefty bride of forty-five years, then shrugged, and moved to grab a biscuit. The noise of her slapping his hand away with a snort broke Rogue’s concentration, and she let out a long sigh.

“Sounds like the weight of the world is nestled on those young shoulders,” he said in her direction. “Ya havena looked so begotten since them flouncy diva women ya make such a fuss over left last summer.” He rubbed his weathered cheek. “But they’ll be back in a few weeks, aye?”

Rogue cleared her throat; had she sent up red flags of concern? She didn’t want the old couple nosing around in her direction. She gave the couple a brilliant smile, as if she’d just entered the room. “Yes, you’re most right, Robbie. It’s but a blink of the eye before they return in all their splendor and glamour.” She snapped her fingers in a z-motion like T-Cup had shown her. “And we got a wedding today.” She marched out of the room, her floor-length skirt rustling, and heard Putney whisper as she left.

“Lost, I tell ya, mooning like a she-wolf in heat she was.”



Baillie glanced over the final lists and papers for the celebrity wedding taking place in a few hours. She’d found a quiet spot in the library to concentrate on the last-minute details when her cell phone vibrated. The caller id noted Olympia, Washington, and she snatched it by the second muted ring.

“Sally,” she said with a smile. “Happy Valentine’s Day to my best long-distance assistant.”

Sally laughed. “Your only assistant over here. How’s the special V-Day celebration going?”

“So far, so good. Just another over-the-top extravaganza, my dear. But the security on this one is nearly strangling the staff.” Both women chuckled. “How’s your divorce going?”

“George has been amicable about everything, I guess,” Sally sighed. “I can’t imagine what I would have done without you letting Casie and I move into your apartment upstairs at Pen and Pages. It’s been a godsend, Baillie. I will never be able to repay your generosity.” Baillie heard sniffling. “Casie even gets to stay in her school district and catches the bus right in front of the shop. I can’t tell you how much this means to me as a new single mom.

Baillie closed her eyes and conjured her beloved bookstore nestled in firs and maple trees in her mind. She knew Sally was taking good care of her business. The woman was a Godsend.

“And, of course, your cat, Sebastian, is being spoiled something awful. I swear he knows what time the bus arrives and greets her at the shop door after school. He’s like her own Lassie.”

Baillie looked out the library windows patterned in black iron, the rectangles of leaded glass showing the glint of obsidian movement in the dark moat below as Sally continued talking. Mesmerized by a single ray of light breaking through the quilt of soft gray across the sky, Baillie moved closer to the window. A siren’s call from the water filled her heart with familiar song, a soothing contentment to her excited soul.

Outside she watched the wind ripple the white monstrosity’s roof panels in a gentle rhythm, the reception area for tonight, a few of the white-draped chairs barely visible. A smile played on her lips as she watched her inherited niece, Rogue, smack right into that gorgeous local delivery kid Putney always raved about. She let out a sharp noise, hoping the girl didn’t fall on her rear in the mud from the bodily impact.

“What was that? Are you listening to me? Have you heard anything I’ve said?” Sally’s voice increased in volume over the phone’s speaker. “What did that ghost of a Highlander do now? Lord Kai can’t hog all of you just because it’s Valentine Day. I deserve some too, you know. This is not a favorite day of mine right now.”

A quick tingle down her spine at the mention of Kai’s name pulled her away from the activity beyond the window, and she concentrated on Sally. “No, no Kai around, truly, just Rogue blindsiding the cute delivery boy down below. Putney swears they would be the perfect couple, but I don’t think this is quite the romantic introduction Putney was hoping for, though pretty memorable, I guess, as first meetings go.”

“Seriously?”

“She plowed right into the guy coming out of the reception tent. Rogue’s not the most graceful thing in heels though Gillian and his girls keep working on her every chance they get.” She peeked out the window again, the two were talking, always a good sign and no stains or tears on her dress. “See, my distraction was all about Rogue, no mushy stuff from Kai this time.”

Baillie stifled a laugh at her vision of Sally settling her ruffled feathers on the other side of the world. “Sweetie, I have to finish these lists and get out there or it will be off with my head by the bride’s father. The fee from this one event is more than we made last year. Some people and their bottomless checkbooks are a nice reward, especially after the hard work and obnoxious secrecy this one has caused.”

“Must be nice hobnobbing with the rich and famous while I slave away at the old bookstore.

Baillie snapped a group of the papers into a clipboard while rolling her eyes. “I hear the world’s tiniest violins in the background, dear.” Both women giggled. “You’ll be out here before you know it for my wedding.” She heard the tinkling of bells from the shop’s door in the background. “See? You have a customer, go make us some money and I’ll talk to you soon. Tell Miss Casie hi for me.” She tapped the screen disconnecting her call.



Bruce stopped his Ford delivery truck at the empty crossroads a mile before town, looking left and right for clearance, when his vision blurred into the tantalizing image of the local celebrity Rogue Baillie Bruce in a dress. Not any style of dress you’d see in church or a fancy restaurant on the girls in town, but like she’d stepped out of an epic movie about ancient times. Like royalty, with her hair done up off her shoulders with ribbons—a bewitching style, he noted.

The temperature inside the truck cab increased as he replayed their brief conversation, her nearness as he steadied her from falling. After the months of seeing her out by the stables in boots and jeans, his heart had pounded at the view of her plowing into him. The tight top half of the dress hugged her slight figure, showing her cream-colored neck and cleavage; her russet-brown hair pulled into fancy curls atop her head made her more beautiful than he could have imagined. He’d wanted nothing more than to pull her closer and caress the smooth curve of her exposed neck with his lips, like a knight of old claiming the princess after a joust, a crazy split-second notion of make-believe.

Bruce snorted. Like he had a chance in the world of dating the richest woman in the county. Word in town, as well as stories from Putney herself during his deliveries, confirmed that Rogue and some American relative of hers had made the haunted castle into a popular bed and breakfast concept. Their business had practically put their town on the international map. And he’d also heard the vineyards next door belonged to Ms. Bruce; after all, she’d started her own wine label, so it made sense.

Yet time and again, Putney cooed about the young woman, filling his head and dreams with romantic notions like some matchmaker witch, she did. None of them exaggerations, mind you. The woman was everything and more Putney had described her as. But why in the world would a bloody wealthy, gorgeous heiress be interested in the likes of him?

Though she hadn’t run away from him today, hadn’t bit his head off to let her go, the look on her face seemed to say otherwise. That was something, aye?  

“Da,” he whispered aloud, “I met the most incredible woman today. I think she’s the one, I do, like you told me as a boy how I’d ken when I found her, a woman like Ma.” His hands gripped the steering wheel making the dry, rugged lines of his fingers almost white. “A woman of grit and softness, she is, in one fair package. As Ma took your breath away, aye, so does Rogue do mine, Da.”

A montage of images over the last months rolled through his mind: her stepping out of the barn holding a leather harness of the four-legged black beast Putney called Dougal while he crossed the bridge with a case of groceries in his arms. The cook told him stories of the indelible bond between the monster of a black stallion and Rogue, raising a heat of ire in his heart, almost a jealousy of their friendship.

“She’ll no bother with a lowly businessman, though. She’s the closest thing our town has to a princess, with her name and photo showing up in the daily papers. Da, what am I gonna do? The beautiful enchantress has stolen my heart.”

The blast of a horn behind him knocked Bruce from his heavenly conversation. Stomping the gas pedal, he bolted back toward the village, leaving his fantasy for bland reality once again.

 

 

Wednesday, February 10, 2021

BANEWIND by M.B. Chapman


Title: BANEWIND
Author: M.B. Chapman
Publisher: Light Messages / Torchflame Books
Pages: 268
Genre: Young Adult / Fantasy / Fiction

Almost two weeks ago I was just a normal girl getting ready to start my senior year of high school, deciding where I wanted my life to go. And now?

I’ve kissed a boy. I’ve been to another world. I’ve seen death.

And I don’t know what my life’s become.

Banewind tells the spellbinding story of 18-year-old Genevieve DeWinter, a typical high school girl who finds herself entangled in the throes of adventure, romance, and survival after discovering the existence of a group of magical beings known as Formulists and their co-existing world, Banewind.

With the arrival of several mages in her hometown of Parma, Ohio, Genevieve soon learns that these extraordinary secrets are rooted deep within her family’s history when it is revealed her deceased mother was a heroic warrior in a long lineage of female protectors called the Holy Guardian. Now, a vengeful group of Formulists known as the Voidweavers have returned and set their sights on Genevieve, believing she might be the next Holy Guardian and the key to awakening their fallen leader, the Void King, who had been destroyed by Genevieve’s mother when she sacrificed herself a decade earlier to save Banewind and all of humanity from an unthinkable evil.

With the help of new allies, Genevieve must fight to stay alive as she unravels the mystery and danger that have shattered the stability of the life she once knew before the Voidweavers succeed in shadowing the world in chaos and darkness once again.

ORDER YOUR COPY

Amazon → https://amzn.to/36O4Ust

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Kobo books: https://bit.ly/36QgZx5

FIRST CHAPTER

“Are you ready, Blaine?” A man stands in the middle of a darkened lab, staring at a metal platform rising from the concrete ground. With dark, beady eyes he looks to the woman who just spoke, before averting his gaze back to the contraption welded to the floor. “Are you ready?” she repeats. The large bird skull adorning her head obscures her face. “Perhaps he’s having second thoughts,” another woman sneers, from the lab stool she sits on. Her silver curls cascade past her face, barely allowing her emerald eyes to sparkle through. “What’s wrong, Blaine?” she says. “Is the mighty Magician afraid?” “If you’re more confident in this working, Valkryn, then why don’t you volunteer to do it yourself?” Blaine continues gazing at the platform, his hands buried deep in the pockets of his orange trench coat. “Of the few occasions I have constructed makeshift portals without connecting to a specific endpoint, the results have been…less than desirable.” “You sent the orphan through without issue last time.” Valkryn’s black amethyst latex suit squeaks as she crosses her legs. “How do you account for that?” “Dumb luck.” He pulls at his black goatee, the gears in his mind churning. “Perhaps there’s a better way.” “I don’t have time for any more foolishness,” says the woman with the bird skull. “The boy has already informed us that Sadie Hawthorne and Jensen Saint Clair are in town, ready to protect the girl. With every moment we waste, there is less of a chance we can capture her.” She points to the platform. “Get on there now, or the only thing going through that portal will be your lifeless body.” Blaine grunts, adjusting the orange, pointed hat atop his head, before stepping onto the metal. His black boots clang, echoing through the room. “I’m ready,” he says. The woman with the bird skull nods and picks up an octahedral-shaped crystal from the lab bench nearby. “Do not fail me.” She moves forward as her purple cloak glides against the floor. “The girl is the only key we have to breaking the spell.” “If she’s even what you say she is,” Blaine says. The woman turns the crystal in her hand, and he vanishes. “You really think this will work?” Valkryn looks at where Blaine stood just moments before. “Addisyn DeWinter never told us about the existence of her daughter,” says the woman with the bird skull. “The Holy Guardian’s bloodline has always been passed on through the female lineage. The next paladin would have to be her.” “But she’s not from this world.” Valkryn frowns. “She was born outside of Banewind.” “That makes no difference.” The woman with the bird skull turns toward the lab’s exit. “You cannot escape destiny, Valkryn.” She pauses at the door. “I have learned that all too well.” She leaves Valkryn alone, in silence, as she disappears into the darkened corridor.

The evening sky above the forest is splotched with stars, reawakening to blanket the world in their beauty once again. The faint breeze in the midsummer night’s air carries with it the woodland’s melody—a cacophony of chirping crickets and singing nighthawks. In the trees’ hollows, the majestic owls arise from their slumber, ready to cast their watchful gaze over the land. And there, in the center of the forest, stands Blaine. Alive. Relief washes over his mind. He looks around at the trees and shrubbery, taking a hesitant step as if testing the muddy ground. When he seems content with his surroundings, he steps through the foliage, pushing the branches and twigs out of his way. Within minutes, he has broken through the forest’s edge and finds himself at the top of a hill. From there, he sees the quaint cityscape that lies below, dotted with specks of light from the streetlamps and car headlights that speed through the dark. Blaine treks down the hill and continues toward the city’s outskirts. He finds himself outside of an abandoned church. As he approaches the wooden doors, he sees a plaque adorning the nineteenth-century brick wall, the remnants of its founding date having rusted away with time. A thick metal chain is wrapped around the handles, preventing him from entering. He clears his throat and grips the padlock in his calloused hands. An orange glow radiates from his fingertips, evolving into flames that dance until they are chewing through the metal lock. The fire reflects off his face, illuminating his worn, pock-marked skin. Soon the metal glows molten red as it melts into a mound of gelatinous goo, dripping through the cracks between his fingers. Hisssssssssssssss! Snap! The chain unravels through the handles as it clangs to the ground. He forces open the doors, shielding his face as a thick cloud of dust billows out into the night air. His footsteps echo through the church’s vaulted ceilings as he treads across the marble floor with his black boots. He pauses at the altar, slowly turning in a circle to take in his surroundings. He removes his orange, pointed hat and clutches at its brim, rubbing it between his fingers while grunting. “Hmm. This could work.” He taps his foot against the marble floor. “Yes, this could work.” As he stands there thinking about the project ahead of him, his memory stirs back to the first time he ever created a portal. “You’re never going to amount to anything, Blaine,” his father had jeered, taking a hammer to the metal structure he’d worked so hard on. “The opportunity to study at the Academy, and you waste it on meaningless projects like this? You’re no engineer. I’m disappointed to even call you my son.” Blaine shakes the image from his head. If he could only see me now. A sardonic grin spreads across his face. The feared Magician, chief tinkerer to the Voidweavers’ army. He pulls out a cell phone and dials a number. “Hello?” a young man answers. “I’m here, Scythe. Do you have the girl?” Outside, a murder of crows soar into the night sky, startled awake by the church bell’s thunderous roar resonating from the belfry tower.

Friday, November 6, 2020

First Chapter Reveal: 'River Aria' by Joan Schweighardt


Genre: Historical fiction

Author: Joan Schweighardt

Website: www.joanschweighardt.com

Publisher: Five Directions Press

Purchase on Amazon

About the Book:

River Aria is narrated by Estela Hopper, who, as a ten-year-old girl living in the impoverished fishing village of Manaus, Brazil in the early 20th century, is offered a twist-of-fate opportunity to study opera with an esteemed voice instructor. During her years of instruction, Estela, who is talented, passionate and dramatic by nature, dreams of leaving Brazil to perform in New York. But as her beloved instructor is not able to convince the managers of the great Metropolitan Opera that they should bring on a mixed-race immigrant who grew up on the banks of the Amazon River to become an elite performer, Estela accepts what they do offer, a position in the sewing room, and leaves Brazil on a ship with her cousin JoJo in the year 1928.

The challenges that befall Estela and JoJo in New York are plentiful. Estela’s father, an Irish American who came to her village nearly twenty years earlier (at which time she was conceived), has a plan for what her life should look like once she is settled. Her relationship with JoJo changes drastically when he learns he was lied to about his own parentage, and again when he takes a dangerous job working for the owner of a speakeasy. And of course her personal challenges of finding some modicum of success in a place like New York are not only enormous but crushing to her once robust sense of self.


RIVER ARIA 

1

December 1928

When Tia Adriana’s tearful outbursts first began, JoJo thought it was because she would miss him so much. And surely that was part of it. But the bigger part was that she had lied to him, long ago when he was a little boy. And as there didn’t seem to be any harm in her deception at that time, as it made JoJo happy in fact to hear her build on it, Tia Adriana had done just that. She’d embellished her lie; like clay, she kneaded it and stretched it, working it until it was as high and as stalwart as the tall ships that sometimes came out of the night to rest in our harbor, until it was as vast and mysterious as the river itself. She even made it official, hauling it up the hill to The Superior Tribunal of Justice building to be recorded and made public for anyone who cared to see.


Many times in the weeks before JoJo and I left for New York, Tia Adriana tried to tell him the truth. But every time she opened her mouth, her effort turned to sobbing. Dropping her head into her hands, she would cry with abandon. And when JoJo crossed the room to lay his callused palm upon her heaving back, she would only cry harder.

She wept so much that not two weeks before our departure JoJo said he wouldn’t be coming with me after all, that he would rather stay in Manaus and live the life he had than break his mother’s heart. He made a joke of it; he said if his mother kept crying, the flooding that year would be twice as bad and everyone in the city would drown, and it would be on him, and he would be forever cursed and become a corpo-Seco when his days were up, a dry corpse, because the devil would return his soul and Earth would reject his flesh. He was joking, yes, but he was also toying with the idea of changing his mind.

It was then that the other two got involved, my mother, whose name was Bruna, and Tia Louisa, who were sisters—in heart if not in blood—to Tia Adriana, and to each other as well. “Is that what you want for your son?” Tia Louisa scolded when JoJo was not around. “You want your only child should grow up here, fishing for a living in a ghost town? Dwelling in a shack up on stilts and likely to flood anyway? Every day a sunrise and a sunset and barely anything worth noticing in between?” My mother would chirp in then, adding in her quiet way, her coarse fingers extending to cover Tia Adriana’s trembling wet hands, “Adriana, wasn’t it because you wanted more for him that you lied in the first place?”

The three of them would become philosophers once my mother and Tia Louisa had calmed Tia Adriana sufficiently that she could think past her grief. They weighed JoJo’s future, how it would unfold if he stayed in Manaus, and how it might unfold if he left. Would and might: they might as well have been weighing mud and air. Could he be happy, they asked themselves, eking out a living on the docks for the rest of his life? Blood and fish guts up to his elbows? Endless squabbles up on the hill trying to get the best price for his labors? Drawing his pictures on driftwood—because between us all we couldn’t keep him in good paper—or on the shells of eggs, or even our shabby furniture? 

Was that what was best for our beloved JoJo? Or was it the alternative that promised more? America! America! O my America! My new-found-land! In America he would be attending an art school—the grandest art school in the grandest city in that country—not because he, our JoJo, who had grown up ragged and shoeless, had ever even considered that he might travel to New York, but because a man by the name of Felix Black, the protégé of a famous American artist and a former teacher of art himself, had come to Manaus to study our decaying architecture some months ago. And as The Fates would have it, he wandered into Tia Louisa’s restaurant and saw JoJo sitting in the back booth with some paints he had paid for with money he’d made scrubbing decks on one of the locals’ boats, painting the young woman sitting across from him (me, as it happens) on a canvas so scruffy it could only have come from someone’s rubbish pile. Senhor Black watched for a long while and then bent over JoJo and whispered in his ear—startling our dearest JoJo because, except for his eye and his breath and the fingers holding his brush, he was barely there in his own body when he painted—to say that he was a benefactor at an art school far away in New York, and if JoJo were to come, he would help him to realize his full potential—a message I quickly translated as JoJo did not speak much English at that time. 

Mud or air? Foot-sucking muck from the bottom of the river or the breath of the heavens, sweet and suffused with bird song? Stinking dead fish or full potential?

We knew what was best for JoJo all right; and we knew that JoJo, who was fearless—though he could barely read or write—would never get an opportunity like this again. And as I would be traveling to New York too, what could be better than sending us off together, one to watch over the other? But the fact remained that Tia Adriana could not bring herself to tell him about her deception, and he could not be permitted to arrive in New York without knowing about it.

I didn’t know the lie was a lie myself until the week before our scheduled departure. Being more than a year younger than JoJo (and loose-lipped, if my mother and as tias could be believed), no one had been foolish enough to trust me to keep a secret of such consequence. I had even participated in the lie—albeit unwittingly—which was nearly as exciting to me as it was to JoJo. 

And so it was that when my aunts and Mamãe first began to look for ways to throw light on the truth, they didn’t include me in their conversations. But when they failed to find even a single solution, they called me into Tia Adriana’s shack and sat me down at the table and told me the whole long story from beginning to end. 

While they spoke, interrupting one another with details as was their way, I slouched in my chair and leaned back, until I was looking up at the ceiling. Our images were up there: Me and Tia Adriana and my dearest Mamãe, and Tia Louisa and Tia-Avó Nilza, who was Tia Adriana’s mother (and JoJo’s grandmother). Three years earlier, JoJo had painted all of us on a large rectangular ipe wood table top that Tia Louisa was throwing out from the restaurant because rain from the roof had leaked on it a time too many and it had begun to blister and crack. When JoJo claimed the piece of wood for himself, Tia Louisa scolded that his mother’s house was far too small to hang a thing that size. But then an out-of-towner who’d been listening to their conversation over a bowl of fish stew told JoJo about The Sistine Chapel, which JoJo had never heard of. And so impressed was JoJo with the stranger’s story of how the famous artist (Michelangelo, whom JoJo hadn’t heard of either) had come to paint on the ceiling of the Pope’s chapel, that JoJo decided he would nail his painting up on his mother’s ceiling, where no one could say it was in the way. And there it remained. But instead of scenes from the Bible depicting man’s fall from grace, JoJo had painted us floating through our labors, all smiling as if we were saints already—me and Tia Louisa at the restaurant, serving rowdy wage earners, and my mother and the others sitting shoulder to shoulder all in a row on the wooden bench outside Tia Adriana’s shack, repairing fishing nets and singing their favorite fados with strong voices and extravagant gestures.

Usually when I looked at the painting it was to marvel at how young I was back then, how much I’d changed. But now I was thinking that with the exception of myself, JoJo had unintentionally painted the very women who knew about the lie from the beginning, who had most probably helped to shape it, knowing them. I felt my face grow hot, with anger first and then with embarrassment and then with despair. And then Tia Louisa, who was just hoisting the story into the present, changed her tone and snapped, “Estela, are you listening to what we’re saying?”

I straightened at once.

“This is important, young lady, so please pay attention,” she said in Portuguese. She knew a little English, but we always spoke in our native tongue when we were all together. “Once you’re safe on the ship on your way to America, you need to tell JoJo about the lie—”

“And the truth it was meant to hide,” Tia Adriana broke in, nodding excitedly.

“And the truth it was meant to hide, yes.” Tia Louisa closed her eyes and sat in silence for a moment, perhaps in prayer. Then she went on. “You’ll be almost four weeks traveling, the two of you sharing a cabin. He’ll have nowhere to escape to! When you arrive in New York, we’ll want your full report, your letter saying he knows and has accepted…”

“And that he loves me…us…in spite of…,” Tia Adriana cried, her eyes filling with fresh tears.

I looked at their faces. Only my mother was leaning forward, waiting anxiously for me to respond. The other two trusted me better, especially Tia Louisa, who was sitting back now with her arms folded under her ample breasts.

I let them wait. I looked beyond them, at the cast iron skillets hanging from hooks over the wood stove, the clay dishes out on shelves, the cot in the corner where Tia Adriana slept, the old tin washtub in the opposite corner, the curtain—worn to gauze from years of handling—that separated the kitchen from the back room where Tia-Avó Nilza and Avô Davi (who was Nilza’s husband and JoJo’s grandfather) and JoJo slept. 

“Yes, of course,” I mumbled. 

They chuckled, all of them, with relief, and in that moment it occurred to me that I would have to lie to them, mamãe and as tias, in the event that JoJo was unforgiving. 



About the Author:

Joan Schweighardt is the author of River Aria, which is both a standalone novel and the third book in a trilogy, as well as other novels, nonfiction titles, and children’s books. She is also a freelance writer and ghostwriter.

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