Mrs. John Doe

Mrs. John DoeMrs. John Doe by Tom Savage
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Mrs. John Doe is a fast paced thriller/mystery about an American actress who gets a phone call that her husband has been killed in an car crash. She travels to England, identifies his body, and picks up the items that were in his pockets at the time of the accident. Before the day is out she is drawn into a complicated web of intrigue involving spies, midnight churchyards, and high speed chases across Europe. She doesn’t know who to trust and is forced to rely on her own resources to stay alive. There are a few twists you may not see coming.

No sex and very little “on-stage” violence, just a good mystery puzzle to keep you guessing.

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The Girl at the End of the World by Richard Levesque

On Scarlett’s 15th birthday a deadly plague begins. Within a few days her whole family and all of her friends are dead. At first, she expects to die with them, but she has immunity and is left alone to fend for herself. When her neighborhood catches fire, she strikes out through the city, hoping to find other survivors like herself to befriend. But not everyone who survived the plague is the kind you would want for a friend.

Scarlett never considers suicide, although she finds others who took that route to escape and understands how desperate they must have been. Scarlett turns her full attention to survival, and that’s what makes the novel so absorbing.

The Girl At The End of the World is a story of survival, a story of one strong and determined young girl who refuses to beaten down by anything or anyone. At the ending, I looked eagerly for a link to a sequel. Couldn’t find one, but I’ll keep watching Richard Levesque.

Make Me: a Jack Reacher Novel

Make Me (Jack Reacher #20)Make Me by Lee Child

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Stephen King says Jack Reacher is “the coolest continuing series character now on offer,” and who am I to argue with Stephen King?

Although it is true that after you’ve read a few of Lee Child’s Jack Reacher novels, you pretty much know how the story is going to start (Reacher arrives and meets a woman who needs help) and how it’s going to end (bad guys are mostly dead, Jack moves on.) It’s what happens in the middle that keeps readers coming back and keeps Lee Child on the bestseller lists.

This one is very, very dark. I hated the portrait, so expertly painted, of a small rural town where absolutely everybody is evil, or at the very least, corrupt. I refuse to believe any town, anywhere, would stand by and allow the god-awful business of Mother’s Rest to continue.

But we don’t read Lee Child looking for a realistic story, do we? Jack Reacher is a fantasy hero, the guy we all want on our side. Make Me is perfect Jack Reacher, a tidbit of romance, tightly woven suspense, and a bucketful of action.

I do wonder if perhaps Lee Child has been hanging out with Stephen King a little too much.

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A Curious Beginning: a new Victorian mystery series

A Curious Beginning (Veronica Speedwell Mystery, #1)A Curious Beginning by Deanna Raybourn

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Celebrate! A Curious Beginning is the FIRST Veronica Speedwell mystery! That means we have more to look forward to. Miss Speedwell is a most improper Victorian spinster. She travels throughout the world making her own living collecting and selling rare butterfly specimens to less adventurous collectors. She never takes a lover while in England, but doesn’t hesitate when abroad.

She’s intelligent, physically fit, and much too outspoken for a proper English drawing room. When her last known relative, a maiden aunt, passes away, she believes herself to be all alone in the world, unencumbered by family obligations. She likes it that way. But before she can enjoy her freedom, her cottage is searched and trashed, and a stranger arrives to warn that her life is in danger and whisk her away to the safety. It seems Veronica Speedwell may have family after all, family who might be happy to see her dead.

This adventure is indeed a “curious beginning” since readers are caught up in a suspenseful mystery one minute, and laughing out loud the next.

Can’t wait to read Veronica Speedwell #2.

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Crooked Little Lies

Crooked Little LiesCrooked Little Lies by Barbara Taylor Sissel

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

It’s hard to put this story into a neat little slot and call it romance, or mystery, or suspense, or women’s fiction. It’s all of those things and even more. Lauren is a woman who has had a terrible accident that left her brain and body damaged and in great pain. She became hooked on the pain killers prescribed for her afterward.

As the novel opens she has kicked her addiction and is trying to regain her own confidence and the trust of her family. The appeal of the story to me was Lauren’s struggles, her own doubts about her competence and even her sanity, and then watching her pull herself out of it when she joins the search for a mentally damaged young man who has gone missing.

There are times when you wonder if Lauren herself had something to do with Bo’s disappearance. She keeps being told that she does things she can’t remember doing. Crooked Little Lies is suspenseful and has a satisfying ending.

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Family Reunions

William Riley and Mattie Roger wedding photoThis week, I’m working on plans for the Kemp Rogers family reunion.

On June 12, 1901, at the home of the bride’s parents in Mokane, Missouri, Miss Martha B. Horner married William Riley Rogers.

Mattie and Riley Rogers settled in a little log cabin home west of Mokane and raised a family of ten children, three sons and seven daughters. Just down the road, Thomas Henry Kemp and Dora Burch Kemp farmed with the help of four sons and two daughters.

The Kemp family and the Rogers family were good neighbors and good friends. Otis, the oldest Kemp son, married Nora, the oldest Rogers daughter, on March 26, 1920. Five years later Floyd Kemp married Nellie Rogers.

When Alfred Kemp came to ask for the hand of red-headed Bessie Rogers, her father asked “Don’t you think you boys are carrying this a little too far?” Alfred answered. “No, Sir. Not at all.”

The two families were merged forever, sharing twenty-four grandchildren. All of those grandchildren are past 60 now, and have children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren of their own. That’s why our family reunion always has two names Kemp AND Rogers.

Of course, not every family marriage was between Kemp and Rogers.

One Kemp son, Marvin,  broke the pattern by marrying Birdie Branch, a daughter from another neighbor. Mabel Rogers “branched off” by marrying Birdie’s cousin, Earl Branch.

Mattie Kemp married Monroe Whyte, and her sister, Nannie, married Tommy Cave. Emma Rogers married Jesse Perry. Mildred Rogers married Ray Kirk. Harry Rogers married Marie Scott. My mother, Myrtle Rogers, married James Paul.

When we all get together on July 12, the Kemp Rogers Reunion will include cousins who have dozens, maybe hundreds, of different last names. But we all trace back to Tom and Dora, or Mattie and Riley.

Rogers family about 1955

Rogers family 1955 – Fred, Myrtle, Mabel, Bessie, Mildred, Emma, Nora, Nellie, Harry – Seated in front, Mattie Bell Horner Rogers and William Riley Rogers




Missouri – 1849

silhouette31My father didn’t really sell me, or trade me off like some folks say. Pa just sort of threw me in to sweeten the deal when he was selling a string of green-broke horses to J.D. Branch.

We brought 25 head to the sale that day. Pa was leaning on the fence in the shade, visiting with folks who stopped to look, while I rode round in the lot showing off one horse after another. I’d been at it all day and was hot, dusty and needing a drink of water. But I knew better than to complain.

When he pointed across the corral and hollered “Bring that bay mare over here where we can see how pretty she is.” I threw a rope around the mare’s neck, and led her over to stand in front of Pa and J.D. Branch. Pa was still talking up the bay’s fine qualities when the Stevens family went by in their wagon.

They waved and I waved back until the dust swallowed up the wagon and I couldn’t see the blue of Molly’s bonnet anymore. My disappointment was keen, because I had dreamed all week how I was going to show off my riding skills to Molly Stevens, then buy her a glass of lemonade, walk her around and visit a little. Maybe even get a chance to kiss her like I did last sale day. Now here she was going home and I never even got to say hello.

“Billy! Quit moonin’ and pay attention! Mr. Branch wants to see the rest of the herd.”

I tried to put Molly out of my mind and went back to work. I pushed all the good mounts back in the barn and opened the gate to the back lot where the green horses were penned. They came charging out, kicking up dust, and gathered up in a constantly shifting mass of horseflesh as far away from the men as they could get.

Pa knew better than to ask me to rope one of that wild-eyed bunch while a customer was watching. I dismounted and walked in among them slow and easy, talkin’ quiet, reaching out to pat a neck or a rump here and there. Horses tended to stand still for me and Pa knew that made even the wildest bunch look gentler. J.D. Branch didn’t just fall off the turnip wagon, though, and he wasn’t so easy satisfied. He climbed over the rails and tried to walk up on a big old yeller stud horse. J.D. knew not to make any sudden moves, but before he got close that stallion was throwing his head back, showing the whites of his eyes. When J.D. reached out a hand, the horse wheeled and took off running.

Of course, all the rest of the bunch went with him. J.D. just stood there in the dust they kicked up, watching the horses mill around and crowd up at the other end of the corral, trying to climb over each other to find a way out. I was wondering which one was going to give out first, the fence or Pa’s temper.

J.D. took off his hat, ran his hand back through his dark brown hair and turned to look Pa square in the face. “I need horses I can handle. These are too green. Like I told you before, I have to get ‘em ready to ride by fall.”

Pa wasn’t flustered. Working a balky buyer was as natural to him as horse taming was to me. “These horses ain’t all that green. Why, Billy can handle any of ‘em. If we was to keep ‘em, he could have ‘em all lady broke in a month or two.”

Well, I knew my part in Pa’s horse trading. I slipped over to the horses, hushing, soothing, touching, calming as I went. When I got to that big palomino, I made sure he saw me and knew who I was. He was the biggest, flashiest horse in the bunch, and although the customers weren’t to know it, I had spent the last two weeks getting him ready to show off. I didn’t try to touch his head, just lay my right hand on his back, grabbed a handful of mane with my left, and flung myself up on top of him. He danced around some, but I hung on, and pretty soon I had him trotting around the lot like it was his own idea. Pa was beaming when I slid off and walked back to the men. He thought the sale was made.

But J.D. still wasn’t convinced. His blue eyes were smiling, but his voice was firm. “I have no doubt your boy could have them all lady broke in no time. But I won’t have him to do it for me when I get back to Missouri.”

Pa was always quick to pick up on what it would take to make the deal. “Well,” he said, “You could, though, sure you could.”

I didn’t pay much attention when he first said it. I figured it was just Pa’s way of keeping the fish on the line while he worked out the best way to reel it in. J.D. turned away from the horses to really look at me. “What is he? Thirteen? Fourteen? Awful young to be taking that far away from his Mama.”

Pa’s mouth tightened to a straight line, the way it did when he was reminded of Ma and the fever that took her last year. But he changed it into a grin before anybody but me would’ve noticed. “Fourteen. Coming on fifteen. Age don’t matter anyhow. He’s been working horses since he could walk under their bellies without duckin’ his head. If he don’t have the whole bunch broke before your army buyer comes this fall, I’ll buy ‘em back from you myself. Guaranteed.”

Quick as that, the deal was made. If Pa had more than horse-trading on his mind he kept it to himself.

Within an hour we headed out, pushing the wild bunch sixty miles up the road to J.D.’s place. He lived at the end of a narrow rocky trail that wound through the woods and opened up to a little green valley. The log house had flowers blooming all around and a clear running creek not far from the back door. J.D.’s wife, Belle, had two little ones hiding behind her skirts and another one swelling her up in front, but she made me welcome, and cooked up fine meals three times every day. They offered to let me bunk in with the kids, but I fixed up a spot in the hayloft and slept there on fresh-cut hay covered by an old horse blanket. It was kind of cozy and nice listening to the soft breathing and shuffling of the horses down below.

J.D. was a fair man but he was depending on the money from those horses to get his family through the winter. He expected a full day’s work out of me and I gave all the strength and skill I had to the job of making Pa’s wild bunch the best riding horses the U.S. Army ever bought. It was hard, but J.D. worked right along beside me. After supper at night, when he was settling in for the evening with his family, I went back to the hayloft and dreamed about Molly Stevens. I pictured her rubbing my aching shoulders, the way Belle rubbed J.D.’s and I relived our one sweet kiss a thousand times.

Hard work and Belle’s good meals put pounds of muscle on me and I was busting out of my clothes by fall. When J.D. got top dollar for the horses he paid me a little, even though that wasn’t part of the deal. I bought a new set of clothes and when I looked at myself in the store mirror a man looked back at me. The scrawny kid was gone. I went back to the counter and picked out a little gold locket.

I left the store in my new duds and rode straight to the Stevens farm,  working out my speech for Molly’s Pa in my head all the way. But when I got to their place, a stranger opened the door.

“They don’t live here no more. They got gold fever. The whole family packed up and went to Californy – all except that girl Molly, she got married…” He kept talking, but I didn’t hear. I walked away and got back on my horse.
It was dark by the time I got to Pa’s house. Lamplight shining though the window showed me a scene that turned my favorite dream into a nightmare. It haunts me still. Pa was leaned back in his chair, a contented smile on his face.

Molly, my Molly, stood close behind him, rubbing his shoulders.

An Important Job

Callaway Nuclear Plant at nightEvery house was dark when she passed through town at 3:30 a.m.  This was the quietest time of the night, a little too late for partiers, a little too early for day shift workers and just right for Sarah Henderson.  Cruising unimpeded through the empty streets was usually a quiet pleasure for her, but today she was too focused on the job ahead of her to notice. She had to be inside the plant, started on her assignment no later than four o’clock.

As soon as she passed out of the city limits she could see the cooling tower with its huge mushroom shaped cloud of steam.   It was hard to believe she still had almost ten miles to drive before she reached the nuclear plant that glowed so brightly against the dark sky.

The state highway was narrow, hilly and full of unexpected twists and turns. She  drove carefully and kept her speed a bit below 55, both for safety and because of the highway patrol officer  she knew might be lurking somewhere along the way, waiting for speeders and ready for the inevitable daily accident.  State Route O was designed for a tiny farm town with one grocery store, not for the hundreds who streamed back and forth to the plant every day.

The cooling tower grew larger with each mile, filling her view.  When she pulled through the gate at the first chain link fence she could see the tremendous fall of water at bottom of the massive tower, but she ignored it because she  was focused on her goal, one of the blank concrete buildings gathered near the base.   Even though the guard knew her and her car, she had her badge out and ready for inspection.  She could feel the minutes ticking away, but she kept her voice cheerful and calm.

“Good morning, Randy. How have things been tonight?”

“Just fine, Mrs. Henderson. No problems at all.”

Randy looked at her badge carefully, then back at her face. He swept the beam of his big mag light through her back seat and checked under the Chevy with his long handled mirror before finally pushing a button to open the gate to give her access to acres of mostly empty parking lots.

Sarah parked in her usual place and locked up her car.  The walk across the wide expanse of concrete seemed to take forever, but fortunately guard at the inner gate waved her through with only a cursory glance at the badge hanging around her neck. She stepped through the turnstile, dropped her keys, shoulder purse and phone on the conveyor belt and walked slowly through the metal detector.  The explosives detector booth was next. She stood as still as possible until the device breathed a quiet puff of air over her body and clicked open the door on the opposite side of the booth.

After gathering her things from the conveyer belt , she  pushed her way through the final turnstile and turned to the final security check. The retinal scan was automatic and impersonal, but she still hated pressing tight against the bright lens and feeling it stare back and record the tiniest and most intimate details of her right eye.  She pushed her badge into the card reader, held her eye wide open while the machine compared the two, found a match and clicked open the massive door to the main plant.

Once through the door she was outside again and had another expanse of concrete to cross and a blank building with a plain metal door that opened with the simple turn of the key in her hand.  Low humming machinery greeted her and dim security lights reflected off polished steel. She flipped on a row of switches and bright lights flooded the sterile white room.

She pulled her white coat from a rack near the door, + buttoned it up carefully, drew a deep breath and plunged into the job she had set for herself.   All the ingredients she needed were there waiting for her.   She knew she could do it right if they only gave her enough time.

She measured and mixed precisely to instructions. She set the dial at exactly the right temperature and checked with a separate thermometer.  She moved around quickly getting all the parts to her plan started in the right order.  It would all come together perfectly just as the day crew began to flood the building at 5:30 a.m.  No one was expecting it. They didn’t even suspect.

But they had asked for it and now they were going to get it.  The process wasn’t as hard as she thought it would be and Sarah wondered why she had never dared before.

Homemade biscuits from scratch would make this morning special.

Memories of Mama

00290-shoefactoryWhen I was five years old, Mama decided she had to get a job of her own. She had been trying to make a little money to help out in every way she could for years. She took in washings and ironings and she raised a big vegetable garden for us and another one for a neighbor who gave her half the crops for her work. But it was never enough to keep five kids in school clothes, let alone save up enough for the car she wanted. She needed to go to work full time. I knew all of this because Mama talked about it all the time. She was just sure a full time job and more money would solve all her problems.

Ruby, from down the street, wanted to go to work, too, and she had a car and knew how to drive. When Mama heard Ruby was going into Fulton to put in her application at the shoe factory, she asked if we could ride along.  The factory was so loud and noisy, it scared me. I hung on to Mama’s skirts while she filled out the piece of paper, and clutched her hand when she was called into the manager’s office for her interview. Mama wanted me to stay with Ruby in the hallway, but the acrid smell and constant clanging of machinery bombarded my senses so I could only cling on to Mama for safety.

The manager wore a white shirt, like our preacher did, but he didn’t have the same kind of round cherry face. His was long and a narrow, set in permanent frown lines and topped off with the shiniest bald head I had ever seen.  After that first look, I hid my face in Mama’s lap.  He asked Mama a few questions, then surprised us both by asking me one.

“What about you, little one? What are you going to do while your Mother’s at work?”

I just ducked my head back down into Mama’s lap. I didn’t know.

We went back out in the hall and waited with all the other people who were there looking for jobs. Finally the man in the white shirt came out of his office and started calling out names. He called Ruby’s name, but not Mama’s.  Ruby was hired. She gave us a happy little wave as she walked through the door where all the stink and clanging was going on.

All the people who didn’t get hired had to leave.  When we stepped out the door of the factory it was just starting to drizzle.  Mama said “Come on, we’ll have to go sit in Ruby’s car and wait for her to get off.” But the car was locked. And the rain was getting heavier, starting to soak through the shoulders of my thin coat.  Mama dug a head scarf of of her pocket and tied it under my chin, then she took my hand and started walking.

We went past a grocery store and I wanted to go in, but Mama tugged on my hand and kept going.  “We’ll get something to eat when we get home.”

I was glad we were going home. I didn’t like the factory or anything I had seen so far in Fulton. As we walked through the streets, the drizzle kept on, but it wasn’t a really hard rain and the exercise of walking kept me warm. Then the sidewalks ended and we were walking along the side of the road. A car passing splashed muddy water over us, splattering our faces and the fronts of our coats. Mama pulled me further off the road. The long wet grass seemed to grab at my bare legs and the ground was uneven and hard to walk on. But the cars whizzing by still seemed too close and scary.

Then the miracle happened. A car stopped and we were offered a ride. The older couple had been to Fulton to buy groceries. There were paper bags of supplies in the back seat, but Mama moved them over enough to squeeze us in. I sat in the middle, between a big tall brown paper bag and Mama. She was pushed against the door. But the car was warm and dry and we were on our way home.

Mama leaned forward to visit with the people in the front seat. She was telling about looking for a job, explaining why we ended up trying to walk fourteen miles on a rainy October day.  I took off my wet scarf and leaned my head back against the seat, breathing in the delicious aroma coming from the paper bag. It was bread. I could see the end of the cellophane package sticking out of the top of the bag. I reached up my hand to touch the soft loaf, wondering what store-bought bread tasted like. My stomach rumbled.  I tore apart the cellophane folds, pulled out a slice and ate it. It was wonderful, softer than Mama’s homemade bread ever was, finer textured, soft and smooth on my tongue. I pulled out another slice, and another, until I was all the way down to the waxed paper band around the center of the loaf.  The white haired man driving the car was watching me in the rear view mirror. I saw his eyes in the mirror and knew he could see me. But his eyes looked kind, laughing, even, and I didn’t sense any disapproval or anger as he watched me gobble down his bread.

Mama, now, was a different story. When she saw what I had been doing she was as angry as I had ever seen her. She apologized over and over, even though the owners of the bread kept telling her they didn’t mind at all.

“The child is welcome to the bread, don’t scold her!”

Mama was grim and silent for the rest of the ride, but as soon as we got out of the car she bawled me out, telling me in no uncertain terms how ashamed she was to have me for a daughter. She told me she would never be able to face those people again for the rest of her life. She said she would have had a job at the factory today if she didn’t have to drag me along with her.  She grabbed a switch off the maple tree by the front walk and switched me across the back of my legs.  The pain of the switching was nothing compared to the certainty in my heart that I was a burden and a problem to Mama. She was so unhappy. It was my fault. And there was nothing in the world I could do to make it better.

The next day Mama took me to school. She had a plan to talk the principal into letting me start first grade, even though I wouldn’t be six years old until next spring.  The school was a square brick building with four elementary classrooms on the main floor and four more upstairs for the high school. The floors and stair banister were shiny dark wood and the whole building smelled of chalk dust and old books. We perched on the edge of our chairs in a crowded little office, facing another stern faced man in a white shirt. Mama had a dog eared copy of the first grade reader. She opened it on my lap and told me to read out loud. I read the familiar story about Dick and Jane and Sally, but before I got to the end, the principal reached over, closed the book and set it on the desk.  He was shaking his head at Mama.

“Yes, Myrtle, you’re right. She can read. But she can’t start school until she’s six.”

Mama’s tight little smile collapsed into a scowl. “Why not? I know she could keep up.”

“She probably could. But most other five year olds couldn’t. And if I let her start, I  might have to let every other five year old in town start, too.”

“I don’t see why! If she’s ready to go, what difference does her age make?

“I just told you. I can’t make an exception.  I’m sorry.”

Mama stood up. “Come on, Carrie!” She stalked out the open office door and I knew she expected me to be right behind her. I don’t know how I found the courage, but I walked around behind the big desk to get closer to the man who held all the power in the world, looked up into his eyes, and managed just one word.


Somehow, it was enough.  I started first grade the next day.  Mama found a job and went to work full time.

And she was happy. For a while.

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