Snakes in the Kitchen

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We were “river rats” – that’s what they called us. We lived in the bottoms, close to the railroad tracks and the Missouri River.

Nearly every year the river flooded and turned our dirt streets into creeks full of fish, snakes, and trash from towns upriver. Some years the Missouri took the whole bottom, rushing into our house so we had to get out fast with whatever we could carry. When the water went back down, we scraped mud off walls, scrubbed with strong bleach, and moved back in.

Mama did that year after year. She learned to deal with floods. But the snake pushed her over the edge. She didn’t want to live in a house where snakes could come and go as they pleased.

Daddy said we couldn’t afford to live anywhere else. We owned the old house on River Street and some years the water didn’t get in it at all.

It wasn’t an argument, or even a discussion. Daddy made the decision. Mama lived with it – and a whole lot more.

Snakes in the Kitchen is an early childhood memoir of growing up poor in the early 1950’s, in Mokane Missouri. It’s a story of one woman’s efforts, against all odds, to pull her children out of the mud and into a house with indoor plumbing.

Mama never gave any thought to Women’s Rights, but she knew she didn’t have any. She didn’t know anything about women’s liberation, but she knew a man had always been in control of her life. Her father forced to quit school to take a job when she was thirteen. He refused to let her see the man she loved and pushed her into marrying a man she hardly knew.

She didn’t know anything about equal pay for women, she just wanted a job so she could feed her children and keep a roof over their heads. She was trapped in a loveless marriage with a husband who was harsh and openly unfaithful. Divorce was a disgrace to her family and friends, but she faced the disapproval and held her head high as she built a new life for herself and her children.

Snakes in the Kitchen includes many award winning biographical stories published here for the first time. The title chapter won the top Midwest Writer’s Workshop non-fiction award in 2013. The second chapter, The Day Grandma called the Doctor, took the same award in 2015. The author was recorded telling Mama and the New TV and the video was used as part of a Smithsonian sponsored exhibit. Other chapters won the Storyteller Magazine Award and the Lt. Fred Guidry Search for Excellence Award.

I’m so excited about sharing my story with this memoir. The print edition is already available on Amazon. The kindle edition is available for pre-order and will begin shipping on July 25.

All the Missing Girls by Megan Miranda

All the Missing GirlsAll the Missing Girls by Megan Miranda
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Different! A page-turning psychological thriller with so many twists you can’t look up for a moment, and, at the same time, an in depth look at love, family, and the complex relationships between women.

When the story opens Nicolette Farrell is reluctantly leaving Philadelphia and her wealthy fiance to return home to Cooley Ridge, a small town nestled among mountains and woods. Her brother has called to tell her their Dad is running out of money. To keep him in a luxury nursing home they will need to sell the house they both grew up in. The house with a back yard running back to woods with a river and deep, dark caverns just a walk away.
Nicolette’s memories of Cooley Ridge are mixed, some happy, some dark, especially of the time just before she left, when her best friend, Corrine, suddenly disappeared.

The first chapter sets up the story and introduces all the characters, including Tyler, Nic’s high school sweetheart who never stopped loving her, Dan, her brother, wracked with an unspecified guilt, and Patrick Farrell, her father, sometimes lost in a fog of alzheimer’s, sometimes terrifyingly clear.

It isn’t her brother’s call that sends Nicolette hurrying home. It’s a note from her father, scrawled in his own shaky hand. “I need to talk to you. That girl. I saw that girl.”

After Nicolette’s first day back in Cooley Ridge, the story jumps fifteen days ahead. The story is then told in reverse. Each chapter is the day BEFORE. It adds an extra layer of suspense, a tension hard to ignore.

This story took me by surprise. More than once. And I’m a voracious, life-long reader of thrillers, who usually knows the killer’s name long before the end. I love to be surprised, to have all the pieces fall neatly into place. I’ll be looking for more from Megan Miranda.

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Sensory Words

Spring flowersA phrase we hear often as writers is “Show, don’t tell.” One way we can do this more effectively is to include descriptions using all five senses. Sensory words paint vivid pictures that relate to the five senses: sight, smell, hearing, touch and taste. In fiction, non-fiction and poetry, they serve as a type of shorthand to evoke memories or feelings that draw readers into your world.   Some writers find it easy to include sense-related details in their writing. Most of us have to work at it.

A good exercise to help add detail using all five senses is to make a list.  Here’s an  incomplete list for Spring. Notice how much longer the sight list is? You have to work harder to find smell, taste, touch and sound.

Sightsun showers, longer days, trees and grasses greening up, flowers blooming, buttercups, daffodils, tulips, lilies, dormant plants pushing back up through the earth, buds and blossoms on trees, increased animal activity, baby animal sightings, effects from breezes, warm weather clothes, rivers rise and run swiftly from snowmelt, more butterflies/bees/other insects (because of increased blossoms), people working in their yards, birds flying north, nest-building, the emergence of hibernating animals, plants pushing up through snow or ice, increased pollen in the air, umbrellas and rain boots, kids playing baseball, rainbows, cherry blossoms

Smellthe clean damp smell after it rains, newly turned dirt for gardens, floral scents

Tasterain, Easter candy, morel mushrooms, fresh green onions

Touch: the sun’s warmth on your skin, the fresh touch of the breeze as opposed to the frigid one you’ve felt all winter long, spongy or grainy feel of dirt in the garden, dirt clods falling on your feet as you pull weeds, the clean feel of the air on your legs and arms after so much time wearing long sleeves and pants, allergy symptoms

Sound: rushing water, rain falling, bare feet slapping the pavement, puddle-splashing, birds chirping, frogs peeping, insects buzzing, kids-playing-outside sounds, the honk of geese as they return home, the crack of balls hitting bats


Mood: After so many months of cold weather and brown landscapes, spring brings a renewed sense of optimism. Spirits lift, people are more friendly and kind. Spring evokes hope and renewed vigor.

Symbolismrenewal, rebirth, beginnings, second chances, cleansing

Possible Cliches: spring chickens, April showers bring May flowers, robin’s egg blue

OTHER:Weather and seasons vary by region. Spring in Canada looks very different from spring in southern California. Temperate areas may have a very short spring, if any at all.

Don’t be afraid to use the weather to add contrast. Unusual pairings, especially when drawing attention to the Character’s emotions, is a powerful trigger for tension. Consider how the bleak mood of a character is even more noticeable as morning sunlight dances across the crystals of fresh snow on the walk to work. Or how the feeling of betrayal is so much more poignant on a hot summer day. Likewise, success or joy can be hampered by a cutting wind or drizzling sleet, foreshadowing conflict to come.

Diamond in the Rough by Lori Robinett

Diamond in the RoughDiamond in the Rough by Lori L. Robinett
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Lori Robinett gets better with every book!

Romance, mystery, western, adventure, family. . .this story has it all! The cover drew me in as soon as I saw it, and the story did not disappoint.

When Aiden, the sexy cowboy in the black hat, steps into Gina’s cozy shop, the one over the door isn’t the only bell he rings. But she’s had a hard past that’s made her wary of all men. He wants to be a part of her life, but has secrets he’s not ready to share. Her mysterious ex-husband and the responsibility of caring for her six year old son keeps Gina from relaxing. And Aiden is distracted when several of his neighbors lose whole herds of cattle overnight.

Diamond in the Rough is set in central Missouri and the author obviously knows the region well and uses authentic details to bring the rural area to life.

This was an engrossing, fun read, with a twist at the end I did not see coming at all! I’m looking forward to more from Lori Robinett.

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An Instant Classic

News of the World: A NovelNews of the World: A Novel by Paulette Jiles

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

News of the World is a rare find, a novel I need to own, because I know I’ll want to read it again. And again.
1870, North Texas, rainy and cold. Captain Jefferson Kyle Kidd travels from town to town giving readings from the latest newspapers, bringing the news of the world to isolated towns on the Texas frontier. In Wichita Falls, he is asked to return a captive girl to her relatives near San Antonio, 400 miles to the south. The old man and the ten-year-old start out on a hazardous journey, no less risky because the girl considers herself now a Kiowa and does not have the slightest desire to return. Bandits and Comanche raids and violent weather make as many difficulties as the ten-year old girl who can’t speak English, eats with her hands and knows how to use a revolver. In the end, he finds he must return her to relatives who don’t want her, even though he and the girl have become trusting friends. A story of courage and honor and the truth that these two things are often the possession of even the unlikeliest people.

Paulette Jiles is the author of another favorite of mine, Enemy Women. I promise you – News of the World is even better. It’s scheduled for publication in March 2016. I read an advance copy provided by the publisher.

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The Necessary Murder of Nonie Blake

The Necessary Murder of Nonie BlakeThe Necessary Murder of Nonie Blake by Terry Shames
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Samuel Craddock is an older man, a widower, who is chief of police in a small Texas town. A young woman, Nonie Blake, is found floating in a pond behind her parent’s house, just a few weeks after her release from a twenty year stay in a mental hospital.

It doesn’t take long for Craddock to figure out Nonie didn’t die by accident, and he sets out, in a slow, methodical way, to discover who killed her, and why. His neighbor, Loretta, brings him fresh baked goods every morning and keeps him informed on all the rumors and gossip circulating through town about Nonie Blake’s strange family.

The deeper Craddock digs, the more lies he uncovers, until it seems any one of her five family members could have murdered Nonie. Maybe they all know the truth and have closed ranks to protect one of their own.

Midway in the investigation, the state sends Craddock a young, hispanic, female deputy, courtesy of an affirmative action grant Sam Craddock never requested or expected. She stirs things up and helps him solve the case.

This is a “cozy” mystery, there is very little violence, no sex or crude language. My interest was held in trying to decipher the puzzle, as Craddock uncovered clues and interviewed suspects.

When I picked this book up I didn’t know it was the 5th book in the “Samuel Craddock” series. That didn’t keep me from enjoying the story, and I’m thinking now I’ll have to pick up the first one, A killing at Cotton Hill.

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The Husband’s Secret

The Husband's SecretThe Husband’s Secret by Liane Moriarty
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The Husband’s Secret. With a title like that, you’re trying to guess the secret from the very first page. Is he having an affair? Is he gay? Transgender? Does he have a secret family in another town? Is he a government agent? A “sleeper” spy? Head of a major crime ring? What?

I went through all these usual suspects (and more) and discarded them one by one. Then something else would happen and I’d start wondering about one of them again. It kept me turning pages, but I would have done that anyway because the writing is so lovely. In Liane Moriarity books all her characters are so real. There are no cardboard cut-out people, everyone in the family and the neighborhood has a life full of complications and secrets of their own.

No spoilers from me, just a promise. Read this book. You won’t be sorry.

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What Was Mine

What Was MineWhat Was Mine by Helen Klein Ross
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

What Was Mine is not like any kidnapping story you have read before. Instead of seeing just one side of the story, the chapters are told from different perspectives as different characters tell parts of the story in their own words.

It begins with Lucy, a successful business woman who tried to have a baby for years. Her determined, compulsive, effort to get pregnant drives a wedge between Lucy and her husband until he finally leaves her. On her own, she begins a quest to adopt, but as a single woman she is always rejected. Then one day she sees a beautiful baby girl, left all alone in a shopping cart in an empty aisle of a large store. Without thinking, Lucy picks the child up and walks out. She justifies her act by telling herself the baby’s mother doesn’t love her or she wouldn’t have left her alone in the shopping cart.

But Marilyn, the little girl’s mother, does love her. She got a call from her office and paced while working out the problem on the phone. She’s surprised when she hangs up and realizes she’s walked away from the cart, and completely devastated when she can’t find her baby. In an echo of Lucy’s story, Marilyn’s frantic, compulsive search for her baby destroys her marriage.

The lives of these two women are changed forever by that moment in the aisle of the store, but not as much as the life of Natalie/Mia, the stolen baby. Her chapters begin when she learns the life-shattering truth during her last year of college. For 21 years she was Lucy’s daughter, Mia, an only child. Learning how to be Marilyn’s daughter and half sister to three siblings is a challenge.

Other chapters are told by Ali, Mia’s Chinese nanny, by Lucy’s sister, by Marilyn’s son, by Ali’s son, and by others. Each new character adds another layer to this complex and many faceted story.

What was Mine would be a great choice for a book discussion group. There are so many questions raised. How far would you go to be a mother? What would you do if your child was stolen? If a kidnapper turns out to be a good mother, should she be punished less? What would you do if you discovered your sister had kidnapped a child and lied about it to you for years? Could you forgive her? When a child is raised by a full time nanny, who is the real mother?

If you discovered your whole life was a lie, could you learn to forgive and move on?

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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.

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