Saturday, December 3, 2016

The Pandora Device, Book Review

Joyce McPherson’s debut middle grade novel, The Pandora Device, is a delight and the perfect read for fans of the Percy Jackson series and The Mysterious Benedict Society books!

As the story begins, Stella discovers that her deceased parents attended Camp Hawthorne when they were young. Eager to know more about them, she applies and is accepted to what she thinks is an ordinary summer camp. But it’s not.

When Stella arrives, she discovers that the camp is for students with paranormal gifts. And when the camp comes under mysterious attack from within and without, it needs all the students’ gifts, especially Stella’s, to survive.


The plot is tightly crafted, the writing is very clean, and the characters are multi-faceted and sympathetic. A truly enjoyable, five-star story!

Monday, November 14, 2016

Flight Before Dawn, book review


Because my mother lived in occupied Holland and because my grandfather was part of the Dutch Resistance, novels about World War II and the resisters have always been a favorite of mine. So I was eager to read Ms. Easley-Walsh’s debut novel, Flight Before Dawn.

Flight Before Dawn The novel tells the story of several members of the French Resistance through the darkest days of the war until their liberation and does a lovely job of evoking the French countryside, the ’40s ethos and the tension of living in an occupied country.


In the midst of a complex plot, filled with spies, lies, and a double agent, the author deals with the nuances of the war and those involved in it, exploring what it means to be ready to sacrifice your life for your country and strength to do so. The novel is a poignant reminder that freedom has a tremendous cost.

Monday, October 31, 2016

A New Watercolor

If you're a reader of my blog, you know my husband Calvin is an artist. Here is his latest work.



Here is the painting in process. He paints from photographs. This photo was taken by our soon-to-be daughter-in-law Lydia in the Great Smokey Mountains.
Here are Calvin's palettes. He prefers to use fine china because the water blends better and clings to the china finish.




Here is the final painting. (Sorry, I don't have the best camera.) But it gives you a sense of his work. Click on the photo if you want to see it enlarged.

If you'd like to see a few of his other paintings, click here, here, here, and here.

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

The Wolf Road, book review



Imagine for a moment, you are among the treetops in a dystopian wilderness, hiding from the foster father you loved, who saved your life. But he’s also the devil who corrupted your soul and is out for revenge. Now imagine you have a knife in your hand, and you can throw it very well.

In The Wolf Road, debut novel of Beth Lewis, the main character Elka finds herself in exactly this situation. After this heart-rending opening scene, the novel traces how Elka ended up as both the hunter and the hunted. It’s dangerous for an author to give the reader a glimpse of the climax at the beginning of a novel. Often, it steals from the impact of the ending, or it slows the action and lessens the tension when the story goes back to an earlier time in the life of the characters. Thankfully, Lewis avoids this by writing a tightly paced novel with well-developed characters.

I loved the growth of Elka from a frightened child to a mature woman who comes to terms not only with the horrors committed against her, but the ones she has committed. Ultimately, this makes the novel a story of redemption. But its ending is not without pain and suffering, and I couldn’t help but imagine the characters’ haunted lives long after the pages of the novel had ceased. The fact that I was so invested in the characters is the main reason I’m giving this novel 4.5 stars out of 5.


One caveat, this is a novel for adults. The story has violence and adult situations, though the author handles them well and avoids wallowing in graphic detail.

I received this novel from Blogging for Books in exchange for an honest review.

Monday, October 3, 2016

Cummins Falls!

My husband and I love hiking. So we're game to go anywhere and try anything.

And when I mentioned a place called Cummins Falls, my husband was eager, even though it was a two-hour drive, each way, down back roads with no names. And even though it was in the 80s and we had to take the vehicle affectionately known as the "sweat mobile." (It has no air conditioning.)

But Cummins Falls was worth it!

To the left, is a photo I took from the top of the gorge before we hiked down.


It was a long way down. Thankfully, there were steps on some steep sections. Because of foreshortening, you can't tell how steep this is--the rises between the steps were often well over 18 inches. I felt like I was on the Stairs of Cirith Ungol. Especially on the return when everything was uphill.



On our way hiking up the gorge to the falls.
Here is my husband putting his boots back on. We had to ford the river a couple of times.







 Once we reached the gorge, we climbed up part of the waterfalls. And an another adventurous climber took our photo.




Even though we are in the midst of a severe drought in Eastern Tennessee, the falls were gorgeous.
The water was freezing cold. I had the shivers despite the heat.
My husband swimming in one of the top swimming holes in Tennessee.


Couldn't close the post without a shot of my hiking boots. These shoes have given me more than twenty years of hiking pleasure. And have seen their share of bears and stepped on more than one rattlesnake--though those are other stories.

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Pumpkin Nirvana

As mentioned in the last blog post, I like to eat wonderful food. Three years ago, to celebrate our 25th anniversary, my husband Calvin took me to Paris. It was an indulgence in art, architecture, and food. 

Les Papilles was one of the restaurants we visited. And a few years ago, I found a recipe that they'd posted online. It was for cream of pumpkin soup. Not something I’d normally be interested in. But I had cream of squash soup in their restaurant. I hate squash, but the soup was gastronomic bliss. I printed the pumpkin recipe.

 After all three years, I finally made the soup.

My husband is on sabbatical, so I had a sous chef/dishwasher available. Very handy, because whenever I make anything “weird,” my sons need an “alternative food opportunity.” Tonight, it was andouille sausage.

The recipe called for garnishes that included: crumbled bacon,
chives, shaved almonds, bits of fresh pumpkin, croutons, and
a sprinkle of cocoa.
What I didn’t notice three years ago is that Google had put the recipe through Google translate. I could have cooked from the French recipe. The "Franglais" recipe—that was harder.

For example, I’m not sure what “have harmoniously” was supposed to mean. And then there were the words that were neither French nor English...

In the end, the soup was pumpkin nirvana. Instead of andouille sausages, my sons had second helpings of cream of pumpkin soup.



Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Come Edit Me, My Darling

Two blog posts ago, I mentioned that I signed with literary Chris Bucci of the McDermid Agency. (Still so amazing to be able to say it.) And then, I got down to revisions. At minimum, I worked 5 hours a day on them. Or at least, until my brain got foggy and I began confusing plot elements. Then, it was “back away from the computer slowly, hands above your head.” (I’ve made the mistake of editing with muddled brain before—it’s not a pretty picture.)

In any case, I got the revisions sent off. And it was time to wait. Here’s what I did while I tried not to think “what if my revisions suck?”

1. I cleaned house. According to my sons, that meant instead of spraying every surface with bleach and wiping it down, I scrubbed every surface with bleach. Okay, they aren’t wrong. Just sarcastic. I love bleach. Nothing is as calming to me as the scent of bleach, especially bleached bed sheets. Yeah, I know, my kids tell me I need therapy.

2. I did yard work. (And listened to podcasts on my phone. I love Writing Excuses.) Weeding was one of the first things, I did. So, when my husband asked me at breakfast what I was going to do that day and I said “edit the garden,” he didn’t bat an eyelid—he’s awesome like that. I’d post a photo of the garden editing, but suffice it to say, I was wearing painted-stained shorts, a tank top, gardening gloves, and earbuds while wielding a big shovel and spray tank of Round-up. Not the coolest photo op.

3. I found my thoughts straying to my revisions. And redoubled my efforts to think about something—anything—else.

4. I studied some Dutch. My mother is from the Netherlands, so I grew up speaking the language. But I’ve never had a good command of Dutch spelling or reading. Plus, I speak a nearly archaic version of the language—think, King James/Shakespeare version of Dutch. When native speakers hear me, they always think/say, “Oh, you’re so cute.” Cute is never what I’m going for.

Here are the ingredients for Muhamarra: dill garlic,
roasted red pepper, carrots, sumac, roasted almonds,
 pomegranate molasses (which I made), etc.
5. Cooking. I don’t love to cook. But I love weird food and exotic flavors. (As does my husband. Though our youngest boys scowl at my culinary forays, convinced that one day I’m going to serve them toasted baguette with cocoa-cockroach spread or lemon-thyme braised goat testicles.) Anyway, I’ve been dying to make muhamarra, which is of Turkish/Levantine origins. It took me a while to collect all the ingredients—some were weird, like sumac, which is a beautiful deep purple and tastes a bit like lemons, only more sophisticated. So, you know, lemons from SoHo.

6. And last but not least, I found myself daydreaming about my new novel. The completed rough draft that now calls to me. Begging and whispering sweet promises, like “My darling Connie, please edit me—we will make beautiful music together” in a sexy Middle Eastern accent. Of course, the novel is set in the American South, so the accent doesn’t quite work. But hey, my daydreams are my daydreams. ;)

Here's the finished muhumarra along with a loaf of bread I made.
Sadly, the flavor of the bread overwhelmed the spread, so we got out crackers. :)