Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Surviving a Knife Fight with a Zombie Biker Gang

I don’t often update my blog lately except for book reviews. Most of the time, it’s because I’m spending every free moment writing novels. (Writing blog posts takes longer than you’d think.)
But a lot of other things have been going on, so in the brief moment where I don’t feel like I’ve been beaten by a zombie biker gang and left for dead, I thought I’d write an update.

I’ve been having odd health issues for a while—okay, a year. But doctors haven’t been able to diagnose anything because my symptoms didn’t make sense. To make a frustrating story short, a spinal surgeon finally ordered an x-rayed and said, “Uh, wow…Are you sure you're not in a lot of pain? Your neck is really beaten up. It looks like the neck of an 80-year-old.” Gee, thanks.

So I found myself having surgery on a Saturday morning. I asked about recovery, medications, etc. The surgeon talked about how I might have trouble swallowing and talking, but he’d make sure I’d have this really great looking scar. And since I didn’t have folds in the skin of my neck, it would take extra surgical skill and coolness (my words, not his).

I am recovering and am the owner of two artificial discs, have had my vertebrae roto-rootered because of root nerve compressions, and have a very cool scar. Honestly, I don’t care if the scar looked like a railroad track disaster, but everyone else does. My chemist son oohs and ahs over the deep tissue sutures and especially the skin adhesive, waxing eloquent about plastic coating and hydrogen bonding (dipole-dipole interactions), London dispersion forces, van der Waal interactions, etc. (Yay! So excited about that, except, you know, not.) My husband’s retinal surgeon also took time to check out my scar and wanted to know who’d done the surgery since it was a class-act. (My husband had four emergency eye surgeries during this time. Neither of us was allowed to drive. So we are thankful to our daughter who came up from Atlanta—she and the chemist became the Patient Management Team.)

In the meantime, I try to write, which has been very difficult, especially on high doses of Percocet and Valium. However, the Valium dosages are going down and words are flowing again. I’m so very thankful. As is the rest of my family—there is no creature quite so difficult as a writer who’s not writing.

Yes, they often go in through the front of
the neck to do surgery on the spine.

Here’s a photo of my “very cool” scar. Honestly, right now it still looks a little gross—though I’m assured that won’t last. But I’d kind of like it to look gritty—because then I could make up this great story about how I survived a knife fight with a zombie biker gang using only my wits and a set of car keys. Alas, I had a very skilled surgeon.

Sadly, you can hardly see the scar. :(
Here’s me writing. It takes too much energy to get dressed first thing in the morning—so I write in my leopard pajamas. When I’m tired and my arms are burning, I get dressed for the day. Writers write—and you do whatever it takes.

Friday, September 22, 2017

How to Set a Table, Book Review

As someone who's both entertained and provided hospitality for years (not the same thing), I was curious about How to Set a Tablet. After reading through it several times, I think it’s a great little introduction to having people into your home for meals (though probably not that helpful to those who aren't just starting).

Like any good introduction, this book begins by explaining the “pieces,” detailing each part of tableware from plates, serving ware, linens, and glassware and explaining their roles. For example, the book explains the differences between porcelain, earthenware, and stoneware and does the same for stemware, i.e., why red wine glasses have a different shape than white wine glasses. However, lest you feel intimidated, the book assures you that a much more casual approach is equally valid. And, honestly, most guests are more comfortable with a casual approach where they don’t have to wonder which glass is meant for what.

Finally, the book has suggestions for all types of shared meals. Everything from formal dinner parties, wine and cheese get-togethers, BBQs, picnics, and even how to make take-out meals something guests will relish. Personally, I loved the section where the book gave suggestions about how to plan and care for guests that are early risers. We sometimes have guests from different time zones, and I really, really don’t want to get up at 4am. So I was able to pick some hints about how to provide for guests' comfort and needs without getting up during the middle of the night.

I must mention that the book is full of lovely photos that will inspire you to think outside of traditional table setting and imbuing the meals with warmth and friendliness, which is the goal of having people into your home.

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

Friday, August 11, 2017

Gatlinburg, Just Another Day in Bearadise

Thursday at 3 am, I woke up to banging. At first, I thought the kids were playing pool, and though 3 am isn’t an appropriate time to play pool, I thought that maybe they couldn’t sleep.
My pool shark

Then, the sounds got louder and louder and followed by thuds, and I thought maybe one of the kids was sleepwalking and fell.

Then, there was a loud boom, and Calvin woke up. He said, “The raccoons are in the garbage.” We did have a raccoon in the garbage the night before.

As Calvin and I walked to the back door (the trash cans were on the second-floor deck), I said, “Sweetheart, that must be a family of raccoons to make that much noise.”

I switched on all the lights. The noises became very loud. I said, “Baby, be careful.”

Calvin unlocked the door and peeked out. “Uh, Connie, the trash can is gone.”

I said, “You’ve got to be kidding. That was a massive rubbish can.”

Calvin: “See for yourself.”

So I did. The trash can lid and the slate rock that we put on top of the can to keep out the raccoons were nicely laid on the deck floor. And the trash can was gone.

Cal turned on a flashlight, and we peered over the edge of the railing. Down on the ground was a black bear feasting on our garbage. Cal and I debated the size of the bear. I leaned toward 250 lbs. Cal pointed out that the bear was more than two stories away from us and probably weighed closer to 400 lbs. (According to Wikipedia, black bears can weigh anywhere from 160 to 550 lbs.) Maybe Calvin was correct.

The deck with a similar trash can
and the tree the bear climbed.
This hulking animal had to have climbed a tree and then leapt onto the deck. Happily situated on the deck, he removed the slate rock and the trash can lid. When I turned on the lights, he tossed the trash can over the railing and climbed down to finish dinner.

I called the State of Tennessee Bear Sighting hotline. They took down all my information for the bear tracker/relocation specialist.
Clearly, not the bear that visited our deck,
but photos taken at 3 am don't turn
out well. 

 Apparently, my new friend will be moved to the Cohutta Wilderness, which is where the “naughty” bears are relocated. I'm hoping that the process is anonymous—the Cohutta Wilderness is only 60 miles from our home in Chattanooga, and I’d prefer it if my bear buddy didn’t renew our friendship.

N.B. We ended up seeing 9 different bears (including the cute one on the right) during our trip to Gatlinburg this year. Because of the wildfires in November 2016, there is significantly less food available this year and the bears are becoming bolder to get the necessary body fat to survive the winter. We spoke to a local woman who told us that bears are figuring out how to open doors—her brother found a bear inside his truck because it had opened the door. 

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

The Tea Planter's Wife Book Review

The Tea Planter’s Wife by Dina Jefferies is a Rebecca meets Jane Eyre set in Ceylon in early twentieth century.

As a historical novel, Jefferies has done a wonderful job of recreating the Ceylon of the 1920s and ’30s vivid detail, both in terms of the lush physical setting and the cultural milieu. The author does so cleanly by integrating the details into the action and character development, so the reader isn’t tempted to skip paragraphs in order to “get back to the story.”

Another aspect that I appreciated was the raw and honest look at a loving marriage. While there are many secrets and lies in Gwen and Laurence’s marriage, they truly love each other. The readers sees that not only in the sacrifices the characters make, but also in the physical love they have for each other, which I found very refreshing. Often, it seems that the last “taboo” in novels is sexual delight between married people. That said, there are many frank instances of sex between the couple, but the scenes avoid eroticism.

The only difficulty I had with the novel was that the author occasionally lapsed into telling the reader things that could be gleaned from the text. Though that happened less often in the second half of the novel.

All in all, a very enjoyable book. I’d give it 4.5 stars. And I’ll definitely read other novels by this author.

I received this book from Blogging for Books in exchange for a review.

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Novel Editing

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This is what life looks like the day after you get an edit letter from your literary agent. But there's nothing that can't be conquered without tea, biscuits, highlighters, and lots of post-it flags.

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Somebody's Baby Book Review

Somebody’s Baby by Lurlene McDaniel

Winning a reality TV singing contest changes the course of Sloane Gabriel’s life from her abused childhood to a music career complete with a manager, recording contract, and touring schedule. But it’s never easy to leave your past behind, especially when your new notoriety introduces you to a woman dying of cancer who claims to be your half-sister. Thus, begins Sloane’s journey not only into the sufferings of her past, but through them into a present where she finds forgiveness, peace, and the love she never had.

I enjoyed many aspects of this novel, but especially Sloane, who is an amazing character—a combination of strength and fragility. McDaniel nails the character’s complexity, treating her with compassion and respect, which is especially important with Sloane, a character in a previous McDaniel novel*, who made very difficult choices and now has to deal with the fallout. Over the course of the novel, the reader sees Sloane develop and grow, and you can’t help rooting for Sloane as her suffering and circumstances change her into a person who can love and care for others.

The plotting of the novel was excellent—there was never a section where I was bored or wanted to put the novel down. And all of the action propelled the novel and helped to develop the characters. The writing itself was very clean, the author never intrudes on the story—it’s always about Sloane and the people in her life.

In the end, I have to agree with the Bustle.com review, which says, “Sorry, John Green fans, but McDaniel’s been making us cry . . . for decades.” —Bustle.com

That says it all. Five star YA novel!

*If you haven’t read Losing Gabriel, no worries, this novel stands alone and the author makes sure you know everything you need to know—good thing, because I forgot a lot.

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

White Clam Pizza

Lately, I've been writing and editing my new novel (which accounts for the very few blog posts I've written). In spite of the consuming busyness of writing, I got a nostalgic craving for white clam pizza (made with cheese, clams, garlic, oregano, olive oil, etc.). It's been 11 years...

Pepe's white clam pizza was one of the last meals my husband and I had before we moved from Connecticut. So I searched the web and found a recipe. It wasn't as good as Pepe's...but that might be because instead of using Parmesan, I grabbed the wrong cheese from the refrigerator (a Spanish cheese flavored with agave) by accident. But it was delicious anyway.

Click here if you'd like to give white clam pizza a try. YUM!

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Book Review: Jane of Austin, Great Beach Read

Jane of Austin by Hillary Manton Lodge is a retelling of Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility set in Austin, Texas. And though this novel a romantic retelling and I don’t usually read romance, I’m a huge fan of Austen and couldn’t resist this book.

As a retelling, the book was fun. It updated the tropes and effortlessly set the novel in a modern world without any awkwardness or injury to the story and characters. I loved the inclusion of the tea shop as part of the setting. And as someone who also reviews cookbooks, I’m eager to make some of the recipes that the author has included in the novel—the cranberry-vanilla scones sound wonderful.

It’s important to note, that this novel is not a literary exploration of Austen’s novel, nor does it explore and expose social conventions in the way that Austen’s novels do. But this novel doesn’t set out to do those things. This book is a summer, beach-read version of Sense and Sensibility and on that level, it fulfills its expectations and is addictively readable.

Definitely four stars!

One more note, this novel is a “sweet romance,” i.e., no cursing, no sex, etc.
I received this book from Blogging for Books in exchange for a review.

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Dark Matter book review

Dark Matter by Blake Crouch

Let me start off by saying that I read this novel in two days—it was that engrossing. And I’m not even a huge fan of sci-fi, unless it’s very well written, and this was.

Though I don’t buy the whole multiverse theory in reality, I did very much enjoy the creative possibilities of it in this novel. And it speaks to the author’s tremendous story-telling skills that I was able to set aside my skepticism and enter into the story.

Dark Matter is a wonderful blend of action, thriller, and love story. The pacing is spot on, the characters are nuanced, and the plot involved some twists I didn’t see coming. And in the end, the novel reminded me how thankful I am for my family and loved ones.

A five star read!

I received this book from Blogging for Books in exchange for a review.

Friday, April 21, 2017

What Edward Heard book review

What Edward Heard by Megan Easley-Walsh

What Edward Heard is a young adult novel with touches of magical realism that tells the story of Edward Jamison, a World War I veteran, whose life is touched and healed by a mysterious painting. Painted hundreds of years before, the portrait has passed through many lives, pieces of which the reader is allowed to share. In each life, the portrait directs, distracts, but ultimately whispers the truth that each, including Edward, needs to hear.

The historical details of the novel are excellent and ground the reader in the various settings. The experimentation with form is creative and clever without being a distraction from the story of the novel.

Definitely an enjoyable read!

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Love and Gravity Book Review

Love and Gravity: A Novel by [Sotto, Samantha]Having read and enjoyed Samantha Sotto’s debut novel Before Ever After, I was eager to read her newest novel, Love and Gravity. And I was not disappointed—it’s even better than the first book!

Love and Gravity is the story of Andrea Louviere, a cellist, who one day opens a door through time. On the other side is the man she will love. The rest of the story is a complex romance involving twists and turns, love and loss.

This is a beautiful upmarket novel. The characters are well-developed. The plot is tightly paced. And the prose itself is lyrical.

I give this novel five stars and add that it’s an absolute must-read for fans of The Time-Traveler’s Wife

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Across the River

Congratulations to Megan Easley-Walsh, whose new novel releases today!

About Across the River:

For her, he'd go to the ends of the earth.
When she disappears, he might have to.

In the English countryside in 1774, Caleb Haroldson and Rebecca Turrington are destined to be together. Stealing her inheritance to fund the life of her choosing with Caleb seems like an easy enough task for Rebecca, as she schemes with him beside the river late one night. But Rebecca is not the only one making plans for her future.

When Turrington Manor is ravished by flames and a mysterious hooded figure on horseback appears, Rebecca is swept into a plot of revenge and revolution. Is anyone safe in a land where hundreds have gone missing.

As Rebecca struggles for her freedom and Caleb endeavors to find her, both sides of the Atlantic are poised to erupt and everywhere lurks the haunting phrase "Across the River."

 There is no life and death.
There is only life.
Death is an illusion, an appearance, nothing more.
It is a fleeting shade that disappears in the light of truth.
And life, life is constant, ever-flowing like a river.

Chapter One
The English Countryside, Summer 1774

Rebecca's head rested against his chest, as Caleb lay with her beneath the star-strewn sky. The afternoon's rain had dampened the grass, but the ground was not muddied. Rich earthiness whispered against his nose, but was drowned by the scent of Rebecca. Clasping her hand with his, she leaned over him. Her cheeks, rosy from the coolness of the night, danced merrily under her eyes.
“Come away with me,” Rebecca said.
He knew that look.
“Come away with you?”
She nodded, the stars conspiring with her to more intensely highlight her beauty.
“I could not bear to marry another and they are so intent on promising me to someone else.”
She knew what she was doing. Merely hearing her words had cast a dagger into his heart, though he knew she had not meant to be cruel. Rebecca only meant to use the truth to make her proposition irresistible to him.
“Caleb, I could not bear to be with another man.”
The softness of her skin as she held his hand stood as reminder to the sweetness in his memory, when there had been more than
“Come away with me,” she repeated.
Caleb swallowed. Oh, how he wanted to indulge her! It was all he could do to keep from agreeing. But, he had to be practical; one of them did.
“What would we live off of?”
“Our love.”
She was not so naive to think this the only necessity, but she knew the power of her charm on him and she was determined to get her way.
“And how shall I pay for food when you are hungry?”
She said nothing for a moment. He wasn't supposed to object.
“Those silver plates, the ones my mother is forever having polished.”
There wasn't a servant for miles that didn't dread the thought of Rebecca's mother's plates.
“Your mother would never part with them.”
“Then, I shall have to take them.”
“Your plan is to steal the plates?”
“It can hardly be called stealing if I am taking my own inheritance.”
Caleb put his hands behind his head, forgetting he was supposed to be applying practicality and now only concerned with watching her loveliness as her mind raced forward.
“Yes, yes, that is it. I shall hide them in the river,” Rebecca said.
“In the river, whatever for?”
“You ask too many questions,” she said, leaning into him. Her lips brushed against Caleb's, to silence him.
“And you,” he said, feeling the softness of her hair over his arm, “make it truly difficult to concern myself with the answers.”
Rebecca looked at him to remind him that yes, she was the power-holder here. She lay her hand against his shirt.
“I feel your heart,” Rebecca said, “I feel it as strongly as though 'twere my own. truthfully, Caleb, I hear your heart beat.”
“You hear my watch,” he said, with a laugh, pulling his watch from his pocket. The face was marred, but it shone in the sunlight as he worked, glinting at him when he clicked open its half-broken hinge to count the hours until he could see Rebecca again. She stared at him with such intensity that his laughter dried up like a brook encountering an oasis.
Temptress. Beautiful, beloved temptress.
Tiny prickles of grass pushed against his skin, like splinters in his workshop. The world was awake here, rawer, but in a pleasant way. Everything burst with vibrancy, with vitality, like a thousand trees with arms outstretched to the skies above. Pines clung in his nose, fully rooted, away from the saw and the hammer that he would transform them with into the finest furniture for miles. Furniture that someone as noble as Rebecca could even sit on, and yet furniture that cemented his place in the world as a craftsman.
“Caleb, you have kept me waiting far too long. You really ought
“So, this is where you wander off to,” the words sliced through their shared moment, shattering all promise of what was to come.
“Richard,” Rebecca said, hastily moving away from Caleb at the sight of her brother. Caleb's eyes went wide, as a guilty flush washed over him. He scrambled to his feet, pulling Rebecca up with him.
“Richard,” Caleb said now, “I can assure you that I mean Rebecca no harm. I only have the best of intentions toward her.” Though caught, his honor would not be sullied.
Richard looked from one to the other.
“I know my sister well enough to know that she can only abide by her own will. I am sure that the only one who has been led here this evening is you.”
“I” Caleb opened his mouth to speak and then, realizing he could make no argument, shut it again. Yes, Rebecca had led him. Caleb, accustomed to cursing the gentry beneath his breath as he toiled for the paltry wages they offered, would bend to no man. But Rebecca, her long hair falling over her silken body, was no man.
“Richard,” Rebecca said now, stepping nearer her brother and resting her hand on his arm, “we have done nothing wrong. Promise me, Brother, you will not speak of our innocent secret.”
Whether she had deftly bent the truth or spoken the reality she believed was unclear. When Rebecca spoke with such sweetness of purpose, one soon found himself agreeing with her.
Richard, fond though as he was of her, was adept at navigating his way through her persuasive powers. Looking at them now though, with their eyes absent of fear and only love finding a home therein, he couldn't help but agree with her. Perhaps, he was not so immune after all.
“All right, I will do as you ask. But, Sister, do be more careful. You can hardly think that Father would be willing to overlook the state I have found you two in. Mother would have you married off or else sent away to a nunnery before the sun rose.”
Caleb wondered at the validity of the threats, but Rebecca, successful in at least one dealing tonight, brushed aside his comments.
“Richard, you worry far too much.”
“Even so, you must realize that if you are gone any longer you will soon be missed.”
She really couldn't object to this point. Turning to Caleb one last time, she said in a voice that only they could hear,
“Do consider what I have said, my love. I admit to wishing to sway you, but believe me, it is no whim. I have thought of nothing else for days.”
“Rebecca,” Caleb said. Doubt had dragged its ugly fingers across his face and she wanted to see nothing of the sort.
“Kiss me, Caleb, kiss me as though 'twere for the last time.”
She threw her arms around him before he could object and Richard turned away.
“Rebecca, we best leave,” Richard said, beginning to walk away from the two.
Her lips pulled slowly from Caleb's, only to say,
“Yes, I am coming.”
The words had hardly slipped from her mouth, when she pushed her lips to Caleb's again.

“Go,” he whispered against her. Assuredly, if he had known what was to happen, he never would have said it.

About the Author; 
Megan Easley-Walsh is an author of historical fiction, a researcher, and a writing consultant and editor at Extra Ink Edits. She is an award-winning writer and has taught college writing in the UNESCO literature city of Dublin, Ireland. Her degrees are in history-focused International Relations. She is American and lives in Ireland with her Irish husband. She is also the author of the novels Flight Before Dawn, What Edward Heard, and North Star Home.

Visit Megan at:

Across the River’s ebooks are published by Macmillan and are available from several retailers, including Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Ibooks,and Kobo. Paperback and hardcover books are also available and can be found on Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

Friday, February 17, 2017

The Chilbury Ladies' Choir, book review

The Chilbury Ladies’ Choir by Jennifer Ryan

This debut novel by Jennifer Ryan was a delight! It is set at the beginning of World War II in a small British town and tells the intertwining stories of the women who form a choir in the wake of the disbanding of the church choir. What follows is part loss, romance, and skullduggery.

In spite of the very real losses, the tone of the book is uplifting and happy. And the writing itself is readable and has excellent pacing.

One small caveat, the book did start a bit slow, but that’s usually the case with an epistolary novel. Once the reader meets a several of the characters through letters and diary entries, the book is very hard to put down!

A five star read.

I received this book from Blogging for Books in exchange for a review.

Thursday, January 26, 2017

French Country Cooking, Book Review

 French Country Cooking, Meals and Moments from a Village in the Vineyards by Mimi Thorisson.

Before I actually review this book, let me say that it is a visual feast! Even if you never cook a single thing from this book, just paging through it is a satisfying treat for the eyes. The photos are stunning. (Oddur Thorisson was the photographer.) And even as a coffee table art book, this book is a success. In fact, my daughter saw this book on my kitchen counter when she visited and wanted it for her coffee table.

Aside from the visuals, I did enjoy the recipes. The directions are given in both European and US customary measures (i.e., grams and cups). However, it is important to note that the flavors and tastes of the recipes are very European. For example, the orange blossom cake I made has a dense texture with lovely orange blossom flavor but without the heavy sweetness common to many American sweets. Personally, I love this. But it is different.

Also, given the European context, some ingredients are hard to find. Orange blossom water is not on the shelves of most American grocery stores or even specialty food markets. However, Amazon does carry many such items. Though as much as I want to make roast bone marrow with herbs, I can’t find a butchery where I can buy veal marrow bones. But there are still plenty of recipes to make.

Here are some photos of the ones I tried:
The Orange Blossom Cake. I served it for my 26-year-old
son’s birthday. It was delicious!

This soup was the Simple Vegetable Potage. Delicious and hearty.

I do wish I’d been able to find fresh tarragon for the Poulet Chasseur. But my herb garden was dormant for the winter and none of the stores in my area carried tarragon. It was still delicious--you can't go wrong with mushrooms, cognac, white wine, shallots, and fresh herbs!

I’ve made the Baked Pears with Chocolate more than once. Though the recipe says to use firm-ripe pears, I also tried the recipe with pears just going soft, loved it even more. The riper pears came out tasting like pear-flavored custard and you could just spoon the flesh right out of the pear skin. Yum!
 In sum, I’d definitely give this cookbook five stars. And I can’t wait to make the vanilla marshmallows and the black peppered filets mignons with cognac.

To check out this cookbook on Amazon, click here.

I received this book from Blogging for Books in exchange for a review.

Monday, January 16, 2017

Happy "New " Year

The month is half over, and I haven’t even posted on the blog yet this year.

Here’s what’s been going on:

1. My oldest son got married last month. It was wonderful. Our family is thrilled.
Here's a photo of my husband and me at the wedding.

2. My third child graduated from university. He’s now an electrical engineer. I’d post a photo, but he’s camera shy.

3. I had a significant birthday.

One of my gifts was a ten step puzzle box. Beautifully inlaid and wonderfully intricate.

4. A beloved family member who lives thousands of miles away came to visit,  and we had a murder mystery dinner. This is my youngest son--normally he's a college junior majoring in biochem and not a drug-dealing biker. We love getting into character.
5. And last, but not least, I have a deadline approaching quickly. So I’ve got a new tea cup to make sure I finish in time. It holds at least five times the tea of a "normal" cup. So five times the double bergamot earl grey. Yum!