Excerpt from Mile Marker 139 (WIP)

The sun is rising when Mike finally pulls into his driveway, but as he gets out of his car, that doesn’t matter.  The clouds obscure most of the light.  Snow pelts his face as he pulls the collar of his coat higher, muttering how stupid he was to not bring a hat and gloves to work.  He fidgets with his key at the side door, the chill of the wind numbing his arthritic fingers.  When the lock clicks, he heaves his shoulder into the door, pushing it open with great effort.

He shrugs out of his coat and boots and leaves them on the mat by the door.  He goes for the fridge and pulls out a beer, opens it, and begins drinking it before he reaches his worn armchair in front of the TV.  Flopping into the familiar comfort, he flips on the TV to watch the latest weather update.

“Damn weather people,” he grumbles.  “Stupid blizzard.  Half the time you guys ain’t right, and when you are, it’s usually even worse than you told us it’d be.”

Several inches of snow have already piled up.  The drive home from work took nearly two hours.  Mike looks out the window, only to see snow sticking to the screen.

He changes the channel to some old western and keeps the volume low.  He finishes his beer and belches, then lights up a cigarette and considers his options.  The weather man said the snow wasn’t expected to stop until that evening.  Even then, the roads would likely be a mess until tomorrow.

Mike already told his boss he wouldn’t be in for the next two days, explaining the situation.  Marty gave his condolences, told him not to worry, and that was the end of the conversation.

He finishes the cigarette and puts it out in the tray on the foldable table next to the armchair.  As Mike gazes around the living room at the shabby, stained carpet littered with takeaway wrappers, the dust-laden furniture, and the grimy windows, he knows Barb would be disappointed, if not downright disgusted, with him.

“I’m gonna go to Cal, honey,” he murmurs, pushing himself to standing.  

He stops halfway across the room, glancing from the treadmill to the entrance to the kitchen.  He turns and heads for the bathroom instead.  After relieving several ounces of coffee, Mike stares at the scale and weighs himself.  Five more pounds than last time.  He shoves the thing aside and returns to the kitchen for another beer and a new bag of chips.  Breakfast of champs.

It’s back to the armchair.  Mike drinks, smokes, and eats away his sorrows until he falls asleep.  He dreams of Barb, but she isn’t smiling at him.  

When he wakes, the snow hasn’t let up.  Mike grumbles as he removes his glasses to wipe the sleep out of his eyes, surprised to find tears gathered there.  With a growl, he stands and tosses the glasses to the chair.

He goes to the bedroom.  The bed sits unused and dusty, nothing different from the day Barb died.  Her clothes still hang in the closet.  Her jewelry box and bottles of perfume rest undisturbed on the dresser.  This room is a memorial, a monument to his dear wife.

Mike drops to his knees next to the bed, as if he’s about to pray.  He cries out in pain, but it’s his knees that hurt–or so he tries to tell himself.  He gropes under the bed and pulls out a box.  He opens it.

The first thing he removes is his wedding album.  He touches the faded photo of them walking down the aisle after their vows, in sickness and in health…till death us do part.  Mike shakes his shaggy head and doesn’t try to stop the tears now.  His vision blurs as he sets the album down and takes out the next one.  Calvin as a newborn, crawling, walking, his first haircut, preschool, kindergarten, and all those birthdays, milestones, and school pictures that mark a child’s life growing up.  

It’s too much.  Mike closes the album with a snap and returns both to the box.  The box is hidden away again, and he stands.  He has disturbed the sanctuary of this room, and he hates himself for it.

He returns to the armchair, his safe haven, and falls asleep.

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Review of Jacqueline Willoughby by Schuyler Randall

jacquelinewilloughbySummary: A string of mysterious murders rocks Birmingham, Alabama, in the page-turner Jacqueline Willoughby. At first glance, the murders seem to be connected to the Ten Commandments, but FBI agents Kason McAlester and Troy Stephens see that there is more to the story—and that a rare book written decades ago by a woman named Jacqueline Willoughby may have the answer to solving the crimes.

Will the two agents be able to follow the trail of the old book and find the killer responsible for these grisly murders? You’ll have to read Jacqueline Willoughby to find out.

Note: I was given a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Jacqueline Willoughby is a crime novella that reads quickly and is a good short book to pick up if you’re looking for an afternoon of entertainment. It’s what I might call a beach read: It’s easy to understand and straightforward.

The novel revolves around a series of murders in Birmingham, Alabama, in current day. FBI agents Kason McAlester and Troy Stephens investigate these murders and quickly come to the conclusion that they are connected. The murderer is following the Ten Commandments to carry them out. The victims are always purposefully placed and left with a wadded up piece of paper in their mouths that says what their crime is that they were killed for, plus the initials J.W.

For several chapters, the story follows a simple convention: The FBI agents and other police show up at the crime scene to find the victims. Kason smells a perfume fragrance left by the killer. The papers are recovered from the victims’ mouths.

This repetition begins to feel a bit overdone, but luckily, the author breaks up the chapters by having the agents meet with others who may have some knowledge of what happened. I enjoyed these segments more, especially the visits to a Mrs. Madison and her elderly aunt, Dr. Moore, who is interesting and sometimes humorous to read. Dr. Moore is the one who gives the agents the information about a book written by Jacqueline Willoughby that may be connected to these murders. The book describes similar murders that happened in the 1930s and were done by Willoughby’s daughter, Raina.

The dialogue from some of the minor characters was more realistic than what came out of the agents’ mouths most of the time. Of course, it’s expected the FBI agents would be all business while investigating a crime, but I would have liked to have seen more personality worked into Kason and Troy. We get some glimpses of their personal lives, like when they are with their wives or at church, but I would have liked to have seen more.

I don’t read many crime novels (or novellas), so this genre isn’t very familiar to me. It felt very formulaic. As a novella, it is shorter than a novel, but I would have liked it to be fleshed out more. I think more background on the agents and more time spent with them when they weren’t just investigating crimes would have made them more relatable and interesting. Many of the characters just spoke in bland dialogue, maybe even feeling robotic at times.

I am more into character-driven stories. This one is definitely more plot-driven. More motives and background on the killer would have been great as well. Everything seems almost too easy. I figured out who the killer was about halfway through the book. Throw in some red-herrings next time. Make me guess more. Don’t make it so easy.

While this is a good book for entertainment, I think it would have worked better as a full novel with more details. It feels like something is missing for me, but maybe that’s just my bias. Readers of crime novels and plot-driven stories would likely enjoy this book.

Grammar, punctuation, and sentence structure are all near perfect, which is a breath of fresh air after the last couple of indie authors I’ve read.

3 out of 5 stars

Buy this book on Amazon:

Jacqueline Willoughby

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Poetry Tuesday – Black

Black, the absence of color,

Though a shroud to cover

And hide many things.

Hovering and huddling around me,

Blackness invades my heart.

My eyes can’t see

In such foreboding, thick darkness.

Now my heart can’t see

Inside itself.

What choice but to surrender

To the looming, relentless black,

Rather than blindly follow

A path that may not exist

To some falsely conceived

Sick kind of hope.

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Excerpt from Mile Marker 139 (WIP)

If turning forty was supposed to make Russ feel age’s sudden grip on him, he is glad he still has his usual energy.  His schedule doesn’t allow for him to stop of the rest area by mile marker 139 in Ohio this week.  Just because the weather is bad, shipments still have to be made.  A day or two shifts when he’s running behind schedule, but every time he’s home, he isn’t really home.  That apartment has only ever been a place to lay down his head.

He pulls off at a truck station in the middle of Indiana.  It’s late, but not so late that other truckers aren’t hogging every chair and couch in the lounge.  He showers and grabs some food, then returns to find an open spot.

“This taken?” he asks the guy sitting next to it.

The grizzle-haired, scruffy man shrugs and shakes his head.

“Thanks.”  Russ sits and watches some national news program, finding himself zoning out.

“The stuff’s depressin’,” the guy next to him remarks.  “Same ol’ shit ev’ry day.”

Russ chuckles.  “Someone could change the station.  I’d much rather watch ESPN.”

“Good huntin’ show’d be nice.”  The guy sits up in his seat.  His accent is Appalachian.  “You a New Yorker?”

Russ laughs.  “What gave me away?”

“Way yeh talk.  You got somethin’ nice waitin’ for yeh back home?”

“Funny you’d call it home.  My truck’s more my home than anything.  How about you?”

“Nah, and yeah, know what yeh mean ‘bout the truck.  Been drivin’ for damn near forty years, friend.”

“Damn, man.  That’s a long time.”

“Keeps me outta trouble.”  The guy winks, and Russ chuckles.

“Yeah?”

“Yep.  No drinkin’ on the job.”

“Yeah, that’s definitely not allowed, my friend.”  Russ tries for levity, but seeing the state of the poor sucker next to him unsettles dinner in his stomach.

The older man chuckles, which turns into a series of coughs.  He stands with the aid of the chair and fingers something in his coat pocket.  “These here things’ll be the death of me, son.  Don’ be a fool like me, boy.  Don’ smoke, drink, or fall ‘n love.”

As the guy walks away, still hacking, Russ says in a low voice, “I’ll try to remember that.”

Like what you’ve read?  Please subscribe to my blog, where I post an excerpt every Saturday.

My novel, Lorna versus Laura, is available for only $2.99 here.

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Review of The Son of Alpha (The Legend of the Sky-Titans Book 1) by Raleigh Daniels Jr.

skytitansSummary: In post-apocalyptic America, two orphaned children raised as sharecroppers live together in a fragile, farm home. Michael Gilliganson Jr, the son of the world’s greatest mercenary, Mopy, acts as the sole guardian of his little sister, Nya, after the death of their parents. But when the NeoMen (humanoid dinosaurs) invaded their small town, they take Nya hostage. Michael, who must now live up to his parent’s legacy as the legendary Sky-Titan to save his sister, is gifted with his father’s Badge of Alpha, a blue and yellow, badge-like device that gives him the ability to transform into the therianthropic god, Alpha to fight against the emergence of the tyrannical dinosaur dominated empire led by the evil King Mungfalme. He then joins forces with legendary werewolf hunter, Val Helsing (now known as Pappy), Jullian the Iota Eagle, the Vendor, Mr. Dalton, The Duke of Washington, and newcomer Samantha as they fight against the Dinosaurs to save and protect mankind from the brink of annihilation.

Note: I was given a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

The book opens with Michael and Nya Gilliganson living on a farm in post-apocalyptic America. They are orphans, so Michael cares for his younger sister. They go about their lives in seemingly normal fashion for the time period, but it’s clear that they are just trying to mind their own business and survive. While at the market one day to get produce, they meet a young boy named Thames, who is also an orphan. They take him home. That’s when things start to get interesting.

Thames is not an ordinary boy, which we find out when Michael drops Nya and him off at the schoolhouse one day. Thames and Nya quickly develop a close bond, and Thames is fiercely protective of Nya. When a bully picks on them at school, chaos ensures. Things unravel, and what was once a benign relationship turns complex, even sour. Thames is not who he appears.

Meanwhile, back home, Michael makes a discovery that will change his life. He finds the Badge of Alpha, which gives him immense power. He is the son of two legendary Sky-Titans, who battled the Neomen (dinosaur-men who invaded Earth and took over). An intense battle plays out right after he gains power from the badge, and not even understanding what’s happening, Michael is joined by the fruit vendor from the marketplace (Pappy). They fight some demonic creatures, who seemingly appear out of nowhere and are looking for the badge.

Not only do we get the story of Michael and Nya, but we also read about the Neomen through a letter that one of them, General Yalen, is composing to King Mungfalme. Yalen begins having reservations about how the Neomen are treating (more like mistreating) humans. He befriends a human named Samantha, who is one of the prisoners on the ship he’s on. His hostility toward the Earl who is in charge on the ship grows daily.

There are many exciting action sequences in this story, which read quickly and keep the reader engaged, although some of the scenes are hard to follow because there is perhaps too much going on in just a few pages. This book is anything but boring, but it is filled with typos, grammatical errors, tense changes, and punctuation problems, which make the reading clunky. I am unsure if this novel was edited at all, but it doesn’t appear to be. If it went through an edit, I believe the story would read much easier and flow better.

The characters are all interesting, and their different voices are clear. However, the constant change of point of view reads odd. I feel that this story would work better told in third person instead of the switching first person views.

There are some lovely passages, showing a clear sense that the author has the ability to write beautifully, but then there are several sentences that read unevenly, repeat the same word, or have extraneous words in them. Again, if edited, I believe this would clean up much of this and help tell the story better.

The content of the story is solid and good, but due to the level of other issues mentioned above, I didn’t feel I could enjoy it as much. I also admit that fantasy is not a genre I read much, so while I am sure others may enjoy this type of story more, I found it good but not great. It was an easy book for entertainment, yet I didn’t feel fully invested in the characters enough to care what happened or feel for them.

3 out of 5 stars

Favorite quote: “Just before I ran to this discarded hill, I heard voices, a melancholy rainbow of voices pouring into my head like a raging waterfall.”

Buy this book on Amazon:

The Son of Alpha (The Legend of the Sky-Titans Book 1)

Like what you’ve read?  Please subscribe to my blog, where I post a new blog every Friday, including book reviews.

My novel, Lorna versus Laura, is available for only $2.99 here.

My novel, Hannah’s Rainbow: Every Color Beautiful, is available for $3.99 here.

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Poetry Tuesday – Absurdities

Maybe I’m a fool,

Or maybe I’m just scared

Of being judged.

If I open up,

Tell all my secrets,

What would remain

But a hollow interior,

An breakable shell?

Where would mystery flee?

Would I harbor

Only resentment, guilt?

At least I’m honest

For asking such absurdities.

Like what you’ve read?  Please subscribe to my blog, where I post a poem every Tuesday.

My novel, Lorna versus Laura, is available for only $2.99 here.

My novel, Hannah’s Rainbow: Every Color Beautiful, is available for $3.99 here.

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How Every Writer Has Their Own Method

One of my blog posts on writing was featured on A Writer’s Path as a guest post:

A Writer's Path

How many of you remember the dreaded research papers you had to write in high school?  Raise your hand.  Better off, don’t raise your hand.  That’s too reminiscent of being back in school.  But anyway, I’ll tell you this: if I never have to write another research paper in my life, I won’t complain.

What I hated the most about the process was how formal and rigid it was.  When I was in school, the Internet was still pretty new, so we, the unfortunate victims, spent hours in libraries using dusty reference books that served better as paper weights and taking notes from pages with tiny print.  We had to write on 3×5 notecards in pencil.  We needed to come up with an outline, and this was to be done the proper way with the numbers, letters, Roman numerals, and I don’t even know what.  The rough draft was written…

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