Excerpt from Hannah’s Rainbow (Opening Scenes)

To some looking back, the world seemed a simpler place a hundred years ago.  People left their doors unlocked. Neighbors waved and said hellos and how-do-you-dos.  Children could play outside all day, no matter the season, and return home safe for dinner at night.

        Several modest, nearly identical houses lined Madison Avenue, all constructed around the turn of the century.  There were the Foleys, the Thompsons, the Gardners, the Halleys, the Bradfords. And the Rechtharts.

Augustus Rechthart had met Lucille Grosner in the summer of 1899.  Gus had been delivering some goods to the local general store when he accidentally had bumped into a young woman coming out of the shop…

“Oh, excuse me, ma’am,” he said, lowering the wooden crate.

“No need for your excuses,” the young lady returned, her eyes challenging him.

Gus detected the slightest grin on her face.  He hastily set aside the load.

“Might I buy you a drink to make up for my carelessness, Miss-?”

“Grosner.  Lucille Grosner.  And yes, I suppose so, although if you’re thinking of getting me drunk-”

“No, not that kind of drink, Lucille,” Gus replied, laughing, a little embarrassed.  He was testing his luck by using her given name.

“Very well, then.  And my friends call me Lucy.  And you are?”

“Oh, right.”  Gus smiled easily, relieved.  “Augustus Rechthart, although no one in their right mind ever calls me that.  Plain, old Gus is just fine, Lucy. Are you Lucy to me?”

“Well, that depends on rather a lot of things, Gus.  Since I am in my right mind, I’ll call you Gus, and since I think we might well become better acquainted, yes, you may call me Lucy.”

After that initial conversation, the two had struck up a courtship that led to an engagement at Christmas.

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Review of Dante’s Garden: Mystery and Magic in Bomarzo by Teresa Culter-Broyles

dantesgardenSummary: Dante’s Garden is the story of what happens when Frank Farnese, a book collector from 2017, falls through Hell’s Mouth, a strange sculpture in Bomarzo, Italy.

In 1570, Lucrezia Romano and famed antiquarian Pyrrho Ligorio welcome him when he awakens in a garden, from what he thinks is a dream but isn’t. Together they must figure out how to put the world right again.

The Inquisition, an extraordinary visit to Venice, and the dreams of Duke Francesco Orsini entwine to pull them all deeper into adventure, danger, love, and the hardest decisions of their lives.

Dante’s Garden weaves fact and fiction, history and imagination, to tell the story of Frank and Lucrezia, and the connection that, finally, may not be strong enough to hold them safe as time splits apart.

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

As a lover of Italy and history, I was looking forward to reading this book. The moment I began reading, the author’s imagination and intense knowledge of Italian culture and heritage mingled to form a beautiful tapestry of a tale.

In current-day, book collector Frank Farnese boards a plane in New York and travels to Italy to meet Pasquale and Sandra Ciacionne, who have a 16th century Aldine Press copy of Dante’s La Commedia. The book is old but defective, due to two upside-down pages at the back, a burn mark, and a note left in the front…a note that seems like it was written to Frank.

In 16th century Italy, a young and beautiful, well-read lady named Lucrezia Romano has dreams of adventure. She meets the antiquarian Pyrrho Ligorio (based on the real Ligorio), and they become instant friends. He travels to the Duke Vicino Orsini’s palazzo to work on his garden of grotesques and stone monsters and invites Lucrezia and her parents along. Lucrezia will be Ligorio’s model for a statue of Ceres.

Meanwhile, in current-day Italy, Frank visits the Garden of Monsters (the Duke’s garden from the 16th century and a real place). He has the copy of Dante with him as he tours the garden alone and it grows dark. A thunderstorm ensues, and he takes cover in one of the sculptures, the Mouth of Hell, but not before seeing the statue of Ceres. He is drawn to the statue’s face in particular.

In the 16th century, the Duke has a ball. The party guests are in costume and are mingling in the gardens. Lucrezia is among them. A thunderstorm breaks out.

After the storm ends, Frank emerges from the Mouth of Hell, only to find himself surrounded by what he thinks are reenactors. He is imprisoned by the Duke for questioning, as it’s strange that a man just seemed to appear out of nowhere during the storm, while all the guests were taking cover.

Frank is confused and grows angry, as he thinks these reenactors are having him on. In time, however, he understands that he has traveled through time. Vicino, Ligorio, and Lucrezia are among the small group who believe that Frank (Francesco as they call him) is from the future.

Besides Frank’s sudden appearance, other strange things start happening in the garden. Statues seem to be moving. Glowing letters appear at the entrance of the Mouth of Hell at night, saying, “Abandon all thought, you who enter here,” echoing the warning in Dante’s writing.

A story of adventure and love ensues as Lucrezia, Frank, Ligorio, and Lucrezia’s father travel to Venice to visit the Aldine Press to procure another copy of the Dante, which they think is Frank’s ticket back to the future. There is also real concern that word of what’s going on in the garden will get back to the Church, and Vicino, Frank, and Ligorio will be questioned and possibility burn for it.

The relationship between Frank and Lucrezia develops as they travel together. One of my favorite parts of the story was when they were in Venice and were in love in what many consider is the most beautiful city in the world. There are some lovely descriptions of Venice, which echoes a couple torn by circumstance who is in love and just living in the moment. Having visited Venice, I can attest to the fact that you can’t take a bad picture there. I felt like I was right there with Frank and Lucrezia. While I longed for them to somehow find a way to stay together, the larger problem of the Church and the happenings in the garden tugged at my heart, knowing this would be a heart-wrenching decision.

Back at the palazzo, the Duke makes some startling discoveries about his late wife and blood magic. The Church begins to question him and others, and it’s a race to see how everything will pan out.

The more I read the book, the more the momentum grew. The climax is indeed a strong one. The ending made me cry, brought me right there with Frank and Lucrezia. More than the mystical and magical aspects of this wonderful tale is that it’s a love story at heart, and one that will stick with me for a long time to come.

5 out of 5 stars

Purchase Dante’s Garden: Magic & Mystery in Bomarzo on Amazon

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Poetry Tuesday – Pieces

She speaks in a thousand tongues

Of other worlds,

Of dreams bigger than life.

Her philosophies slant with purpose

To project her audience away

And more toward her reflection

In murky waters, never black nor white,

Leaving them to drown in their own tears.

They realize just before

The last ragged breath

That time has been poorly spent

In her presence.

No path goes back to the beginning.

She doesn’t delight

Seeing their pitiful forms drown.

But sorrow, she knows it well.

She drowns herself in tears,

Chokes on poisonous words,

Swallows her pride,

Forced to accept life for the bitch it is.

This bitch doesn’t deal cards fairly.

The hand she played

Has long been severed.

What does the outcome of the game matter?

Fear drives her motives.

With fear, there is no winner.

Her foes, her friends, and she,

All are alike–

Pieces left shattered,

Thrown aside into puddles of nothingness,

Stepped on, crushed,

The remains left to be washed away

By relentless rain–

Rain that cleanses life anew.

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My novel, Lorna versus Laura, is available for $4.99 here.

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Excerpt from Flushed (Horror Short)

When I wake in the morning, I start for a moment, forgetting where I am. Greg shifts in the bed. I turn, imagining Mom lying there, but then a grin spreads across my face. I take in his messy dark hair and two days of beard growth on his strong jaw. His brow furrows like he’s deep in concentration. His light snores are a comfort.

And I realize Mom didn’t plague me last night.

I lie there for a while, just taking him in, my mind at ease. His eyes flutter open. He smiles.

“You stayed.”

“Of course.”

He sits up with a jolt of energy like the chirpy morning person he is. “Coffee?”

“Yeah, sure.” Meanwhile, I swing my legs over the side of the bed and stand with greater effort than a 25-year-old woman should feel.

The evidence of our lovemaking is in the scattered clothes. I grab my shirt and underwear, tug them on. The coolness of the hard floor under my feet feels good in the summer heat. I stumble into the bathroom and stare at my reflection. The circles around my eyes aren’t as pronounced, but my pallor could use some sun. Maybe a day at the beach soon, even if Lake Erie isn’t the same as the ocean…it’s a beach. I rake my hands through my tangled dark blond hair. The limp strands hang around my face. Greg tells me I’m pretty, but I don’t see it. Not lately.

By the time I enter the kitchen, Greg has a cup of coffee on the counter for me and is brewing his own in his single-serve coffeemaker. He takes the vanilla creamer out of the fridge, passes it to me.

“Sleep well?”

I nod. “Yeah, probably the best sleep I’ve had since…you know…”

Greg grabs his cup of coffee and joins me at the island. “You know, you could just pour, sprinkle, whatever her ashes somewhere.”

“I tried to throw them away. Somehow, I couldn’t.” I take a long swig of coffee, allowing the warmth to calm me on its way down.

“But why? If she was such an awful person, why not just get rid of the bitch once and for all?”

“There’s a reason…well, lots of reasons…why I never introduced you, Greg. My mom was clinically insane at the end, kept in an institution since I was 22. I never wanted to tell you all that shit, all that went down growing up with her.”

“You told me some stuff.”

“Yeah, but it was better that way. I wanted to bury her with all the memories, yet I just can’t. She’s still my mom, you know? As fucked up as that is…”

“So there must’ve been something redeeming about her?”

I shrug, push the coffee away as my stomach churns. The heat intensifies around me, a thick cloud wrapping me, suffocating me as Greg stares at me. Imploring me. “Why are you looking at me like I’m the one who’s crazy? She was likely off since who knows when. She wasn’t fit to raise a kid, but there you have it. The damage’s been done.”

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My novel, Lorna versus Laura, is available for $4.99 here.

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Poetry Tuesday – The Real Me

You want to see the real me?

Close your eyes

And open your heart.

Stop expecting what you thought was true.

Do you know what that is or was?

When you find out,

Let me know.

Do me the favor of shutting your mouth.

Words, words, and more words,

They don’t mean a thing.

Utterances and vibrations the mouth creates

Pass into thin air and die,

But what the heart speaks remains forever,

Though often hidden, embedded in silence.

You ask me (in words again)

How to know what’s inside me,

But I stare at you,

Shake my head.

Were you ever really listening?

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Excerpt from A Laughing Matter of Pain

December begins with a snowstorm. Business is bad for a whole week. The advantage to this? I spend more time with Kathy. In the small house, there’s not much room for privacy. Dawson and Betty are never more than a room away. The four of us play cards or listen to the evening radio programs. Betty never complains about jazz like Ma did, although Dawson usually nods off within ten minutes of the radio going on. Betty sits with a book in one of the armchairs near the window while her husband snores away in the other. Most evenings, Kathy and I sit on the couch, although sometimes we remain in the kitchen long after dinner, talking over coffee and one after another cigarette for me.

The second week of December, the weather breaks. Dawson and I work all day in the cold, my fingers numb by the time dinner comes. After another busy day, Kathy’s parents rest in their usual spots in the living room while Kathy and I sit at the kitchen table. The crackle of the fire and Dawson’s snores are the only sounds.

“Has your dad always slept like he could sleep through a war?” I ask.

Kathy giggles. “Yeah, it’s pretty bad sometimes. I don’t know how Mom sleeps in the same room as him. I don’t suppose you snore?”

I shrug. “I wouldn’t know. My brother and me shared a room growing up. He never said anything. Why? You afraid I’d keep you up?” Realizing what I’ve said, I blush.

“That would assume sleeping in the same bed as me.” Kathy half-smiles and wrinkles her nose at me.

“Well, maybe…one day? I mean, if we ever, you know, married.” My blush deepens, as I know I’m getting ahead of myself.

“Are you asking?”

“Just…dreaming. A guy can dream, can’t he?”

“Nothing wrong with dreams.” Kathy takes my hand across the table. “Dreams are what keep us going through the hard times…and hope.”

“I like the sound of that. I think so, too.” I stare into her eyes, imaging her beautiful soul. “Your eyes are the same color as mine.” If we ever had kids together, they’d be sure to have blue eyes.

“You have nice eyes, Harry. And a nice smile.”

“A crooked smile, more like. My brother, Erik, was graced with the good looks in my family.” I laugh.

“Hmm, well, I don’t know what your brother looks like, but I don’t mind looking at you.”

“I’d rather look at you if it’s all the same.” I grin.

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My novel, Lorna versus Laura, is available for $4.99 here.

My novel, Hannah’s Rainbow: Every Color Beautiful, is available for $5.99 here.