Review of Cordial Killing (A Backyard Farming Mystery) by Vikki Walton

CKPreLaunch

Cordial Killing (A Backyard Farming Mystery)

Description: Anne is excited for the opening of the Brandywine Inn. Kandi and Hope are her partners in the bed-and-breakfast in Carolan Springs, Colorado, where they also provide homesteading and herbal workshops for guests.
As soon as the guests arrive, it’s plain that the five old college chums have bad blood between them. When Anne finds a threatening note, it’s clear that someone is out for revenge. Then they find a guest dead. At first, the death appears to be natural, but suspicions begin to grow.
When a blizzard threatens the Inn, will it trap them all with a killer and no way out?
Cordial Killing is a classic who-dun-it with a twist. Set in the fictional small town of Carolan Springs, you will enjoy an armchair getaway into beautiful Colorado.

NewReleaseREVIEW: Cordial Killings is the second book in The Backyard Farming series by Vikki Walton. As a cozy mystery set in a bed and breakfast, I was looking forward to reading this book during the colder weather with a warm drink and a fire going. The setting is perfect for a cozy, and Walton doesn’t disappoint with descriptions of the food and drinks that the characters often partake. However, I wanted more description of the setting. A picturesque backdrop of Colorado Rockies in the winter, the blanket of glistening snow, the way freshly fallen snow coats tree branches…these are the beauties of winter that could have been played up. In addition, I would have loved more details on the decor of the rooms in the bed and breakfast. The layout of the house is described, but I feel that more details would have given it even more of that cozy feeling I’m looking for when I dive into this type of book.

The characters who run the bed and breakfast, Anne, Kandi, and Hope, are sweet–the type of ladies you would want for friends. Unfortunately, the same can’t be said for all the guests, a group of middle-aged women who were college friends and are reuniting for a weekend of learning how to make tonics, tinctures, and tisanes. The old friends (or frenemies?) are aptly and cutely called the Elizabeth Taylors, named Taylor, Liz, Lil, and Beth. The weekend is supposed to be for ladies only, but when Beth arrives with husband Edward, a womanizing cardiologist with more than one type of heart trouble, tensions build in the group, and old wounds open and fester.

I kept waiting for the first death, but it wasn’t until I was halfway through the book. I would have liked less banter between the women and for this important action step to occur much sooner, perhaps about twenty percent of the way into the story.  While the bad blood between the group is important backstory and plays into the plot, I think the story needs to move quicker in the beginning to get to the point of a cozy mystery: solving a murder or suspected murder.

Another death follows shortly, and from there, the pace really picks up. I was pleased with how the rest of the story flowed and played out. I admit I suspected the killer and turned out to be right, but as the sheriff and Anne interview the different guests, motives for each are presented and well thought-out. The ending was satisfying.

This was an easy, enjoyable read–a good book if you’re looking for something fun and not too serious.

4 of out 5 stars

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About the author:
Vikki’s first words were “I get it!” This attitude became her life-long mantra to always go after what she wants. It also helped her realize her desire to help others get what they really want out of life.
After spending years as a registered interior designer, Vikki began to write. While writing for periodicals, Vikki found herself on assignment interviewing publishers in Colorado Springs. It wasn’t long before the natural beauty of Colorado captured her heart.
After moving to Colorado, Vikki worked with nonprofits. However, she soon realized she needed more autonomy in her work.

Vikki started her own business as a nonprofit consultant and grant writer. She has helped nonprofits across the U.S. to receive millions of dollars for  their work. Yet, she realized doing one thing wouldn’t satisfy her for long.

Vikki became a Work Quilter™ combining her many passions to create multiple income streams. She started speaking and teaching adults on myriad and diverse topics around her knowledge, skills and passions.   She’s taught and spoken on Creative Writing, Design for Heart and Home, Fundraising Fundamentals , Suburban Homesteading, Permaculture, How to Get What You Really Want, and of course, Work Quilting. Two words that continually appear on instructor and speaker feedback forms are “engaging” and “knowledgeable.”
Born in Chicago, Vikki lived outside of Paris for a few years as a small child. That may account for her love of travel. She moved to Wichita with her parents before going on to live most of her life around the San Antonio, Texas area. She is the founder of #girlswantago and you can connect through Facebook or www.girlswantago.com 
Vikki is also an experienced, professional  global house and pet sitter.  
Vikki’s favorite genre is mystery so it wasn’t long before she had begun her first cozy mystery series.  Incorporating her love of suburban homesteading, or as some call it, backyard farming, Vikki’s first book is Chicken Culprit. 

You’ll most often find Vikki out hiking with her dog, outside gardening, traveling abroad, house or pet sitting, or writing her next book.

FirstinSeries
Marie’s Elderberry Cordial Recipe

Items Needed

  • Quart canning jar with lid
  • Funnel (large mouth)
  • Wooden spoon
  • Label or masking tape
  • Sharpie
  • Cheesecloth (optional)
  • Strainer (optional)
  • Decorative Bottle (optional)
Ingredients Amounts needed Comments
Elderberries 1.25 cup dried or 2 cups fresh For fresh, remove from stems.
Brandy 3 cups Can also use other alcohol but brandy is most commonly used.
Honey ¼ to ½ cup (or to taste) Vegans or those who don’t have access to good local raw honey can substitute maple syrup. Acquiring local honey will provide your cordial with its own unique flavor.
Optional
Cinnamon stick One Flavor along with Antioxidants and Anti-Inflammatory properties
Rosehips ¼ cup Extra Vitamin C
Ginger 1-2 tbsp grated fresh ginger Flavor along with Antioxidants

Instructions

  • Place elderberries (and any optional ingredients, if using) into quart jar.
  • Cover with brandy.
  • Add honey.
  • Stir with wooden spoon or put lid on and shake.
  • Place in dark, cool space (usually a cabinet will do) for three to four weeks.
  • If desired, strain with cheesecloth and using a strainer, put into a decorative bottle.
  • Or you can leave ingredients in jar.
  • In winter take 1-2 tbsp daily for immune-boosting. If ill, take 3-4 tbsp (basically a shot glass) a few times a day until symptoms improve. This cordial can also be used as a base for poor-tasting tinctures such as osha.
  • Can last for a year with fresh berries and longer if made with dried berries—if you have it that long!

Notes

Elderberry is a wonderful plant to have in your yard or on your property. It has many medicinal benefits and uses. The elderberry plant most commonly associated with immune-boosting and flu-fighting properties is the dark berry plant (Elderberry Sambucus Nigra). Elder flower is also used in elixirs, teas and food.  Elder was the International Herb Association’s Herb of the Year in 2013. It’s usually harvested in September.

This Content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.


Character interview:

Hope, can you share with our readers about yourself?AvailableFavBookstore

Certainly. I live above the shop of an herbal apothecary I own in Carolan Springs, Colorado. I’m also a medical doctor.. My mother, Faith, lives with me and I care for her. I’m an only child and I moved back to care for my mother when she started having health issues. I love living in a small town and I love Colorado. I’m in the perfect place for the life I want to live and the work I want to do. I have a new intern, Autumn, so that’s helping me to expand into other areas of interest.

You’ve recently opened a bed-and-breakfast with your friends. Can you tell us about that?

My father, Ralph Rogers, passed away, and I inherited his house. I didn’t know for years that Ralph was my father,  so it surprised me when he left me the home in his will. The house is a huge, old Victorian that probably stood by itself for many years before the other homes went up around it.  Anne, who has become a good friend, and Kandi, another friend, talked about the possibility of opening a bed-and-breakfast in the house. As they live on either side of the house, it works well for them. Anne has written and taught about suburban homesteading while Kandi is a great cook. Plus, I get to do teaching on herbs through workshops we hold there. It’s called the Brandywine Inn as Ralph was a big fan of Brandywine tomatoes. In the summer we open it up primarily for tourists and those who come for the homesteading fair. Then we can hold workshops in the spring and fall.

Tell us about where you live.

I live in the small mountain town of Carolan Springs in Colorado. (Don’t try to find it on a map as it’s only in the author’s imagination). I have to say the weather here in Colorado takes some getting used to. There can be a snowstorm in the morning and by the afternoon, lots of bright sunshine and warm temperatures. The key is to wear layers at any time of the year! I finally learned that after living here for a few years. I’m excited about spring because it’s that shoulder season when it’s normally crisp morning and sunny days. It’s a great time for hiking and seeing all the early wildflowers popping up and sometimes even mushrooms. We’re incorporating hike opportunities for our guests.

Can you tell us a bit more about Carolan Springs and its inhabitants?

It’s a fairly small town—around 3500 people—and just like everywhere else, you have many characters. My shop is along the main street filled with little shops and everyone is usually nice though we have some cranky folks just like any other town. I think Sheriff Carson and Anne should just get on with it and become a couple because they’re both so stubborn that they’d be a perfect match. But don’t tell them I said anything. Problem is they’ll probably end up with others. Oh well, what can you do? I’m sure you’ll find out more about the town’s residents in future stories.

You mentioned the author, what can you tell us about her?

Well, she was born in Chicago but spent most of her life in Texas—around the San Antonio area. But just like me, she loves Colorado’s mountains. She grows and uses herbs and making her own tinctures, tonics, and salves. She loves the basic edible herbs like basil, cilantro, dill, and others. A few of her favorite medicinal herbs are astragalus and osha for tinctures along with comfrey she uses in salves. In addition to writing mysteries, she’s also written nonfiction books. She loves everything about being a suburban homesteader or what some call backyard farming. She’s a certified permaculture designer, has chickens and beehives and gardens of various types.

Hope, can you tell us what’s next for the series?

We’ve all been talking about getting beehives for the property, so we can offer honey to our guests. Having bees on the property will also help with all the gardens we want to install. I wouldn’t be surprised to see one of those being a part of the next book in the series.

Anything else you’d like to share?

I can’t think of anything. Though my mother (Faith) says she has a bad feeling about our opening weekend at the bed-and-breakfast. She has second-sight so that’s a bit disconcerting that she says she has a bad feeling. But I’m sure it’s nothing. I hope.

Excerpt from Rocks and Flowers in a Box (WIP)

When Macy showed up at my side door with a large pot and an equally big smile, a subdued John standing behind her, I let them in graciously.

“What did you bring?” I asked. “It smells wonderful.”

Macy set the pot on my stove and turned on the burner. “Just some of my infamous vegetable soup, ingredients courtesy of my little garden. It needs a few minutes to reheat, but then I think we’ll be good to go.”

We hugged.

“Thank you. I’m sure Tristan will appreciate it. Your cooking was always better than mine.”

John, who stood just inside the door, smiled and patted his slight paunch. “She’s not too shabby.”

Macy and I exchanged amused looks, laughing.

“Thanks for coming over, John,” I said, giving him a quick hug.

“Not a problem.” He glanced toward the doorway to the dining and living rooms, where Tristan’s snores entered the kitchen. “If Macy keeps bringing your husband food, you might need to put him on a diet.”

Macy rolled her eyes. “You need to get back to playing on the men’s baseball league and not just coaching Johnny’s little league, dear. As for poor Tristan, I think he just needs to take it easy.”

I took some bowls out of the cupboards and set the table. “Sorry the kitchen’s such a mess.” I gestured at the stacks of boxes on the floor along the walls.

Macy waved me off. “Well, that’s why we’re here, darling–to help get your house set up. Just think, once all of Tristan’s stuff is moved in, you can start decorating and making it your own.”

“One thing at a time, Mace.” I grinned and went into the living room, where Tristan slumbered. I watched the steady rise and fall of his chest for several seconds, contemplating whether to wake him.

I returned to the kitchen. “I think we should eat and let Tristan grab a bowl when he’s ready. I’d hate to disturb him.”

“Fine by me,” John said, taking a bowl off the table and going to the stove to fill it.

Macy and I gave each other knowing looks that said the same thing: Men.

LIKE WHAT YOU’VE READ?  PLEASE SUBSCRIBE TO MY BLOG, WHERE I POST AN EXCERPT EVERY SATURDAY. ALSO KEEP UP-TO-DATE WITH MY WRITING PROJECTS!

My novel, A Laughing Matter of Pain, is available for $4.99 here.
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.

Excerpt from Rocks and Flowers in a Box (WIP)

I filled two glasses and placed them on the table. We drew up mismatched chairs and drank. Tristan finished first and sighed with pleasure.

I eyed him over the top of my glass. He gazed out the back window toward his house, the line between his eyebrows deepening. I put my glass down and asked, “So?”

“So, what?”

“Really, Tristan? Do you enjoy playing these guessing games?” My mouth hitched up on one side.

“Maybe.” There was a teasing undertone in his voice, but the crease between his eyebrows was still present.

“We’re married now. I think you can tell me anything.”

He whisked his eyes away from the window and met mine. “There’s nothing I could tell you that you don’t know already.”

“I find that hard to believe,” I joked, then grew serious. “But something’s off about you today.” As happy as I was, doubt poked at me.

“To be honest, I never thought I’d be married again.”

I took his hands in mine. For a moment, I stared at his large, rough hands–hands that could fix anything, from a house to a car, but also had typed and penned thousands of poetic prose, weaving those threads into the fabric of three novels. I met his eyes. “I think this will taking adjusting on both of our parts. We weren’t exactly social butterflies before we met.” I laughed.

The line between Tristan’s eyebrows lessened, and crinkles formed around his eyes as he smiled. “That’s the understatement of the century.”

After the moment of levity passed, I said, “So, enlighten me, O Talkative One.”

“Going through all my things, it’s like digging through the past.” His eyes shifted to the box on the table. “Maybe it would be better if I got rid of most of these things and be more like you. You know, completely start over.”

The tea kettle whistled. I stood and went to the stove, turned off the burner, and added a teabag. I gave a little snort. “My house is filling up quickly, but throwing away everything from your past isn’t the answer, Tristan. You can see how well that served me.” I joined him at the table.

“My stuff is taking over in here. I’m letting go of the house. It’s time I let go of other reminders, too.”

“Of Julie?” I asked quietly.

“Yes, of Julie.” He stared out the window toward his house again, as if his wife’s ghost were looking back at him out one of the windows.

“Hey.” I placed my hand on his arm.

He slowly turned his head, but his eyes were on the table.

I moved my hand to his cheek. “You wouldn’t be forgetting her.”

Eyes so empty and so full lifted from staring at the tabletop. “I know that here.” He pointed to his head. “But here, well, that’s another matter.” He gestured toward his chest.  “Pain and pleasure mixed.”

My lips quirked. “We make quite the pair, don’t we? I can hear Macy asking now, ‘Why can’t you two just be happy? Why do you always have to complicate things?’”

Tristan half-smiled. “Your best friend doesn’t know the half of it. Messy people are like that…complicated.”

Note: Rocks and Flowers in a Box is the sequel to my second novel, Lorna versus Laura.

LIKE WHAT YOU’VE READ?  PLEASE SUBSCRIBE TO MY BLOG, WHERE I POST AN EXCERPT EVERY SATURDAY. ALSO KEEP UP-TO-DATE WITH MY WRITING PROJECTS!

My novel, A Laughing Matter of Pain, is for $4.99 available here.
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.

Chapter 4 of A Laughing Matter of Pain

With the release of my newest book, A Laughing Matter of Pain, I’m going to be sharing the first four chapters with you in the month of October! Check back every Saturday for the next chapter. The book is available on Amazon here.

Chapter 4

As the summer wears on, my brother continues to be an enigma. He used to be so easy to understand because he was just like me in many ways. If I’m honest with myself, I don’t even understand why I do or say half the things I do anymore.

In August, Amy surprises us by saying she’s dating someone.

“How did you meet this young man?” Ma asks over dinner one evening.

“I’d like it if you brought him by. I’d like to meet him,” Pa says. The twinkle is out of his eyes, his mouth a firm line.

“We met through a mutual friend from work,” Amy says. “I’m twenty-three, Pa. Really, don’t you think I’m a bit old to be bringing my boyfriend around for my parents to meet? It might not even be anything serious.” Her face flushes. She’s probably twiddling her hands under the table like she always does when she gets agitated. I keep my eyes on her, taking a bit of pleasure in her discomfort, wondering how this conversation will go.

“You’re still a young lady,” Pa says.

“Erik gets tons of calls from girls,” Amy says. “Why should this be any different? I’m five years older than him. Ma, you were my age when you met Pa.”

“Hey, don’t bring me into this,” Erik says.

I smirk, trying not to chuckle at this free entertainment.

Ma sighs. “You’re right. I was, but girls–women–were more mature back then than they are nowadays. The way they flaunt themselves–those flapper girls with their bobbed hair and too-short dresses. All that jazz nonsense, dancing, and illegal drinking. People are wilder than ever.”

I try to imagine Amy dressed as a promiscuous young lady, smoking and drinking. It’s damn near impossible.

“I’m hardly a flapper, Ma,” Amy says. “How often have I told you times change? When will you realize that things aren’t going to just go back to the way they were thirty or forty years ago?”

Ma harrumphs and digs into her food.

One point for Amy.

Pa shakes his head. “Can we please not argue at the table? Amelia Rose, despite your opinion on the matter, you still live under the roof of this house. Your mother and I wish to meet this young man because we want what’s best for you. The matter is closed.”

Oh, the full name. My gaze shifts from Pa to Amy.

“Father,” she groans, removing the napkin from her lap and setting it on the table. “I’m suddenly not hungry.” Amy walks away from the table and leaves through the back door.

“Enough,” Ma says. “Let’s eat before dinner gets cold.”

“Well, I think it’s awful that Amy has a boyfriend,” Hannah states. “I agree with Ma and Pa that it just isn’t right. Next thing you know, she’ll be wanting to get married and moving out.”

I chuckle. “Good one, Hannah-panna. You took the cake on that one.”

“What?” Hannah asks, scrunching her face up at me. “It’s the truth.”

“I believe I already said that was enough,” Ma said.

“But–”

I keep my mouth shut as Hannah’s silenced, but I’m glad to see I’m not the only one who causes tension in this house. I don’t bother Hannah the rest of the evening, although it’s tempting. I’d love to see Amy have the gumption to keep dating this mystery man, but as the day gives way to the next, her bad mood doesn’t lift. At breakfast, she hardly touches her food. She’s out the door for work by the time Hannah comes down.

“You just missed Amy,” I say to Hannah in between bites of oatmeal. “She was in a wonderful mood this morning.”

Hannah rolls her eyes as Ma enters, Irma right behind her. “What did she say?”

“Not two words,” Erik says. “No ‘good morning.’ Nothing.”

I’m about to add my two cents when Ma says, “Amy went to work like she’s supposed to. The rest of you would do well to finish up in here and be about your business. Your father has plenty of work for you boys outside with harvest time upon us and won’t be too pleased if he comes home and it’s not done. Hannah, you’re going to help with the laundry.”

Erik and I get done in the kitchen. I don’t complain too much today about the chores. It’s a nice day–not too hot. Besides, this story ain’t over with Amy, and Hannah’s disapproval of the whole situation adds another layer to it.

While Erik pulls weeds and I pluck lettuce and cabbages, I say, “What d’you think of all this?”

“What?” Erik keeps his back to me.

“Don’t play dumb. C’mon, brother. You gotta admit–this is new for Amy.”

“I say good for her. She’s old enough. I kept wondering when she might marry and move out. She’s well into her twenties, and if she waits too long, her prospects will be all dried up. No man wants to marry an old maid.”

I laugh. “You planning on marrying young?”

“Marriage?” Erik asks incredulously. “I have college first, then find a job. By then, I’ll be Amy’s age. That’s years away.”

“Well, I never know with you, since you have at least a half dozen girls calling you at any given time. Who’s the latest catch? Maybe you should bring her around.”

“We’re not talking about this anymore.” Erik’s neck reddens and I’m sure it’s not from the sun.

I shake my head and return to picking vegetables.

By evening, Amy returns home with none other than her boyfriend. He’s a good-looking guy who’s easy to talk with. He introduces himself to Erik and me in the living room.

“Jack Banks,” he says, his handshake strong.

“Hi, Jack. I’m Harry. So, my sister says she likes you. Lucky you.”

Jack grins and wraps an arm around Amy. “I’d say I’m the lucky guy, but she is quite the doll, your sister.”

Amy’s practically glowing. If it were dark, she could light up the room.

Erik and Jack exchange introductions, and Großmutter, our grandmother who moved in with us a few months back, is saying something in German, but if her smile were any wider, the wrinkles on her face would crumble off.

Irma comes down the steps quietly and enters the room, and Jack gets down on one knee. “And who’s this little sweetheart?”

“Irma,” my littlest sister says shyly.

“What a beautiful name.” Jack picks her up and tosses her up in the air. Irma giggles as he catches her.

Conversation flows naturally, and the lighthearted jokes are in full swing when Pa joins us. For a moment, I wonder if he’s gonna kick this charmer out on his backside. Pa’s taken with him the moment Jack approaches him. For Amy’s sake, I’m relieved. Unlike Erik, I never imagined her as an old maid–not that I’d tell her that.

Before I know it, we sit down for dinner. Everyone seems to have taken a liking to Jack, except Hannah. All through the meal, my little sister sends little-concealed glares at Jack and strikes Amy like a question-firing squad. After dinner, she plays for us, and maybe she’s a bit happier.

As I’m off to bed, I wonder what’s been going on with Hannah and think of teasing her in the morning to get an answer out of her. It’s not like I’d want her to think I’m really concerned or something.

* * *

Weeks pass, and Erik packs for Ohio State. It’s September by now, and I’ve started tenth grade. I’m already being compared to my brother by many of my teachers, and I tell Erik that I have some big shoes to fill.

“It’s true,” I say the night before he’s to leave for Columbus. “Do any of those girls you talk to know just how big your feet are?”

Probably in spite of himself, Erik stops in his tracks as he’s about to put a stack of shirts in his suitcase and looks down at his feet. “You’re exaggerating.”

I roll my eyes. “Don’t you get enough sweet talk from your admirers?”

Erik doesn’t answer for a while. Instead, he resumes packing. When his suitcase is stuffed to the brim, he has a hard time shutting it and resorts to sitting hard on it to get it to close. “You might wanna start shaving, Harry, if you want a girl.”

I smirk. “Maybe I’m trying to grow a beard.”

Erik laughs. “That would be one pathetic beard.”

I shrug. We fall silent and focus on everything in the room but each other. The sun is setting, casting an orange glow on the walls and furniture. The floor is well-worn from years of us tracking mud and sprinting across it to see who could make the most noise. On the dresser–Erik’s stuff in the top two drawers and mine in the bottom two–we share a picture of us from probably ten years ago, our smiles reflecting our innocent mischief.

“Yeah, well…goodnight,” Erik says.

“Goodnight, brother.” I go for nonchalant, but my voice cracks a little at the end. How embarrassing.

The next day, Erik doesn’t say much. Our sisters are crying, of course. Women. It’s not like they’ll never see him again. Ma’s a mess. Pa’s driving Erik down, and I’m still not clear on why Ma is staying home, other than her need to keep the house clean and the rest of us kids fed.

I stand out in the driveway, watching Erik load the last of his things into the trunk.

“Well, don’t do anything too stupid,” he says to me, a smirk on his lips but a plea in his eyes.

“Stupid? Me? Nah. You got the wrong guy.”

Erik half-steps toward me like he’s about to hug me, but he stops and nods. “See ya around.”

“Yeah, see ya.”

I keep my eyes on the back of his head as he gets into the car. As it pulls away, my head’s filled with all the things I just couldn’t say, and I ain’t sure why.

LIKE WHAT YOU’VE READ?  PLEASE SUBSCRIBE TO MY BLOG, WHERE I POST AN EXCERPT EVERY SATURDAY. ALSO KEEP UP-TO-DATE WITH MY WRITING PROJECTS!

My new novel, A Laughing Matter of Pain, is now available here.
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.

 

Chapter 3 of A Laughing Matter of Pain

With the release of my newest book, A Laughing Matter of Pain, I’m going to be sharing the first four chapters with you in the month of October! Check back every Saturday for the next chapter. The book is available on Amazon here.

Chapter 3

The moment I wake up, Ma’s on my back like a heavy rock to do my chores. Erik and I pour sweat in buckets as we work in the garden. Every morning starts like this. Then Erik and I shovel vegetable soup into our mouths like we’re starving at lunch. When done, we dart outta Ma’s way before she smacks us for no manners.

“Honestly, you two,” she says, her brow stern, “act your age. Don’t forget that you have to spend the next hour either reading or sewing.”

“Since when have we ever chosen sewing, Ma?” I ask. “Even Pa thinks it’s ridiculous.”

“C’mon, Harry,” Erik whispers. “Best to just get it over with.”

We go upstairs before Ma can say another word. Erik picks up a tattered copy of Crime and Punishment and lies on his bed, immersing himself in the novel, his nose practically buried between the yellowed pages.

I sigh and pick up Huckleberry Finn.

After five minutes, I say, “That book should be a crime and a punishment to read. It’s certainly a punishment. Look how thick it is.”

Erik lowers the book enough to look at me. “You know, Harry, some books are actually quite good. You never have the patience to give anything a chance. This story teaches us about the human condition.”

“The human what?” I shake my head and reach between the mattress and the box spring and pull out my new pulp magazine. I slide it into my book and pretend that Huck Finn is as interesting as an alien invasion.

At the end of the hour, Erik remarks, “Don’t think I didn’t see that. What garbage are you reading now?”

“Nothing so enlightening as Crime and Punishment, I’m sure.” I make to set the book aside, but Erik is too fast and snatches it from my grip.

Attack of the Killer Moonmen?” He chuckles. “You don’t really think men live on the moon, do you?”

I shrug. “Maybe, but who cares? Our time’s up, so let’s get outta here before Ma comes up with another list of chores.”

Erik hands me the book back, and I stuff the magazine back under the mattress, placing the book on the night table.

Erik’s already gone, and I wonder whether I should follow him. As I walk past the bathroom, I catch a glimpse of my reflection. There are three tiny hairs on my chin. I touch them almost reverently and smile. I’m becoming a man. I run my hands through my hair as I continue walking, feeling the botched job on top of my head. Ma was too enthusiastic with those scissors last week, so my hair sticks up in every direction.

When I reach the bottom of the stairs, I find Hannah practicing the piano in the living room. The music’s been coming up through the floorboards for the past fifteen minutes, but I’ve learned to tune it out. I watch her move her hands over the keys in well-practiced fashion, a bit envious that she has such a talent. She stops playing and whirls around on the bench.

I lazily clap. She scowls.

“What are you doing, Harry?”

I smile to indulge my little sister. “You always think the worst of me, Hannah. It’s like you don’t trust me.”

“I didn’t say that, but you’re usually looking for trouble.”

“Yeah, well, you know what they say about trouble and middle names. I’m officially changing mine to ‘Trouble’ when I’m of age.”

She smiles. “You’re completely bananas.”

“Mmm, bananas…sounds good to me. See ya later.”

Ten minutes later, I walk down Madison Avenue with a half-eaten banana in my hand. There’s no sign of Erik, so I check to see if Mitch Woods is home. I’m in luck as he comes to the door, and when my buddy sees the peel, he asks if I have any more food.

“Nah, sorry,” I say as we walk along the sidewalk and toss the peel into a neighbor’s trash can.

Mitch is two years older than me and has been friends with Erik and me since before I can remember. Plain’s the word to describe us. We don’t stand out with our brown hair and average builds.

“You haven’t seen my brother around, have you?” I ask.

“Nope. Why?”

I shrug. “Just askin’.”

“He’s off to college, right?”

“Yeah, soon. We won’t be seeing him for a while, but enough about my brother. So, what do you wanna do?”

Mitch eyes up Hatford Park across the street. “Remember?”

I share a devilish grin with him. “How could I forget?”

We dash across the street with the boldness of idiots. A few kids run around the picnic tables playing a game of tag, and off in the distance, a man is throwing a ball to his dog. Other than that, the place is empty. We approach a cluster of willow trees, the July breeze gently swaying the branches. Beyond the trees, the pond–what we called a lake when growing up–sits calm.

I chuck a rock into the water, creating ripples. As I throw another and then another, I don’t know what’s come over me, except that I want to disturb the peaceful water. “The girls were always trying to bust us when we were kids,” I say.

“Yeah, but they thought it was funny to spy on us.” Mitch chuckles.

“Ever think of doing it again?”

He looks at me like I’ve lost my marbles. “You crazy? We can’t go skinny-dipping anymore.”

I see the flush on his face. “Damn, you burn easy,” I tease. “We can afford to live a little.”

Mitch shakes his head. “In broad daylight?”

“Where’s your sense of adventure, old boy?” I take off my shirt. “I won’t let you live this down.”

Mitch turns around as I strip down completely.

“What’re you so worried about?”

I don’t wait for his answer as I back up and get a running start, then dash toward the water. I cannonball into the pond, and as my body makes contact, I close my eyes in the thrill of the moment. After a brief stay underwater, I bob to the surface, laughing. I swim around the pond in large, exaggerated breast strokes and roll onto my back, gazing at the sun.

Then I hear the voice that seems to have a hobby of following me lately. “What the hell?”

I stop swimming and am not surprised to see Erik standing next to Mitch. I’m not sure whose face is more amusing, but I’m too caught up in having a good time to feel any shame. Erik’s face changes from stunned to disappointed to downright disgusted.

“Get out and get your clothes on.”

“Yeah, yeah,” I grumble.

My good mood pops like an over-inflated balloon because of my brother’s over-inflated ego. I swim until the bottom touches my legs, then stand and leave the water. While grabbing my clothes, I keep my gaze on an interesting patch of bark on one of the trees and dress.

“Where’d you go, anyway?” I glower at Erik.

“What’s it matter?”

I turn toward Mitch, in the hopes that he might have grown a backbone in the past thirty seconds. I’m sorely disappointed to find him backing away with his hands held up in front of him.

“You know what, guys?” he says. “I just remembered…my mom wanted me to, uh, clean the toilet bowl before the day’s done.” With that parting remark, Mitch is gone.

“I don’t wanna argue with you, Harry.”

“Oh? That’s news to me. Seems to have become a habit for you lately.”

“Maybe I’ve grown up.”

I hate that I want to punch my brother in the face, but I also want nothing more than to wipe off that smug look. “You say you don’t wanna argue. Then what’re we doin’?”

Erik steps closer. For a split-second, I think he’s going to take a swing at me, but maybe that’s because my hackles are up. “You’re reckless. You don’t take anything seriously.”

I laugh bitterly. “You used to call it fun. Egging that cad Theodore Wilson’s house was worth it. He picked on me all last year.”

“What about when you tried smoking in eighth grade? I covered for you.”

“So, what? It’s called living a little. Ever think that maybe life isn’t all about grades and books? Real life, Erik…”

“Ah, so it’s experience you’re looking for? That’s your reason?”

“You say I’m never serious. Well, how’s this for serious, brother?” I storm up to him, even though he’s a good four inches taller than me, and shove him in the chest. He stumbles backward and falls hard on his ass. When I march off, he doesn’t pursue me. I wonder if that stick he’s got up his backside fell out when he hit the ground.

I don’t return home for several hours. By the time I approach the back door, darkness has settled in. I stop, in no hurry to enter and receive an earful from Ma for being gone all day. While I wonder if she left any food for me, my gaze falls on the board that covers the window on the door. There used to be glass in that window, but I couldn’t tell you how many times Erik and I broke it over the years from playing ball. Finally, Pa just put a plank of wood there and left it. I look up. No stars tonight. Only clouds. I grimace and make for the door.

Beyond the kitchen, light from the dining and living rooms spills through the doorway. The radio’s on, the volume low. I expect to find my parents in their usual spots: Ma in the rocking chair with her knitting, glasses perched on the end of her nose, and Pa in the armchair, listening to the jazz music that Ma so dislikes. Before I can take another step, Ma is upon me, throwing the kitchen light on.

“Oh, thank the good Lord,” she breathes, pulling me into a tight hug.

I awkwardly place my arms around her. “What’s wrong?”

“We had no idea where you’d gone off to. Erik returned hours ago and said he hadn’t seen you.”

“Sorry, uh…I’m fine.”

“Don’t ever do that again, Harry.”

Pa joins us and frowns. “You had your mother worried sick, son. I’d ask where you were, but I suppose we should just be glad you’re home in one piece. Never again, you hear?”

“Yeah, Pa. Sorry. I didn’t do anything, uh, bad if that’s what you’re thinking.” Pa’s disappointment stings worse than anything Ma could say.

Ma yawns and waves me off. The frown lines around her mouth are deeper than normal. Her puffy eyes are shadowed. “Eat something and be off to bed.”

She’s kept my plate covered. With nothing short of affection for Ma, I sit down and eat the chicken, potatoes, and vegetables. Despite the cold food, it sits well with me as a warmth at being missed settles inside.

The lights are out when I go through the living room and up the stairs to my bedroom. “Don’t tell me you’re still reading that garbage,” I say in way of greeting when I find Erik still up.

Erik lowers Crime and Punishment and glares.

I drop onto my bed. “You didn’t tell them about the skinny-dipping.”

“No.”

“Why?”

“And risk Ma having a heart attack?” Erik’s tone is light, almost teasing.

Our gazes meet across the short distance, and even though Erik isn’t quite smiling, I think he’s trying hard not to.

“Thanks,” I say.

LIKE WHAT YOU’VE READ?  PLEASE SUBSCRIBE TO MY BLOG, WHERE I POST AN EXCERPT EVERY SATURDAY. ALSO KEEP UP-TO-DATE WITH MY WRITING PROJECTS!

My new novel, A Laughing Matter of Pain, is now available here.
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.

 

Chapter 2 of A Laughing Matter of Pain

With the release of my newest book, A Laughing Matter of Pain, I’m going to be sharing the first four chapters with you in the month of October! Check back every Saturday for the next chapter. The book is available on Amazon here.

Chapter 2

“You knew today was going to be an early day.”

With a groan, I open my eyes, expecting to find Erik hovering over me like one of those strange alien space-things you read about in pulp magazines. Instead, sunlight blasts me straight in the eyes. I squint and manage to sit.

“Hey, good morning, brother,” I say, my voice scratchy. “I don’t suppose you brought some milk up with you?”

“You know Ma won’t let us eat anywhere but the kitchen. C’mon, Harry. If we’re late because of you–”

“No need to get all in a pickle. I’m up.”

I smirk, half-annoyed, half-amused. Lately, Erik’s sense of humor seems to have taken a detour out his backside. Maybe if he pulled out the stick he’s got shoved up there, his sense of humor would find its way back in.

“What’s so funny?” he asks.

I realize I’ve been smiling to myself. “Nothing you’d appreciate. Okay, let’s get you graduated and moving on to higher edu-ma-cation.”

Erik leaves, and I scratch at the poison ivy rash on my leg. I blame Pa for that one–making me clear out the weeds in the garden before planting a couple of weeks ago. By the time I’m downstairs, I find the kitchen table empty of people, my place setting left alone. Ma bustles about the place like a confused bee who can’t decide which flower to pick.

“It’s cold,” she says, her back to me, indicating the food with a wave of the arm.

I’m already shoveling the eggs and bacon into my mouth like I haven’t eaten in a week as she finishes talking. When I shrug and gulp down the milk, Ma turns and frowns. Hannah chooses that moment to walk in and wrinkles her nose at me.

“You’re disgusting, Harry.”

She’s already dressed for this momentous occasion, her dark blond, bobbed hair combed and held in place with a clip.

When I belch, Irma giggles as she prances into the kitchen and lands on my lap.

“Hello, itty-bitty Irma,” I say. Like me, she’s got Ma’s brown hair and Pa’s blue eyes. She’s much cuter than me, though.

Irma beams and hugs me, but Ma shoos me out. As I stand, I stop to whisper in Hannah’s ear, “At least Irma’s happy to see me.”

I leave her with those words of wisdom and run upstairs to throw together something that’s presentable. When I return downstairs, I’m not surprised when Ma finds something to criticize me for.

“Did you even brush your hair, Harry? When’s the last time you had a haircut? If we had the time now–”

“Pa’s waiting!” my older sister, Amy, calls from the back door.

Amy is the eldest at twenty-three and is basically a more mature version of Hannah in terms of looks. In personality, she and Ma could be two peas in a pod. I’ve never been close to her. I think the words I’ve said the most to her over the years have been “I already have a mother, thanks.”

Ma ushers me out the door. My sisters are crammed into the very back seat of our seven passenger Caddy. Pa is behind the wheel. I hope Ma and Pa don’t get any ideas of springing another kid on us because I don’t know where they’d sit. When Ma told us about being pregnant with Irma three years ago, I thought, for once, she was joking. You can imagine how well Ma took my remark at the time when I thought she was just putting on a bit of weight.

Ma takes the front passenger seat, leaving me my usual place next to Erik in the middle seat. Erik’s already dressed in his navy-blue cap and gown, a medal around his neck for graduating Summa Cum Laude.

Pa starts the engine and pulls out of the driveway. As he drives, he doesn’t remark on my tardiness, but that’s Pa for you. He’s Ma’s polar opposite. In his easygoing manner, he says, “You know, Erik, I only went to school until third grade. I’m proud of you, son.”

If Erik had any humility, he might’ve blushed, but he just smiles. “Thanks, Pa. Well, I worked hard. I won’t let you down.”

“Yeah, you’re the first one in the family to go off to college,” I say. “I guess the rest of us don’t know much about working hard.”

“Your grades could be better, Harry,” Ma says. “Now, this is your brother’s day. Don’t ruin it.”

Hannah sniggers in the back seat.

Eyeing Erik, whose gaze challenges me, I reply, “Wouldn’t dream of it.”

I lean back with exaggerated casualness, my arms raised and crossed behind my head. I close my eyes and try to imagine a house without Erik, a place where I might be noticed for something other than everything I do wrong.

Several hours later, after Erik has paraded himself across the stage and basked in the applause of hundreds, we’re back home. My parents go out to eat about once a year, so we’ve met our quota for 1925 because Ma and Pa indulged Erik in his request for seafood. As I step out of the car, the fish doesn’t sit well with me. Or maybe that’s just an excuse.

“I’m going for a walk,” I say.

“Be back in time for dinner,” Ma replies.

“That’s hours away, Lucy,” Pa says, then looks at me. “We’ll see you later, son.”

“I don’t think I could eat anything if I tried,” I say. “If I’m not back for dinner, don’t wait up.”

Hannah purses her lips. “You mean, you’re not hungry for once? Usually you eat like someone’s going to take your food away.”

I’m not in the mood for jabs as I turn and trudge down the sidewalk. I’m a good ten houses away when I hear a voice calling after me.

“Hey, Harry! Wait up, will you?”

I’m torn between stopping in shock and quickening my pace. Erik would probably outrun me, so I reluctantly halt and allow him to catch up.

“What?” I ask pointedly.

He raises his eyebrows. “Now who’s in a bad mood?”

“Did you come to rub it in that you’re moving up in the world?”

He holds out a basketball. “Actually, I was just gonna ask if you’d like to shoot some baskets, but if you don’t–”

“I never said I didn’t.” My stomach settles.

My brother walks alongside me for a while in silence. We reach the park’s courts and dribble the ball between us. The years fall away. The differences that have come between us seem to die as we become two boys playing a fun game again.

I laugh at the brother I used to know as he pretends to limp across the court and then shoots a perfect basket. Somewhere in the middle of all this, he says, “I wanted to tell you last night…”

I’m dribbling the ball as he speaks and lose my focus, the ball rolling away.

“What?” I ask.

Erik’s eyes shift, as do his feet. Left to right. Right to left. He opens his mouth like a gaping fish outta water. Next thing I know, he’s darts off to the left, grabbing the ball and dribbling around me in circles.

“C’mon, Harry. Show me what you got!”

“Ha, I might not be as tall as you, but don’t forget I’m not done growing. One day–”

“One day you’ll be taller than me? I don’t think so!” Erik taunts me as he lifts the ball just out of my reach, but I’m ruthless.

We go head-to-head like this for the next several minutes, teasing and laughing. I finally manage to snag the ball from him and make a basket. Stopping to catch my breath, I wipe my sweaty forehead with the back of my hand, my hair sticking to it. I wonder if Ma might’ve been right about the haircut thing.

“If we were smart, we would’ve brought some water and changed our clothes,” Erik says.

“Oh? Brainy-boy Erik’s admitting he’s not as smart as he thinks? But yeah, Ma’s gonna have a field day cleaning these. I can hear her now. It’ll be just like old times.”

“Old times,” Erik murmurs. His grin droops, like someone painted a smile on an otherwise drawn face.

“This here, right now, is the most fun I’ve had in…I don’t know how long,” I tell him.

I’ve never been the sentimental type. I trip over my words like my feet trip over my laces as I step back.

Erik tosses the ball at me. “Rematch?”

I catch the ball, sure and steady in this sport. “Oh, you’re writing your death sentence, old boy. I’m gonna wipe you out. You might be good on the ball field, but you got nothing on me in the court.”

The time forgotten, we while away our afternoon like that. By the end of it all, we strip off our dress shirts and stroll home in damp undershirts, arguing over who really won and who smells worse.

I’m not sure who smells worse, but as far as winning goes, I’d say today was a winner for me.

LIKE WHAT YOU’VE READ?  PLEASE SUBSCRIBE TO MY BLOG, WHERE I POST AN EXCERPT EVERY SATURDAY. ALSO KEEP UP-TO-DATE WITH MY WRITING PROJECTS!

My new novel, A Laughing Matter of Pain, is now available here.
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.

Chapter 1 of A Laughing Matter of Pain

With the release of my newest book, A Laughing Matter of Pain, I’m going to be sharing the first four chapters with you in the month of October! Check back every Saturday for the next chapter. The book is available on Amazon here.

Chapter 1

Damp. Dank. Dusty. Dirty.

It’s become a kind of game. I’m good at games. How many words that begin with the letter D can I come up with to describe this place?

Disgusting.

There’s another point for me. 1-0, Hank, old boy.

Of course, you never talk much. I’m lucky to get the occasional grunt from you, Hank.

I roll onto my side, the lumpy mattress beneath me protesting as it pushes back in all the wrong places. Hank’s sleeping, if you can call whimpering and moaning while he pisses himself sleeping. Nightmares, of course. Not that Hank ever has much to say about that.

But back to my game. It’s not like I’m going anywhere.

Dank. Yep, that smell of musty, rusty mold growing on mold has attached itself to my nose like a cold that doesn’t leave. It’s my constant companion, whether I want it or not. I suppose it’s like the games I’m so good at. So good, in fact, that when I lost one, boy, did I ever lose.

I don’t know what nightmares plague Hank. Maybe it’s what landed him here that’s got him all caught up in nightly visions of Hell. Rumors say he killed a man in cold blood, but a man who wets himself like that ain’t a cold-blooded killer in my book. Whatever his problems, I’ve got enough of my own.

I damn near laughed when the guard who swung by last week said Prohibition ended. Fourteen years of outlawing alcohol, and now part of the reason I’m here’s legal again? How’s that for justice?

Alcohol’s my problem. Yeah, I admit that, but that’s not my nightmare. Green accusing eyes, cruel laughter falling from a red-lipsticked mouth that kissed me silly too many times to count, and the red hair to match…like flames that burn my insides every time I close my eyes. I don’t have to be sleeping to see her. Red everywhere, from the smashed in windshield, to her smashed in face, decorated with shards of glass as her stunned expression stares back at me with those eyes. Always those damn eyes. Even empty, they accuse.

* * *

Eight years earlier…

It’s late, but the dusk is still dimly lighting the western sky. Overhead, the stars poke out from the black. Most wouldn’t believe I have the calm inside me to stop and notice. When the others aren’t looking, I sneak away into the back yard, that dewy grass tickling my neck as I lie in it and watch the stars.

Footsteps disturb my concentration. I bolt up, my eyes adjusting until a man’s silhouette rests against the freshly painted white siding of our house.

“What’re you doing, Harry?”

“What’s it matter? Is Ma looking for me? Tell her I already put the delivery away.”

“Ma said Mr. Morris was here hours ago and that you didn’t touch the stuff till after dinner.”

I try not to roll my eyes. “Then what’s the problem, Erik?”

My brother plants himself in the grass beside me and sighs. Even in the near darkness, he’s the pretty boy every girl wants. He got all of Pa’s charm and looks: the blond hair, the blue eyes, the smooth-talking way with the girls.

“It’s tomorrow,” Erik says. “Graduation.”

“Yeah? And? You haven’t shut up about it for weeks, even months. What, you scared you won’t be the center of everyone’s attention anymore? No more calls from girls? Hell–”

“Harry, if Ma heard you–”

“Well, Ma’s not here, is she? Virginia Williams called again, didn’t she? I heard you,” I say lightly, jabbing him in the side. “‘Oh, Ginny, honey…’” I raise my voice an octave, but Erik cuffs me roughly. “Jeez, what’s that for?”

“Can you be serious for a second, Harry?”

I raise my hands and eyebrows at the same time. “All right, I surrender. You wanna wrestle it out for old times’ sake? This grass has our names written all over it.”

Erik glares. “This was a mistake. Goodnight, Harry.”

As he retreats, he kitchen light goes off once he clicks the back door shut.

“What’s got his undies in a twist?” I mutter to the stars.

Erik and I were always scrapping in this yard as boys, always inseparable. In a few months, I’m gonna start tenth grade, and he’s off to college. Not only does he have the looks and the ways with girls all right, but he’s got smarts and talent on the field. Star pitcher of Benny Frankie High in Cleveland, Ohio.

Sighing, I stand and brush the grass from my pants. I head inside and find my annoying little sister standing on the landing of the stairs. It’s Hannah, the older little sister. Irma’s the other one, who’s still so young that she really is little.

“Hey, Hannah-panna,” I say, smirking.

“Oh, stop it, Harry. You think you’re so funny.”

“Actually, yeah.”

“Ma was looking for you.”

“Wow, I’m a popular guy. I almost feel like Erik, I’m so popular. Did a pretty doll give me a call?”

Hannah places her hands on her hips in a manner that’s suited her well for years and sticks her tongue out. I laugh as she turns and stomps up the stairs.

“You know, for a young lady, you’re pretty immature,” I call up after her.

I quietly chuckle to myself. Hannah’s always easy to get a rise out of. Sobering, I climb the stairs, and when the third step from the top creaks, I tip my imaginary hat at it.

“Goodnight, old friend.”

I turn for the second door on the right, ready to see my esteemed brother. The door to my parents’ room opens and Ma steps out.

“There you are.”

I stare back at my twin–well, except that Ma is a good thirty-five years older than me and female, but the mousy-brown hair, the square jawline, and the plain face, yeah…thanks, Ma. I got Pa’s baby blues, at least, but I ain’t complaining, I swear.

I pretend to yawn. It’s a convincing act, my mouth all wide and my eyes screwed shut, but Ma doesn’t buy into my cheap acts.

“Tomorrow is an early day. I trust you’re on your way to bed.”

I smile. “Righto. Erik’s big day. ‘Night, Ma.”

I kiss her gently on the top of the head. I’m taller than her now, so she tilts her head up.

“What was that for?” she asks.

The question’s so simple, but it’s not. Deep down, just like the times I seek out the stars by myself, some part of me reaches for my mother. I laugh instead.

“Can’t a son give his old ma a kiss? Maybe I’ll lay it on sloppy next time, like Flossie.”

Ma isn’t buying this, either. She doesn’t seem interested in anything I’m selling these days, but maybe what she’s buying into is more than just cheap tricks and one-liners.

“Harry, are you all right?” Her glistening eyes search me.

This look unnerves me. All the times Ma’s glared at me don’t probe me the way those hazel eyes see me now, like stripping me bare to my soul.

I shrug and smile. That’s what she expects. What they all expect. Why give her anything else? “I’m fine.”

LIKE WHAT YOU’VE READ?  PLEASE SUBSCRIBE TO MY BLOG, WHERE I POST AN EXCERPT EVERY SATURDAY. ALSO KEEP UP-TO-DATE WITH MY WRITING PROJECTS!

My new novel, A Laughing Matter of Pain, is now available here.
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.