Excerpt from Arianna (Unpublished WIP)

My body still shook with the sting of Brad’s words when I pulled into Nana’s narrow driveway.  The street was dark, with the exception of a streetlight every three houses.  Buried between Nana’s house and the neighbor’s nearly identical bungalow, I stayed in my car with the windows rolled up for some time.  The night was chilly, but that wasn’t the reason to stay locked in my car.  No, I hid away, letting my emotions run wild, like an animal kept in a cage too long.

Amidst my bitter tears, I screamed.  My fists pounded the seat on either side of me.  This way, no one needed to hear me.  

“I said you weren’t worth my tears, damn it!” I yelled, glaring at my reflection in the rearview mirror.  “You weren’t worth it!  Not worth it!”

My voice went raw as the energy zapped from me.  A few tears lingered on my splotchy cheeks.  I sniffled and wiped my nose with the end of my coat, then rubbed the material over my eyes and the rest of my face.

I stared at myself again.  “You’re just not worth it, Arianna.  You could never be someone’s someone.”

Book Review of Production Values by Liv Bartlet

Never mix business and pleasure.  It’s a phrase we’ve all heard, and there’s a reason for this.  The consequences can be disastrous.

This is the premise of Liv Bartlet’s debut women’s fiction novel, Production Values.  This edgy, contemporary, sometimes cut-throat story takes the reader on an emotional ride through the throes of best friends, Kat Porter and Bea Douglas, in Hollywood and the film industry beyond.  Kat and Bea are as different as night and day — the dreaming artist versus the level-headed realist — but their friendship and their partnership as Monkey & Me in the business of making TV shows thrives because of their contrasts.

I couldn’t help but be drawn in from page one to Kat’s desire for her dream to come true — for her vision to become reality.  She’s an art prodigy.  She’s ambitious.  And she’s also a hopeless romantic.  

Everything seems to be working well for Kat and Bea with their highly-rated BBC show, 21 Things.  Kat pushes the limits of the show by hiring heart-throb and heart-breaker Ian Graham, the GQ-esque actor from Scotland with the sex body and voice.  Having a star like Ian on the show is sure to give the story-line that extra oomph to get a Golden Globe.  

Bea is skeptical.  She has dreams of her own of stepping down from the world of producing shows and becoming a nurse and mother.  She comes from a family-oriented background that values close bonds, but she is ever-supportive of Kat’s dreams and goes the extra mile to make those dreams come to fruition.

But Bea sees Ian as a problem, a distraction.

But then golden statues become a reality for the whole team behind 21 Things, and it’s off to Hollywood from London.  With a Golden Globe under her belt, Kat is flying high.  She runs off with Ian while flying over Cloud Nine, leaving Bea to keep the rest of the team together.20448924_1970798226535004_702796297789596401_o

From there, Kat’s dreams grow.  More ideas for more shows means stretching herself too thin, and she relies on Bea even more to pick up the slack.  With growing reluctance, Bea does so.  

But Kat’s dream-bubble pops.  Ian and her next show aren’t in the limelight, but Bea’s hard work is paying off.  The women struggle to keep their friendship afloat as Kat continues to chase a dream (and Ian), and Bea keeps wondering when she’s going to get off the bus that’s taking her to the wrong destination.

Can their friendship survive the sometimes brutal business of making shows?  Can they overcome their differences to each find their true happiness?  Or will a guy or a movie come between them, irreversibly damaging the Monkey & Me partnership?

The story keeps the reader pulled in, needing to know the answers, from page one.  The writing is poetry in the form of prose, metaphorical and entertaining at the same time.  The characters step off the page with their witty, cutting, cunning, and lovely dialogue.  Liv Bartlet doesn’t disappoint.

Liv Bartlet clearly did her research on the inner-workings of the film industry.  The story is clear-cut and renders writing that would appear beautiful on screen.

At the core of this amazing novel is the struggle we all must face — head versus heart.  We live in a world of relationships and choices — often decisions that aren’t easy to make without hurting someone.  

I highly recommend this novel and applaud Liv Bartlet for delivering such an action-packed, punch-in-the-gut, heart-twisting story.

5 out of 5 stars

Visit Liv Bartlet’s Website

Purchase Production Values

Excerpt from Latent Infection (continued) – Short Story

You can read the first part here.

The first floor had a living room with furniture covered in sheets, the perfect hiding place if Cora had been ten years younger.  When Tom pulled open the heavy dark green drapes covering the large front window that overlooked the front lawn of weeds and overgrown grass, dust particles swarmed in the air for several seconds, causing the family to erupt in fits of coughing.

Marcy glared at her husband as she fanned the air in front of her face.  “It smells like something died in here.”

Tom chuckled.  “Probably just mice…or rats…maybe something larger.”

“Something larger?”  Marcy glanced toward the front door after her eyes shifted about the room.

“We’ll call an exterminator.  Pest removal.  It’s not the end of the world, darlin’.”

Cora rolled her eyes and walked over to the winding staircase.  Spilling out into the front entrance, the wooden balustrade ended with the head of a lion with its mouth open, its canine teeth like vampiric fangs.  She brought a finger tip to one of the teeth and smiled, marvelling at the decor.  Cora swung her head upward to gaze upon a chandelier hanging from the second storey ceiling.  In another time, it would have been beautiful with its thousands of crystal prisms, each an icicle reflecting the artificial light.  She tried the light switch.  Nothing.  

With no interest in exploring the first floor with her annoying parents, Cora took the first step.  The wood shifted and moaned.  With every step, she kept her left hand on the smooth surface of the rail, a security her subconscious desired.  When Cora reached the second floor, she glanced down the steps from the balcony.  The drop was at least fifteen feet — the perfect place for the desperate degenerate to end it all.

The hallway afforded little light, even in the middle of a sunny afternoon.  When Cora flicked the switch, she was awarded with the faint buzz of the old bulbs in the cobweb-laden sconces lining the walls.  Even then, only about half of the sconces worked, their lights flickering, as if protesting having to do the work of illuminating a stale corridor.  

“So the electricity isn’t completely out in this oversized shack,” Cora murmured.

As she walked down the hall, her right hand trailed along the raised contours of the wallpaper — some hideous floral design from at least eighty years earlier.  She stopped when she arrived at the first door.  An easy turn of the tea house doorknob revealed a stagnant room filled with crates.  Cora’s nose wrinkled at the mustiness as she clicked the door shut.  That room would definitely not be hers.  A vision of peering into an off-limits room at the funeral parlor when she was eight surfaced — boxes of bodies.

She tried the next door and discovered the bathroom, which could be rendered charming if cleaned and restored.  A claw foot bathtub sat opposite the door in the oblong room with black and white tiles on the floor.  A pull chain toilet and a pedestal sink covered the wall to the right, both ringed with grime.

Cora left the bathroom door open and proceeded farther down the hall.  She found her room — plenty of space for her bed and dressers.  No leftovers from previous owners and two large windows that let in light.  She could watch the sunset.

Every footstep reverberated across the floorboards and up the walls in Cora’s new bedroom.  Clomp.  Clomp.  Clomp.  Cora stomped on the floor with her sneaker three times just to hear the sound again.  After the echo faded, in the silence of this closed up house, she heard it…

Clomp.  Clomp.  Clomp.

Barely there, like an imprint.  A faded picture.  A vague memory.

Cora’s heart skipped a beat and then sped up.  

She shook her head.  “No,” she whispered.  “Don’t be stupid.”

Yet she dared not stomp her foot again.

Book Review of Finding Kate by Pamela Humphrey

Kate Westfall thought she was done with her family’s secrets.  Think again.

Finding Kate is the second in the Texas Hill County series by Pamela Humphrey.  It immediately follows the first book, Finding Claire, which I highly recommend you read before diving into Finding Kate.  Otherwise, Finding Kate won’t make much sense!

You can read my review of Finding Claire here.

Kate, after discovering the truth about her background and identity, including her real family, decides to move from Denver to Schatzenburg, Texas.  In the first book, she met Alex Ramirez, a lonely widower, and they spent a lot of time together under dire circumstances.  Alex and Kate developed feelings that were more than just the friendship-type, and at the beginning of this book, they are still sorting those feelings out.


The beginning of Finding Kate seems a bit slow.  The reader feels like the dust has settled for Kate and Alex after how Finding Claire ended with such a bang, and now it’s just a matter of them figuring out their lives going forward.  Kate moving to Texas to be closer to her father and Alex, in addition to moving into the home she inherited, is the focus at first.  Alex comes with Kate to Denver to meet her friends and help her pack up her apartment.  Putting things in boxes and harmless talk feel mundane after what they have just been through a few days ago, but that’s part of getting back to real life.

Kate’s neighbor, Keith, stops by and is surprised she is leaving.  I detect jealousy in Keith, as he seems to like her and doesn’t care for Alex, who is hanging around the apartment.  The neighbor feels out of place, but maybe he’s just a weirdo.  Kate and Alex hit the road for Texas, and then things start to unravel when Jeff, the husband of Kate’s best friend (LeAnn), gets kidnapped, and it’s tied to Kate.

Poor Kate just can’t seem to get a break.  In addition to this new kidnapper who wants something from her, Kate starts to feel like things have moved too quickly between her and Alex.  She wonders if their attachment is simply the result of being forced together and going through stressful circumstances.  Whenever Alex tries to physically get close to Kate, she pulls away, and the reader starts to get the sense that there’s something else in her past that’s haunting her.

No place is safe for Kate or Alex — neither his cabin nor her new house (dubbed “the castle”), as they gave Alex’s address as the forwarding address for Kate when she moved away, and Schatzenburg is a small town where everyone knows everyone’s business.  The news of Kate’s family history has spread like wildfire in the small town, and everyone knows who she is, including someone who is following her and wants something from her.

Interwoven with the narrative are old letters written to Kate’s aunt Beth from a mysterious woman named “M.”  M and “Sticks” (who we later find out is Scott Bentley, Kate’s uncle) are the parents of a little boy named “Scooter.”  Sticks had an affair with M, and Scooter was the result.  When Sticks disappeared from Scooter’s life, the young boy became pent up with resentment and anger.

How do these letters tie into Kate’s story?  Who is following her?  What do they want?

And can Kate move past whatever it is that’s bothering her, so she can be happy with Alex?

19141955_10155375087713607_1447486949_nSo many questions, and I know the answers…but that would be spoiling the book for you!  Suffice it to say that as I got further into Finding Kate, I was definitely drawn into the story more and more, needing to know the resolution to these questions…and more!

The book has a satisfying ending and doesn’t leave any loose ends.  I would recommend this book to lovers of romance and suspense.

Four out of five stars.


“As long as we can love each other, and remember the feeling of love we had, we can die without ever really going away. All the love you created is still there. All the memories are still there. You live on – in the hearts of everyone you have touched and nurtured while you were here.” -Tuesdays with Morrie


My great aunt Alma and my grandma, Emma, circa 1931

Today, I am going to share something very special to me, something close to my heart.  Below is the true story that inspired my first novel, Hannah’s Rainbow:

When I was fifteen years old, my grandmother was terminally ill. Months earlier, she had had a sarcoma removed from her leg and had undergone radiation therapy. She was given a clean bill of health in February of that year (1995). Shortly thereafter, she went to the hospital because she had fluid in her lungs, and when they did a scan, they found a spot: the cancer had metastasized to her lungs in a matter of months. Although given two to six months to live, her time on Earth would be much shorter than that.

The day she was released from the hospital and placed under Hospice care, I wrote a letter to her, telling her all that she meant to me, how much I loved her, and how much I would miss her. I expressed my heartfelt admiration of her courage to face what lay ahead. And I asked her to send me a sign once she reached Heaven, not because I was afraid she wouldn’t go there, but because I needed the comfort.

Two weeks later, she came to our house. It was the week before Easter, and she was to spend the time with us, and her sister from California was to come in as well. On the night she arrived, she was still walking and talking. Although thin and weak, she was still herself for the most part. I remember her eating an orange in the family room as I talked to my best friend on the phone.

The next morning, she never got out of bed. The day was gloomy and overcast with thick clouds of early April showers. We thought it might just be the weather or the fact that she had been transported the night before. I overheard my dad speaking to his brother on the phone that morning, saying he didn’t think she would live more than 24 hours. In denial, I refused to believe such nonsense. All I had ever known was a life that had my grandma as part of it; to imagine otherwise was unthinkable!

The pastor from her church came that afternoon to visit, and while doing math homework in my bedroom, adjacent to the room she was in, I heard his voice through the walls, uttering the twenty-third Psalm: “Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I shall fear no evil, for You are with me. Your rod and Your staff: they comfort me.”

She was asleep most of the day, and the couple of times I approached the darkened room where she lay so still on the bed, I think I was afraid. At the time, I didn’t understand why I was feeling that way, but I think now it was because I couldn’t reconcile the figure I saw in that bed with the figure I knew of her warm smile, cheery eyes, and rosy cheeks.

Some relatives came to visit in the mid-afternoon, and she seemed to brighten some, even laugh at a few jokes. My family was originally planning on attending a concert at the high school that evening, but due to my grandma’s condition, my parents remained home with her, and my brother and I attended by ourselves.

A couple of hours later when we returned home, it was dark and still raining slightly. We parked on the street because there were a couple of other cars in our driveway, and I felt my heart skip a beat as I rushed up the driveway and into the house, not wanting to believe the worst. The first sight that greeted me was my mom walking toward me, her face lined with tears, and she was shaking her head. I knew without having to ask. To this day, over 20 years later, the events of that entire day as are clear as if they happened yesterday.

Standing in the kitchen were my uncle, my dad, and the pastor. We held hands and formed a circle as the pastor said a prayer. I left the kitchen to go to the spot where Grandma had been, but she was already gone from the bed. I saw the men from the funeral home carrying her out, covered in a sheet.

She was truly gone. That night, I dreamt that my mom died, too. While my parents were away the next day taking care of everything, I was at home in the company of my best friend, and it continued to rain. I found it in me to laugh some, finding a pair of checkered pants that was so hideously out of style, but my grandma wore them, anyway. I pulled them over my own clothes and just laughed, mostly because my best friend could always make me laugh. We were visited by a cousin and her husband, who had brought over dinner, and the four of us laughed some more. There was something therapeutic in this, although it was also a brief escape from the reality of the situation.

The wake was two days later, followed the next day by the funeral. It rained in all the days between my grandma never leaving the bed and on the day of the funeral. My letter to my grandma was read at her funeral by the pastor. The Lord’s Prayer was sang by the co-pastors, a husband and wife team. My grandma’s favorite hymn, “The Lost Chord,” was played. As the family followed the casket down the aisle, I was a sobbing mess, and my brother, who was walking alongside me, put his arm around me. I remember briefly trying not to laugh, as we had this weird thing about never touching each other as teenagers, so hugs were forbidden.

Much of the graveside service was a blur, but we stood under a tent as the rain continued. A dinner was served, and then it was over. We were on our way home. That evening, the rain finally stopped. I was in my room when I heard my mom exclaim, “Cyndi, come here!”

I ran into the front window and looked outside. Stretched across the sky was a rainbow! I smiled and knew this was my grandma’s sign to me! There was no doubting that, and to explain this away as mere coincidence is an insult to her, her memory, and to our Lord of miracles. My mom and I turned away for just a moment, and when I looked back, it was gone. To catch such a brief moment in time when that rainbow appeared was not coincidence in the least. Only my mom and I saw that rainbow; it was meant for us.


My grandparents, Howard and Emma Grundman, circa 1942

I had the idea for the story back in October 2006.  I woke in the middle of the night with the name “Hannah Rechthart” on my mind.  “Hannah” means ”favor” or “grace.”  “Rechthart” means “right heart.”  I started writing down character names and researching.  Many details from early in Hannah’s life were taken from an autobiography my grandma wrote in high school and another she and her younger sister, Ida (whom Irma is based on), wrote later in life about growing up, called “The Billhardts of Fuller Avenue.”  I also spoke extensively with my mom and had my own memories to work with for Hannah’s later years.

I composed four chapters between October 2006 and January 2009.  Then I had my first child and my second, and the story sat for years, until I started writing in earnest in March 2015.  It may have taken a decade to finally sit down and write it all out, but only by God’s grace and my grandma’s legacy was that inspiration possible.

It’s been over twenty years since my grandma passed away, but in writing this story, I hope I was able to convey with the love I’ve always had for her that she was a wonderful person.  

May you see many rainbows in your life, wherever you go.

The Letter I Wrote to Grandma:



Like what you’ve read?  Please subscribe to my blog, where I post a new blog every Friday and a book review the second Friday.

Also, check out my novel, Hannah’s Rainbow: Every Color Beautiful, available for $2.99 any other time on Amazon: Hannah’s Rainbow: Every Color Beautiful

Why Reading Matters: From a Little Girl Who Hated Reading

The second hand seemed to take an eternity to make one lousy rotation.  Tick.  The minute hand moved the slightest fraction.  A minute is forever to a seven-year-old sitting on the living room couch next to her mother, the simple supposed easy-reader book between them.

“Go ahead.  Sound it out.”

The mom’s words could have been encouraging.  Should have been.  Maybe they had been the first, second, or even the third night of this routine, but after weeks of spending what Mom insisted was “important quality time,” the girl heard only impatience in those words.

Trips to the library to pick up books for these evening readings were boring.  The little girl only marvelled at the graffiti-riddled bathroom walls while she stood in the stalls.  Talk of renovating the library in an otherwise nice suburban city had begun.

Reading “x” number of books to get enough stars on that huge poster board chart the teacher had at the front of the classroom with every student’s name and progress on it was perhaps the only motivator.  It was a race to see who could get enough stars to earn another free personal pan pizza from Pizza Hut for the Book-It program.

Mmm.  The thought of a pepperoni pizza just the right size with that melting cheese, on a rare occasion when the family actually went out for dinner…

“Cyndi, please pay attention.”

The little girl sighed.  Too many exceptions to the rules of long vowel sounds and words like “thought” and “rough” and soft and hard “c” sounds… Why did reading have to be so difficult?

So, she trudged through another ten page book with a few words on every page, perhaps taking fifteen minutes that felt like fifteen hours.  All the while, the clock…tick…an eternal minute… tick…tick…

pablo (1)At the end, the girl rather thought these reading sessions were almost as bad at the numerous times she’d fallen while learning to ride a bike without training wheels.  The neighborhood had wooden fences lining the sidewalk in every yard, and going down from the bike, hands out in defense, meant a hundred splinters in the palms…then the painful hour or two of sitting on the bathroom floor while Mom removed them with the tweezers…one by agonizing one.  Yep.  That was what reading was like for this girl.

This girl was me.

It wasn’t that I couldn’t read.  I just didn’t want to.  This general dislike of reading continued as I grew older, and although I managed to usually get a B in English, it was the subject I struggled with.  I was the kid who would rather watch the movie instead of read the book.  In fourth grade, we were assigned C.S. Lewis’s The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe.  I remember trying to read, only to find myself bored after a couple of pages.  I watched an old cartoon movie version from the 70s, which lacked much of the detail of the book…which plainly showed when test time came.

Interestingly enough, when the class was assigned The Trumpet of the Swan by E.B. White, I loved that book.  Although I’m not sure what it was about this book that captured my interest, to the point that I was reading ahead, I think it might have been the intrigue of a swan who wrote on a chalkboard he wore around his name to communicate with a little boy.  I remember very little about that book all these years later, but it was probably the first book that I enjoyed reading.

By fifth grade, I still wasn’t much into reading.  Then at the class gift exchange for Christmas, I got a Babysitters Club book (by Ann M. Martin).  I was at the age where the prospect of babysitting appealed to me, and the thought of a bunch of girls my age or a little older having a club for babysitting sounded super cool.  I could relate to the characters in the story.  Maybe that was my first indication of a love for reading: needing to find something I related to.

I read that book quicker than anything and for pleasure.  The Babysitters Club series would become my first books I actually read for pleasure.  I spent that next three or four years engrossed in them, anxiously waiting for the next book to come out.  I spent my hard-earned allowance money on them and got them out of the library.  Suddenly, library visits were exciting.  I was seeing that there was a difference between reading what I wanted and having to read for school.

Still, the reading for school didn’t sit well with me.  As I progressed through junior high and had to do summer reading, I remember groaning over it.  I had a whole summer to read a lousy book, which seemed plenty of time.  As you can well imagine, I put off most of the reading until the last minute.  Reading Jurassic Park during the same summer when the movie was out was kind of neat, however, because I felt like I was reading something current.  Perhaps part of my dislike of reading stemmed from the fact that most of the stuff we were forced to read in school was historical.  I remember how deeply it struck me when reading Jurassic Park that there was a time before humans walked the earth and there would be time after.  At 13, such a thought was beyond my world.  It got me thinking.  It was also the first time I heard about DNA.

Once I was in high school, I read the assigned books and did well in English class, although it was never my favorite subject.  I was writing poetry since I was 10 or 11 and short stories, but writing for English class was a different matter.  By this time, my homework load was so large that I really didn’t have time to read for pleasure.  I worked part time at a movie theatre, was in marching band, did Aikido, and, of course, had a full course load at school.

My tenth grade English teacher didn’t like that I thought outside of the proverbial box on the test on symbolism in The Scarlet Letter.  I barely managed to pass that test.  Looking back, being forced to conform, to read what only was assigned, to write the answers that we’d been lectured on were the “right answers”….well, I didn’t like that.  Only my eleventh grade teacher (a laid-back guy who seemed like an older hippie and more like a college prof with the messy office, beard, and just-got-outta-bed hair) seemed cool.  He was unconventional.  He told us it was okay to use “I” when writing our papers.  We read a lot of poetry and just talked about it as a class.  Our individuality was encouraged.

As strict at my twelfth grade English teacher was, she was a little spit-fire.  We studied world literature that year, and it was the first time I learned about many of those cultures.  My eyes were being opened to a world much larger than American and British lit.  It was amazing.  And she challenged us.  She was the type of teacher you loved and hated and would always remember, always appreciate, always respect.

I suppose this bigger-world picture is what first got me interested in reading nonfiction, most specifically Egyptology.  I spent the better part of my late teens and early twenties reading about ancient Egypt for fun.

Once in college, I was pleasantly surprised by English 101.  We read current stuff.  Again, much of my beef with reading in English class in high school was that everything was so old.  I didn’t relate to it.  Reading Tuesdays with Morrie, which had only been written two years earlier at the time, was a love-affair with a book for me at age nineteen.  I breezed through the pages, finishing it way before schedule.  Life and death.  Living life to the fullest.  Appreciating every moment.  That was what I took away from that gem of a book.  Current affair topics like racism and sexism and such were what we read about and discussed.  This stuff felt relevant.  It was like someone had opened the window after spending years in a stuffy room.pablo (2)

College was another time in my life where I spent much time reading textbooks, so my time to read for pleasure was limited.  I’d taken more to writing fan fiction, engrossed with meeting people online who had common interests as me.  I read a lot of fan fiction as well, so since I was reading in my favorite genres, it was the escape I needed at times.  I got that escape from writing, too.

Fast forward a few years.  I was 23 and done with college, working as a research technologist.  A good friend encouraged me to pick up the Harry Potter series, of which four books were written at that time.  I’d seen the movies and enjoyed them, so I thought, “Why not?”

I devoured those books, all four of them, in two weeks, which was record time for me.  The fifth book was scheduled to be released that summer, and I joined thousands of others in anticipation.  I.  Could.  Not.  Wait.

So began my love of reading that I never would have imagined possible when I was seven.  Even as I got older, I didn’t love reading most things.  My reading for pleasure was severely limited to fan fiction, not actual books.  But hey, it was something.

I couldn’t tell you all the books I’ve read since 2003 (when I was 23).  According to Goodreads, it’s something like 400.  Most have been fiction, but some have been nonfiction.  I spent a few years diving into the classics, like Jane Austen and Charles Dickens, and discovering a love for the way the authors could paint a picture with their worlds and melt or stab my heart at the same time.  I marvelled at the beautiful poetry of the prose of older books and came to appreciate them deeply, relating to the characters in a way I never imagined when I was younger.

Then I read Jane Eyre in 2006 and loved it so much, I mourned the fact that Charlotte Bronte had been dead for a hundred and fifty years.  She felt so alive through her words.  It was like her breath was on every page.  I longed to discuss her masterpiece with her, what I felt was her heart’s song.  That was the first time I’d felt that passionately about a book.  Those dead authors we’d studied in school suddenly seemed very much alive.

And so I have continued on this love affair with books.  Reading matters as deeply to me as writing now, and it’s thanks to those books I mentioned above (and some great teachers and friends who encouraged my reading) that I love to read.  I am constantly reading something, usually many books simultaneously.

Reading matters because we can lose ourselves for a few hours to another world.  We can be Frodo on a quest to destroy The Ring or Harry Potter in search of the Horcruxes.  

Reading matters because it makes me a better writer.  Even if you’re not a writer, you can appreciate the art of a well-crafted book.

Reading matters because of stories.  Story is the essence of life.  People have shared stories since language existed, long before the written word.  We want to explore the human condition in all its forms, its beautiful messiness.

And guess what?  I’ve recently reread some of the books I “had to read” in school: The Great Gatsby and To Kill a Mockingbird.  Twenty years later, my perspective is different.  I can see those characters through the lense of a mature woman instead of a child.  I also revisited Jane Eyre and felt just as much in love as the first time.  

Reading matters because those books are like old friends, always there to comfort us and bring us home.  That’s quite something coming from a little girl who hated reading

Like what you’ve read?  Please subscribe to my blog, where I post a new blog every Friday and a book review the second Friday.

Also, check out my novel, Hannah’s Rainbow: Every Color Beautiful, available for $2.99 any other time on Amazon: Hannah’s Rainbow: Every Color Beautiful

Excerpt from WIP Arianna

Read Chapter One 

Chapter Two

Ping!  I raced into my bedroom, still dripping from the shower, trying to keep the towel pulled up around me.  My hands fumbled as I grabbed the phone off the bed, nearly dropping it on the hardwood floor.  It wouldn’t do to break another phone.  If I were smart, I’d invest in a phone case, but that was me — too cheap to buy something practical.  Better to waste my money on hair dye or another piercing, right, Mom?

I slid my index finger across the screen and tapped the notification.  Up popped a message from Brad: Hey babe, whats up?

Relief and annoyance flooded through me in equal parts.  Hey yourself.  Y didnt u txt earlier?

I glared at the screen for the next minute, willing it to give an answer.  It’s crazy how long sixty seconds can feel when you’re doing nothing but waiting and watching the clock.  When no reply came, I sighed and tossed the phone back onto my bed.  It was late — after eleven.  Nana had gone to bed two hours ago and would be up before the rooster — if there were a rooster around here.  

I returned to the bathroom, towel-dried my hair, swept it up in a messy bun, and put on an oversized T-shirt.  Hope at hearing from my nearly nonexistent boyfriend died when the screen remained blank of notifications, so I turned the thing to silent and got into bed.  I was done with today.

I woke to the smell of herbal tea and Nana’s yoga video in the living room.  Groaning, I sat up in bed, and like the slave-to-my-phone that I was, I reached for the infernal thing, only to come away disappointed that there was no message from Brad.  Maybe he was sleeping in.  It was a Sunday, after all, and Sunday morning meant —

“Ari, are you up yet?” came Nana’s chipper voice up the stairs.

“Yeah, I’m up, Nana.”

“Are you coming to church?”

I groaned again.  This habit was becoming old fast.  In only four weeks, it was amazing in a bad way how predictable Sunday mornings had grown.

“No, Nana.  I have to work today, remember?”  And I wasn’t interested in sitting in some hard pew and listening about how God was still at work in the world today.  Church was all fine and dandy for Christmas Eve and Easter, but that was about it.

“Well, all right.  I still don’t like it that the mall is open on Sundays.  When I was your age–”

“Yes, Nana, I know.”  I stepped out into the hallway to find my nana dressed in workout clothes.  Despite her age, she was remarkably flexible and in good shape.  “When you were young, nothing was open on Sundays.”

Nana smiled, but it didn’t reach her eyes.  “Well, I’d better finish up and get ready for church if I’m to be on time.  There’s some turkey bacon and egg whites on the stove if you want.  I got them for you.”

“Thanks.”  I sighed as I slid into another pair of black pants and a simple black top.  While we didn’t have uniforms for work, we pretty much had to wear all black.  Accessorizing was the only way around it, but with my hair and my jewelry, I didn’t need to add anything else to my look, whatever I was going for.

I checked my phone again.  Nothing.  

The thought of Nana’s health food turned my stomach, so I did my makeup, went downstairs, and poured a bowl of bran flakes and — ugh — soy milk.  She’d been kind to buy food she thought I’d eat, as she was vegan, but I wanted real bacon and the yolks.  I brewed my own coffee, hoping again that Nana would invest in single-serve machine.  She was only into herbal teas, claiming that caffeine was the antiChrist or something equally ridiculous and dramatic.  I wondered what she would say if she knew I used to smoke until two years ago.  That was one good thing about Brad — he’d convinced me to stop smoking, but it was only because he said it made my breath smell.

The phone followed me wherever I went.  So when it pinged and vibrated as it sat on the kitchen table, I nearly jumped out of my seat.

Sorry babe, was busy with the fam ya no?  N-e-way im back now if ya wanna catch up.  2nite?

I bit my lip.  OK, 2nite works.  Time?

Can u come here?  8ish?

Yeah sure, 8 it is.  C u then.

It was pathetic that I did whatever Brad asked.  Come here, babe.  Okay, let me bend over backwards and do ten flips like an Olympic gymnast.  You want sex 24/7?  Sure, that’s what I’m made for, Brad.  You want real Belgian chocolate from Belgium?  Yep, I’ll just hop on a plane and get you some.

Plane.  I sighed and pushed most of the uneaten cereal away.  Standing, I tossed my phone into my overflowing purse, dumped the cereal down the drain, and left the bowl in the sink.

“Bye, Nana!” I called and was out the door because she could reply.

In the driveway sat my ten-year-old Focus.  I dropped into the driver’s seat and turned the car on, cranked up the radio, and rolled the windows all the way down.  On the drive to work, I mentally bemoaned my broken air conditioning, but every penny earned as the salon receptionist was supposed to go toward beauty school.  Well, wait — the payout.  I could afford to fix the AC after all.  That was something, but I digress.  I was only three months in with both my job and beauty school.  If I stopped and was honest with myself for one minute, I would have to say the future of doing hair was looking less appealing by the day.  When I pulled into the parking lot, I sighed.  Plenty of time to figure out my life, right?  Lots of young people still lived at home or were in college.

The sun was already beating down on me as I left the car in the mostly empty lot and crossed the asphalt to the side entrance.  The mall wouldn’t be opening for another half hour, so at least I could avoid the crowds.  A few elderly people walked the inside of the mall before it opened.  I nodded and smiled politely at a few.  I liked old people.  Most of them were kind like Nana, but even the ones who were grumpy had a certain sort of charm.  I figured they could act however they wanted because they’d lived long enough and had been through enough to do whatever they wished.

When I reached the salon, Gwen scowled at me as she stood behind the desk.  Her eyes shifted to the clock.

“What?” I asked.

“You’re two minutes late.”

“Really?  You care about two freaking minutes?” I wanted to ask.  Instead, I painted on a plastic smile like many of the workers and said, “My apologies, Gwen.  It won’t happen again.”

As I walked past her to punch in, she said, “It better not.  And I had better not see you on your phone again, either, Arianna.”

Or what?  You’ll fire me?

In the back room, I exchanged hellos with a few of the beauticians.  Kelly, a girl about my age, with platinum blonde hair and trendy glasses, said, “Hey, Arianna.  Some of us are thinking of going out for drinks after work.  You wanna join us?”

Kelly was nice, the sort of person who tried to make friends with everyone.  When I gazed at the other girls and the two guys standing around her, I knew I wouldn’t be welcome.  I didn’t fit in with their idea of beauty.

“Thanks,” I said, “but I’ve got a date tonight.”  That wasn’t completely untrue, if you could call going to Brad’s house a date.

“Maybe another time.”  Kelly smiled and looked at the girl next to her — Brandy, I think.

“Yeah, maybe.  I gotta get to the desk.  Gwen, you know…”

Kelly laughed.  “Yeah, don’t I know it.”

As I walked away, I heard the murmurings of the crowd as the door shut.  I took up my place at the front desk and turned on the computer, looking over the appointments for the day.  Summertime and weekends were busy for the salon.  Every hairdresser was booked.  The spa was also packed to the brim.  That didn’t bode well for walk-ins.  I wanted to take down the sign that claimed “Walk-ins Welcome.”  How many times did I need to hear, “What do you mean you can’t fit me in?” or “Why do you say ‘walk-ins welcome’ if it isn’t true?” or  “All I want is a lip wax.  That’ll take five minutes.”

No point in belaboring the reality of the situation.  I pulled out my compact and checked over my makeup and hair.  It wouldn’t do to frighten the customers too much.

Gwen was upon me again.  “You know, Arianna, while we do encourage creativity and differences in style here, I must say that your facial piercings are, shall we say, distracting.”

“Why?  Has somebody complained?”

“Not as such, no, but this alternative look you’ve got going isn’t really the image we wish to project.  I would prefer you remove them.”

“I can’t.  Well, at least not some of them.  They’re too new.  The holes will close up.”

“Are you saying you’re planning on keeping those– those things?”

“So what if I am?”

Gwen leaned on the desk and lowered her voice.  “Look, I know you’ve, um, been through a lot recently, and I’m not entirely unsympathetic, but you can’t keep that face of metal.”

“I thought you just preferred I remove them?”

“This isn’t coming from me.  I don’t care one way or the other if you want to look like a pincushion, but Jeanine herself said it wasn’t appropriate.”

“I see.  And if I don’t remove them?”

“That isn’t up for discussion.”

Gwen turned away, leaving a chilly breeze in her wake.  I glared at the back of her too-perfect figure.  Then the first customer came in, and I had to do my job.  Before I knew it, I was busy checking people in and out, making reminder calls, and answering the phone.  I worked until 5:00 and was glad to be back in the stifling heat in my car a few minutes later.

I turned on the car and down went the windows.  As much as I wanted to sit there and just mentally detox for the next hour, I couldn’t.  Nana would be expecting me for dinner.  Ever since moving in with her, I think she liked having someone to cook for besides herself.  While her tofu creations and endless vegetables weren’t my first choice, I forced the food down every evening.

On the drive home, I passed McDonald’s and Taco Bell.  Both sounded better than whatever tasteless meal was waiting for me at home.  

When I arrived home, Nana was upon me with a hug and a kiss on the cheek.  “How was work, Ari?”

I waved her off.  “Fine.”

“Anything exciting happen?”

“Not really.”

“You know, talking to you most of the time is like talking to your mother when she was a teenager.  I was lucky to get one or two words out of her whenever she came home from school.”

The words were out of her mouth before she must have realized what she said.  One look at my face, and Nana’s face softened.  “I’m sorry.  Ari, you do look like your mother, though.”

“Do you need any help?”  Distractions worked wonders.

“No, everything’s on the table.”

I dropped into my usual seat.  “You know, Nana, maybe I could do your hair one day soon.  I’m getting decent at dyes.”

Nana chuckled.  “Thanks, but no thanks, dear.  I’ll stick to my natural color.”

I wondered if she thought she would come out with bright red hair like mine, but didn’t push it.  “Well, let me know if you change your mind.”

Nana laughed more.  “I will be sure to do that, but I don’t imagine I’ll be changing my mind, Ari.  Do you have any big plans for tonight?”

“I thought I’d head over to Brad’s house.  He’s back from vacation.”

“Oh?  Where did they go again?”

“Florida.  Some west coast beach.  You know his dad owns that company and goes on a trip every year.  They take the sales guys who had the most sales last year, but Mr. Watson always takes the whole family.”

“Well, tell Bradley I said hello and not to be a stranger.  I wouldn’t mind having him over for more than five minutes.  All I ever see of that boy is the back of his head as he goes out the door or waits outside for you.”

“I’ll do that, Nana.”  

The sad truth was that Brad wanted about as much to do with my nana and her house as a mouse does with a cat.  He hated that she called him “Bradley.”  He certainly wouldn’t touch her cooking.  

We finished up dinner, and I helped Nana clean up.  Once the dishwasher was loaded, I went to my room to change out of my stinky work clothes.  I slipped into a pair of faded jean shorts and a dark red tank top.  Nana was sitting in the living room watching the evening news as I slid into my sandals and kissed her goodbye.

“Don’t wait up for me,” I called and was out the door.

Five minutes later, I pulled into Brad’s driveway — well, his parents’ driveway.  While Nana lived in the same cozy bungalow her mom and dad had owned, Brad’s neighborhood boasted mansions in the true sense.  I parked my dented up, old car in their wrap-around driveway and stepped out to the sound of the fountain spray.  Every bit of landscaping was sculpted and the lawn perfectly manicured.  I guessed if Nana could afford to have someone do her yard, it would look just as nice.  Nice was all it was.  I couldn’t call it beautiful, for it was too perfect.  Just like everything on the outside of that three-storey brick house was too perfect. The mansion hailed back three generations of Watson men.  Brad was supposed to be in the process of being groomed to be the next Mr. Bradley W. Watson and taking over his dad’s company when he retired.  They made golf equipment.

I pushed the doorbell.  Voices inside were arguing, but they were muffled.  Heavy footsteps mixed with lighter, faster ones.  A minute later, one of Brad’s younger sisters, Dora, answered the door.

“Can I help you?” she asked.

“Hi, Dora.  It’s me, Arianna.  Is Brad around?”

“Arianna?  Wait.”  Dora, who could have been Mandy Snyder’s twin, studied me in the dying sunlight.  “I didn’t recognize you.  What’s up with your hair?”

“Change, Dora.  Change is good.  Now, is Brad there?”

Brad appeared at Dora’s side a second later and bumped her out of the way with his side.  “Move it or lose it, sis.”

Dora scoffed and rolled her eyes.  “Whatever.”  She walked away.

“Sorry about her,” he said, looking at me.

I half-smiled.  “Sure.  Um, can I come in?”

“I thought we’d walk outside.  It’s a nice night.”  Before I could say anything, Brad stepped outside and closed the door.

“Okay,” I said, drawn-out.  

One of the things that annoyed me about Brad was that he made almost all the decisions in our relationship.  He didn’t run anything past me and just assumed I’d be okay with whatever he picked.  I didn’t mind at first, but after two years of this, it was getting tiresome.

I also had a strong hunch that Brad’s family was fighting — with words, but fighting nonetheless.  Sitting in his house wasn’t so perfect.  Most of the time, his two younger sisters, parents, and Brad hardly said two words to each other.  Family meals were uncomfortable affairs whenever I attended.  They had someone to cook for them and serve the food and then clean it up, but I didn’t think anyone could clean up their family’s problems.  Everyone was too busy staring at their phones, or his dad was on a conference call or the computer, usually locked away in his home office.  Mrs. Watson often holed up in her bedroom, where she chain-smoked and binge-watched Netflix.  If she wasn’t in her room, she was out spending the Watson fortune on more stuff they didn’t need.

When the family did interact, voices raised by the decibel within seconds of starting.  I wondered if the only reason Brad’s parents were still married was because of Mr. Watson’s empire and fat checkbook.

“So, uh, how was your trip?” I asked.

Brad snorted.  “Oh, a blast.  Mom pretty much spent the time drinking with the sales guys’ wives or girlfriends while Dad did likewise with his employees.  My sisters laid out on the beach for hours and flirted with a bunch of idiot college guys.”

“What did you do?”

“Had to go with the old man to some of the dinners, just to keep up appearances, you know.  The drinks aren’t bad, but those guys all have their heads so far up my father’s ass, each one’s nose is browner than the one before.”

“Sounds like a good time.”

“My dad’s an idiot.  He thinks I’m gonna follow in his footsteps.”

“You aren’t?”

“Hell no.  Why should I?”

“So, what do you wanna do?”

“I dunno.  We’re young, right?  We’ve got our whole lives ahead of us, Arianna.”

Our whole lives, exactly.  And what was Brad doing with his but milking his parents?  He barely finished college this past spring, taking two extra years to get his degree in business.  He had yet to hold down any sort of job for more than a few weeks.  Most of the time, he just lazed about his house and played games on his phone.  Then, again look at me.  I wasn’t exactly the role model for finishing school with a superior grade point average and taking on the world as a young professional-something or other.  The thing was, I wanted something better with my life, but Brad didn’t seem to care.  It was easy to throw away time and effort when you had all the money in the world.  Yet again, I now had money from the payout from the crash and from my inheritance, but I didn’t know what to do with it.  Brad had been raised with riches.  I was all new money.  But going back to video games…

“You’re a genius when it comes to designing video games, Brad.  Why don’t you do something with that?”

“My parents think it’s a waste of time.  Yeah, maybe I’ll do that, but I’m happy to live at home right now.”

“Really?  You’re happy to live with your family arguing?”

“Well, not really happy about that, but I’ve got a big enough room and my own bathroom.  I can tune them out whenever I wish.  Just slip on my headphones and boom, there ya go.”

“Hmm, well, it seems like it can’t last forever.”

If we were more romantic, we might have been strolling through the Watson gardens holding hands.  Instead, we’d just spent the past few minutes standing next to my car.  Brad’s arms hung loosely at his sides, and mine were crossed over my less than impressive chest.  

“I’m not saying it will.”  Brad looked at me.  I mean, really look at me for the first time since stepping outside.  “What’s the matter?”

I dropped my pretense as a long sigh brought my arms to my sides.  “Why didn’t you text, Brad?  Or call?  It would’ve been nice to hear your voice for maybe five minutes this past week.”

Brad shrugged.  “Busy, you know?  I told you–”

“Yeah, I got the part about having to hang out with Daddy and all his cronies, but what were you doing that was so important that you couldn’t take, I dunno, five seconds to text me a simple ‘Hi, how are you?’”

Now I’d gone and done it.  Brad’s mouth twisted as he narrowed his eyes.  I’d seen that look a hundred times whenever he started up with one of his family members.  I knew what was coming.

“Arianna, what the hell?  I told you I was busy.  It was a week, a lousy, frickin’ week.  What, do you need to keep tabs on me like one of those possessive girlfriends?  You know I hate that.”

“Brad, I never said that.  Don’t put words in my mouth.  But now that you bring it up, I do have to wonder.  You said your sisters were all over a bunch of guys in Florida.  What’s to say you didn’t find some hot girl of your own while you were down there?”

“What?  You’re serious?”  Brad scoffed.  “You’re paranoid, you know that?  Delusional.”

“Actually, I think it’s a completely reasonable thing.  What are we doing here, Brad?  Because I sure the hell don’t know anymore.  It feels like all we ever do is start fighting if I speak up to you.  You want everything your way.  You’ve got your family eating off your pinky finger, and you don’t care at all about what you’re doing to them or with your life.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?”  Brad’s face was turning red, aided by the setting sun.

“What it means is, haven’t you been listening to a word I’ve said this past month?  You turned me conveniently off when you went on your trip because you didn’t wanna hear it.  I just lost my parents, Brad!  Have you been living with your head in a hole?”

“God, Arianna, I’m sorry, okay?  What do you want me to do, hold you and let you cry your eyes out?”

“Yes, actually, if that’s what I need.”

“Do you?”

“Well, no, but maybe I did.”

“I went to the funeral.  I was there.”

“Yeah, you were there, but you weren’t there for me.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

“You complained that you had to miss that stupid NBA draft because the funeral fell on the same day, and then you turned your nose up at the food at the dinner afterward.  You kept checking your phone for updates on the draft the whole time.  It was like my parents dying was a freaking inconvenience to you.”

“Jeez, sorry!”  Brad held his hands up.  “I’m not good at that sorta stuff.  You know that.  I hate funerals.”

“Well, no one likes them, but you go to pay your respect.  You show up to support those you care about.  Do you care at all about us anymore?  Because I’ve gotta be honest, I don’t know the last time we even said ‘I love you’ to each other.”

“Is this because I didn’t send you a freakin’ text?”

I groaned, caught between wanting to hit myself in the head or deck Brad.  “It’s more than that, much more.  You’re clueless if you think you have all the time in the world, Bradley.  The way you treat your parents, the way you’re wasting your life — you’re lucky to be able to have parents, to have the time to waste.  You know what it took me to realize that I was throwing my life away?  My parents died, Brad.  They aren’t coming back.  And now I think I’m finally realizing that I can’t just keep going on like I’ve been.  Because…because if I do, I’m gonna die, too.”

“You suicidal or something?”

Tears of frustration leaked from my eyes.  “I’m sorry, Brad, but I just can’t do this anymore.  I didn’t come here tonight thinking it was over, but standing here in front of you now, I know it is.  Whatever girl you date next, be better to her than you were to me.  Don’t just expect her to come running to you whenever you wanna get some.  Take her to the freaking beach to see the sunset.  Buy her cheesy cards and cheap flowers.  Just don’t take her for granted.”

“You breaking up with me?”  Brad sounded incredulous, not the least bit heartbroken.

“Yes, Bradley Watson.  I’m saying goodbye.  You know, Dora noticed my hair.  You didn’t say a word.  You never did, though, did you?  You never noticed me.”

I got into my car and left Brad standing there without looking back.  As I drove away, I hated every tear that fell.  Why was I crying over this?  Brad was no loss.  I had chosen this.  Finally, I had taken control in a relationship that had been falling apart for months.  That should’ve felt liberating, and yet, as I drove away, all I hoped was that Brad felt a tenth of the brokenness I was.