Excerpt from Arianna – Chapter 28

“Maybe we can go bug my big brother now.  He’s always good for a laugh.”

I gave his shoulder a little shove.  “You’re downright awful.”

“I’m the younger sibling.  It’s my job to instigate, no matter how old I get.”

We walked farther down the hall and stopped at the door at the end.  Marc knocked.

“Mom, I told you I’m not comin’ down,” came an irritated reply.

“It’s not Mom,” Marc said.  He flashed me a grin and then looked back at the door, his smile widening.

“Marc?”  A few seconds later, the door opened.  A man a head taller than Marc stood there, his dark blonde hair unruly.  A light brown, trim beard covered his jawline.  “Well, look what the cat dragged in.”  He smelled of beer and cigarettes.  His eyes landed on me.  “Who’s the pretty lady, little bro?”

“Her name’s Arianna.”  Marc wrapped his arm around me, almost possessively.

Justin chuckled.  “Don’t worry, Marky-Marc.  I’m not gettin’ any ideas.  All I can say is, about time.”

“You sound like Dad.”  Marc frowned.  “Speaking of stuff being ‘about time,’ what’s up with you, loser?  Got a job yet?”

“You’re hilarious,” Justin said, shoving Marc in the chest a little too hard for it to be only in jest.  “What about you?  Make it big in Hollywood yet, you pathetic dreamer?”

“I’m a stage actor, dipshit.  And hey, at least I’ve got ambitions.  More than anyone can say about you.  Who’s your latest hooker?”

Justin’s eyes darkened.  “You don’t know shit, Marc.  Donna’s the real deal.”  Then he seemed to remember I was there and frowned.  “Uh, sorry.  Hope this little douche isn’t too whiney for you.”

I glared.  “Marc’s the first good guy I’ve really been with.  I’ve been around the block enough to know about guys like you, Justin, and yeah, maybe that makes me just as dirty as you, but at least Marc had the balls to see something good in me.”  I gasped as the last of the words left my mouth and covered it with my hands.

Marc smirked.  “We’ll be seeing you, Justin.  Glad to know you’re as charming as always.”  He took my arm, and we walked down the hall to the stairs.

The slam of Justin’s door echoed down the hallway, but with the noise downstairs, it was unlikely anyone else heard it.

I leaned against the wall as we stood next to the steps.  “I can’t believe I said that.  D’you think I pissed him off?”

Marc waved me off.  “Who cares?  Maybe he needed to hear it from someone outside of the family.”  He took my hand and squeezed it.  “That was… What you said about me…”

I met his gaze and found him blushing.  “It’s true.  Your brother seems to rub you the wrong way.  I’ve never seen you so…”

“Rude?”  Marc chuckled softly.

Review of The Austrian: A War Criminal’s Story (Book 1) by Ellie Midwood

theautrianThe title of this book alone is a hook, at least for me.  World War II is, after all, one of the most important events in recent history, filled with some of the greatest atrocities ever committed against our fellow humans.

It’s easy to root for those who were persecuted and the Allies who ended the war, but what about the Axis powers?  They were people, too.

After the fall of the Nazi Reich, many of the former leaders were brought to trial and convicted of war crimes.  What would be going through a war criminal’s head?  Regret for what he’d done to others, regret for getting caught?  Anger and hatred toward those judging him?  Fear that the end of his own life was coming?  Or something more?

The Austrian: A War Criminal’s Story explores such questions with vivid, often heartbreaking detail, so much so that I sympathized with the man who this story is about.  In the end, he is still just a man who has known love and hate, happiness and sadness, good times and bad times.

Ellie Midwood’s well researched, well crafted World War II novel follows the life of Ernst Kaltenbrunner, a high-ranking SS official from Austria. While based on a real historical figure of this name, the character of Ernst is fictionalized. The story swaps effortlessly back and forth between the novel’s current day of 1946 of his imprisonment while he awaits trial for his war crimes and his past–from his boyhood and first love with a Jewish girl to how he would up serving in the Nazi party.

The novel opens with Ernst in Nuremburg Prison on the day of his execution.  We know his life is at the end, so this might seem like a strange place to start, but how did this man wind up in the gallows?  

Ernst comes from a family where he’s the oldest son, so the expectation is that he will follow in his father’s footsteps of becoming a lawyer, marrying, and having a family of his own.  Ernst is also a big, strong boy for his age, and his father encourages him to beat up those who deserve it.  As a young man, Ernst stands up for those who the bullies pick on at school, including Dalia, who is a little older than him and Jewish.

He even has to act as the head of his household when his father is drafted during World War I.  He seems to grow up before his time, even proposing to Dalia when he’s not old enough to marry.  Dalia, however, knows they could never be together because of their backgrounds.  The young Ernst doesn’t understand this, as both of their fathers are lawyers, and if Dalia and he love each other, what’s the problem?

Feeling bitter and heartbroken, Ernst leaves Dalia.  He begins attending secret political meetings with his father, where people get together who oppose the current government.  He meets a young woman named Melita afterward and begins hanging out with some college students, and from there, Ernst’s connections to the “right people” grow.

As he gets older, he moves up in the ranks of the Austrian SS.  He’s a mixture of a man who stands up for the underdog and who can easily beat someone to a pulp, sensitive and aggressive.  Before he knows it, he’s the damned leader, all the while wondering how he got into this position.

The story continues in the second book, including how Ernst falls in love with a woman who is the only beckon of hope he has as he awaits his end in prison.  I look forward to reading the rest of his story.

Ellie Midwood is an expert of World War II history, and it shows in his book. The historical facts check out, yet flow flawlessly with the fictionalized story of Ernst.

Her writing is lovely and at times heart-wrenching. Ernst is a good man who got caught up in the wrong world. His one true love is what gives him hope during his last days in prison, where he is left wondering if he did right by his life.

For anyone who is a fan of historical fiction and a complicated romance, I recommend this novel. It’s top-notch!

5 of out 5 stars!

Purchase The Austrian (Book 1) here.

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

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

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

Review of Hope Dies Last: An Alaskan Adventure by Megan Webb

hopeWhen I started reading Megan Webb’s book, I wasn’t sure what to expect.  The main character, Mekana, works in a pet store in New Mexico and lives in an apartment with her sister, Bird.  The sisters are obviously close and love quoting movies, being goofy, and having fun.  While Bird is outgoing and easily has fun with people, Mekana is full of doubt and quiet.  Her uneasiness around men has made is hard for her to have a boyfriend.

She has a sweet dog called Chili Dog and a mostly aloof cat named Snowbeast.  Her life seems pretty ordinary.  With the slow beginning to the book, I was wondering how Mekana would get wrapped up in the adventure the title promises.

A chatty friend named Chessie comes for a visit and insists on Mekana flying with her to Alaska for a funeral.  Bird and Chessie are both convinced that a trip to Alaska is just what shy Mekana needs–a chance to get out there and explore, maybe even have an adventure.

Things continue to be pretty mundane for Mekana as she and Chessie attend the funeral, but then Mekana meets a strange older lady and a handsome bodyguard-like man at the reception after the funeral.  Nothing comes of this, at least the reader thinks.

Mekana and Chessie decide to go on a small plane tour next, but Chessie gets sick from some bad cheese at the funeral.  Mekana boards the plane alone, joining a few others.  Just as the pilot gets on, two men and the old lady from the funeral suddenly show up–and the men have the old woman at gunpoint!  They seemingly hijack the plane, and things start to get interesting.

The heist turns out to be staged–a way for the older lady, Tabitha, to fake her death.  She is trying to escape from someone who works for her company.  She owns a company that makes cures, but sometimes things go wrong, and a stray ingredient renders a cure into a poison.  A man who works for her has died from an accidental poison he created, and another employee wishes to exploit Tabitha and wants to ingredient that make the lethal substance.  This is all backstory.

The small plane winds up crashing in a canyon, however–which wasn’t part of the plan.  This is where the adventure really starts, albeit a quarter of a way into the book.  Mekana is with strangers in a place where they can’t seem to find a way out.  The plane sinks to the bottom of a river, and the only way out is too narrow for passage on a raft on the turbulent waters.  

The group must learn to cooperate to survive in the wilderness as they wait for a rescue that may not ever come, since it isn’t clear if the black box in the plane sent a signal of their distress.  Tabitha turns out to be a grandmotherly type figure for Mekana, and they become friends.  Brody, the bodyguard-like man from the funeral, is gruff but gentle.  Mekana and he start to develop feelings for each other.

As the days pass and no rescue arrives, tension grows.  The real worry of survival increases.  Bears surround the small camp.

The author clearly knows a thing or two about surviving in the wilderness by the details she gives.  This is not only a nice touch but a vital one to make a story like this realistic and believable.

Also, Megan Webb’s faith plays an important role in her story.  Mekana, who admits to herself as not having prayed much lately, begins to talk with God more while they are stranded.  Her faith in God to protect them and deliver them through this tough time is what keeps her going when things get rough.

There are many lovely passages in Megan Webb’s writing in regards to faith and being outdoors.  Her story is an adventure with elements of Christian literature and romance.

You might be wondering if they are rescued or how this would even happen.  Even if there is a rescue, the book delivers a satisfying twist at the end that wasn’t expected.  In spite of that excitement, I would have liked to have seen more development after the climax in the resolution, as it felt rushed.  So much led up to the climax that there still seemed to be more to wrap up at the end, and I felt like I wanted or needed more.

Overall, this is a good story, and being Christian myself, I appreciate the faith elements.  

4 out of 5 stars

Buy Megan’s book here.

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

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

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

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.

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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.

 

Excerpt from Arianna

The sky was vibrant orange and pink over the lake as Marc and I sat on his couch.

“You have a million-dollar view,” I said.

“I’d like to think it’s priceless.”

I turned toward him and smiled.  His right arm was draped around me as I sat with my legs pulled up on the cushions.  “I love how your smile is crooked.”

“Is it?”  His grin widened.

“Even more crooked now.”  I leaned in and kissed him.

When we broke apart, he said, “Hmm, I’ll have to do that more often if I know it’ll get a kiss outta you.  Maybe if I frown and play the sad and misunderstood part well, I’ll even get more than a kiss.”

I scoffed and playfully shoved him in the shoulder, causing him to remove his arm from me.  My gesture had been meant in jest, but I’d pulled away enough for Marc to notice.

“Why do you do that?” he asked.

“Do what?”

“Even time I try to get close to you or make a stupid joke about sex, you freak.”

“I don’t know what you mean.”

“I’m the actor here, not you, Arianna.  I don’t mean to pry, but something’s just…off.  You know I’d never pressure you to do something you don’t want, right?”

“Of course I know that.”  I forced a laugh.  “Maybe I’m just not that physical of a person.”

“Okay.  You are twenty-five, though…a grown woman.  It seems to me we like each other a whole lot, so I’m just trying to understand what’s going on.  I see the way your eyes dash around, like you’re searching for the nearest exit, whenever sex comes up.  Your body tenses under my touch.”

Review of Finding Claire by Pamela Humphrey

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Imagine waking up in the back of a van after being kidnapped with no idea who you are.  No memories.  No name.  Nothing.

You have a photo with the name “Claire” on it, perhaps the only clue to who you are — your whole identity.

You manage to escape, but you’re more lost than ever.  

This is how Finding Claire by Pamela Humphrey opens.  You can see why I couldn’t stop reading.  I had to know what would happen next.

Ms. Humphrey’s writing is thought-out and easy to read, but her descriptions of the physical surroundings and the emotions stirring inside put the reader right in the scene.  As the kidnapped woman desperately picks her way through the forest at night trying to find help, my heart was pumping with adrenaline right there with her.  With every stick that snaps underfoot and every rustle of a bush, she and I kept looking over our shoulders, expecting the kidnappers to be right on our heels.

And then a safe haven pops into view — a cozy cabin in the woods with a black cat in the window.  She knocks on the door at about 3:00 AM and meets Alex Ramirez, a guy in his thirties who’s got his own demons.  A widower for the last couple of years, Alex lost his wife tragically.  She was murdered, leaving him with a guilt that eats away his insides for not being able to save her, leaving him a shell.  His first inclination is to act as protector to this strange woman who shows up at his door.  He gives “Rainy” (his nickname for her, as she can’t yet remember her name) a place to stay.

Luckily for “Rainy,” Alex’s best friend is D.J., a cop.  The authorities are quickly notified of “Rainy” and her kidnappers, including two photos that she took with her when she escaped.  The one with the name “Claire” on it is an old picture of a mother and a little girl, with “Emma and Claire” written on the back.  The new picture is a current one of “Rainy.”  The investigation begins while Alex and “Rainy” commence doing their own search online for links to Claire.

“Rainy” soon gets her memory back, and she remembers her name is Kate.  She recalls getting kidnapped in the mall parking lot after shopping with her sister, Meg.  Meg was knocked out, and once things settle, Kate visits Meg in the hospital.  Parts of the puzzle start to fall into place as Kate talks to Meg and her husband, Tom.  Kate’s family lives in Denver, and she was just visiting San Antonio (where Meg lives).

It turns out that Kate has a knack for uncovering information on people because she’s into genealogy.  I can appreciate this quality, as I am also a genealogy fanatic, having spent most of the summer of 2011 researching my family tree.  It’s amazing what you can find online these days in regards to records on people, so Ms. Humphrey’s descriptions of Kate using the Internet for this purpose is realistic.  Ms. Humphrey’s love of genealogy shines through in this book, which is nice touch.

While Kate may have her memory back, she remains confused about why she was kidnapped in the first place and what her connection to Claire might be.  In addition to fearing for her safety because her kidnappers are still at large, she begins to have romantic feelings for Alex.  Unsure of whether he returns the feelings because it’s clear he still loves his late wife, Ellie, Kate holds back.  She wants more than a protector, as much as she appreciates Alex for everything he’s done.  She stays at his cabin with him for several days, and the tension between them grows as Alex struggles with his blossoming feelings for Kate, torn between loving another woman and the guilt over losing Ellie.

The suspense romance is written in alternating points-of-view.  One chapter is from Kate’s point-of-view, and the next is from third person.  I have read books like this before, although it’s rarely done.  One of the more recent books I read where the POV kept changing from first person between two main characters was the third book in Rebecca Donovan’s Breathing Series, Out of Breath.  I found this confusing in Donovan’s case because the first two books were only from one character’s POV, and with switching between two first person POVs, this was a bit much.  In Ms. Humphrey’s book, however, it works.  While Donovan would switch in the middle of a chapter, Ms. Humphrey sticks to whole chapters written in one point-of-view or the other.  There was never any confusion.  I found the insight into Kate’s mind important, knowing her fears, her reservations, her lapses in memory, her feelings for Alex, etc.  Knowing less about how Alex feels about Kate keeps the tension building, although it’s clear as the book moves along that he sees Kate as more than just a friend.

To say much more about the plot would give away too much, and I don’t want to spoil the book.  Let me just say that Ms. Humphrey doesn’t disappoint.  The same quality of needing to know what happens next that hooked me in the beginning continued through the whole novel and didn’t die for a second.  There is more to the kidnapping than you would imagine.

One final nice touch of this story is the letters written to Claire every year on her birthday by her mom and dad.  Claire was taken from her parents before she turned three years old.  You can feel the parents’ heartache, even though they know their daughter is alive.  Claire’s mom also shares the backstory of how Claire was born and what happened with her kidnapping. Again, I cannot say more without revealing too much.19141955_10155375087713607_1447486949_n

I highly recommend this book.  It’s the first in a series, so we have more to look forward to from Ms. Humphrey.  I, for one, am glad for that!

Buy Finding Claire here!

 

 

 

 

 

Character Friday – Meet Tristan Blake

My name is Tristan Blake, and I can’t believe I’m writing this down.  I may be a writer, but if you really want to know the intimate details of my sad life, I’m afraid you’ll have to look elsewhere.  Why?  That’s a long story.  First, I’ll just say that I’m 35 years old, quite tall, have sandy hair (sometimes on the long side and with a beard),  have striking blue eyes, and am told I’m muscular, although not overly-so.  Physical details seem harmless enough, but I suppose you want to know more.

I grew up unwanted by my family, being born much later than the rest of my siblings.  Being told you’re “a mistake,” especially by your alcoholic father, doesn’t exactly do much for a guy.  I was out of that house as soon as I finished high school and began working in construction, just trying to get by.  During all those dark years growing up, I always had my imagination.  I wrote stories at a young age and had been working on a novel when I met my future wife, Julie.  I couldn’t believe my turn of luck when I got an agent and a publishing deal.  On top of that, when I proposed to Julie, she said yes!

You’d think this was the start of a happy life, but that happiness was short-lived.  While we were doing well financially when others were broken (the Depression had just started), Julie and I suffered.  I can’t say more.  We were broken, and Julie gave up in every sense.  I turned to drinking and to escaping with my writing instead of supporting my wife.  This probably isn’t making any sense, but I told you I didn’t want to write my pathetic plight of a life down.

As if this weren’t bad enough, Julie…she died.  I can’t even write it down; the pain is too great.

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I would remain living in my self-induced cell for years.  I couldn’t bear to change anything, but neither could I have her looking at me, so I blackened out her eyes in all her photographs.  I also killed all the plants outside, wishing to live among dead things…rocks.  Really, I was dead.  I was delirious in my isolation.  I did manage to write and publish one more novel.

Then she moved next door in late 1942…Lorna Ashford.  A tornado threw us into the cellar of my house a few months later.  For some crazy reason, maybe because I’d gone too long without human communication, I felt drawn to Lorna.  But grief and guilt also consumed me.  I began in earnest to clean up her yard after the tornado.  I fixed her roof.  I later offered to fix her car.  I mowed her lawn.  Despite everything in me telling me to stay away, that I would only hurt her, I couldn’t stop myself.

I grew to love her.  We spent the whole summer together.  She had come to confide in me too much, to believe that I was the source of her comfort and healing from her suffering from losing her parents.

I am not a source of comfort, but how can I tell her that?  I love her, but I am not good for her.  What happens in our story?

I may be a writer, but that’s one story I can’t write the end to.  It’s not up to me.

Tristan is the second main character and love interest of protagonist Lorna Ashford in my unpublished novel, Lorna versus Laura. 

Like what you’ve read?  Please subscribe to my blog, where I will post a new character bio every Friday!

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