Decluttering — and What Else? A Giveaway, Of Course! @JMmystery

Jeanne Matthews is the author of the Dinah Pelerin international mysteries published by Poisoned Pen Press. Like her amateur sleuth, Jeanne was born with a serious wanderlust. Originally from Georgia, she enjoys traveling the world and learning about other cultures and customs, which she incorporates into her novels. She currently lives in Renton, Washington with her husband who is a law professor. Where the Bones Are Buried, the fifth book in the series, is in bookstores now . You can learn more about Jeanne’s books at http://www.jeannematthews.com

The past year has narrowed the scope of what is and isn’t possible.  During the pandemic we’ve all had to cancel or postpone travel plans, convert social visits to a computer-generated version of reality, and learn to subsist on home cooking or take-out.  At midnight on December 31st, 2020 dissolved into 2021 without bringing much change.  Health experts urge us to remain cloistered in our own pods for the foreseeable future.  In the circumstances, it was hard for me to muster a list of healthy New Year’s resolutions.

Drinking less is out of the question.  Wine is one of the few things I look forward to at the end of the day.  The other two are pizza and chocolate, so screw any notion of dieting.  Having recently had knee replacement surgery, I can’t take up kickboxing or distance running.  The piano has been out of tune since God knows when and the only other “improving” sort of resolution that came to mind was decluttering.  People write about the joy of shedding unneeded possessions, how it boosts productivity, reduces stress, and lifts the spirits.

I started in the bedroom closet.  It’s been months since I needed anything that came off a hanger.  Near the back a sad little cluster of dresses surprised me.  I tried to recall the last time I’d had occasion to wear a dress.  I tried to imagine the next time.  If there were a next time, would any of these long disused outfits reach around my expanding middle?  The answer did not reduce stress or spark joy.

A better place to begin downsizing might be the library where books spill out of cases onto the floor and lay jumbled in teetering piles.  I surveyed the case with the shelf that collapsed last year under the weight of the People’s Almanac, a multi-volume compendium of little known and fascinating facts.  I browsed a few pages of Volume 1.  Mata Hari charged her lovers $7500 a night?  Wow.  And a whole section on the billions of dollars in lost and buried treasure right here in the U.S.A.  Set that one aside to read later.  Volume 2 contains accounts of several sensational murder cases.  Maybe some good plot ideas in there.  Better save that one, too.  William Roughhead’s The Murderer’s Companion is definitely a keeper.  Also, The Annotated Mother Goose and the 1959 edition of Brewer’s Dictionary of Phrase & Fable.

Behind Birds Every Child Should Know, I found a dog-eared copy of Topper, the hilarious novel about a pair of madcap ghosts named George and Marion Kerby that gave rise to a movie and TV series.  Another keeper, definitely worth rereading.  My decluttering resolution, like so many resolutions of New Years Past, was going nowhere fast.  Then what to my wondering eye should appear but “Dr. Eliot’s Five-Foot Shelf of Books,” a/k/a The Harvard Classics.  Published in 1909 and 1910, these fifty-one volumes were intended to provide a liberal education to anyone who read them diligently for fifteen minutes every day.

Diligence has never been my strong suit.  Maybe if I’d begun in 1910, I’d be up to speed.  But after a certain age, the philosophy of Epictetus and the Confessions of St. Augustine can’t compete with a juicy murder mystery or Bill Buford’s fabulous new book (Dirt) about cooking and eating in France.  I should have sold Dr. Eliot’s classics on eBay back when so many TV talking heads were scrambling for impressive Zoom backgrounds.  Oh, well.  Into the box they go.  Two whole shelves empty.  I run a Swiffer across the dust left behind and feel the stress leaving my body.

I’m on a roll now, feeling ruthless and productive.  More boxes!  Project Gutenberg has no doubt made Mother Goose and Brewer’s Dictionary available free online.  Toss them.  And looky over there in the corner.  One, two, three, four pristine hardcover copies of my first novel – last seen at Left Coast Crime in Santa Fe ten years ago and lugged home in a suitcase full of free pre-release books and promotional swag from other authors.  Remembering how that initial story developed and came into being still elicits a frisson of pride and nostalgia.  But holding onto extra copies of one’s own books is a vanity best outgrown.  So.  If anyone would like a copy of Dinah’s debut in the wilds of Australia, leave a comment – and perhaps a bit of advice on the Zen of decluttering.  I’m afraid to discover what lurks in the attic.

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Help Jeanne declutter!

To enter the drawing for a hardcover copy
of Bones of Contention, just leave your
decluttering comment/advice below. Four
winning names will be drawn on Monday
evening, January 11th.

Book Review: The Second Mother by Jenny Milchman—and a Giveaway! @jennymilchman @Sourcebooks

The Second Mother
Jenny Milchman
Sourcebooks Landmark, August 2020
ISBN 978-1-7282-2636-1
Hardcover

From the publisher—

Opportunity: Teacher needed in one-room schoolhouse on remote island in Maine. Find the freedom in a fresh start.

Julie Weathers isn’t sure if she’s running away or starting over, but moving to a remote island off the coast of Maine feels right for someone with reasons to flee her old life. The sun-washed, sea-stormed speck of land seems welcoming, the lobster plentiful, and the community close and tightly knit. She finds friends in her nearest neighbor and Callum, a man who appears to be using the island for the same thing as she: escape.

But as Julie takes on the challenge of teaching the island’s children, she comes to suspect that she may have traded one place shrouded in trouble for another, and she begins to wonder if the greatest danger on Mercy Island is its lost location far out to sea, or the people who live there.

I live on an island but, I guarantee, my island is nothing like the one that Julie moves to. Physically, there’s a world of difference between Maine and Florida climates so there’s that. Also, my island has the “island time” thing going on and I’m not sure that’s as strong in a non-tropical setting plus Mercy Island is decidedly more rustic and therein lies one of Jenny Milchman‘s strengths, the evocation of the danger that can come with a seemingly simple, homespun kind of atmosphere.

Julie is running from her grief-stricken past but learns all too quickly that this fairly remote island may present her with even more darkness and secrets that could very well bring her to her knees. One interesting facet of being on this island is that the isolation, the distance from the real world back on the mainland, actually creates a sense of claustrophobia because she can’t really escape or, at least, not easily.

Another thing that Ms. Milchman does extremely well lies in her main character. Like other women who have preceded her in Milchman novels, Julie has an inner toughness that comes out when she most needs it, proving to herself and, ultimately, others that she is no pushover, no shrinking violet. On the other side, the malefactors here are surprising and add much to the sense of growing tension. While The Second Mother isn’t my favorite of this author’s books and I do think it’s a good bit longer than it should be, I still found myself reading into the wee hours because I just couldn’t sleep without knowing what was going to happen 😉

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, December 2020.

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Giveaway 

To enter the drawing for a very gently
used advance reading copy of

The Second Mother by Jenny Milchman,
leave a comment below. The winning name will
be drawn on Thursday evening, December 24th.
Open to the US and Canada.

Book Review: Hometown Burning by C.K. Crigger—and a Giveaway! @ckcrigger

Hometown Burning
A Hometown Homicide Mystery #2
C.K. Crigger
City Lights Press, December 2019
ISBN 978-1-64734-154-1
Trade Paperback

From the publisher—

Paramedic and Afghanistan veteran Frankie McGill and resident deputy Gabe Zantos are caught up in a case of arson and murder. A house at the end of a country road has stood vacant for years, it’s occupants mice and the stray raccoon or two.

When the derelict house catches fire, the Hawkesford Fire Department responds because of the danger to the dry wheat fields surrounding it. But then two bodies are found in the ashes, along with evidence of a meth cooking operation. Gabe suspects gang rivalry.

Soon, an experienced welder dies in what appears at first to be a horrific accident at his lonely farm. A second house burns, and Frankie barely saves the elderly occupant. Then there’s the mysterious call over 911 that cries for help at an isolated ranch. There’s one thing ties these events together…

People like Frankie, whether fictional or real, interest me because I wonder why war veterans frequently seem to get into EMT work (or firefighting or law enforcement). Is it because of the adrenalin rush, having become accustomed to always being on high alert? The aspect of danger or maybe the real need to continue finding ways to serve the greater good? I wonder, too, how much harder it must be for someone like Frankie who suffers from a certain level of PTSD, not to mention physical disabilities. Whatever her reasons, Frankie is a stand-out character and she continues to show her strength and intelligence in this second novel.

Frankie’s roommate, Gabe, is a deputy sheriff so, when a suspicious fire leads to the discovery of bodies, the two work together to follow the trail of what seem to be the repercussions of a particularly ugly drug operation. Before long, though, it becomes obvious that further deaths will take them down another path altogether.

While Frankie is certainly a strong woman with plenty of resilience, she would find life much more difficult if it were not for the love and assistance of her dogs. Then there’s Gabe who clearly cares for Frankie, and she for him, but we’ll have to wait to see if that mutual caring will develop into something more. I can only hope 😃

One further note: besides reading the print edition, I also listened to the audiobook. I thought that Gail Shalan’s tone was a little lightweight, almost like a teenager’s voice, but I still enjoyed her narration of the story.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, December 2020.

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Giveaway 

To enter the drawing for a paperback
copy of Hometown Burning by C.K. Crigger,
leave a comment below. The winning name
will be drawn on Saturday evening, December 19th.
Open to the US and Canada.

Book Review: Traces by Carl Brookins—and a Giveaway! @carlbrookins @BPPress

Traces
Carl Brookins
Beaver’s Pond Press, April 2020
ISBN 978-1-64343-897-9
Trade Paperback

From the publisher—

Mystery, danger, and international intrigue confront Lockem and Kane in their second high-stakes adventure, Traces. As we wander through life, we leave evidence of our passing: footprints, DNA, connections with others. Our trails are sometimes large and vibrant, often pale and uncertain. Marjorie Kane is a retired exotic dancer who, after years of headlining in upscale venues, gradually descends into performing in meaner clubs. Looking for new adventures, she meets Alan Lockem, a retired army intelligence officer interested in continued service. Together, Lockem and Kane take on unusual and sometimes dangerous jobs to help troubled civilians and former colleagues. When Lockem is asked to retrieve a flash drive storing military records, it seems simple enough. But encounters with foreign spies, an armed home invasion, and interactions with international, federal, and local police complicate Lockem and Kane’s efforts to unravel and understand the traces of these crimes and aid their old colleagues across the pond.

When I met Marjorie Kane and Alan Lockem in their first adventure (see my 2018 review of Grand Lac), I was really drawn to this couple who are so unique and, yet, so very normal. Marjorie, in particular, naturally attracts a reader’s attention merely by her past as an exotic dancer but the point of this duo is that, like many people, they’ve reinvented themselves in their later years and they’ve done so successfully and with panache, not to mention taking much pleasure in their new lives as private investigators of a sort.

This time, Lockem and Kane set out on what should have been a fairly uneventful job but turns out to be their own personal spy thriller. Who could have guessed that Minnesota could be a hotbed of international intrigue and military secrets along with some serious danger for our investigators, these people who could be any happy, comfortable couple in any middle class neighborhood?

This is where backgrounds and life experiences come into play and Lockem and Kane prove themselves to be resilient and up to the task at hand. These are intelligent people with more than a little street smarts and that’s why I like them so much, along with a hefty dose of just plain likeability. Mr. Brookins has crafted a story full of interesting twists and a pair of protagonists I hope will be back with many more adventures 😃

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, November 2020.

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Giveaway

To enter the drawing for a
paperback copy of Traces,
leave a comment below. The
winning name will be drawn on
Monday evening, November 23rd.
Open to the US and Canada.

Why Paranormal Scares This Mystery Writer—and a Giveaway! @TheMysteryLadie

With a little tinkering, here’s a re-play of a post
from five years ago, just in time for Halloween…

Lauren Carr is the international best-selling author of the Mac Faraday, Lovers in Crime, Chris Matheson Cold Case, and Thorny Rose Mysteries—over twenty-five titles across three fast-paced mystery series filled with twists and turns!

Killer Deadline marks Lauren’s first venture into mystery’s purely cozy sub-genre with a female protagonist. 

Book reviewers and readers alike rave about how Lauren Carr seamlessly crosses genres to include mystery, suspense, crime fiction, police procedurals, romance, and humor.

A popular speaker, Lauren is also the owner of Acorn Book Service, the umbrella under which falls iRead Book Tours. She lives with her husband and two spoiled rotten German Shepherds on a mountain in Harpers Ferry, WV.

Connect with the author:  Website  ~  Twitter  ~  Facebook  ~  Instagram ~ Pinterest

Okay, everyone knows that paranormal is IN. Not too long ago an author of suspense told me that she knew of a paranormal writer who was making money hand over fist. “What is she doing that we’re not doing?” she asked.

“She’s writing paranormal,” I replied. “Angels, demons, elves, fairies, wolves, and vampires are in. Cozies are out.”

So now she’s inserted a ghost into her next suspense.

I’m still holding off. I confess—I am that one person with the ability to read left in the United States who has not read a zombie book or vampire love story. I have never read Harry Potter and only just this month started watching the movies, which my husband can’t believe because he has seen every one, which begs the question, “Who did he see these movies with?” (That’s another post.)

What’s keeping me from jumping on the bandwagon?

Paranormal scares me.

I can sit all day and watch an autopsy scene on the ID channel without cringing. Give me a shoot ‘em up or a car bomb and I’m glued to the pages. How about suspense that involves a husband in the midst of a mid-life crisis killing his wife and disposing of her frozen body in a wood-chipper? I consider that how-to-catch-‘em detective work in top form.

But throw an elf into the mix and … well, that’s just weird.

Give me the daring young lovers trying to identify the crazed ax-wielding serial killer? Little do they know that the killer is one step behind them, revving up his chain-saw while waiting for the perfect time to dismember them. By the end of that book, my nails are chewed down to nubs.

Make one of those lovers a vampire and I’m out of there. The thought of anyone but the Red Cross taking my blood, even if he is handsome and loves me more than life itself, is just too creepy.

I can write about psychopaths, dysfunctional couples, robbers, kidnappers, and even a serial killer or two. I can have people poisoned, stabbed, drowned, blown up, suffocated, tossed off tall buildings, or even run over by a car and then backed over again.

Sorry, I cannot write about sexy young teenagers who feel compelled to stop at every fire hydrant and chase cars when there’s a full moon. Werewolves creep me out. Did you know there was a difference between a werewolf and a wolf-man? One of my best friends clued me in on that for The Murders at Astaire Castle.

Fairies give me the willies, too. Little people with wings scare me more than killer bees.

Okay, I confess. I’m a wimpy murder mystery writer. So sue me … or lock me in a cell with an elf.

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Click here to see the book trailer for Lauren’s
Halloween mystery, The Murders at Astaire Castle

Purchase Links:
Audible // iTunes // Amazon

Never tell Mac Faraday not to do something.

Spencer’s police chief, David O’Callaghan, learns this lesson the hard way when he orders Mac Faraday to stay away from the south end of Spencer’s mountaintop – even though he owns the property. It doesn’t take long for Mac to find out what lies on the other side of the stone wall and locked gate, on which hangs a sign warning visitors to Keep Out!

Topping the list of the 10 top haunted places in America, Astaire Castle is associated with two suicides, three mysterious disappearances, and four murders since it was built almost a century ago – and Mac Faraday owns it!

In spite of David’s warning, Mac can’t resist unlocking the gate to see the castle that supposedly hasn’t seen a living soul since his late mother had ordered it closed up after the double homicide and disappearance of Damian Wagner, a world-famous master of horror novels.

What starts out as a quick tour of a dusty old castle turns into another Mac Faraday adventure when Astaire Castle becomes the scene of even more murders. Mac is going to need to put all of his investigative talents to work to sort out this case that involves the strangest characters he has run into yet – including a wolf man. No, we’re not talking about Gnarly.

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Giveaway:

To enter the drawing for an audiobook
of The Murders at Astaire Castle
, just
leave a comment below
with the name
of your favorite scary movie.
Three
winning names will be drawn
on
Monday evening, November 2nd.

Book Review: A Bend in the River by Libby Fischer Hellmann—and a Giveaway! @libbyhellmann

A Bend in the River
Libby Fischer Hellmann
The Red Herring Press, June 2020
ISBN 978-1-938733-67-3
Trade Paperback

From the author—

In 1968 two young Vietnamese sisters flee to Saigon after their village on the Mekong River is attacked by American forces and burned to the ground. The only survivors of the brutal massacre that killed their family, the sisters struggle to survive but become estranged, separated by sharply different choices and ideologies. Mai ekes out a living as a GI bar girl, but Tam’s anger festers, and she heads into jungle terrain to fight with the Viet Cong. For nearly ten years, neither sister knows if the other is alive. Do they both survive the war? And if they do, can they mend their fractured relationship? Or are the wounds from their journeys too deep to heal? In a stunning departure from her crime thrillers, Libby Fischer Hellmann delves into a universal story about survival, family, and the consequences of war.

I’ve been enjoying Libby Fischer Hellmann‘s books for a lot of years now and have never been disappointed but I think she’s gone a step further with A Bend in the River. Her strength has been largely in crime fiction of the suspense and/or thriller sort with series and standalones but, every now and then, Ms. Hellmann vectors off in a different direction to very good effect. This is one of those times.

The US finally left Vietnam in 1975 but the consequences, good and bad, of that war still linger today. This story focuses on a period of time before and after our exit and looks at what happened in one instance to innocent survivors of a deadly attack. These sisters, 17-year-old Tâm and Mai, three years younger, are suddenly ripped from a semi-normal life to one of vast uncertainty and choices that must be made. Those choices take the girls down separate paths, one on each side of the conflict that has affected their lives for far too many years and, now, they’re each estranged from the one remaining family member who knows her best.

To many of the younger generations, the Vietnam War is a distant memory, a section in the history books. To me and others of my generation, those of us who either fought there or waited at home, this story is a stark remembrance of physical and emotional pain, of choices made by individuals and governments—not just the US—and I thank Ms. Hellmann for reminding us that the devastations of war don’t just drift away when the troops move on.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, October 2020.

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Libby Fischer Hellmann left a career in broadcast news in Washington, DC and moved to Chicago 35 years ago, where she, naturally, began to write gritty crime fiction. Fifteen novels and twenty-five short stories later, she claims they’ll take her out of the Windy City feet first.

She has been nominated for many awards in the mystery and crime writing community and has even won a few. She has been a finalist twice for the Anthony, three times for Foreword Magazine’s Book of the Year, the Agatha, the Shamus, the Daphne, and has won the IPPY and the Readers Choice Award multiple times.

Her novels include the now five-volume Ellie Foreman series, which she describes as a cross between “Desperate Housewives” and “24;” the hard-boiled 4-volume Georgia Davis PI series, and four stand-alone historical thrillers set during Revolutionary Iran, Cuba, the Sixties, and WW2. Her short stories have been published in a dozen anthologies, the Saturday Evening Post, and Ed Gorman’s “25 Criminally Good Short Stories” collection.

In 2005 Libby was the national president of Sisters In Crime, a 3500 member organization dedicated to the advancement of female crime fiction authors. She also hosts both an internet TV and radio interview show and conducts writing workshops at libraries and other venues.

Her books have been translated into Spanish, German, Italian, and Chinese. All her books are available in print, ebook, and audiobook formats.

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Videos of the author discussing
A Bend in the River

https://www.libbyhellmann.com/a-bend-in-the-river-video-1/
https://www.libbyhellmann.com/a-bend-in-the-river-video-2/
https://www.libbyhellmann.com/a-bend-in-the-river-video-3/

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Giveaway

You have two chances to enter the
drawing for a trade paperback copy of
A Bend in the River. Leave a comment
below and go back to yesterday’s post
for the first review and enter there also.
Two winning names will be pulled
on Friday evening, October 16th.

Book Review: A Bend in the River by Libby Fischer Hellmann—and a Giveaway! @libbyhellmann

A Bend in the River
Libby Fischer Hellmann
The Red Herring Press, June 2020
ISBN 978-1-938733-67-3
Trade Paperback

The author is known for her crime fiction award-winning stories at several levels. This enthralling story contains many mysteries, many still unanswered sixty years on. Why were American soldiers fighting in Viet Nam, being one of them. But this is not an academic examination of the politics of the 1960s, although international politics, brought down to an intensely personal level, is a thread that weaves throughout and informs this excellent novel.

This is an intimate look at the lives of two young Vietnamese sisters who see their family and their village near the shore of the Mekong River obliterated by American army action. But the novel is not an excoriation of the American expedition to Southeast Asia, nor is it an apologia for the actions of the Viet Cong and the North Vietnamese. The novel is, instead, a close examination of the diverging lives of two children who are both determined to persist and to attempt to live normal positive lives in the midst of war and constant turmoil. Throughout their personal and professional development along widely divergent paths, Mai and Tam must respond, however unwillingly at times, to the implacable forces that alter their circumstances, bringing love and despair and validation.

Carefully researched, thoughtfully organized and appealingly written by a master storyteller, A BEND IN THE RIVER will teach readers about the Viet Nam era in the world while illuminating and venerating the stubborn persistence and humanity of two sisters caught in the vicious tentacles of a wartime society. I fully endorse and recommend the novel.

Reviewed by Carl Brookins, September 2020.
http://www.carlbrookins.com http://agora2.blogspot.com
Traces, Grand Lac, Reunion, Red Sky.

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An Excerpt from
A Bend in the River

Is there a warning the moment before life shatters into pieces? A minute shift in the light? The chirr of a monkey? A heaviness in the air that tastes like disaster? For Tâm Trang and her sister, Mai Linh, washing their family’s clothes in the river, the warning might have been a barely perceptible scent wafting toward them. Perfumed soap mixed with sweat. Unfamiliar. Foreign.

Or perhaps there was no warning at all. Absorbed in their task, the sisters squatted on a narrow strip of shore, scrubbing shirts with their brushes. They slapped heavier items against the rocks, then rinsed everything in the waters of the Mekong. The clothes would dry quickly. The hottest part of the year was approaching, and the combination of summer heat and the monsoons would produce an indolent lethargy that made even washing clothes a burden. Though it was only March, the sisters lifted their hair off their necks to catch the breeze.

Tâm, at seventeen, used her nón lá as a hamper for the clean clothes. At the moment it held only two pairs of tiny pants belonging to her little brother. Hung Sang, an unplanned surprise five years earlier, was now the prince of the family. According to their parents, no boy was as handsome, as talented, as lucky. With his arrival the girls’ status declined. They had become afterthoughts, to be married off quickly. Sang should not be burdened with his sisters’ care. When he grew up, he would have enough to do for his own family and his parents.

Tâm wiped sweat from her brow. Mai, three years younger, nattered on, but Tâm only half listened. She was about to graduate from the Catholic school two villages away, and she was wondering how she would continue her studies. Where would she find the money to pay for university? What would her parents say when she confessed that was her goal?

“I’m sure you know him. Lanh Phuc. He’s handsome. His is the wealthiest family in their village,” Mai said. “Their home has a real roof. And windows. His father makes sampans…” Mai giggled. “I think he likes me, Chị Tâm. I hope Mama and Papa will agree to a match. I can already picture our wedding. Of course, we will honor the Rose Silk Thread God, but it will be modern too. We will have music to dance, and—”

Tâm cut in. “Mai, you can be a silly girl. Dreaming about weddings and dancing? This is a man you may live with the rest of your life. Have you ever shared a conversation? Talked to him about his future, his dreams?” She twisted water out her father’s shirt and dropped it into the conical hat. “All I hear is that he is the son of a wealthy man, and he is handsome.”

Mai was the beauty of the family, delicate and tiny, with large black eyes, silky black hair, and soft skin that glowed white, even in shadow. Tâm had seen the longing on village boys’ faces when she passed. Her parents would have no problem arranging a match for her. Tâm was taller, leaner, and while her face had the same classic features as Mai’s, they were arranged differently. Her eyes did not appear to be as large; her nose more pronounced, her skin darker. She was attractive in her own way, but she wasn’t a beauty. Although older, she wasn’t waiting for an arranged marriage. She wasn’t interested. She wanted to study plants: their growth, foliage, colors, blossoms, how they added to their environment or not. Her Catholic science teacher explained to her that what she wanted to study was “botany.”

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Giveaway

You have two chances to enter the
drawing for a trade paperback copy of
A Bend in the River. Leave a comment
below and come back tomorrow for a
second review and a second chance to
win. Two winning names will be pulled
on Friday evening, October 16th.