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Reflections on the #AtoZChallenge

by Donna Huber For the A to Z Challenge, I discussed different book genres/categories. Each day, I gave a few details about the genre/catego...

April 23, 2016

T is for Tempting Tomes and To-Read Books #AtoZChallenge

by Elisbeth Scherer

Today’s letter for the #AtoZChallenge is T and I’ve got authors with T names,my favorite T-themed books, plays, children’s books, and some books from my personal TBR pile that you might like to check out. When I started working on this article authors and books started tumbling out of the woodworks at me so this is by no means a definitive list, more like scratching the surface of the letter in the Literary world.

The title page, of the book "The Silmaril...
The title page, of the book "The Silmarillion" by J.R.R. Tolkien, edited and published by his son Christopher Tolkien. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
The most obvious name for me is J.R.R. Tolkien. I fell in love with Tolkien in college and now have an entire bookshelf dedicated to his books. The entire world he has created I could get lost in. Some books are harder to read than others but all of them give me the idea of vastest which really sets as standard for world development in my mind.  I doubt there are many readers of this blog that haven’t already read The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit (or have seen the movies) but if you are one of those individuals I would highly recommend you read them as soon as possible. My husband has already read The Hobbit to our 4 ½ year old son and he frequently talks about the book. If you have read them but haven’t tackled The Silmarillion go learn how the world was created in the First Age. You learn the history behind Middle earth and the races and how things came to be. An excerpt from Goodreads says “The Silmarillion is the history of the rebellion of FĂ«anor (an elf) and his kindred against the gods, their exile from Valinor and return to Middle-earth, and their war, hopeless despite all their heroism, against the great Enemy.”

And with the letter T we cannot mention Tolkien without mentioning book two of The Lord of the Rings, The Two Towers. The fellowship have faced trials and now the company has been disbanded and we follow all of them on their quest to help rid the world of the one ring. Frodo and Samwise take their route towards Mount Doom and the rest of the fellowship breaks in two during a battle with orcs. I mentioned in a previous post this book shows multiple storylines marching to a final culmination. The party has lost Gandalf and one of its members attempts to take the ring by force. It is a gritty and dark book of the trilogy in my opinion.

You could also look at Leo Tolstoy’s War & Peace (if you are trying to impress the little red-haired girl like Charlie Brown; or how about Terry Goodkind, Terry Brooks, and finally Terry Pratchett.  So many good books between all those T authors we could be reading with T for a year or more.

My two favorite T titled books are Through the Looking Glass and What Alice Saw There by Lewis Carroll and my Thriller pick, The Pelican Brief by John Grisham.

Through the Looking Glass and What Alice Saw There is the sequel to Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. It is set six months after the previous book and Alice’s adventures begin this time when she climbs through a mirror into the world she sees reflected there. Alice meets the Red and White Queens, Tweedledee & Tweedledum, plays in a life size game of chess, and we get the famous Jabberwocky Poem, The Walrus and the Carpenter, and The Lion and the Unicorn all in the story. It’s darker, I think, than the first book but still full of fantastical characters and wondrous sites. There is a Tim Burton movie adaptation of this book coming out May 27th and I can’t wait to see it.

The Pelican Brief is a Legal Thriller that for some reason has always been a favorite of mine. The paperback I own is falling apart. It’s a page-turning, can’t put it down book that follows the assassinations of two supreme court justices and a legal brief that solves the murder and makes the law student who wrote it prime target number one as someone has read her brief and does not like the knowledge she has. Grisham has so many novels in his bibliography and I think this will probably always be one of my favorites. On a personal note I will say I don’t mind the movie, but the book (as usual) is much, much better.

If you are looking for something different in a story, you could chose a few classic plays you could read:

By Orlando Fernandez,
World Telegram staff photographer [Public domain],
 via Wikimedia Commons
First, by Tennessee Williams we have The Glass Menagerie. Tennessee Williams is one of the top three playwrights from the 20th century American Dream and The Glass Menagerie was the play that vaulted him from obscurity to fame. It is a memory play told by Tom, a young man who works to provide for his Mother Amanda and older sister Laura in their small apartment in St. Louis. Amanda longs for her passed days as a debutant in the south and worries about her daughter’s future who is shy and who suffers from a limp (a result of having polio). Laura spends most of her time at home polishing and playing with her collection of glass animals. Amanda convinces Tom to bring home a suitor for Laura. That’s as far into the plot as I will delve but it is an emotional and melancholy play that may possibly reflect William’s actual home life. Besides this play Tennessee Williams has a host of other plays that you may also want to read including A Streetcar Named Desire, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, Summer and Smoke, Orpheus Descending, and The Night of the Iguana just to name a few.

If you like plays than there is also Jean-Baptiste Moliere’s French play Tartuffe  and Shakespeare’s many plays that start with T:  Taming of the Shrew, Twelfth Night, The Tempest, Two Gentlemen of Verona.

As any good bibliophile my to-be-read pile is as tower that is threatening to fall over and bury me in words (what a way to go though).  Here are just a few on my list to read that fall under the T umbrella.

The Toyminator by Robert Rankin - Sequel to Hollow Chocolate Bunnies of the Apocalypse. Both books I would recommend. In the first book, we follow Jack and his sidekick Eddie Bear as they investigate the murders of old, rich nursery rhyme characters. According to the back of the book “...the two set out on an epic adventure. Not to mention a lot of heavy drinking, bad behaviour, fast car chases, gratuitous sex and violence, bizarre toy fetishism and all-around grossness. Of a type not normally associated with Toy Town.” This book is hilarious, suspenseful, and a complete riot.

Naturally after reading and loving the first book The Toyminator rose right up to the top of my to read list. In this book things are just not going well in Toy City as Toys have started to spontaneously combust. There are talks of this being the end times - a Toy City Apocalypse is on the horizon. Toy City turns to Eddie Bear, P.I. and his loyal sidekick, Jack. Kirkus review has said this book is “like Douglas Adams on a sugar high” and that alone makes me need to find time to actually read this book - and so should you!

To Be or Not To Be by Ryan North and Shakespeare. This book is a retelling of Hamlet but told as a choose your own path style book. My husband actually backed this book on Kickstarter and devoured it. You can be Hamlet, You can be Ophelia, You can be the Ghost of Hamlet’s father. The decision of where the book will lead is all up to you. You could read the book multiple times and not get bored as there are 65 illustrations for each possible ending that will keep you trying new ways to wind your way through this wonderful play. An excerpt from Amazon states, “To Be or Not to Be became a sensation when it launched: over 15,000 people backed the book in just one month, and it remains the number-one most funded publishing project ever on” and with stats like that who wouldn’t want to read this book.

Ten Apples on Top
Finally, I just want to touch on a couple kids books we are currently reading in marathon bouts in our house. First is Ten Apples Up on Top by Dr. Seuss. My one and a half year old daughter requests this multiple times a day and night. Today at the grocery store she received an apple and automatically started saying, “Ten apples on top.” It’s a great, short book, that has the spellings of numbers to help your child learn to recognize 1-10 in word form.  Secondly is The Tales of Peter Rabbit by Beatrix Potter. There is so much to say about Ms. Potters lovely stories. These are classic children’s stories that every child should hear. They hold a special spot in my heart and even The Further Tales of Peter Rabbit by Emma Thompson ring true. I particularly love the audiobook reading that comes with Thompson’s books where the actress herself is reading the adventures.

Well I hope I just created a larger TBR pile for anyone who is looking for some letter T themed books. I know I now need to get my priorities straight and dive into one of my books again. Until next time, Keep reading!

Elisabeth Scherer, reviewer. Elisabeth grew up in a very small town in Minnesota but now lives in the lovely Pacific Northwest where she spends most of her time raising her two young children. She and her husband have a large collection of books that takes a good space of their small condo. When she's not reading she has a variety of hobbies that include crocheting, drawing, baking, cooking, and movie watching. She is currently training to run her first half marathon later this year! You can also find her blogging at

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April 22, 2016

S is for Short Fiction #AtoZChallenge

Stories come all shapes and sizes. We are all familiar with epic tomes like War and Peace, Crime and Punishment. But there are also stories on the other end of the scale: micro stories (I've seen a Facebook thread for 6 word stories!), flash fiction (usually 100 to 1,000 words), short stories, and novellas. While short stories have long been part of the literature landscape, I wonder if the rise in flash fiction and novellas is a result of the indie publishing movement. Serials is another form of short fiction that was popular when publishing was expensive and few had access to books and instead these stories were published in installments in magazines and newspapers. Serials have seen a resurgent, again I think it may be a combined result of the indie publishing movement and ebooks.

Do you like reading short fiction? It can be a great way to get your reading fix when you have a busy schedule. Susan is recommending a novella and I have a short story for you today. I would love to hear your recommendations. ~ Donna

Dreams of Stillwater
The Dreams of Stillwater (Stillwater Bay Series Book 2) by Steena Holmes
review by Susan Roberts

Steena Holmes takes her readers back to Stillwater in book 2 of this series, where a terrible school shooting killed several children and teachers in a small tight knit community. Instead of focusing on the people directly affected by the shooting in this book, she writes about several people in the town who were suffering from the aftermath of the shooting even though they didn't lose family members. It shows so well that its an entire community that suffers in an event as horrific as a shooting - maybe to a different degree than the people directly related but its still painful.

The book is about two different families. Grace is suffering because she called in sick on the day of the shooting and asked her best friend to substitute for her - she is filled with survivor's guilt because her friend is dead and she is alive. Paige is having problems living her life because she is grieving for her 'almost' boyfriend and what could have been. Her sister doesn't understand her grief and they are having problems in the flower business that they share.

This is a fantastic book. Steena writes her characters so well the reader feels like they are people that they know in their every day lives. She is now writing Stillwater Deep and I am really looking forward to reading more about the people of this town as they heal.

Buy The Dreams of Stillwater at Amazon

Two Doors Down
Two Doors Down: Secret Admirer by J. Jennings
review by Donna Huber

As far as short stories go, Two Doors Down was really well done. However, I have to wonder if it isn't more of a serial. If you think of a book in three acts, then Two Doors Down would definitely be act one.

Kate and Rick have been neighbors and friends for a while. There is definitely some chemistry between these two right from the start. But it is clearly a case of not seeing what is right in front of you, particularly on Rick's part.

The story is tight with its focus on the potential romance between Kate and Rick, though there is room for a lovely elderly neighbor. The conversation the three of them had in the hall had me giggling.
"Yeah?" Rick asks with a small grin.
"Try to keep it down, dear. I'm an old lady now; I need my sleep and your...lady friends are not helping."
Kate barks out a laugh as Rick's face turns beet red. "S-s-sorry, ma'am," He stutters. "I'll try to be a little quieter."
"Oh, it's not so much you, dear," Mrs. Waterman insists. "It's your lady friends; they're quite vocal in the throes of passion. I just need them to scream a little less. Perhaps try a gag. It always worked for me." Rick's face is nearly violet red with embarrassment now and Kate is using the wall for support as her body shakes with laughter. Mrs Waterman doesn't look embarrassed by her own frank attitude towards sex, though, and just gives them a decisive nod as she enters her apartment and closes the door.
Though the story was short, I quickly became attached to Rick and Kate and want to know how their date went, if they will make it as a couple. At Goodreads I see that there is a second book, Two Doors Down: Blurred Line. The addition of the the subtitle on the book I read, Secret Admirer, and the title of the second gives more credence that this is indeed a serial and not just a short story. Unfortunately, I am unable to find either of the books on Amazon. I do hope they reappear.

See other books by J. Jennings at Amazon

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April 21, 2016

R is for Review Extras #AtoZChallenge

by Donna Huber

You've read an awesome book and you've raved about how awesome the book was, but you still feel like your review needs something more. There are several options for review extras and some may draw in more people than a review alone would.

1. Pictures

We all know that pictures enhance blog posts. Most book reviewers insert the book's cover into their review, but did you know other images can be powerful additions to your review? During this challenge I've been creating "feature images" at the top of each post. I put the title of the post on the image and it makes a great image for social media.

You can also include the book cover in the post image like I did for E is for Emma Thompson's Reading of The Turn of the Screw.

Is the book you are reviewing take you to an interesting locale? Mention historical or famous landmarks? Consider including pictures. Be mindful of copyright. It is always best to use your own pictures, but there are sites that offer Creative Commons or Public Domain images that are free to use. I like using Wikimedia Commons and Libre Stock (it's like a database of sites offering free images).


Poignant quotes or emotional passages from the book can also be a nice addition. When Alison did her K is for Kiss and Tale post, she included the passages that surrounded the kiss.

I love when authors and publicists send me image quotes like the one I used in Joan Cusack Handler's guest post on Monday.

It is a double bonus since it is a quote and an image. Again, great for sharing your review on social media like Instagram and Pinterest.

3. Recipes

A number of books feature food and drink and a recipe can be a great extra for bringing in people who might not regularly read book blogs. I have featured cocktail recipes and recently after reading a few books set in New Orleans I included a recipe for beignets. Alison routinely provides a sweet snack pairing with her book reviews.

Add in a picture of the food or drink and again your review can be a big hit on social media sites like Pinterest and Instagram.

I haven't tried this but it is an idea - if the main character has a hobby or maybe a career with an activity like making jewelry or refurbishing furniture perhaps you could include a simple project for your readers.

4. Embedded Content

Did you know you can embed sample chapters and in some cases audio book clips into your review post?

To embed the sample chapters, you just need to go to the book's page at Amazon and look on the right hand side under the click to buy button. There will be an "embed" link near the share buttons. Click the link and it will bring up the code you need to use to embed the content (make sure you click the radio button for the embed code). If you are an Amazon affiliate, you can add your affiliate id so that if people purchase the book after reading the sample chapters you get credit.

Check out my post for A Bandit's Tale to see what the embedded chapters look like.

You can embed video from YouTube that is related to the book. Deborah Harkness, author of the All Souls Trilogy, did a walking tour of Oxford and related places to her books. I've also grabbed interviews and book trailers. Sometimes the author, publisher or publicist will send me the content. Other times I search the publisher's YouTube channel or visit the author's website.

Remember. my E post I mentioned above? I embedded a clip from the audio book. Audible offers a number of sample clips on SoundCloud that you can get the embed code for. This is great for reviewers who do a lot of audio book reviews, but even if you read the book it can be a nice review extra to include in your post.

The next time you write a book review, get creative and stand out from the crowd by including one or more review extra.

What review "extras" do you include with your reviews or like to see with reviews?

Donna Huber, founder & publisher. Donna is an avid reader and natural encourager. She is the founder of Girl Who Reads and the author of how-to marketing book Secrets to a Successful Blog Tour. She reads most genres, but her favorite books are psychological thrillers and stories that highlight the survival of the human spirit against unbelievable circumstances. 

Get even more book news in your inbox by signing up for our newsletter: Girl Who Reads is an Amazon advertising affiliate; a small commission is earned when purchases are made at Amazon using any Amazon links on this site. Thank you for supporting Girl Who Reads.

April 20, 2016

Q is for Quartet of Bette Lee Crosby Books #AtoZChallenge

reviews by Susan Roberts

Bette Lee Crosby has written a wonderful series of books called The Memory House.  There are currently four books in the series and I really hope that she is adding to the series.

Memory House

Memory House (Memory House Collection #1)
This is a wonderful book about love and friendship and memories. The friendship is between Ophelia, a 90 year old woman who owns The Memory House bed and breakfast and Annie, a young woman with a bleak outlook on life. Ophelia believes that objects have memories that can be felt by other people and as she works to convince Annie of this, their friendship grows. It's a wonderful book and it helped bring back some memories in my life that I had forgotten.

Buy Memory House at Amazon
(ebook is FREE)

The Loft

The Loft (Memory House Collection #2)
This book begins with the wedding of Annie and Oliver from book 1 but it is as much about the growth and changes in Ophelia's life as it is Annie and Oliver's. Max, a new character who is an architect, is introduced and it looks like she will be the main focus of book 3, which I am anxious to read. The characters are well done and the reader wants to find out what happens to all of the characters because they are so well done that they  feel like they know them. There is some drama and nail biting in this book but that makes it even more real-life.  It's a great read about love and that you don't have to be born into a family to be part of a one.

Buy The Loft at Amazon

What the Heart Remembers

What the Heart Remembers (Memory House Collection #3)
This book is about memories - the memories that Max has for her first love in Paris. She has so many memories of him that she is unable to live her life to the fullest so she decides to go back to Paris to find him. The book is about Max's journey to re-live her memories -- can she find what she thinks she has lost or is her memory different from the reality? This is a great page turner and a beautiful book about Paris. The author does a fantastic job of describing the streets of Paris and some of the various tourist destinations.  Another plus is that we get to once again spend time with Ophelia and Annie from books one and two of the series. Even though I have really enjoyed this series, this book was my favorite. My recommendation is to read them all- it's a great series.

Buy What the Heart Remembers at Amazon

Baby Girl
Baby Girl (Memory House Collection #4)
This is book 4 in the Memory House series and the series just keeps getting better. The only character from the earlier books that shows up in this one is Ophelia so I think that you could read this as a stand alone book. Whether you read it as part of the series or by itself - you need to read it! Its the story of Cheryl Ann who never learns anything about family and love from her mother so she makes lots of mistakes in her own life. With the help of her friends and what she learns through her experiences both good and bad, she learns what it means to love and what it means to be part of a family. This is a wonderful book that shows Cheryl Ann's journey with all of its problems and her faults as well as her triumphs. There was more than one part of the book that brought tears to my eyes and I found myself hoping for a happy ending for her as she learned some tough lessons in her life. Bette Lee Crosby has written some wonderful characters in her earlier books but in my opinion, Cheryl Ann is one of the most real characters that she has ever written. Read this book - you won't be disappointed.

Buy Baby Girl at Amazon

Susan Roberts, reviewer. Susan grew up in the Detroit area but after deciding that city life wasn't for her she moved to North Carolina after college. She and her husband have several acres of land and they enjoy gardening and canning vegetables in the summer. They travel extensively and just returned from a month in Paris. Susan reads almost anything (and the piles of books in her house prove that) but her favorite genres are Southern fiction, women's fiction and thrillers. You can connect with Susan on Facebook or Twitter.

Get even more book news in your inbox by signing up for our newsletter: Girl Who Reads is an Amazon advertising affiliate; a small commission is earned when purchases are made at Amazon using any Amazon links on this site. Thank you for supporting Girl Who Reads.

April 19, 2016

P is for Prequel, Politics, and Paranormal #AtoZChallenge

review by Elisabeth Scherer

For the letter P we get to venture back into one of my favorite worlds - Wonderland. I know you are thinking - Wonderland does not start with P, but Hatter Madigan: Ghost in the H.A.T.B.O.X. is a Prequel (there’s the P) to Frank Beddor’s best selling Looking Glass Wars series.

The LGW series is a spin on Alice in Wonderland where the Mad Hatter is Hatter Madigan - personal bodyguard to the queen of wonderland and her family. Alyss is the princess and she has gone missing through the Pool of Tears. Hatter Madigan pursues Alyss into our world but she has disappeared and he has to search across the globe to try to find her. In doing so he became the most traveled character of Wonderland. From books to graphic novels, the Looking Glass Wonderland world has developed over many formats and this latest book has moved back into my favorite, the novel form.

Hatter Madigan Ghost in the HATBOX
This newest book, which is out today (P is also for Pub Day!), has the readers follow a teen-aged Hatter Madigan as he starts his education at the Millinery Academy where he and his fellow Caps compete to become the next generation of spies, assassins, and bodyguards. Hatter has his sights set on being a spy in the Spade suit. Hatter’s mother, father, and brother were all bodyguards. In fact his brother was just promoted to the highest bodyguard position in Wonderland, protecting the royal Heart family. It is extra pressure on Hatter who is trying to pave a path of his own out from under the shadow of his popular, successful brother.

To make things even more complicated than normal teenage problems, Hatter begins seeing ghosts in the hallways at the academy, then students begin acting very strangely, and it all comes down to Hatter and his new friends to solve the mysteries surrounding the school before all the students are possessed.

Why this book:

I have been familiar with the many forms of Alice in Wonderland dating back to seeing the made for television movie back in 1985 starring Natalie Gregory and a long list of famous actors (Carol Channing’s white queen is my all time favorite). My interest continued in high school where I attended a state wide arts-centered school in MN where I did a scene study of Carol Channing’s white queen and Alice scene. The play for my class that year was Alice in Wonderland with a unique twist of having three Alices for the different parts of Alice’s psyche. Then fast forward to reading the Looking Glass Wars, Seeing Redd, and Arch Enemy, and the Tim Burton movie that was released. Needless to say I love Alice and different angles on the beloved Wonderland characters.

What I thought about this book:

Frank Beddor has another best seller in Ghost in the H.A.T.B.O.X. The characters are genuine, the plot is mysterious and marvelous at the same time. The glimpse into another part of Wonderland satisfies the curious nature of people who like immense worlds to visit in books. Beddor uses such creative ways to incorporate Millinery terms into the training academy. There are glimpses of the person we know Hatter is going to become. The supporting characters are all unique and fleshed out to make the reader feel as if they are following a class through the ranks of school.

The school politics between the students was so real I could feel a pang in my chest for the kids that were picked on and a scowl for the kids that thought they were better than everyone else. Hatter has to deal with teenage hormones and emotions which for an average kid is hard but for a cap training at the academy where it is expected that stoicism is much more difficult. The school itself has wonderful secrets that I’ll leave you to experience for yourself when you read this book but I will say I think the entire place is brilliant.

If you are looking for something that rings of Hogwarts but is firmly rooted in the Wonderland lore I would recommend this book for you. It is labeled as a Middle grade reader but there is much to satisfy all ages in what I hope will be the first of many books.

Bonus content:

I recently met Frank Beddor at a author night at Third Place Books in Lake Forest Park, Washington. While discussing his new Hatter book he dropped a tiny tidbit of trivia regarding some pop culture. My hint for that tidbit is - when you read his latest book can you spot the tribute to a certain John Hughes movie (also out in 1985) hiding in the storyline?  I didn’t but when he mentioned it, I totally got it!  Constant vigilance folks for that reference and any others I might have missed.

He also mentioned that the Looking Glass Wars series was ready for publication around the same time as another book series that took the world by storm. I have mentioned the book once in the post only as reference to books that include schools. It was interesting to note that he ended up publishing The Looking Glass Wars in the United Kingdom first, home to what we now have come learn from Frank, is the false version of the history of Alyss. Thank goodness he was able to ferret out the truth and we now know what really happened.

I will tell you that my favorite tea right now is Stash brand Licorice Spice. I love warm tea and cozy books to lose yourself in, Hatter Madigan: Ghost in the H.A.T.B.O.X  is definitely one of those books. Now go brew yourself a pot of tea, delve down through the rabbit hole and enjoy the Wonderland I have come to hold dear.

A very happy birthday to you, Hatter Madigan: Ghost in the H.A.T.B.O.X., Cheers with a delicious hot cup of tea to Frank Beddor, and to the rest of you a very merry unbirthday to all of you. Long Live Alyss!

Buy Hatter Madigan: Ghost in the H.A.T.B.O.X. at Amazon

Elisabeth Scherer, reviewer. Elisabeth grew up in a very small town in Minnesota but now lives in the lovely Pacific Northwest where she spends most of her time raising her two young children. She and her husband have a large collection of books that takes a good space of their small condo. When she's not reading she has a variety of hobbies that include crocheting, drawing, baking, cooking, and movie watching. She is currently training to run her first half marathon later this year! You can also find her blogging at

Book Info:
available formats:Hardcover (408 pages)
published: April 2016 by Automatic Publishing 
ISBN13: 978-0991272921
genre: fantasy, adventure
target audience: middle grades
source: author
read: April 2016

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April 18, 2016

O is for Orphaned in Adulthood: An Unexamined Life Stage #AtoZChallenge #MondayBlogs

by Joan Cusack Handler, Ph.D.

I’ve been a psychologist in clinical practice for more than 30 years. Not surprisingly, I’m also a writer who focuses on the emotional and psychological underpinnings of human experience. Committed to meticulously preserving client confidentiality, I never use client’s biographies in my writing; I restrict myself to my own. Hence all four of my books may be considered one biography—focusing on different stages of my psychological life. And because poetry is about discovery, as I reveal myself to my reader, I reveal myself to me.

My most significant discovery in all of my books came with Orphans. Originally entitled Orphaned, I changed the title because I felt that Orphaned sounded whiny and like I was soliciting sympathy. It also restricted itself to me instead of describing generations of people, ultimately all of us. Orphans started out as a tribute to my parents; I was committed to writing their stories after their deaths. In fact, my mother instinctively knew that I would, and laughingly said one day when the mood was graceful and loving between us “…you’ll tell the truth, Joan, even about the bitch I can be.”

Not unlike most sons and daughters with aging parents, I became much more involved in their lives and their care as the years passed. The natural accompaniment to that was that I wrote more about them than I had before. And because my writing reflects what is going on in my life, their illnesses found their way into my poems as did their thoughts and behaviors, my memories, observations, and conclusions.

My mother was the first of my parents to die; that was twelve years ago. I had little time to grieve her because my sister and I immediately set about tending to our father as he tended to himself—cooking, baking bread, vacuuming the living room-- and dealt with her loss. Several years passed and a fall in his bedroom sidelined him from most of the things he most valued in life—going to Mass, reading his prayer books, ‘baking the bread’.  The second fall broke his hip. It happened in my home in East Hampton.

Hospitalized in Southampton Hospital, he came through surgery fine, but died within days of pneumonia.

My sister and I and even our estranged brothers were devastated. His loss left a huge hole in my life and my heart. I adored him as did everyone who knew him. I loved talking to him, listening to him—his stories, his wisdom, his wise cracks; I loved making soup for him. His loss was huge, my grief relentless--far reaching and spread over my whole life and family. I became depressed and terrified. Loss became synonymous with terror. I was obsessed with death—his first, then my own. My life diminished to a thin slip of days --the loss far more than the loss of my father. It signaled for me the imminence of my own death. I felt stripped, stalked. My days became very dark and one slid into another without notice. Weeks went by, months, years. I felt alone in a way that I had never felt before. Though I had fancied myself independent of my parents for over 50 years, I felt abandoned by my father. How could I live this life without him?

I was on my own. Despite the closeness and attention of my husband and son and his wife, I felt like I was out there at the end of a very long jetty alone. My life was ending.

I was an orphan—a daughter without parents, no longer blanketed by my father’s love but stripped down to myself alone. What would life be without him? Death was around every corner.

In the beginning I avoided my notebook. I couldn’t write. I was terrified of my notebook. What it would force me to say.

Eventually I picked it up, opened it and wrote-- for a few minutes. Weeks, months later, I’d return for a slightly longer time. Twenty minutes. Never more than an hour. I filled one notebook and started another. I made poems of these entries. The poems became the body of the final 20 pages of Orphans. My death terror was finally in writing.

As I do in all of my work, I studied my symptoms in an effort to fully understand what was happening to me. What emerged was a picture of a woman orphaned in her seventies. Vulnerable again in ways she hadn’t been perhaps since childhood. No longer protected. No longer shielded from death. But exposed, threatened. Amazingly, this was a stage of life that I hadn’t heard of. The loss of my parents, yes, the obvious grief and sadness, of course. But the terror? The obsession with my own death? No. For these I was completely unprepared. I had never heard of this before. No psychological theory explained it or predicted it. Professors didn’t focus on it—fellow clinicians didn’t speak of it. Had I missed recognizing this vital stage in my psychotherapy work with clients? I couldn’t think of any, but I understood more deeply what seemed like a friend’s prolonged grief (several years) after her mother died and another’s inability to move into the house her father had lived in and willed to her. I Googled ‘orphaned in adulthood’ and found a few references there.

Fortunately for me, I had the poems. Committed to the truth, I wrote what the poem knew and wanted me to know. It took the poems and the finished book to pull me out of the depression I was arrested in, and it turns out that my project resonated.  “My husband and I often say we’re orphans,” friends told me. “The loneliness was the worst part and the feeling unprotected,” others said. I felt strangely validated and gratified.  If we are not now already orphans, we’ll someday all be—in this together.

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Joan Cusack Handler is a poet, clinical psychologist, and the founder of CavanKerry Press. Her poems have been widely published, and have received five Pushcart nominations as well as an award from The Boston Review. Joan has published two poetry collections (Glorious and The Red Canoe: Love in Its Making) and a prose memoir (Confessions of Joan the Tall). Her fourth book on sale now, ORPHANS, also a verse memoir, recounts the stories of her colorful Irish parents and her complicated relationship with them. A Bronx native, Joan now lives with her husband, a fellow psychologist, in New Jersey and East Hampton.

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April 17, 2016

Review: The Wife of Riley (Mercy Watts #6) by A.W. Hortoin

review by Elisa Hordon

The Wife of Riley
And it starts off with a not literally unless you count the explosion of all in a day’s work for nurse Mercy Watts.

Mercy is smart and sassy, too smart to get mixed up with Calpurnia Fibonacci and her mafia family or so I thought :-). But then again who would seriously knock back a trip to Paris to find someone who is supposed to be dead? I mean it's not like anything can go wrong, is there?

I have been eagerly awaiting The Wife of Riley to find out what happens next with Mercy and Chuck now they are together, only to be bitterly disappointed a few chapters in when there has been no progress. It's not from Mercy's end like I was expecting, it's from Chuck :-(. What is with that? Seriously, he has chased her since they were kids and now he has her that’s it. He doesn’t want her anymore. Gosh, I hope that’s not it. I was so excited when they finally got together. There has to be more to Chuck keeping Mercy at a distance but what?

I love a series that gets my emotions going from the very beginning. With each new book you have certain expectations you've built up and then there is the anticipation the next story is going to go this way or that way. It really is exciting to then turn each page and find out what happens. Sometimes I'm happy, sometimes sad and sometimes angry, but for me this is what makes a great series and makes me want to keep rushing for the next book and Mercy's series is just like that and so far I have really enjoyed each and every story.

Secrets, secrets and more secrets! I'm not convinced Mercy and Chuck will work: she is keeping secrets from the start and Chuck, well, he just doesn't communicate at all. Talk about frustrating. I know he is a guy and he keeps stuff bottled up inside but he really needs to get over that and open up. As for Mercy and her secrets at least she has Aaron but she also needs to trust Chuck more especially if their relationship is going to work otherwise he is always going to worry.

So Mercy has 2 phones, her secrets and she is in Paris the city of Love with Chuck and her work partner Aaron. Sounds like a great working holiday doesn't it? Aaron has a cover for them, cooking school. Chuck has his guide books and a charming passion to see the sights of the city and Mercy, who has been to Paris many times with her Godmothers, just wants to figure things out for her case and her relationship so that she can actually enjoy a bit of this working vacation. Do things go according to plan? Nope never. Mercy hates to Chuck on the other hand always plans, and Aaron, well, Aaron just always seems to know what to do in his own weird way. Somehow this all works out, in a sometimes very funny, dangerous thrilling adventure that really is a joy to read.

It was interesting learning more about Aaron. He is in most of Mercy’s adventures but he never talks. So I loved learning he had lived in Paris for 5 years. And speaking of Paris, I so loved traveling through Paris with Mercy, I've never been myself but I've done a lot of research in the hopes of going there one day and then reading of Mercy’s adventures through Paris it really felt like I was there.

So I'm now half way through the book loving the mystery side of things can't wait to find out what made Angela fake her death and start over in Paris and what is really up with this Klinefeld group. I'm over worrying about Mercy and Chuck and I get the feeling Mercy is too. I am so disappointed in Chuck's behaviour. It's just bizarre and extremely hurtful toward Mercy why can't he just be himself and love Mercy unconditionally?

I have spent part of this book searching my art database app looking up artists and paintings they looked at on their tour of the muse D’orsey. It adds something more to the story and makes me feel like I'm right there if I'm researching where the characters have been. There is also a Louvre app which was fun to do a virtual tour while reading of their tour of the Louvre. It really does bring the story more to life for me.

Chuck loves his guide books probably just as much as I love all the guidebook apps I downloaded to research Paris while I read... lol. It was an extra bit of fun for me and made the whole book more enjoyable because A.W. Hartoin described everything in Paris so well. Then with my added research not only into where they were in Paris and what they were seeing but also the food and because Aaron is all about the food this was an important part of the book for me.

I really like to discover new things about my favourite characters and with Mercy and Aaron part of their relationship revolves around food. Aaron is always trying to get Mercy to eat and when he does he is always challenging her like with the hot chocolate with the raspberry puree added. Mercy is not a fan of raspberry but she loves chocolate and she trust Aaron. I love that Mercy is surprised when she loves the Aaron always seems to know exactly what she needs and not just with food but food is what he knows best.

Mercy showed her strength and frustration at Chuck when she left him being fitted for clothes at Elias's apartments and boy was it funny when he ordered Mercy not to leave without Men! Seriously what was he thinking? Since when does Mercy do what she is told? I mean, she is Tommy Watts's daughter, and really, I sat there shaking my head at Chuck. Did he really think yelling and demanding was going to work on Mercy? This was probably my favourite part of the book.

I really do love a book with multiple mysteries and I really enjoyed learning more about the Bled sisters, their family and friends plus how they may or may not be connected to the Klinefeld group or how this all relates to a Nazi Germany point in history and the Bled collection. I also love a mystery that really makes me think, question and research and the Mercy Watts series does that for me and this book especially so.

The ending of the book is quite spectacular, Mercy solves her case, saves Angela and finds out more about the Bled family and a bit more on the Klinefeld group or at least new leads to follow which will make for more wonderful adventures. Mercy also finds out what has been bugging Chuck. I mean, it's like pulling teeth to get anything out of that man. But she eventually gets him to talk, kind of, and what he has to say is such a jumble of emotions. I laughed and cried at the same time but in the end I think they will be ok or more to the point I'm really hoping they will be ok, because for a book couple I really like Mercy and Chuck together. Chuck kind of grows on you, you know like fungus but sweet sexy protective fungus, lol.

Chuck and Mercy are still learning how to be a couple, these relationships take time, you know like a life Well that's what I'm hoping for with Chuck and Mercy. Once they heal from the physical wounds they both picked up playing hero, they can start working together on other wounds that need healing.

As for Aaron, the weird little guy is not so weird anymore. Well ok, he will always be weird but it was great to get to know him better in Paris. Not only is he a very well known chef, he is still the best work partner for Mercy, I love how he just knows what she needs and

I did miss not having Mercy's parents in this story much but then I also didn't. It's funny but after all her adventures so far it really was nice to read this one. It was really all about Mercy getting into trouble all on her own. This time it wasn't Tommy or anyone else in her family giving her something dangerous to do. This time she found danger on her own with the help of the Fibonacci family but that's our little

Mercy's next adventure is going to be mind blowing I can just feel it.

Buy The Wife of Riley at Amazon

Book info:
available formats: ebook (396 pages)
published: April 2016
genres: cozy mystery

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