REACHING OUT – AN EXCERPT FROM “EMBRACE THE WHIRLWIND”

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When Amber finds herself in a desperate spot, she reluctantly calls her mother.  But she dreads it, since her mother’s disapproval and judgment are sometimes worse than the plights she finds herself in.  Excerpted from Embrace the Whirlwind.

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Hilary Redmond had just finished up some late-night work and was restlessly contemplating the row of wine bottles in the rack, thinking a little glass of Merlot might help her relax.  She’d been having trouble sleeping lately.  Focusing on the labels, she was startled by the ringing phone.  She hesitated.  Something about the phone ringing at this time of night always signaled disaster, or at least unpleasantness.  She pursed her lips as if to ward off the onslaught of whatever it would turn out to be and then picked up the phone after the third ring.

 

“Hello?”  She could hear someone breathing on the other end of the line.  Whoever it was seemed to be having difficulty speaking up…it must be one of those crank callers, she decided, placing the phone back in the cradle.

 

Almost instantly, it rang again.

 

This time, someone spoke up.  “Hey, Mother!”  Amber’s voice croaked out her greeting with that brave little cheeriness that meant only one thing.  She needed something.

 

“Well, this is a surprise,” Hilary murmured, buying time.  “Are you alright?  Are you still living in the same place?”

 

Amber almost hung up right then and there, hearing that tone, that slightly distasteful edge to her mother’s voice that suggested that Amber’s living arrangements were almost too embarrassing to discuss.  But she pushed ahead, knowing that her mother was her last hope.  “Yeah, I’m still living up in Auberry, in my same old place.  Not much going on here, I’m afraid.  But…I’m kind of stuck.  I lost my job today, and while I know I can find another one real easy…it’s going to take some time.  I was hoping to get a loan.”  Her voice went up a couple of octaves as she spoke but she persisted, knowing there was really no other way.

 

Silence.  Hilary must have heard her, so not answering could only mean that she was really angry, or at least upset.  Amber could almost see the tightness in her mother’s face, that jaw-clenching thing she did when she was frustrated.  She was probably remembering that her loser daughter hadn’t paid her back for the last loan.  Then, out of the blue, her voice came back.  “How much do you need?”

 

That’s it?  That’s all she wrote?  It couldn’t be that easy, could it?  Plunging ahead, Amber named a figure that she thought would get her cable back on, pay the rent and utilities, and buy her some food for a month or so, because that’s how long it would be before she would even see a paycheck, even if she got a job tomorrow.  “About fifteen hundred should do it,” she squeaked out.

 

“All right.  I’ll put a check in the mail tomorrow.  Are you okay, though?  I mean, you’re not sick, are you?”

 

It was kind of sweet, Amber thought, Mother actually sounding like she cared.  She must, though, or she wouldn’t keep bailing me out.   “I’m fine, Mother,” she said.  “I really appreciate the loan.”

 

Her mother then slipped into that awkward silence that always followed one of the little exchanges they’d been having now for years, as if she wanted to pretend that everything was somehow normal between them, that her daughter didn’t only call her when she needed money.  “Well, Mother, gotta go!  Thanks a lot!”  And Amber slid the phone back on the hook.

 

Hilary hung up and then sat staring at the telephone for a few minutes as if she could somehow magically transform her daughter over the wires.  But nothing was ever going to change with Amber.  She sighed, and then looked restlessly around her kitchen, trying to find something to distract her from the dark thoughts that now threatened to cast a pall over the rest of the night.  She didn’t have to look far.

 

From where she sat in the little breakfast nook she could see the sweep of golden hued tile, with that colorful backsplash reminiscent of the French countryside; overhead, the copper pots hung from that charming rack she had found in an old antique shop in downtown Sacramento.  As she padded into the kitchen again in search of the corkscrew for the wine bottle, the wooden plank floors under her bare feet suggested the Old World ambience she’d been trying to achieve when she had designed this room.

 

If everything in her life, especially her daughter, could be as easily dealt with as her décor, she would be a lucky woman indeed.  Her own life had been golden, with the major exception of how her daughter had morphed into someone unrecognizable.  When had that happened, exactly?  Had it been in those adolescent years after her father had disappeared?  Was that the reason Amber had changed from the sweet, almost compliant little child into that dark and moody teenager?  At the time, Hilary had tried to ignore the behavior, thinking that eventually her familiar daughter would reappear.  But that hadn’t happened yet.

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REVIEW: SHE’S NOT THERE, BY JOY FIELDING

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It was a glamorous ten-year anniversary celebration in a Mexican resort, and Hunter and Caroline Shipley, along with friends and relatives, planned a number of activities for that week. But on the last night, the babysitter did not show up, and a decision was made to leave the sleeping girls, Michelle and Samantha, ages five and two, in the room, just above their table outside…and they would check them every half hour. Hunter insisted, and Caroline went along with it.

But as all the best laid plans often go awry, that one certainly did, and a confluence of wrong things happened, leading to the kidnapping of two-year-old Samantha.

Now, fifteen years later, the trauma still follows them, with reporters showing up every time another year goes by. From the very beginning, Hunter presented well for the cameras, while Caroline’s stiff exterior made the press characterize her as cold and remote. She was vilified more than her husband, unfairly, in my opinion.

Caroline and Hunter divorce, and some of Hunter’s secrets surface, adding to the pain coursing through their lives.

But something unexpected happens in that fifteenth year. Caroline gets a call from a young girl who thinks she might be Samantha.

She’s Not There was a page-turning tale that swept back and forth in time, over the years, showing the lives of the characters, and reminding us of the pain that haunts them. Caroline blames herself for agreeing to leave the girls alone in the room when Hunter insisted on it; Michelle is belligerent and hateful most of the time, a sure sign of how events impacted her life, too. Could she be feeling overlooked? Invisible? Her behavior was annoying, but in the end, I came to feel more empathy for her.

Ultimately, I became suspicious of a number of people, and not totally stunned by the final revelations. How we learned of what happened that night did surprise me, however. I loved this story and could not stop reading it. 5 stars.

***My copy of the e-ARC came to me from the publishers via NetGalley.

MORNING CHAOS: AN EXCERPT FROM “INTERIOR DESIGNS”

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When a morning gets off to a troubling start, the whole day could follow suit, but caffeine helps.  An excerpt from Interior Designs.

***

“Mommy!  I’ve been calling and calling…”  Meadow yelled through my door, and when I invited her in, she burst through it, tears streaming down her cheeks.  When was the last time my daughter had cried like this?

 
I held her in my arms, looking into her face quizzically.  “Whatever is wrong?  You sound like the whole world has crashed down around you.”  I was hoping to bring a dash of humor into the exchange, but now her lower lip stuck out, her eyes huge with tears, and she rubbed her face desperately, as if to wipe away the evidence.

 
“I can’t find Dahlia,” she sobbed.

 
Dahlia was her favorite doll, one that she hadn’t actually played with in a long while.  But when her doll had been her favorite companion, she’d been essential for those times when Meadow was feeling sad or worried about something.

 
“Oh, my.  Well, let’s go look.  Where did you see her last?”

 
“I don’t remember,” she cried softly.  “I think she was on the window seat, ’cause she likes to sit with me when I read.”

 
In her room, which looked pretty messy, I saw that the yellow and white covers on the bed were hanging halfway on the floor; the pillows were tossed aside, too, which must mean that the search had been rigorous.  We looked under the bed, in the closet, and under the window seat pillows.

 
“Well, maybe you took her downstairs.  Why don’t you straighten up your room and I’ll go look.”

 
I had a feeling that when she actually tidied up, she might find the doll, and I was right.  I had no sooner gone into the kitchen and started casually checking when Meadow burst into the room with the doll, her eyes huge and shining, and a big smile on her face.  “I found her,” she cried out.

 
“Oh, that’s wonderful,” I said, hugging her.  “Why don’t you put her here while you get dressed?  She’ll be waiting for you, okay?”

 
As Meadow trotted up the stairs, I turned and poured my coffee.  I really needed the caffeine this morning.  My sleep had been restless, my morning reverie had taken me to some dark places, and I needed to focus.  Glancing at the clock, I felt a momentary panic.  My idling around and the search for Meadow’s doll had set us back, time-wise.  But I didn’t want to risk Meadow’s mood by pressuring her to hurry.  Instead, I quickly checked her backpack, made sure she had lunch money, and then poured the cold cereal for her breakfast.  Yes, normally I would prepare a hot meal, but some situations demanded shortcuts.

 
Finally we stood outside the front door, ready for Meadow to catch the bus.  Despite my vow to start driving her, I had realized how impractical and unnecessary that would be.  I watched her walk to Jolene’s and then waited until the bus came before hurrying back inside.

 
Caroline arrived within fifteen minutes of Meadow’s departure, and my day had officially begun.

 
We had been working away for an hour or so when Caroline approached, with a strange look on her face.  “You have a call on Line 1,” she said mysteriously.

 
“Okay,” I laughed, glancing at her, waiting for more information.  “And who is it, please?”  I went on, when she failed to supply the missing clues.

 
“Oh, that client—Zachary Lowenstein.”

 
“Thank you,” I replied in what I hoped was a businesslike tone.  I reached for the phone, but when she still stood there, I frowned and dismissed her with a gesture.  Afterwards I thought:  well, I guess that was rude of me!

 
In an attempt to regain my composure, I held the phone to my ear for a moment before speaking.  “Well, hello, Mr. Lowenstein.”

 
I thought I sounded appropriately businesslike, but he chuckled.  “Well, Marty, I guess it has been awhile since we talked, but I was pretty sure that you would have recalled my first name.”  His teasing tone helped relax me.

 
“Of course,” I answered.  “How have you been, Zach?”  I was trying to buy some time, to shore up my strength, as it were.

 
“Oh, so-so,” he answered.  I could almost see him shrug.  “But why don’t we have lunch and catch up?  What’s your schedule like this week?  I’m free today and tomorrow.”

 
Very businesslike, but also to the point in his usual friendly way.  “Tomorrow might be best.  I got off to a late start today.”

 
We exchanged the details, and as we were hanging up, he said:  “I can’t wait!”
I knew my cheeks were burning, which was why I was very glad that Caroline had left the room.  Struggling to regain my focus, I began moving papers around on my desk, tucking some into folders, and finally I stood up and approached Caroline’s space.  “Just in case you were wondering, he’s still pleased with our work.  We’re just going to have a friendly lunch to touch base.  Maybe he can refer some other clients,” I added.

 
Caroline’s expression was unreadable, so I nodded and returned to my office.  Well, she must suspect something, I thought.  But why does it matter?  It’s not as if I’m having an illicit affair.

 
Thoughts of illicit affairs sent me spiraling into memories again, which I had to fight in order to manage the day’s tasks.  Pushing my troubling past aside, I somehow got through the morning.

***

 

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PROGRESS RATHER THAN PERFECTION: BALANCE

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Earlier in the year, I chose my WORD:  BALANCE. 

How am I doing so far?  Well, I get up every day and go through my routines.  Nothing much has changed there, but I do try to get out and about more often.

Staying holed up inside was one of the ANTI-BALANCE things I did…

Reading and blogging are my two favorite things, but I can do them elsewhere…right?  The other day I took my book to The Elephant Bar, where I had lunch and continued reading A Man Called Ove.  Okay, maybe I should have made more of an effort to socialize.  But that will come.

 

 

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***

I am trying to pick a more eclectic group of books this year, and I am steadily working on my Reading the Books I Buy Challenge.

So far I have read and reviewed NINE books from those stacks.  Last year, I definitely didn’t do that well in the first month.  I don’t have those numbers at my fingertips, but judging from how many 2014 and 2015 unread books I had, I can safely say…NO.

Does this mean I am achieving some kind of balance?  Maybe not, but it’s all about PROGRESS RATHER THAN PERFECTION.

I need to start walking more…and socializing more, and I don’t mean online, although that is my favorite kind.  I am an introvert, although I have my social moments.

Do you ever take those silly FB tests?  Here’s mine today, and it doesn’t prove anything at all…but I like the sound of it…LOL

 

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Could I really be more well-balanced than I thought?  LOL

***

Despite the so-called “evidence” above, I know that I have a way to go in this journey.  Have you chosen a word?  What does your progress look like?

***

LONGING FOR LOVE – AN EXCERPT FROM “EMBRACE THE WHIRLWIND”

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In the opening lines of Embrace the Whirlwind, we meet Amber, a girl that always seems to be making wrong choices.  Can she change?

***

She hadn’t trusted in the myth of “happily ever after” for a very long time, but despite herself, she had believed that he was going to be the love of her life.  After all, the two of them had been hanging out pretty regularly now for a couple of months.  He came to the roadhouse where she worked, usually right after he finished up with his construction crew, and they had fallen into the habit of leaving together after her shift ended.  But tonight had been different, right from the start.

 

First of all, he had barely acknowledged her presence when he got there.  Still, she had tried not to take it personally, telling herself that he was just catching up with the guys.  But then he’d started flirting with some of the other girls who had come in halfway through the night.  Toward the end of her shift at the roadhouse, she had watched Buck walking out with that little twit, the one who had been hanging all over him all night long, and she could see the handwriting on the wall:  he was moving on.

 

She had struggled along anyway, trying to pretend that none of it bothered her, until finally she was able to leave for the night.  She headed toward the parking lot, and after she climbed into the old beat-up pickup truck, she huddled up inside for a few minutes wishing she could somehow disappear.  She wished she could close her eyes, and then, once she opened them again this whole day would have magically turned out to be nothing but a dream.  A nightmare, of course, but just a dream all the same!  The humiliation of it all!  She could still see the faces of the others as Buck had turned on his heel and walked out that door with someone else.

 

So anticlimactic after the way he had relentlessly pursued her all those months.

 

As she slowly drove out of the parking lot, wishing that she could go back somehow and change a lot of things about her life, she knew that starting up with Buck Edmonds in the first place would be at the top of her list.  With his long dark hair tossed casually over his shoulders and wearing those sexy suede cowboy pants and leather vests, he had captivated her with his chivalry and sexual magnetism.  Now she thought that he must have faked most of that.  Ha!  He’d probably read a bunch of romance novels so he could convincingly play the part of the romantic hero.

 

As Amber Cushing reflected on her choices so far, she shuddered.  For as far back as she could remember, everything she touched seemed to turn to…well, shit!  That was the only way she could describe her life up to this point.  Not to mention all those people who sat in judgment, looking down their noses at her!  She knew what they were thinking.  She made a wrong turn…she made a bad choice…if only she’d listened…Amber had said the very same things to herself over and over, so she didn’t need any of those judgmental folks telling her where she’d gone wrong.

 

Except, it wasn’t all that easy.   Sure, she guessed she was probably a little impulsive.  Well, maybe a lot impulsive.  She allowed her emotions to lead her most of the time, and maybe her instincts weren’t that great after all.  But it’s not like she set out to make mistakes.  Things just weren’t that clear sometimes.

 

She braked suddenly when a squirrel darted across the roadway, and after that she paid closer attention to the road and when she saw the turnoff to her trailer she skillfully guided the vehicle up the sloping dirt road until at last she could see the outlines of her home.  She sat in the truck for a moment, studying this place she called home.  It sure wasn’t like anything you would ever see in those pages of House Beautiful, Architectural Digest, and Metropolitan Home that her mother always had spread out on the coffee table.

 

She quickly shoved the images of her mother and her childhood out of her head and trudged up the graveled pathway to her front door.  Once inside, she sank down onto the old tweed couch, trying to think of what to do next.  A beer might help.  She grabbed one out of the old fridge and as she popped the top on the can, for just a moment, she felt like everything was somehow going to turn out okay after all.

***

 

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EMBELLISHING HER LIFE EXPERIENCES: AN EXCERPT FROM “EMBRACE THE WHIRLWIND”

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In her old boarding house in San Francisco, Denise Richardson has had a sleepless night because of the drama in the lives of her boarders.  Excerpted from Embrace the Whirlwind, (the prequel to Interior Designs).

***

She slept fitfully all night long, waking periodically at the slightest sound.  At one point, she heard the boarders coming home one by one, trying to tiptoe up the stairs to the third floor.

 

In the morning, when the first sliver of light peeked under the blinds, she sat up and stretched, feeling every bone creak and moan with the motion.  Aging certainly had its downside.  But on the other hand, she now enjoyed an immense freedom.  Retired last year from social work, she taught classes two days a week at the university and enjoyed the extra time on her hands.  Secretly, she booted up her computer in her office once everyone else left for the day.  While her fingers flew across the keyboard, her thoughts spun a backdrop of envy, lust and greed as her fantasy characters vied for control or sank into despair.  Kind of like her own life, she decided.

 

She first began simply, putting down her thoughts and feelings about some of her own experiences.  But almost by accident, she had found herself creating imaginary people from the detritus of her own experiences.  As she embellished each character, she enjoyed the powerful feelings of control.

 

She hadn’t mentioned her writing to anyone from a desire to keep something special just for her.  She backed up her files on disks and kept them in a private stash in her locked drawer.  Knowing that the girls came in here frequently, she was just safeguarding her little secret for awhile longer, just until she was ready to share.

 

She slowly descended the stairs, drawn forward by the fragrant aroma of coffee.  Reliable, early-bird Savannah was at work, creating magic in the kitchen.  But something out of the ordinary was going on with her, Denise decided.  Underneath Savannah’s smiling exterior, something of great import seemed to be brewing.  When the time was right, she would gently probe.

***

 

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MY INTERIOR WORLD QUANDARY, ETC.

Bookshelves, Madeline Hatter, etc.

Today it is raining…again.  But I do love the sound of the soft rain on the roof, and in the kitchen, I can see the skylight with raindrops falling on it.

Above is my favorite bookshelf, purged of many books, but still showcasing some of my fairytale images.  The doll on the pub table is one I recently received from Amazon Vine named Madeline Hatter, a spin off from the Alice in Wonderland characters. 

I also have this one, pictured below.

 

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My other dolls from the series are binned up and resting in my garage.  Should I retrieve them?  Could I even find them?  My shelves in the garage are stuffed with the unlabeled bins.  What was I thinking?  The concept of “see through” is a major flaw in the binning plan when everything is stuffed into the receptacles.  Sigh.

 

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Meanwhile, I am immersing myself in books.  Reading from the Books I’ve Purchased is a challenge that is keeping me engaged.  So far this year, I’ve read SEVEN of those books.  I am also trying to keep up with my NetGalley and Vine books.

My current review book is The Widow, which is fascinating.  I’m not quite sure how this story will play out, but the characters all seem rather unreliable…which almost always intrigues me.  What an eerie story!  I am not finished yet, but I have some very definite ideas about the characters so far.  And I am not convinced by Jean’s “performances.”

 

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My interior world is in a state of flux, and while I sometimes regret not keeping everything in sight, I also love not having to dust and rearrange so many things.

Do you collect things?  How do you deal with the clutter of them all?

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