roadhouse resized

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.









CeeCee Wilkes was a vulnerable, sixteen-year-old girl who had lived in foster homes after the death of her mother when she was twelve.

The letters she carried with her, the ones her mother had written to serve as a guide to her as she matured, would be her only touchstone. But nothing in her mother’s letters or the life she’d lived could have prepared her for the charming, manipulative Tim Gleason.

The Secret Life of CeeCee Wilkes begins with a prologue in the present, with a young woman named Corinne, who watches as the woman she knew as her mother confesses a horrendous secret in front of TV cameras.

We then flash back to 1977, and to an event that changed CeeCee’s life forever.

In alternating narratives told by Corinne, by CeeCee, and then Eve Elliott, the persona she took on while in hiding, we learn about the fear and vulnerability the young girl faced one terrible night in a remote cabin, and how she spent the next period of her life in hiding. And tried over the years to be the best mother she could be to the baby she “stole” in order to protect her.

What really happened in that remote cabin? What would finally bring the truth out? What price would CeeCee (Eve) have to pay for telling her story? And how would Corinne bury the bitterness and anger she feels in order to reach out to the woman she knew as her mother?

This was a story that spotlighted many issues of morality and choice, and which allows the reader to root for CeeCee despite her wrong choices. I could not stop reading or caring about the characters, flawed though they were. I loved this story and would recommend it for all who enjoy family stories and for those who are fans of Chamberlain. 5.0 stars.


51HnMmakCvLFrom a combination of explosive elements comes a searing tale that takes the reader along a pathway of wrong choices, each event leading to the next, until a domino-like effect has caught each character up into a mix of irreversible chaos.

Did it all begin when April, single mother, caught between a rock and a hard place, decides to take her three-year-old daughter to work with her, because her babysitter is ill? Or did it all begin before that, in a time when jobs were hard to find and money was short, leading April to the Puma Club for Men near Sarasota, Florida, where she dances night after night for more money than she could earn in more conventional places?

And what about the men in the club, like the Middle-Eastern man named Bassam, with wads of cash who keeps April occupied for too long until her child grows fearful and wanders around, unwatched by anyone?

Perhaps another cog in this wheel of misfortune could be A. J. Carey, a drunk, angry, and lonely man tossed out of his own home by his wife, missing companionship and his own son? He was just seeking human comfort, so why has the bouncer named Lonnie literally kicked him out of the club, landing him on his arm and probably breaking it? Is A. J. just another person seeking some kind of redemption when he makes a foolish choice?

Pain of all kinds drives each of these characters, and before the night is done, they will all be on a collision course to a disaster none of them could have seen coming.

In his inimitable style, the author creates in The Garden of Last Days: A Novel a compelling narrative and realistic characters living on the seamy side of American life, poised to crash and burn. We see the story unfold, during a week in September of 2001, from the point of view of several key characters, and we watch the unstoppable events set in motion by April, Bassam, Lonnie, and A. J., including the stunning and horrific moments that changed the landscape of American life, even as it changed the lives of these characters.

But what about Jean, the woman in whose home April lives? The woman who watches Franny most nights and whose lovely garden is a place of respite for them? Her story is woven into those of the others…and in the end, we see how she reflects on life before and after. And decides to change how she looks at life.

A memorable story that delves into the motivations of flawed individuals, giving the reader an opportunity to understand, even when the characters are unlikeable or even contemptible. A five star read.