Sunday, September 30, 2018

Ramblings and Recipes, Part 7 - More Life, More Children

"If at any moment of the day I ever think I am remotely cool at all, which is hardly ever, I have two daughters who make sure that never happens" ~ Pat Benatar
Having two children is totally different from having only one.  When something is broken or you find half eaten cookies in the couch cushions, you know who did it when you only have one child.  When you have two children, new entities turn up at your house.  These entities are known as “I don’t know” and “Not me”.  Because when you want to know who did it, the answer is always “I don’t know” or “Not me”.
With a growing family, we needed a larger home.  We found a lovely four bedroom house in a nice neighborhood.  It was on a quiet street with lots of kids, a good school district, well-kept homes, and a next door neighbor who greeted me with a bottle of wine on the day we moved in.  “I saw you had kids, so I figured you needed this”, she said as she opened the bottle and proceeded to hand me a glass and then poured one for herself.  We sat on the front step and sipped.  It was the beginning of a great friendship.

·       ½ cup brandy
·       ¼ cup lemon juice
·       1/3 cup frozen lemonade concentrate
·       1/3 cup orange juice
·       1 (750 milliliter) bottle dry red wine
·       ½ cup triple sec
·       1 lemon, sliced into rounds
·       1 orange, sliced into rounds
·       1 lime, sliced into rounds
·       ¼ cup white sugar (optional)
·       8 maraschino cherries
·       2 cups Club soda (optional)

In a large pitcher or bowl, mix together the brandy, lemon juice, lemonade concentrate, orange juice, red wine, triple sec, and sugar.  Float slices of lemon, orange and lime and maraschino cherries in the mixture.  Refrigerate overnight for best flavor.  For a fizzy sangria, add club soda just before serving.

When Jamie was around eight months old, I met another mom with a daughter about the same age.  A couple of times each week, after I dropped Tracy off at school, Yvonne and I would meet at Pumpernick’s Restaurant in Sunniland for breakfast.  This became a ritual for several years with our two daughters growing up to be best of friends.  Occasionally other Mom’s would join us and we soon developed a morning Motherhood Support Group, where we would discuss such psychological child rearing topics as ‘Does red wine or white wine go with the bedtime reading of Dr. Seuss?’.
Being a stay-at-home mom was a treat for me at first, but by the time Jamie was ready for nursery school, I needed something to occupy the hours.  I went back to college, did some volunteer work and tried my hand at gardening. 
Gardening can be very therapeutic.  You can talk to yourself while gardening and if anyone catches you, you can explain that studies have shown that vibration, like that in music or the sound of your voice, stimulates plant growth.  Sounds good, right?  And don’t even get me started on the benefits of yanking out weeds or bashing the hoe into the ground when you are having a bad day. 
I never did get much gardening done.  There were always interruptions and my free time was limited to 15 or 20 minutes between picking up one child from pre-school and dropping her off at her dance class or gymnastics, rushing to pick up the other child from elementary school and dropping her off at girl scouts or skating lessons, or suddenly remembering that I needed to deposit a check at the bank to cover the one I wrote to the drycleaner.  And then there were the interruptions from the Avon lady or the neighbor pushing Tupperware.  Or the PTA mom calling me to remind me that I needed to bake six dozen cupcakes for the bake sale that week.
Finally I gave up and threw sod over the garden.  It was faster to just mow it.
Jamie was one of those inquisitive children, constantly asking “Why?”  Driving in the car with her in the back seat was always an intellectual challenge.
“Why is the grass green”, she would ask.  And before I could start in on a scientific explanation about chlorophyll, she would ask “Why do cows eat the grass?”  And in her next breath, “If cows can eat grass, why can’t we eat grass?”  Before I could get a word out she would be saying.  “With cows eating so much grass, they should be green instead of brown, but I’ve never seen a green cow.  I would like it if the cows were purple.  Wouldn’t a purple cow be pretty?  I’d like to have a purple cow”.

Saturday, September 29, 2018

Book Blitz & Giveaway - QUALIFY by Vera Nazarian

Vera Nazarian
(The Atlantis Grail #1)
Publication date: December 20th 2014
Genres: Dystopian, Science Fiction, Young Adult
The Atlantis Grail has been optioned for development as a feature film series and/or TV series.
You have two options. You die, or you Qualify.
The year is 2047. An extinction-level asteroid is hurtling toward Earth, and the descendants of ancient Atlantis have returned from the stars in their silver ships to offer humanity help.
But there’s a catch.
They can only take a tiny percent of the Earth’s population back to the colony planet Atlantis. And in order to be chosen, you must be a teen, you must be bright, talented, and athletic, and you mustQualify.
Sixteen-year-old Gwenevere Lark is determined not only to Qualify but to rescue her entire family.
Because there’s a loophole.
If you are good enough to Qualify, you are eligible to compete in the brutal games of theAtlantis Grail, which grants all winners the laurels, high tech luxuries, and full privileges of Atlantis Citizenship. And if you are in the Top Ten, then all your wildest wishes are granted… Such as curing your mother’s cancer.
There is only one problem.
Gwen Lark is known as a klutz and a nerd. While she’s a hotshot in classics, history, science, and languages, the closest she’s come to sports is a backyard pool and a skateboard.
This time she is in over her head, and in for a fight of her life, against impossible odds and world-class competition—including Logan Sangre, the most amazing guy in her school, the one she’s been crushing on, and who doesn’t seem to know she exists.
Because every other teen on Earth has the same idea.
You Qualify or you die.
Grab your free copy!
Make sure you stop by Vera’s YouTube Channel where you will find fun videos of panels including the TAG Fan Discussion Panel where she announces the film option and explains the process of how a book gets optioned for film by Hollywood!
TAG Fan Discussion Panel video (with film deal announcement):
Alien Invasions and Apocalypse Panel video:
March, 2047.
Today is a day like any other day. Only it’s not.
Today the Qualification tests begin—at all designated schools, and public sites in remote places where they don’t have schools, all across the country and around the world—and everyone in my family is trying to pretend things are as usual.
I am at the messy kitchen counter chewing the breakfast scrambled eggs while the smart wall TV is blaring in the living room. Mom has her back turned and she is leaning over the stove making another skillet, which apparently is burning. I watch Mom’s fragile stooped back, the collar of the flannel pajama top, and the yellow cotton scarf covering her head, bald from the most recent round of chemo. The air is thick with garlic and scalded toast and things unspoken. No one else is up yet.
“Need some help burning the house down, Mom?” I say, in-between tasteless bites. Normally I love cheesy garlic eggs, but not today. Today, nothing has a taste. Especially not my forced humor.
“Thanks,” she says, without turning around. “But no, I think I am managing just fine with the arson.”
“M-m-m-m,” I say. The skillet makes another grand hiss.
Voices of various morning news show talking heads sound from the living room TV smart wall. “Qualify or die” is repeated often. I imagine there’s a running marquee with that phrase, interspersed with stock tickers and national weather and the continuing coverage of the mystery of a missing plane that disappeared thirty-three years ago, while the footage of the asteroid and then the Atlantis ships hanging in the skies like balloons among the clouds is running on repeat in a small lower window of the screen. Unfortunately that’s the spot of the smart wall surface with the greatest number of bad pixels. Our old wall needs an upgrade, but it’s not going to happen now that the world is about to end.
They’ve been showing the same footage for the last three months. The asteroid is dramatic, a blazing white monster against black space. It’s hurtling at us head-on. And then it’s always followed by the video clip of the same famous spaceship disk, silvery metallic monolith, miles above the New York skyline. Most of Manhattan ground level is two feet underwater these days, but the skyscrapers remain active centers of business and make for a dramatic backdrop amid the street canals congested with taxi speedboat traffic. There are hundreds of other spaceships of course, all around the country and the world, but they only show the definitive New York one, with the Empire State Building in the frame. The ones here in Vermont, over Burlington, Montpelier, and St. Albans, don’t warrant national coverage.
George comes into the kitchen. His dark brown hair is sticking up more than usual, which means he’s been tossing and turning all night, and probably had very little sleep, much like me. He looks bleary-eyed too, and his good-looking angular face is stuck in a frown. He’s wearing black jeans and a grey hoodie.
“Hey,” I mumble at my seventeen-year-old older brother, and he only gives me the hard thoughtful look. How well I know it, since it’s the same look that I’ve seen in the mirror this morning as I tried to comb the snags out of my own brown hair, long, wavy and unruly, and stared into my hard blue eyes. Grumpy and thoughtful runs in our family. Or at least with some of us. George and I are alike that way, prone to serious, prone to scary quicksilver moods interspersed with sarcasm. And now that Mom’s really sick, we stopped laughing altogether.
Good thing our two younger siblings don’t particularly share this hang-up. Twelve-year-old Grace has always been a giggle machine and chatterbox—though lately she gets weird anxiety attacks at night and has trouble falling asleep, then can’t wake up on time in the morning, and is always late. Dad thinks it’s because she is right on the border of the cutoff age for the Qualification, and it can go either way for her today. So she’s been quietly freaking out.
As for Gordon, fourteen and sure of himself, he just hums whatever’s playing in his earbuds, and smirks a lot, also quietly, even when he fiddles with his art and woodcrafts stuff. Gordie is convinced he will not Qualify, but he claims he does not care—which is of course crazy, but if it makes it easier for him to deal, then what can be said?
“Have some eggs, George,” Mom says. “Grab a plate.”
“I’m not hungry.” My brother pours himself a glass of cheap apple juice.
“Yes, you are. You’ll need it. You can’t run all day on that sugary swill. And it’s going to be a very long day.” Mom turns around and grimaces, looking at the transparent yellowish baby-food liquid that George loves so much. Mom’s skin has an unhealthy grey tint, and at the same time her face is reddened by the heat of the kitchen stove. Both her hands are shaking slightly with the usual tremors. But there is determined focus in her watery blue eyes. I stare at her and see the effort she is making. Margot Lark, my mother, is the strongest person I know.
“You shouldn’t be doing this. You shouldn’t be cooking.” George frowns and gulps down half a glass of juice at once. I watch his Adam’s apple move with each swallow, in tandem with the muscles of his lean neck.
“I am not cooking. You call this cooking?” Mom smiles, throwing me a wink, in an attempt to get me to make my usual sarcastic commentary that indicates I still have a pulse.
“It’s pretty good, actually,” I say, making a show of forking a large piece and chewing and swallowing with enjoyment, even though I am tasting nothing and my insides are filled with rocks. “Where’s everyone else?”
“I heard Gee Three flush the toilet.” George reluctantly takes a plate and Mom dumps half a skillet of cheesy yellow eggs onto it.
In case it’s unclear, we’re the Four Gees, in order of birth: George, Gwenevere, Gordon, Grace. I still don’t get it why our parents decided to use names starting with the letter “G” for naming all their kids. Mom says she wanted a neat musical pattern to it, and for us to sound “elegant.” Mom is a classical opera singer—or was, before she got sick—so “elegant” is important to her. Dad says it was an old tradition on his mother’s Italian side of the family to use the same initial letter. Honestly, whatever. But everyone in school now calls us the Four Gees, and we’re stuck with it.
“Gracie still in bed?” Mom continues, without glancing at George.
“You bet. Want me to go drag her out?”
Mom shakes her head, wipes a dot of skillet splatter off her nose with the back of her hand, still holding a greasy spatula. “No, let her sleep a bit longer. Your father will get her when he comes down. Give them another fifteen minutes. And now I want you to eat.”
George shrugs. “Whatever. She’ll make everyone late again.”
“No. You’ll be fine.”
I am still chewing the eggs, swallowing them dutifully like lumps of unknown stuff, and now I feel a familiar pang of fear twist my guts.
We’ll be fine. Somehow hearing this makes it worse, brings it all home.
Today’s the day. The day we’ve been prepping ourselves for, emotionally, psychologically, for weeks and months. And when I say “we,” that’s pretty much everyone on this planet. Teens and their parents. And all the people who care about them. And really, everyone else too, since they get to watch. They get to find out—even though they themselves are out of the picture, out of the running—they get to witness us make it or fail.
Today we Qualify for rescue, for Atlantis.
Or we don’t—which means we’ll die together with all the rest of the world when the asteroid hits Earth, in about nineteen months from now. . . .
There’s no way to stop it.
But at least for some of us, there is Atlantis.
Turns out, Atlantis is not a myth. It’s ancient history. There really was a great continent by that name in ancient times, somewhere in the middle of what we now call the Atlantic Ocean, spanning the infamous Bermuda Triangle, the Bahamas, and beyond, and it was home to a very advanced high-tech civilization that stretched around the globe. Supposedly, they had computers, the internet, super-medicine, weapons of mass destruction, probably gaming consoles, and all kinds of other incredible or obnoxious stuff even more sophisticated than our own modern equivalents.
And then something happened. Maybe they did it to themselves—basically ruined the planet, kind of like what we’re doing now with the environment and other species, the out-of-control pollution, carbon dioxide imbalance and resulting cascade of climate change. Or maybe it was Mother Nature, at least in part.
Because at some point more than twelve thousand years ago, something huge and terrible took place—a mega-cataclysm on such a scale that it caused a whole continent to disappear without a trace, in earthquakes and floods and who knows what—and wiped the high-level civilization off the face of the planet. To escape this global disaster—we are told—the people of Atlantis used their advanced technology to leave Earth and flee to the stars. They eventually established a human colony on a habitable planet.
They called this colony planet “Atlantis,” or whatever’s the equivalent in their language, in memory of their own ancient roots on Earth, to honor their native civilization and the terrestrial continent of their birth that started it all.
And now, after all these thousands of years, they’re back. They returned to Earth, their ancient home world, and they are here to help. That is, the distant descendants of the original Atlantean colonists are here to help. They claim to be one hundred percent human and supposedly not all that different from ourselves—if you don’t count the thousands of generations of separate evolution and branching off to live in an alien environment. Yeah, right.
Anyway, the Atlanteans share our DNA and they’re our cousins. And, just like cousins, it makes them either weird or welcome guests.
Right now, they are desperately welcome and desperately needed. The asteroid brought them here—or, like some paranoid people in the media say, maybe “they brought the asteroid.”
Whichever it is, at this point, Atlantis is all we’ve got.
When the news of the lethal asteroid first broke, months ago, almost simultaneously the Atlantean spaceships appeared in the skies all over the world. It’s as if they’ve been watching us, and waiting to make first contact. The asteroid just gave them the excuse.
Okay, at first it was a huge global mess. World governments going into panic mode and military overdrive, people on the streets screaming about alien invasions, religious fundamentalists having a field day, scientists having aneurisms, stock markets crashing worldwide, to the tune of billions.
But once the Atlantean shuttles landed, and we saw them to be human and not little green men or big green lizards, it was okay. They met with representatives of governments, the United Nations, and were received with caution and eventually with open arms. “We are you,” they told us in various languages of Earth. How they knew our languages is unclear, but it’s probably some kind of advanced tech, or they’ve been listening in on us for far longer than we know. They explained who they were—which is kind of insane if you think about it, all that mythic stuff that Plato wrote about is mostly true—and demonstrated some of their amazing technology.
Only it wasn’t all that amazing when it came to the asteroid.
Yes, they tried moving it and changing the path of its trajectory, and all kinds of other advanced science stuff, in conjunction with global space agencies and the three International Space Stations we currently have—the largest one in Earth orbit, a second small one on the surface of the Moon, and the barely functional newest one on Mars. They even landed on the asteroid’s surface and drilled and took samples. But nothing worked, at least not enough to make a difference. The asteroid is going to hit Earth and it is going to cause nuclear winter at best. And at worst—well, let’s just say there may not be much of this planet left after the impact. . . .
However, not all is lost. Because the Atlanteans are going to save as many of us as possible and take us back with them—back to the colony planet Atlantis, a fertile blue-green world that’s supposed to be beautiful beyond belief, with a golden-white sun and not one but three moons.
To that effect, they have brought enough spaceships to carry millions of people—ten million, to be precise. It sounds great but means they can only rescue a very small portion of the general Earth population of eight point five billion—no more than can fill their present fleet of monolith silver ships, since there is no time for multiple trips between Earth and Atlantis before the asteroid strikes.
There is only one condition for rescue. Those lucky few that get to board the Atlantis ships have to be young people between the ages of eleven and twenty—teenagers.
Capable, talented, special teenagers.
The best of the best on Earth.
And the only way to determine who these teens will be is to make them pass Qualification. . . .
Qualify or die.
The smart wall in the living room is playing TV snippets of a canned interview with the President. Later tonight she will address the nation live. . . . But for now it’s old footage. President Katherine Donahue is speaking in her usual droning and soothing voice that’s powerful and at the same time conciliatory, in that nasty mixture that only politicians manage. “Our children and we must be brave together, but rest assured, no one’s giving up” and “we hold them in our prayers as Qualification looms” and “the ultimate survival and benefit of humanity might ultimately depend on well-orchestrated air strikes” are some of the phrases heard.
Same old junk they’ve been saying for months, as soon as they figured out that nothing substantial could be done to stop the asteroid, and that the Atlanteans are not all-powerful after all, despite what everyone hoped.
Thing is, the governments, the global leaders, the media, the scientists, the talking heads—they all feel the guilt-ridden need to keep talking, keep trying, even up to the last, even as the world goes up in flames or ash clouds or whatever. “Vaporware Hope,” as Dad calls it, is one way to fill up the void between now and the end.
Sure, there’s Qualification. But for the human spirit that’s just not good enough. To that end, there are also numerous space missions being prepped by the United Nations and private conglomerates, by individual governments and science agencies. Everyone’s building shuttles, rockets and “payload delivery systems,” whatever that means, to see if they can blast the asteroid into manageable bits or move it out of the fatal earth-contact trajectory. Meanwhile, others are building spaceship arks, just to get off the planet—kind of like the ancient Atlanteans themselves did, thousands of years ago. I guess they think, maybe if they can just get far enough away from the blast and resulting atmospheric turbulence, the Atlanteans might guide them the rest of the way?
The Atlanteans observe these various efforts sadly, and have indeed volunteered to assist to the best of their abilities. But the reality remains grim, there’s not all that much that can be done, at least not for the majority of living beings on Earth. The asteroid is huge and supposedly made up of mostly heavy metals and some other newly discovered stuff that makes it pretty much impossible to move or damage—or so they say. And as for escape, there are simply too many people, animal species, and too few ships.
President Donahue’s words are cut off briefly with video-bytes of breaking news, basically public unrest worldwide, demonstrations around school buses that are supposed to take us all to the Qualification sites, various local police forces in riot gear, and people screaming and throwing rocks and demanding justice. “Please! Just save my baby!” a woman somewhere in the Midwest is crying in a crazed voice of despair. “What good are my tax dollars with all your idiot scientists and useless military and failed national defense? Why can’t you nuke that space rock and save us!”
The stairs creak softly under Dad’s familiar steady footsteps. He comes down, fully dressed in his nice beige blazer, black shirt, brown slacks, tweed vest. And he’s wearing a tie, which is a rare thing. My father, Charles Lark, is the epitome of academia, with his rimless spectacles, somewhat tousled, wavy brown hair and greying temples. He is a professor of classics and history at the local University, and is exactly what you might think that means. Smart, and a little eccentric, and living mostly inside his head, his lesson plans, and research, with plenty of oddball stories and trivia to tell to his kids.
“Let’s please turn the awful TV off,” Dad says tiredly. He is bleary-eyed too, and he is immediately looking at Mom.
“Good morning!” Mom throws him a cheerful look and turns her back again. “I thought all of you might want some real breakfast today. Coffee’s ready.”
“How are you feeling? You really shouldn’t be up so early, straining yourself.” Dad goes directly for the coffee maker.
“Are you kidding? This is good for me. Besides, I would never miss seeing all of you off today, of all days.”
“Why, what’s today?” George says grimly.
From the living room now comes the familiar voice of the Atlantean Fleet Commander giving his now famous inspirational speech to the United Nations. The voice is soft, rich and musical. It is pleasant in timbre despite the strange lilting accent, and the Atlantean is speaking perfect English. Which is all kind of amazing. And yet it makes my skin crawl with new pangs of fear. Because there’s all that strange, leashed power in that voice, and it’s held back somehow. How do I know this? I don’t, I have no idea. But Commander Manakteon Resoi (try saying that three times) with his pleasant, sonorous voice, his fixed handsome face, metallic-golden blond hair and contrasting black eyebrows that seems to be typical of his ethnicity, gives me the creeps. Especially when he talks about “humanitarian efforts amid failure of hope” and “technological impetus” and “a new era for Earth and Atlantis.”
“I hate that Goldilocks guy and his BS,” George mumbles.
Goldilocks. That’s the derogatory term being used lately to refer to Atlanteans, because supposedly they all color their hair metallic gold, which is a fashion statement. Or maybe it’s an indicator of rank. No one’s sure. Apparently, gold’s so common and abundant on Atlantis, that it’s considered a base metal. . . .
In that moment, the stairs groan as Gracie and Gordie come downstairs one after the other, Gracie trailing. My younger brother Gordon is slight and skinny, lacking the sinewy strength and height of George, and with brown hair that’s several shades lighter and so short it’s almost buzzed. He’s wearing his usual dingy jeans and faded black sweatshirt with paint stains on it. And his rimless glasses have dirty finger spots you can see from several feet away.
Gracie is last. She is a younger version of me, tall and slim, except without any curves and with straight long hair that’s dirty blond instead of dark like mine. Gracie is dressed up in pastel pink skinny jeans and a black sweater with sequins. She is wearing black eyeliner, mascara and lip gloss, and gaudy plastic bangles on her wrists. Normally Mom would say something about the eye junk and the lip gloss, but today Grace Lark gets to wear whatever she likes—whatever gives her strength.
“All right,” Mom says. “Everyone, get plates, these cheesy eggs are pure magic!”
“Thanks, Mom. Pile it on.” Gordie heads right for the kitchen counter and pulls up a chair, while Gracie stops in the middle of the kitchen and stares. Her face is very pale, and she looks sickly, despite her mascara and lip gloss. Or maybe because of it.
“Gracie, honey, don’t waste time, please.” Mom picks up a clean plate and starts filling it.
“I don’t want any eggs.”
Dad sits down nearby at the small side table with his mug of coffee and a plate of eggs. “Your Mom got up early and made the breakfast, and you should eat it.”
Grace is frowning. “I hate eggs, and I’m not really hungry.”
“Okay.” Mom sighs. “How about a banana and toast? You need to eat something today. You know you do.”
“We’re out of bananas,” I recall. “Gracie, come on, why don’t you just eat the eggs, just this once, okay? They’re really good! Yummy-yum-yum! Protein and fuel!”
Gracie shrugs. I can’t believe she is this quiet. She’s not even calling me an idiot.
“We have ten minutes,” George says. “Move it, Gee Four.”
Gracie silently slips onto a chair at the counter and reaches for a slice of toast.
A few minutes later we’re in the old minivan, headed for school, with Dad at the wheel. We still feel Mom’s tight desperate hugs and ringing-hard kisses on our cheeks. In my mind, she’s still standing at the porch, waving, and her eyes are red and swimming in tears as she watches us drive away. If we Qualify, this will be the last time we ever see Mom. Already I am fixing this image of her, searing it into memory.
Usually George drives us in his peeling truck, but today Dad is bringing us in, as if to make sure we are delivered properly in time for the Qualification tests. All our duffel bags are packed in the trunk, in addition to the usual school backpacks. Everything’s according to the official Qualification instructions that have been handed out, weeks in advance, by the schools that are designated RQS, or Regional Qualification Sites. Our bags contain a basic travel kit, a change of clothing, and a few personal items that are up to us. The assumption is, if we advance in the Qualification preliminary stage, we will be taken directly to the Regional Qualification Centers where the next stage of the process will take place. And we don’t get to say goodbye to anyone.
My duffel bag has a few of my favorite books including The Iliad, The Odyssey, The 101 Dalmatians, and The Birthgrave. Okay, it has a lot of books, and is heaviest, almost exceeding the forty pounds limit. That’s because these are actual honest-to-goodness books, printed on paper. Yeah, you heard that right. Some of them are rare collector editions from Dad’s library. Dad often says that an electromagnetic pulse or EMP disaster can strike any moment and destroy our digital information storage capability, so he’s been hoarding the paper print editions like precious treasure for most of his life. His personal library is amazing. And now here’s my chance to save some of those classics before the asteroid takes them first.
In addition to the load of books, my bag also has a small pouch of trinkets. There are family photos, a tiny rose crystal Pegasus figurine, and a sterling silver dancing fairy locket my parents gave me for my sixteenth birthday a few months ago. It’s not electronic-enhanced smart jewelry, but it has heart.
George has chosen to pack close to nothing of personal value, only an extra pair of running shoes and some flat rectangular thing wrapped in brown paper, plus a bunch of paper books for Dad’s sake. In contrast, Gordie’s duffel has micro-bead CDs, rare sheet music, and his skinny Backpacker travel guitar, in addition to his favorite weird quartz pieces from his extensive rock collection, a purple geode, a Swiss Army knife, a portable color pen-and-pencil art box, and a sketchbook. As for Gracie, she has taken her costume jewelry including a pair of latest version smart earrings, a cosmetics pouch, and her flute. And yeah, more of Dad’s books.
I stare outside the window at the bleary landscape. It’s March, but snow is still on the ground, and the sky is overcast.
However, as I stare southeast, the Atlantean ship in the sky over St. Albans can be seen in the corner of the window, through the tall pine and maple trees. From this distance it looks like a flattened weather balloon, silvery metal. In reality, I know it is massive, almost a mile in diameter. It hovers, motionless, silent, eternal.
Gordie, Gracie, George, my Dad, all of us glance at it periodically.
George is up in the front passenger seat next to Dad, and he voice commands the car radio on. Immediately there is a blast of riot noise, and the radio deejay comes on with frenzied commentary. The mayors of Chicago, St. Louis, Dallas, and Inland Los Angeles are being interviewed about the ramifications of crowd control and widespread urban looting, and next up, expert practical advice from a pop psychologist at something dot com: “Five Tips for Teens—how to maximize your chances to Qualify today.”
“Oh great, do we have to listen to this?” Dad says.
George invokes the scan function on the radio and it jumps to a music station.
“No, don’t turn it off!” Gracie clutches the back of George’s seat. “I want to hear the five tips!”
“No, you don’t.”
“Yes I do!
George groans.
Gordie just stares out the window with blissful indifference and his earbuds are crackling with his own entertainment.
“All right.” Dad is turning off the main highway onto a smaller road that’s near our high school and Gracie’s middle school, both in the same complex. Our schools are a designated Regional Qualification Site. The traffic is busier than usual, as parents from other school districts are dropping off their children, and everyone wants to be on time. Car horns are blaring. We make the turn into school grounds and the rows of yellow buses are already lined up in the parking lot, ready to take those of us who are lucky enough to pass the preliminaries on to the next stage of Qualification, hours later.
“You want five tips?” Dad says seriously. “I’ll give you five tips. Number one—”
“I don’t want your tips! I want what that program was going to say!” Gracie’s voice rises in that same whiny awful noise that has been produced by her for weeks now, whenever something doesn’t go her way.
“Oh, jeez—” George shakes his head.
“I want to hear Dad,” I say.
Gracie turns around and glares at me. Her hand is still clutching the back of the seat in front of her with a white-knuckled grip.
“Speak fast, Dad, because we’re almost here.”
I see my father’s sad, drawn expression reflected in the rear view mirror. He looks old suddenly, old and exhausted. He takes a silent breath and pushes his spectacles up his nose. “Tip number one—be yourself. Number two—do the best you can under the circumstances and never let fear control you and make you freeze. Number three—okay—” He pauses and I see him make the tired effort to say something constructive and hopeful. “Number three—listen to your gut instinct, always. Your gut is one smart buddy there. Listen to it. Number four—never give up. Never, ever, ever, times infinity. Number five—make the choice that will ultimately make you feel good inside about yourself—as a human being. That’s always the right choice.”
“Are you done?” Gracie says.
Dad sighs. “You know how hard it is for all of us, Grace. Take a big breath. All right, we’re almost there.”
“Thanks for the words of wisdom, Dad. That’s actually gold in them thar hills. I bet you wrote it up last night in your lecture notes. Am I right?” George mumbles while looking straight ahead, as he begins to get ready to unbuckle his seatbelt even before we are parked.
“Yeah, well,” Dad says. “What if I did? Couldn’t let you all go without saying something brilliant to help you remember your old man by. There’s actually more, but I thought the ‘five tips’ gave me a nice excuse to summarize. Want to hear the rest? No? I didn’t think so. It was worth a try.”
The minivan is still crawling along in a line of cars through the parking lot and onto the football field that has been designated as supplementary parking. Security guards stand, waving the cars into parking spots or designated drop-off points. There are also several media news vans and vehicles with video and sound equipment. Even now, they are filming us live. It’s weird to think, but all that’s happening right now is being recorded, is breaking news. . . .
We stop not too far from the side entrance to the main school building, in the yellow zone. Kids and parents are everywhere, opening cars, carrying bags. Many people are crying.
We get out, and Dad pops the trunk, which sails open slowly.
Shivering in my jacket from the chill morning air, I stand waiting for George to get his duffel bag, while Gordie has his already. Grace stands right behind me, breathing down my neck.
Dad stops the engine and comes around to help us. Or more likely he is gathering himself for the big goodbye.
I glance around, seeing students I know, other classmates, heading up the stairs and inside, past security. Carrie Willis, a girl from my class rushes by with tear-reddened eyes, dragging a bulky, ugly purple-and-orange travel bag that’s rolling along on squeaky wheels. Her mom and some other relatives watch below, waving and sobbing.
Gordie watches her also, shakes his head and adjusts the strap of his heavy duffel bag, then pulls his knitted ski hat over his reddened ears. “This is all seriously messed up.”
“Yeah, that one there seriously needs new luggage.” George steps back, shouldering his bag and his backpack with muscular ease.
“No, I mean, this, all of this situation—she, they, us, everyone, the world,” Gordie says.
I lean forward and take my turn with my stuff. It feels surreal, like someone else is going through the motions. My backpack is hoisted up and lands on my back with a thud that’s lessened by the stuffed lining of my winter jacket. I adjust the straps on both arms, then reach for the heavier duffel.
Gracie is starting to sniffle behind me, and I hear Dad embrace her in a bear hug.
Well, this is it.
I suddenly feel a burning in my eyes. In the back of my throat a huge horrible lump is gathering. No, I am not going to cry.
But the pressure is building in my sinuses, and as I keep my eyes open wide, afraid to blink, already I can feel the first stupid fat teardrop starting to well in one eye, as my vision gets blurry. I back away from the minivan, while Gracie disengages from Dad’s hug, wipes her face with the back of her hand—which smears her eyeliner on one side—and goes for her bag with trembling hands.
I stand watching the peeling spots of paint on the wall of the school building, while blurs of students are going past me up the stairs. I am momentarily distracted from needing to bawl by the familiar faces. Mindy Erikson walks by with her stuff, and her flaming red hair. . . . There goes football jock Nick Warren and his younger brother, whatshisname.
“Gwen, honey . . .” Dad’s voice cuts through everything, and it makes me turn around and look at him, and face him at last.
“Here, my sweet girl, there you go,” Dad says, reaching out for me, and I meet his eyes, and it breaks me completely. Dad. . . . This is my dad, and he is going to die.
I am glad that next comes the great big hug so he doesn’t see me start to lose it. Instead I lose myself in his chest, and crush my face against the beige blazer, and think about how he’ll have to have it dry cleaned to get my stupid tears and snot off the fabric. I stay that way for several moments, shaking silently, feeling Dad’s powerful embrace and smelling the faint aftershave and wool scent of his clothes.
“My brave, smart Gwen,” Dad says in my ear. “Love you, honey, stay strong! Promise me, never give up! Watch out for your sister and brothers—”
“Love you, Dad, I will. . . .”
I let go, and stand back, and smear my face with the back of my hand, and that’s it.
I watch Dad take Gordie in a quick tight hug, and pat his back, and then George, who evades the hug and instead gets a grownup handshake.
“Well, this is it,” Dad says. He takes a symbolic step back and nods at us, and says, “God speed, go on, all of you! I promise you, the Lark family will Qualify, hands down, all four of you!” I see Dad’s eyes are sort of red too, as he just stands there, looking at us through his spectacles.
George nods briefly, and just for a moment he is suspended, motionless, like a post. He turns and gives the rest of us a serious look. “Okay! Let’s do this. See you on the flip side.” And George heads up the stairs.
Gordie follows, trudging silently.
Gracie and I take a moment longer, to give Dad another last look.
“Go on!” he says. “Don’t be late now, hurry! Your Mom and I are rooting for you one hundred percent. Go!”
And so I take my sister by the arm, and pull her along, and we start up the steps.
We enter the school building without looking around again at Dad.
It’s easier this way.

Author Bio:
VERA NAZARIAN is a two-time Nebula Award Finalist, a Dragon Award 2018 Finalist, an award-winning artist, and member of Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America, a writer with a penchant for moral fables and stories of intense wonder, true love, and intricacy.
She is the author of critically acclaimed novels DREAMS OF THE COMPASS ROSE and LORDS OF RAINBOW, the outrageous parodies MANSFIELD PARK AND MUMMIES and NORTHANGER ABBEY AND ANGELS AND DRAGONS, and most recently, PRIDE AND PLATYPUS: MR. DARCY'S DREADFUL SECRET in her humorous and surprisingly romantic Supernatural Jane Austen Series, as well as the Renaissance epic fantasy COBWEB BRIDE Trilogy, and the high-octane adventure YA / teen dystopian apocalyptic bestselling science fiction series THE ATLANTIS GRAIL that has been optioned fordevelopment as a feature film series and/or TV series.
After many years in Los Angeles, Vera lives in a small town in Vermont, and uses her Armenian sense of humor and her Russian sense of suffering to bake conflicted pirozhki and make art.
Her official author website is
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Friday, September 28, 2018

Book Review - NOT QUITE OVER YOU by Susan Mallery

Title:  Not Quite Over You (Happily Inc series)
Author:  Susan Mallery
Genre:  Romance, Small Town & Rural
Release Date:  October 23, 2018 

About the Book:
Susan Mallery, #1 New York Times bestselling author of the Fool’s Gold romances, proves there’s nowhere better than Happily Inc to rekindle first love.

Silver Tesdal has a head for business and a mouth made for kissing, and banker Drew Lovato has his eye on both. But ever since he was dumb enough to let her go, she’s kept him at a distance. When the bank turns her down for a loan, Drew sees a double opportunity—he can finance her brilliant, unique idea to rock Happily Inc’s wedding industry and win back her trust.

Despite her reputation, Silver’s not as tough as she seems. Losing Drew nearly destroyed her. Still, his kisses are as tempting as his offer to invest in her business. If she can’t quite get over him, maybe she should get under him and knock him out of her system once and for all.

But her best laid plans begin to unravel as Silver finds herself falling even harder than when they were high school sweethearts. Which means that she’ll have to come clean about the secret she’s been hiding from him for years—and risk losing him forever.

Buy Links: Amazon 
Available for Pre-Order - Release Date: October 23rd

My Review:

Why is it that every time I get to that last page of one of these books in the Happily Inc series, I am wiping away the tears that are streaming down my cheeks?  Always a happy ending, as in any good true romance novel, but Susan Mallery has a way of making these characters go straight to my heart.

Silver and Drew have a past. A past that included an unplanned teenage pregnancy, giving the baby up for adoption, and a separation that was intended to be what was best for each of them. But that past comes full circle for both of them and a realization that they never stopped loving each other.

Drew is such a good guy! I loved his character. And Silver is a strong, independent woman who has made a career for herself. When she decides she wants to expand her business and yet has a difficult time acquiring the funds to do so, Drew steps in as a minority partner with the funds she needs. Working together brings them closer, and as they work out suppressed fears and anxieties, a realization of how they truly feel toward one another comes out. I loved these two.

The relationship between Wynn and Jasper was part of this story as well and I'm hoping there will be more between them in an upcoming book. And possibly more in a much more future book between Hunter and Autumn. How about it Ms. Mallery? (smiling wishfully)

Disclosure: A complimentary copy was provided by NetGalley and the Publisher in exchange for an honest review. All thoughts, opinions and ratings are my own.

My Rating: 

About the Author:

Susan Mallery is the #1 New York Times bestselling author of books about the relationships that define women's lives—romance, friendship, family. With compassion and humor, Susan keenly observes how people think and feel, in stories that take readers on an emotional journey. Sometimes heartbreaking, often funny, and always uplifting, Susan's books have spent more than 200 weeks on the USA Today bestsellers list, thanks to her ever growing legions of fans.

Critics, too, have heaped praise on "the new queen of romantic fiction." (Walmart) Booklist says, "Romance novels don't get much better than Mallery's expert blend of emotional nuance, humor, and superb storytelling," and RT Book Reviews puts her "in a class by herself!"

Although Susan majored in Accounting, she never worked as an accountant because she was published straight out of college with two books the same month, January of 1992. Sixteen prolific years and seventy-four books later, she hit the New York Times bestsellers list for the first time with Accidentally Yours in 2008. She made many appearances in the Top 10 before (finally) hitting #1 in 2015 with Thrill Me, the twentieth book in her most popular series, the Fool's Gold romances, and the fourth of five books released that year.

Susan lives in Seattle with her husband, two ragdoll cats, and a tattletale toy poodle. Her heart for animals has led Susan to become an active supporter of the Seattle Humane Society. Animals play a big role in her books, as well, as she believes they're an integral component to a happy life. Visit Susan online at

Thursday, September 27, 2018

Book Review - WILD TEXAS WIND by Nicole McCaffrey

Title:  Wild Texas Wind
Author:  Nicole McCaffrey
Genre:  Western Romance
Release Date:   June 17, 2010 

About the Book:
All Raz Colt wants is land, a quiet peaceable existence and to put his life as a hired gun in the past. When the chance to earn a sizable fortune by rescuing a kidnapped heiress comes his way, he seizes the opportunity. Trouble is, the heiress doesn’t want to be rescued. Offsetting Arden O’Hara’s beauty is a rattlesnake personality and shrewish temper. Despite her claim that she faked the kidnapping so her fiancĂ© would ride to her rescue, Raz knows someone is out to kill her. And if anyone gets the pleasure of wringing her lovely neck, it’s going to be him.

Arden O’Hara is desperate to go home. Her fiancĂ© was supposed to ride to her rescue, proving it’s her–and not her father’s money– he loves. Instead an arrogant stranger, with weapons strapped gun-fighter low and a decided lack of sympathy for her situation, shows up spouting a ridiculous tale about someone trying to kill her. It’s infuriating when Raz Colt’s claims prove true after not one but several attempts are made on her life. She has no idea who this fast gun with the deadly aim is, or why he makes her feel as wild and untamed as the Texas wind. But like it or not, if anyone is capable of getting her home alive, it’s Raz Colt.

Buy Links: Amazon / Audible
My Review:
Why have I not read anything by Nicole McCaffrey before? I received the Audible version of WILD TEXAS WIND from a friend of the author who knows I love these Western Romance books, with the hope that I might provide a review, whether good, bad or indifferent. First, let me tell you that all thoughts, ratings and opinions are my own. As it is, I absolutely loved it! So much so that I totally ignored  my husband all day as I walked around the house with ear buds stuck in my ears because I didn't want to stop listening for even a minute.  Fabulous narrator! Dawson McBride has that deep husky voice that is so "wild west", and he even manages to do the female voices with flare.

Those of you who have read my reviews before know that I love romantic tingles. All those sexy tingles that lead up to more. Not the wham-bam stuff. Tingles. Well, this book is loaded with those romantic tingles! Great characters and an action-packed story that never got dull even for a single minute. The sparks that fly between Raz Colt and Arden sizzle and ignite! Great chemistry between these two. And even the secondary characters are fantastic. All of them!

What starts out as a way for Raz, a hired gunslinger, to raise some money to buy some land and get out of the business, turns into a rescue for an heiress who doesn't want to be rescued... until  she finally realizes that someone really does want to have her killed.

This story had everything. Humor, action, romance, suspense! I loved it and can't wait to read more from this author.

My Rating: 

About the Author, Nicole McCaffrey:

If it's possible to be born a writer, then I definitely was. I'd probably have started sooner if there had been pen and paper available in the womb!

But for as long as I can remember, I have heard voices in my head. Fortunately for me, they're all characters--begging me to tell their stories. My first sale was a holiday novella, published by The Wild Rose Press in November 2006. The Model Man, my first full length contemporary, was released in March 2008. 

My true passion has always been history so I was thrilled to see my first historical, Wild Texas Wind, released in June, 2010. Since then I've contracted several short stories and have been hard at work on a follow up story to Wild Texas Wind. 

Wednesday, September 26, 2018

Spotlight - THE ILLUMINATION QUERY (The Speed of Darkness, Part 1 by Sarah Baethge

Title:  The Illumination Query (The Speed of Darkness, Part 1) 
Author:  Sarah Baethge
Genre:  Science Fiction
Release Date:  June 8, 2018

About the Book:
What makes someone a monster? 

The zookeeper Ronald Carpenter needs help recovering his escaped charges and is grateful when the secretive Eclipse company steps in to help. Little does Ronald know just how nefarious a company they really are and why they have such expertise in taking unwilling subjects captive. Can their offer of a higher salary make him leave a job he loves and help them do what he feels is just wrong?

Nigel Hunter’s experiment in an Eclipse lab looks like it could enable incredible movement powers. Intrigued with the prospect, he voluntarily gets the company’s help to try the procedure upon himself. The Eclipse now decide to take him prisoner with their other test subjects so that they can test the unbelievable speed it has given him more fully. 

When the Eclipse pits Ronald and Nigel against one another in this way, can either one of them manage to get away?
Buy Links: Amazon 

Ronald Carpenter (the narrator) is a zookeeper that gets help from a company called The Eclipse when he needs to recapture some escaped animals. The company takes a shine to him and lures him into working for them. They are keeping a zoo of animals that they use for medical testing and are happy to have his expertise in accommodating them. To prove his loyalty they have him come along to take the scientist Nigel hunter captive.
Ronald and Nigel come to find out that the creatures kept by The Eclipse are supernatural animals that the average person would not consider real. The Eclipse is keeping ‘fantasy’ creatures for testing because they have no legal protections and many of them, like werewolves, are nearly human.
Now the story is from Nigel’s point of view and the time is set back to a little before he was taken captive. Nigel Hunter was working for a lab owned by The Eclipse, but his test animals were rats and he is unaware of the supernatural testing. After an accident, he decides to test a procedure that allows great speed on himself. The rats with the increased speed begin to die off. The Eclipse higher ups decide that Nigel is as good as a test animal and get Ronald to take him captive.
Being held with the test creatures, Nigel becomes friends with the beings he is kept among as he is basically tortured by Eclipse folk who want to see the impossible speed. He and friend creatures decide that he is fast enough to possibly escape and get help to stand against The Eclipse. After a tense encounter with Ronald and the death of one of his new companions, Nigel uses the super speed to get away.

About the Author:
I am Sarah Baethge. I was born in Houston in 1982, and grew up in Texas and Louisiana. I was an intern for Lockheed-Martin fresh out of high school I graduated with a national merit scholarship in 2000. I got to work on the software of computers at NASA in Houston in the summer before I headed to college in Dallas. In November of 2000 when I was driving to school, I was in a car wreck that left me in a coma for 6 months. After waking, I began writing and self-publishing short fantasy and science-fiction stories, starting with the original The Speed of Darkness book. Soon after I had it out I greatly expanded the story in my notes. I took the book down from Amazon and Smashwords because it begins a bit abruptly, and I thought I could improve it with a prequel or two.

Contact links:


The Novel Lady Published @ 2014 by Ipietoon