The War to End All Wars Comes Home

“If the living are to be of any use in the world, they must always break faith with the dead.”

—-Vera Brittain

An exerpt from The Ways of Mud and Bone

Meryl Goodson disliked wearing black, though the color suited her well enough. Too well, perhaps. Putting on a black dress meant putting on a mood, and the more often one wore a mood the harder it was to take off.

Over a hundred people crowded the church, their heads bowed in prayer or sufferance. White roses decorated each pew and overflowed from urns flanking either side of the altar. Their perfume grew stronger in the cloistered space, as if they drew power from the priest’s Latin intonations. In a framed photograph propped on an easel, a dark-haired young man in a tuxedo stood in front of a grand piano, his hands clasped behind his back. He gazed to his left with a lazy, almost indolent grin. Meryl’s cousin Nora had been on the receiving end of that smile. It had been taken the evening of the couple’s engagement party nine months before. October 15, 1917. What now remained of Theodore Pauling Jr. rested in a U.S. Army cemetery twenty miles outside of Paris.

After Teddy’s memorial service, the mourners gathered at the Pauling home, a sixteen-room Victorian on River View Drive. The house sat on five manicured acres with flower gardens and croquet lawn. Meryl had never felt at ease with the place. As she walked up the drive leading to the house, the atmosphere seemed to shift. The mild summer air turned thick, stifling, even in the shade of the great oaks and elms presiding over the approach like an honor guard.

A maid let the visitors into the foyer, a closed-in space made dimmer by heavy wood paneling. Meryl entered the main parlor with her father and her sister Claire. Doc Goodson at once went over to Teddy’s father Theo. The two women hung back.

“I’ll pass out before the end of this, you wait and see.” Claire fanned herself with one of her gloves.

“We’re not staying long.” Meryl walked to a set of French doors and opened them a crack. The drapes to left of the doors trembled. She pushed the fabric aside, revealing a small, tear-stained face. “Millie? What are you doing?”

Thirteen-year-old Millie Pauling stood with the stiff resignation of a child determined not to act like a child. It worked until Meryl threw her arms around the girl. Millie fell against her, her thin-boned frame convulsing. Across the room, a door opened. Ida Pauling emerged from the smaller back parlor. Seeing her mother, Millie let go of Meryl and retreated to the sofa, her tears condensing into short, painful breaths.

Ida drifted toward them in yards of black silk, the ruffle at her neck ornamented with an oval of polished jet. “Only two Goodson girls? I take it Nora’s still unwell.”

“Nora didn’t really have a breakdown, did she?” Millie asked.

Claire stroked the child’s shoulder. “She’ll be all right.”

 

In the summer of 1918, as the Great War rages in Europe, nineteen-year-old Meryl Goodson’s
small-town life is shattered when her cousin Nora’s fiancé is killed in France. The tragedy causes a rift in the community between those for the war and those against it. As local tensions rise, Meryl begins her service with an overseas relief unit. Caught up in her own brutal day-to-day struggle in war-weary France, she is unaware of how far matters have deteriorated at home. The truth leaves her broken and grieving. Is the world she once knew gone forever? Or can the friendships she’s made help Meryl find the strength to begin again?

A bit like LITTLE WOMEN meets ALL QUIET ON THE WESTERN FRONT, THE WAYS OF MUD AND BONE is a uniquely American book about the war to end all wars.

Buy The Ways of Mud and Bone

Cultivating Discomfort

From An Altar in the World by Barbara Brown Taylor:

“…I stopped the poetry reading earlier than I had planned, but at the break I had them all go outside and read at least one poem to a tree. I could not have asked someone to do something like that when I was thirty years old, but at fifty-six, I am willing to take more risks. Some of the students looked at me as if they were deciding whether it was too late to transfer to another class, but…after the break I had some converts.

“‘I read those poems before I got here,’ one of them said, ‘and they were okay. Poetry’s just not my thing. But when I read one of them to the tree like you said, it sounded different to me. It was like the words had an inside and an outside and I had only read the outside. Reading them to the tree, I heard the inside. The words were so beautiful I almost cried.’

“‘I felt completely stupid,’ another one said, ‘standing there in the quadrangle reading to a tree, but after a couple of lines I realized that the tree was really liking it. I am going to try reading to a bird next.’

“After the testimonials were over we all agreed that we would not speak to the other graduate students about this experience, at least not until happy hour. My point is how often we are embarrassed to do and say the things that really affect us. Perhaps this is because we cannot defend ourselves while they are happening. Or perhaps we have a corporate agreement that we will not embarrass one another, even if it means never going very deeply into the things that matter the most to us.”

Love’s Complicated

Last week I posted my review of Storms, the initial installment of Wendi Kelly and Deborah Dorchak’s new paranormal shifter series Tau’s Pride.

Schemes set into motion in Storms build momentum in the second book, Sacrifice.

The Pride (Not Pack. Did you catch that? Cause the change is ruffling lots of feathers and fur!) are flipped again as Regina and sexy angel Sebastian consummate a love that’s been simmering since even before Regina’s birth. The consequences of this union promise to reverberate throughout the shifter universe. If that’s not big enough news, Regina and her bodyguard Jon also have an important moment. If all of this “free love” makes you squirm, you’re not alone. Some of Regina’s most trusted mentors and confidants question whether she’s gone too far over to the “feline” way of being, with a serious loss of the special bonds conferred by the Wolf’s monogamous nature.

Regina accepts the validity of the question–she just doesn’t know what to do about it. Since the Dream Walk back in Legacies, a law of love that is greater than any particular species custom has asserted itself, and she feels compelled to honor it. Judging from what happens at the end of Sacrifice, this proves to be a wise impulse, but it has its costs. Harry for one, now transformed beyond anything he or we could have imagined, seems an outlier in this situation right at the point where he’s decided he wants to be more a part of his marriage and his family.

The final battle of Sacrifice is complex, brutal and resolves (to the degree that anything can resolve midway through a paranormal saga) in a most unexpected and satisfying manner. Weirdly enough, I’m especially concerned about a couple of the “villains” I’ve become attached to. I fear Kelly and Dorchak may have done too good a job with their characters–here I am rooting for the wrong side!!!!

Buy Tau’s Pride: Sacrifice on Amazon

 

A Librarian in Sin City

…A popular artist is murdered in his own gallery.

…A pagan fertility ritual at an isolated goddess sanctuary goes terribly wrong.

…A school group’s excursion to a desert wildlife refuge reveals that the most dangerous predators walk on two legs.

There’s more to life in Sin City than casinos, bright lights, and showgirls. Just ask recently divorced librarian Elinor Gray. Her day job coordinating special events for the Las Vegas-Clark County Library District isn’t all that exciting. Except Elinor has a knack for stumbling—sometimes literally—over dead bodies and into the arms of Detective Guillermo “Guy” Villanueva. Too bad his ex-stripper little sister is the slut who ruined Elinor’s marriage.

Death Times Three is a mini-collection (two stories and a novella) of short mysteries that prove what happens in Vegas can be fatal.

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The Interplay of Contemplation and Creativity

What I’m reading right now:

 

 

Summarized in the phrase “pray and work,” “The Rule of St. Benedict” provides the inspiration for Christine Valters Paintner’s newest exploration of the mutually nourishing relationship between contemplative practices and creative expression. Artists of all stripes and stations in life—poets or painters, potters or photographers—will discover how traditions of Benedictine, Celtic, and desert spirituality can offer new sources of inspiration for their work. Through this twelve-week course, themes like “Sacred Tools and Sacred Space,” “Creative Solitude and Community,” and “Nature as a Source of Revelation and Inspiration” are enriched by Paintner’s perceptive discussion and enhanced by insightful quotations from well-known artists and writers. Each week offers suggestions for grounding both the creative and the spiritual life through three basic practices: walking, lectio divina, and journaling. In sync with Paintner’s vibrant Internet presence, The Artist’s Rule is supplemented with online resources, including guided meditation podcasts, video lessons, and discussions.

Buy this book

One Saga Leads to Another

I have had the pleasure of featuring the writing team of Wendi Kelly and Deborah Dorchak, authors of the Bonds of Blood & Spirit shifter series several times. If you’d like to check out my interview with the pair and reviews of the books, you can start here.

Storms opens after the epic battle that ended Kelly and Dorchak’s Bonds of Blood & Spirit saga and launches the sequel series Tau’s Pride.

The forces of darkness have been beaten back, but only just. As Regina, Cole, Harry and all our other favorite players welcome Regina and Harry’s daughter, enemies are already mobilizing a new attack. The details are sketchy–the authors keep their plot machinations pretty quiet, dropping only tantalizing hints here and there. In the meantime, we follow developments both inside and outside the Pack’s compound.

For instance, Harry’s recovery after nearly being burned to death during the battle isn’t as complete as everyone believes. And then there’s hunky Xander, a fairly new addition to the saga, who is on a search for the sister he’s been separated from since childhood. His story becomes irrevocably entwined with the fate of the Pack (Or is it Pride? Ah…therein lies a big part of the conflict. Just what is this new ordering that has emerged after the Legacies Dream Walk?) as multiple story lines converge. Shifting roles and strained bonds cause all manner of drama and conflict. The end, rather than bringing resolution, brings only more change that drives the action forward into the next installment.

Kelly and Dorchak do a great job juggling their huge cast and also balancing action and character development. They are skilled at creating characters who are more than appearance suggests. Baddies turn out to have compelling soft spots and good guys potentially tragic blind spots.

Storms is an explosive beginning to what promises to be another epic shape-shifting adventure.

Buy Storms

Tau's Pride Saga, Book I, STORMS

Cover of STORMS, book one of Tau’s Pride.

Practicing Reverence

“The easiest practice of reverence I know is simply to sit down somewhere outside, preferably near a body of water, and pay attention for at least twenty minutes. It is not necessary to take on the whole world at first. Just take the three square feet of earth on which you are sitting, paying close attention to everything that lives within that small estate. You might even decide not to kill anything for twenty minutes, including the saltmarsh mosquito that lands on your arm. Just blow her away and ask her please to go find someone else to eat.

With any luck, you will soon begin to see the souls in pebbles, ants, small mounds of moss, and the acorn on its way to becoming an oak tree. You may feel some tenderness for the struggling mayfly the ants are carrying away. If you can see the water, you may take time to wonder where it comes from and where it is going. You may even feel the beating of your own heart, that miracle of ingenuity that does its work with no thought or instruction from you. You did not make your heart any more than you made a tree. You are a guest here. You have been given a free pass to this modest domain and everything in it…”

—-Barbara Brown Taylor, An Altar in the World.

The Bad Penny

In this modern retelling of Jane Austen’s Mansfield Park, tragedy forces newly divorced chef Molly Price to reconnect with her troubled parents and she must step in to save her five-year-old sister. Molly soon learns that, though her sauces never break, the same can’t be said for her heart.

An excerpt from chapter one of Knife Skills

 

Fricassee, a stew of poultry or other white meat with a white sauce . . . Molly Price repositioned herself under the shower so that the stinging hot water hit the tense spot between her shoulder blades while she recited the five liquids chefs use in making white sauces. She’d gotten through veal, chicken, and fish stock when there was a knock on the bathroom door. Not now. “…Vegetable stock. Milk.”

Her roommate Lynne poked her head in. “Your cell phone is ringing.”

It was half-past six in the morning. Who’d be calling her? “Just let it go to voicemail.”

Molly didn’t need the distraction. Closing her eyes, she let the shower spray course over her back and down her legs and continued to review for her big exam until the water ran cold. Wrapping herself in a towel, she ran across the cluttered living room to the curtained alcove that served as her bedroom in the tiny 400-square-foot apartment. Her cell phone rang. Grabbing it off the window sill she used as a nightstand, she read the flashing blue screen. Antonio. What the hell does he want? Molly took a step back and stumbled onto her twin bed. The phone continued to screech. As usual there was no ignoring Antonio.

“What do you want?” Molly asked.

“Molly, hey. Where have you been? I must’ve called twenty times.”

“Two times. I’m busy. I have to get ready for school.”

“That’s right. You’re gonna be the next Julia Child.”

Oh, this is going to be bad. “Antonio, what do you want?”

“It’s not me, Mollita.” Pause. “It’s that hijo de puta at E-Z Storage. He’s out for our blood.”

Our blood? She’d signed the divorce papers six months ago. “How much this time?”

Molly could barely think straight she was so angry. By the time she finished dealing with Antonio, she had only enough time to throw on some clothes and run her fingers through her damp red curls. Now they’d probably dry frizzy. Well, one Little Orphan Annie comment from any of the cracked-voiced jerks in her class and she’d fillet him nose to nuts. She was just in the mood for it.

In the kitchen, Lynne munched on toast smeared with peanut butter. “It’s a little early to look so pissed off.”

“I’m never going to be free of Antonio. Am I?” Molly retrieved two bottles of cabernet from the wine rack on top of the refrigerator and wrapped them in newspaper. Bedford Brothers 2007 Reserve. She’d trekked all the way out to Mattituck, to her aunt and uncle’s vineyard, to get them, a last-minute inspiration that just might give her an edge in today’s exam. Long Island wine country. Every time she visited, she wondered why she’d ever left. People wrote magazine articles about it. They scrimped to pay for honeymoons there. But Molly couldn’t wait to get away, out on her own to live a real life. Only the life she’d found hadn’t worked out that well.

Lynne leaned against the sink. “What’s he up to now? Trying to make another date for coffee and recriminations?”

Molly winced. She knew Lynne didn’t intend to be cruel. It hurt, though. The marriage had been bad enough. Now she had to put up with post-mortem evaluations by friends and family. Everyone, it seemed, had spotted Antonio del Castillo for what he was, though none of them had seen fit to mention anything to her before the wedding. Almost none of them. Ned, Molly’s best friend, had been more than generous with his warnings. But he’d never liked any of her boyfriends, so she didn’t take as much notice as she should have.

“Well?” Lynne asked, still waiting for an answer to her question.

“No coffee or recriminations.” Molly tucked the wine bottles into her backpack. “Just money.”

With Antonio, it always came down to money.

Despite being behind schedule, Molly and Lynne made good time on the Long Island Expressway. That changed as soon as they left the highway for route 110. Cars seemed to appear out of nowhere. The one in front of them slowed to turn into an office complex. Molly waited and then urged her aging Toyota forward, picking up speed as the road descended toward downtown Huntington. She registered a movement to her left but didn’t dwell on it. She had right of way. Such technicalities didn’t appear to matter to the driver of the battered white pickup that turned in front of her. Molly’s brakes screamed as car and truck collided. She flew forward in her seat, her safety belt digging into her chest and ribs. She looked over at Lynne, who sat in the passenger seat with her eyes squeezed shut and her arm braced against the dashboard. “You okay?”

Lynne nodded. “I think I peed myself.”

Buy Knife Skills  on Amazon

Home Again

It gives me such pleasure to discover a new favorite author or a book that I know I will read a second or even a third time. I find myself talking about it to everyone I run into, and if I find out they already love that author or have read the book, it’s an extra rush.

Lending a favorite book out…it’s hard. I am possessive of my collection. Especially in this era of the e-book. If I have a genuine physical copy of a book, it’s because I either fell in complete and utter love with the Kindle edition, or found I had a hard time letting go of a library copy.

I must be growing up or something, because lately I have been lending out Tim Farrington’s books like crazy. Seriously. These books are making a round robin of the members of my Centering Prayer group. I’ll lend my copy of The Monk Downstairs to M and when she brings it back to the next meeting tell her, “Oh, just give it to K.”

It’s working out. All my babies have come home.

My latest prodigal is Tim Farrington’s The Lazarus Kid. It’s the THIRD novel he’s written about Mike Christopher, a former monk building a new life in San Francisco. The Monk Downstairs  is followed by The Monk Upstairs . They are spectacular. I also featured his debut novel The California Book of the Dead on this blog last week. There are a couple more novels of his and a wonderful memoir. I hope to talk about them in the near future.

Farrington has a gift for creating characters you wish you could meet for coffee. They’re by turns generous, selfish, compassionate, thoughtless, silly, and incredibly deep. Deep is also the word I’d use to describe the major themes in his work–finding the extraordinary in the mess of the ordinary, fundamentally flawed people living out their own highly idiosyncratic idealism, and the human search for the transcendent. Good stuff!