Spring has sprung, the robins are hopping about our yard in search of food and nesting materials and the lawn is beginning to green and grow. That means I’ll soon have to pull the lawn mower from winter hibernation. I love this time of year, a time of new beginnings.
Speaking of which, as of late, I’ve been delving into the genre of romance, something I’ve never done before.
Today, I present my review of Hanging Stars on Big Willow Creek, by Sarah Hill.
Here’s what Amazon says:
Rylie Johnson is living her dream as a best-selling author in New York with her husband, Spencer and their imaginative little boy, Alex. As she prepares for the release of her newest book and upcoming book tour, her world is turned upside down when she receives a phone call from home. She must return to Idaho, the place she left twenty years ago and help care for the woman who raised her. Rylie comes face to face with the past she worked so hard to forget and learns things aren’t always as they seem.
The story speaks volumes about the human condition. How we perceive our world, based on childhood experiences.
Sarah does an excellent job of creating characters that are realistically human and are easy to become emotionally invested in. There are no true villains in this book, but that makes them all the more relatable.
Rylie grows up in a home that is both materially and emotionally impoverished. The object of ridicule and bullying, she understandably grows defensive and cynical of those she deems to be, ‘one of them.’
This story speaks to anyone who’s ever felt isolated, unworthy, and unloved. It reminds the reader that there are still good and caring souls out there and that everyone has potential, despite their circumstance.
A gently rolling plot, with a down home feeling, that will appeal to those who enjoy a good heart tugging read.
I give this, FOUR STARS!
SARAH HILL, lives in Idaho with her husband, 3 dogs and cat. When she isn’t feeding, playing or doctoring one of her fur babies, you can find her watching a chick flick or favorite Hallmark movie, hanging with family and friends, reading or taking pictures (because photos are important!) Some of her favorite things include the world of Harry Potter, Mexican food, camping, playing pranks, laughing and kissing her husband.
Sarah is also the author of Call of the Blue Heron, her debut novel, which was published in November of 2019. She continues to listen to the characters who find her and whisper their stories in her ear and plans to get their stories out to the world.
Happy Thursday! Hopefully, those of you who’ve partaken in whatever form of Saint Patrick’s Day celebrations that COVID regulations have allowed, are now recovered.
Today I’m reviewing, Breathless, A Short Story, by Yvette M. Calleiro.
Here’s what Amazon says:
What if the fairy tale kiss that always awakens the damsel in distress takes a sinister turn? What if prince charming’s kiss no longer produces a happily ever after?
Silena’s infatuation with William hits a speed bump when he rejects her. After all, she is just a maid, and he is a young, rich aristocrat in the 1920s. Why would he have any desire to waste his time with the help?
On one particularly lonely day, Silena calls upon her magic to transform into a sexy flapper for the night. Her dream to enjoy one night with William is finally in her grasp, but her magic comes with consequences that neither William nor Silena could ever imagine.
I must admit that the romance genre is not typically my thing, but after a glimpse of this blurb, I thought, why not?
Needless to say, I was glad I did. This quick read story was entertaining. The main protagonist was likeable, and easy to sympathize, while the antagonist was self-indulgent.
However, by the end of the story, I felt an ounce of sympathy for the antagonist, as well. I’ll not say any more about the matter, to avoid a spoiler.
What I enjoyed most about this story, was the fact that it didn’t follow the typical “Happily ever after,” of all those Disney cartoons I grew up watching. This was raw, with bitter consequences of wise advice not heeded, and a few of the seven deadly sins committed.
I wouldn’t hesitate to read other material written by this author. Well done, Yvette! I throw you, FIVE STARS!
Yvette M. Calleiro is a heavily addicted reader of both young adult and adult novels. She spends most of her time pseudo-living in paranormal worlds with her fictional friends (and boyfriends). She’s also been known to ride the stationary bike at her gym for hours while reading anything from paranormal to fantasy to suspenseful thrillers.
When she’s living among real people, Yvette M. Calleiro is a middle school Reading and Language Arts teacher. She’s been sharing her love of literature with her students for over twenty years. Besides writing about the various characters that whisper (and sometimes scream) in her head, she enjoys traveling, watching movies, spending quality time with family and friends, and enjoying the beauty of the ocean.
Yvette lives in Miami, Florida, with her beautiful son who enjoys paranormal and adventurous stories as well. She also shares her space with an assortment of crazy saltwater animals in her 300-gallon tank.
Last night, I was reading over some of the newer reviews and comments of my novel Vanished. I noticed some understandable trepidation among a few of those who hadn’t read the book. In response, I’ve decided to write this post, explaining the origins of the book, and why I wrote it.
First, though, I wish to thank all of those who took a chance on me, readers who cracked the pages, in spite of the subject matter. I really appreciate you, and I know it couldn’t have been easy to start.
I want to clarify what is NOT in this book; rape, gore, excessive violence (yes, there is violence, but no more than any other action/thriller), injury or death to animals, pedophilia. You only need to ask someone who’s read the book, I’m confident they will attest to this.
If you asked me, ten years ago, to write a book about human trafficking, I would have declared you insane. Times, and people, change.
The truth is, initially, there was no intention of broaching the subject. I wanted to write about Haiti.
You see, my father, upon whom one of the main characters, John Webster, is loosely based, would volunteer to help build homes, churches, and other projects. I remember well, the photos showing the difficult living conditions. There were also the stories, none of which included human trafficking. There are bits and pieces in the novel that were gleaned from his experiences.
The second main character, Tyler Montgomery, is loosely based on my brother-in-law. The pair actually did make a trip to post-earthquake Haiti, back in October of 2010. I asked if they’d be willing to make a journal of their experiences.
So, here we come to the reasons behind Vanished. Over the years, I’ve been understandably and justifiably questioned as to my choice of topic. In the early days, I always delivered a simple and pat answer about a desire promote awareness. If a problem is ignored, what hope is there to solve it? At the time, I truly believed my answer to be complete. Cut and dried, no further explanation needed.
I often mention that 50% of the proceeds are donated to help victims of human trafficking, which they are, and I hope I don’t sound like I’m touting my own horn. That is not my intent.
Yes, all of this is true. However, and this may sound strange, I’ve only recently come to realize it’s not the whole truth. Please let me explain.
Those who are familiar with me, know that I’ve spent the last twenty plus years working as a Correctional Officer in maximum and medium, security prisons.
The last max. was Kingston Penitentiary which opened in 1835 and closed in 2013. It’s now a tourist attraction. I was one of the last to work there. Shortly afterwards, I was transferred to a medium level prison.
This blog is not evolving into a prison tale. My career was mentioned because I want to help you understand where I’m coming from. I also want to emphasize, that Hollywood, and the news, are entities that thrive on sensationalism, because it sells.
I’ve encountered many traumatic experiences and looked into the midnight eyes of those who looked through, rather than at you. We called them dead eyes.
Fortunately, these are not the majority of inmates. There are some who’ve lead normal lives until something triggered them to act in uncharacteristic ways. What you also had, were many cases of psychological and drug addiction issues. Oh, and yes, plenty of the inhabitants had committed unspeakable acts of evil. I’ll spare you the details.
Of course, it wasn’t all bad. I’ve worked with some great staff and have had my share of laughs. I appreciated the strong bonds that developed between my peers. It’s inevitable when you place your life in someone’s hands, and they put theirs in yours.
I apologize if I’m rambling, but it was necessary to give some background into what made my brain tick, when I wrote this book.
It took a diagnosis of PTSD, months of treatment, support, and deep reflection, to unravel the ‘other’ reasons for the birth of Vanished.
I have come to grasp the fact that it was also a product of a mind that sought to survive and heal. To find a state of homeostasis and make sense of the tragic and unfathomable.
The famous line from the movie, Saving Private Ryan, often comes to mind. Captain Millar and the Sergeant are discussing the personal cost of getting Ryan home. One of them says: “Someday, we might look back on this, and decide that saving Private Ryan was the once decent thing we were able to pull out of this whole Godawful, shitty mess.”
I’m not comparing myself to these brave warriors, but these are my sentiments, exactly.
The brain is extremely powerful, and I believe that it sensed something was wrong all those years ago, though my conscious mind was oblivious. It’s the frog in a boiling pot analogy. I was being cooked alive, and I didn’t even realize.
The characters do represent, superficially, my family members. At a deeper level, they are avatars of my hope. Hope for something better, for this world, myself, and my loved ones.
Spoiler alert, Tyler struggles with mental health issues. The issue was approached from a Stephen King angle because I grew up reading his work.
At the time, I thought it was just a nod to the famous writer, but it’s become clear that my subconscious had put out a 911 call for help. In some ways, I’m Tyler.
Right now, more than ever, the world is hurting. I don’t know your personal stories, but I can sense from many of the comments, that anxiety and a sense of hopelessness rule the day.
Let me tell, there is always hope. I want to assure you that you are not alone. I, along with many others, have been where you are. I’m on the mend, and my family is getting there, too. I cannot reiterate this enough: there is always hope.
Whenever a crisis arises, there are always those who step up and perform selfless acts. I refer to those as helpers, look around, you’ll find them, everywhere. You know what? Look in the mirror and you’ll see one up close.
Don’t believe me? Listen, if you’ve ever retweeted a post, shared a kind word on a blog, shared a blog, hosted, bought a book, read, and reviewed, made someone laugh or provided information, beta read . . . you get the picture, then you are a helper.
Yes, those dedicated people who work in the healthcare industry certainly fall into this category. There are so many others, unsung, and unnoticed. They go about the business of helping.
John and Tyler are much more than characters in a book, and the plot is deeper and broader than human trafficking. There is an ugly side to it, just as there is in life, but there is also a positive message. It’s about becoming a helper, doing whatever is within your capacity to make a positive impact, even if it’s just one person.
This is the true spirit of Vanished.
At the bottom of this post, you will find two links to interviews I conducted with a couple of wonderful helpers, who stood with victims of human trafficking.
On a side note:
I am not downplaying the recent events with law enforcement that have occurred, nor am I saying that problems with racism do not exist, as they do in every environment.
I wish to point out that there are a few rotten apples among the ranks; you’ll find them in every profession; and they should be dealt with accordingly. However, it is very distressing, unfair, and illogical to paint an entire profession based on the actions of a few. Most people involved in law enforcement are decent and ordinary people. They have families and emotions, too.
I was saddened and angered, when I discovered that a certain retailer was selling tee-shirts with the detestable slogan, Blue Lives Murder. Ouch!!
This is not only disrespectful and generally untrue, but downright inflammatory. These are the things that contribute to PTSD and suicides.
I give my readers the benefit of the doubt, as I am sure that most of you realize this. I still feel compelled to say the following: Amidst all the cries for defunding the police, please try to imagine a world where the dead eyed roam free and amok.
Sends shivers up my spine.
More about me:
Born and raised on a farm near Brockville, Ontario, Mark Bierman’s childhood consisted of chores, riding horses, snowmobile races across open fields, fishing trips to a local lake, and many other outdoor adventures. He was also an avid reader of both fiction and non.
Transitioning towards adulthood also meant moving from the farm and into large urban areas that introduced this “country boy” to life in the big cities.
Drawing on his many experiences as a private investigator and later a Correctional Officer, Mark combines his unique experiences and imagination to create his stories and characters.
Well, the sun has sunk its fiery head below the horizon to close a wintry Sunday. The weekend is almost history, but I want to spin the time dial back into this past weekend, for a moment.
i want to talk about an excellent book I had the opportunity to read these last few days. As you’ve “guessed” from the title, the book in question is Victoria’s War, by Catherine A. Hamilton.
Here’s what Amazon says:
In Victoria’s War, Hamilton gives voice to the courageous Polish women who were kidnapped into the real-life Nazi slave labor operation during WWII. Inspired by true stories, this lost chapter of history won’t soon be forgotten.POLAND, 1939: Nineteen-year-old Victoria Darski is eager to move away to college: her bags are packed and her train ticket is in hand. But instead of boarding a train to the University of Warsaw, she finds her world turned upside down when World War II breaks out. Victoria’s father is sent to a raging battlefront, and the Darski women face the cruelty of the invaders alone. After the unthinkable happens, Victoria is ordered to work in a Nazi sewing factory. When she decides to go to a resistance meeting with her best friend, Sylvia, they are captured by human traffickers targeting Polish teenagers. Sylvia is singled out and sent to work in brothels, and Victoria is transported in a cattle car to Berlin, where she is auctioned off as a slave.GERMANY, 1941: Twenty-year-old Etta Tod is at Mercy Hospital, where she’s about to undergo involuntary sterilization because of the Fuhrer’s mandate to eliminate hereditary deafness. Etta, an artist, silently critiques the propaganda poster on the waiting room wall while her mother tries to convince her she should be glad to get rid of her monthlies. Etta is the daughter of the German shopkeepers who buy Victoria at auction in Berlin.The stories of Victoria and Etta intertwine in the bakery’s attic where Victoria is held the same place where Etta has hidden her anti-Nazi paintings. The two women form a quick and enduring bond. But when they’re caught stealing bread from the bakery and smuggling it to a nearby work camp, everything changes.
Now, I have to admit, I like reading just about everything WWII, but this book was so well crafted and researched, that it had my full attention and left a lasting impression.
Catherine does a fantastic job of creating realistic characters and scenarios. I couldn’t help but feel a range of emotions towards both the prisoners, and some of the helpful Germans, alike. The fate of one character, I won’t spoil it, caused a lump in my throat.
This is not a shoot-em-up, we’re the greatest heroes ever, type of story. Don’t get me wrong, there is plenty of suspense and action, too.
Victoria’s War is exactly what the title suggests. It’s about the tragic experiences of a young and innocent woman who was forced to grow in self-confidence and courage. I believe that Victoria represents so many that went through those horrific trials.
If you’re queasy, rest easy. The descriptions of the prisoner camps and victims is sprinkled throughout, but just enough to give you an impression of the conditions. There are no excessively gory details.
What I came away with is a new respect for the courage and resilience of the brave men and women who fought against tyranny, in the face of extreme danger and nearly insurmountable odds. Many selfless and self-sacrificing acts of kindness are carried out and warm the heart against the chill of the Nazi regime.
Years ago, when I was a Correctional Officer at Kingston Penitentiary, separating the two worlds of prison and personal life was vital to maintaining mental, physical, and relationship health.
Access in and out of the massive complex was via a heavy, eight-inch-thick, steel door, that could only be unlocked by an officer working a control inside. It would close with a thunderous bang. This entry/exit point was called the North Gate.
When I arrived, the sound would remind me that I’d entered a different world, one in which the abnormal became normal. After a shift where anything and everything did happen, the sound of that door banging shut would be my cue to leave the day’s drama behind. I’d step out onto the sidewalk where cars and cyclists sped by, and parents pushed their babies in strollers, oblivious to the walled world they passed. I had just reentered the normal.
This post is not about prison or my past life, it’s about you and how you choose to close the door on 2020 . . . a year of abnormalities that became normal. How do you heal from this and move on?
Unfortunately, we will all carry some scars from this past year, depending on your experience and resilience . . . everyone will be affected. I’m not trying to be negative, just realistic, that’s just the way the human brain works.
Now for the positive . . . you can heal from this and move on. Yes, I know that the abnormal continues into 2021, but there are some signs that we are turning a corner. Vaccines are rolling out, and hopefully those who need it most will receive it soon.
So many things happen that we are not in control of, but we are gifted with the ability to control our thoughts, and if we cannot stop the obsessive ones, to seek help.
Thoughts beget emotions, which beget actions.
My father, a wise man, used to say, ”Garbage in, garbage out.” If you feed your mind bad thoughts, your emotions will follow.
So now might be a good time to think about a way to close that heavy door and move forward to a life of peace.
A few things that may help:
-develop an exercise routine and stick with it (plenty of exercise videos available, if you are confined to an apartment)
-get professional help; many clinics offer virtual meetings
-find positive distractions
-develop an attitude of gratitude; there is still good in this world and always something to be thankful for
-practice mindfulness; live in the present
-talk to a trusted friend
-use the Capture/Check/Change method for dealing with negative thoughts. This one takes some practice. It works like this: As soon as a negative thought comes, you Capture it, then Check to see its validity, finish off with Changing the thought with a positive (might I suggest the attitude of gratitude)
-seal off those bad thoughts in an airtight container. It was a heavy metal door for me, yours could be a large safe, an indestructible bubble made from Hubba Bubba gum, or a titanium box . . . whatever you choose, try to stuff all those baddies in there and seal them off.
You are not alone in all of this and it too, shall pass. There is still hope and good in this world.
I wish you and your families all these best in this upcoming year. Stay safe!