Sunday, July 14, 2019



I've been on blogger for many years, and it was time for an update. You can find me at the link below. I will continue posting new flash fiction and reading updates on the new site. Hope to see you there!

New website!

Monday, July 1, 2019

Midnight at the Blackbird Cafe and Other June Reads

Image result for midnight at the blackbird cafeI finished 11 books in the month of June:

Transforming Classroom Grading by Robert J. Marzano
Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes
Sawkill Girls by Claire Legrand
How to Teach so Students Remember by Marilee Sprenger
The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger
This Savage Song by Victoria Schwab
Personalizing the High School Experience by Joseph DiMartino and John H. Clarke
Whisper Network by Chandler Baker (eARC)
Research-Based Strategies to Ignite Student Learning by Judy Willis, M.D.
Midnight at the Blackbird Cafe by Heather Webber (ARC)
Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoevsky

This month has been a strange mix of classics I somehow managed to miss reading in high school, new(ish) releases, and craft books. Otherwise known as summer of a high school teacher!

My favorite ARC this month was Midnight at the Blackbird Cafe. I’ve included my full review below.
My review for Whisper Network can be found here.

I received a copy of Midnight at the Blackbird Cafe by Heather Webber from the publisher (Forge) in exchange for an honest review. Midnight at the Blackbird Cafe is scheduled for release on July 16, 2019.

Midnight at the Blackbird Cafe follows two young women in a small Alabama town. Anna Kate is a temporary addition to the community, only in town to settle her grandmother’s estate, which includes a required stint running The Blackbird Cafe. Natalie is a local girl who moved away and is back again. Most of our time is with Anna Kate, following her as she struggles to figure out what relationships she wants with the members of the small community (including her father’s family), and who she wants to be herself.

For me, the best part of this book was the town of Wicklow. It’s a small southern town that has begun to collapse as people and jobs move away. It’s a town steeped in sweet tea, gossip, and magic. Much of the story takes place in the cafe, focusing on the quirky mix of people that spend time there. I felt like I knew that place. Like I could find Wicklow on a map and show up on the doorsteps of the cafe any given morning and be able to identify the people I saw through the window.

There are definitely some southern stereotypes in the cast of characters. What made them work is the characters seeing their own behaviors and beginning to question them, beginning to change and grow. I would have like to see a little more development of some of these characters, particularly Natalie. She is presented to us as a primary character, but I didn’t feel like I knew her as well as Anna Kate at the end.

The plot of this story does contain some mystery. In a town that seems to thrive on gossip, information is plentiful, but often incomplete and of questionable validity. Some pieces of the mystery I figured out ahead, but others I wasn’t sure that I had a clear answer for by the end. Part of this was a bit of confusion for me in some of the plot. There are several characters who are not in the present of the story. One of them died in a boating accident. All of the rest died in a variety of car crashes. This similarity in deaths led to a lack of clarity for me in who was who and who was where in the past, especially since we never met these characters directly.

In the end, Midnight at the Blackbird Cafe is a story about love. Love for family. Love for friends. Love for humanity in general. Anna Kate and her new community find the power of love to heal both individuals and a whole community.

Saturday, June 15, 2019


It was the wrong color paint. It was close, but this wasn’t horseshoes or hand grenades. I knew it wasn’t quite right last night, but I told myself it just wasn’t dry yet, that it would look different in daylight. It would match.

I lied to myself.

I brush my fingers along the now two-tone wall. Bone dry. Cross off that excuse. The entire length of wall is covered in bright sunlight, but this section stands out, a quarter of a shade less blue than the rest. I can’t blame the light. I’m out of excuses and rationalizations.

I step back and tip my head to the side. Maybe I’m just being overcritical. Maybe no one other than me would see the minor difference. I close my eyes and stand in internal darkness for a moment, cleansing my visual palette. I breath, then open my eyes. The two colors stare back at me. Still just obvious enough that no one could overlook this.

The good news is I have time to fix this. Jerome won’t be home until tomorrow. A little over twenty-four hours. I pull out my phone and snap a picture of the wall from far away, then move closer to the line between right and wrong to grab a close-up.

I don’t go back to our local hardware store. Me buying paint twice in two days would be too memorable, Bob or James might tell Jerome. Besides, they failed to get me the right color the first time.

Instead, I point my car toward the huge box store on the edge of town. Here, I can be anonymous. But, there are eight million paint options. I’m overwhelmed, peering at the images on my phone, holding slips of paper next to it, searching for a match, when I am rescued.

“Are you trying to match a specific color?”

The voice questions the obvious, but I embrace it anyway. I need the perfect color.

“I have this,” I point to my screen and hold the phone out to the dark-haired man standing next to me. His orange apron is a bright clash to the calm green of his eyes. Neither of those colors matches what I’m looking for.

“I need this.” I shift my finger, directing his green eyes to the right, to the original wall color.

“Yeah,” he says. “Matching to paint is really tough.” He shifts his weight from one foot to the other and looks around, maybe hoping for a solution to fall from the sky. “If you bring in an item, we can get you a matching wall color, but matching paint is never perfect.”

I sigh.

“That’s why I always recommend buying more paint than you’ll need. Too much is always better than too little.”

I sigh again and add an eye roll since he’s looking around again instead of at me. I have extra paint. It’s just not the right color.

“You should probably start over. Repaint the whole room.”

His words break my heart. But he’s right. That’s the only way to get the room back to one color.

I choose a bold orange. Not quite as bright as his apron, a bit more red, but so different from the grey-green-blue-bland walls that me suddenly painting the room might make sense. I can play it off as a surprise for Jerome, as me watching too much reno-TV while he was away.

By the time I unload the paint and rollers and drop cloths and brushes into the living room, I’m exhausted. I want a shot of whiskey and a nap, but pour a cup of coffee and get to work instead.

The job takes the remainder of the day, and part of the night. The walls are a hideous sunset when I am done. I hate it, but at least the walls are all the same color again. I drop onto the couch, satisfied that I’ll wake up to a job well done.

The walls look better the next morning. Sunlight splashes through the windows, enhancing the warmth of the walls, making them glow. I did good. This actually looks okay. I check my phone for the time.

Not the morning. I slept far later than I had planned. I thought I’d have time to shower and style my hair, put the room back together for Jerome. It’s now 1:30, and he could be here within half an hour. The walls are finished, but I need to clean up the room, get rid of the painting mess and supplies. I’ll have to forget about the shower. Maybe I’ll just get him to take one with me later.

I scramble, tossing brushes and rollers into the dumpster outside in the alley, tapping lids back onto buckets and stowing the extra paint downstairs. The paint guy was right, it’s hard to know when I might need to do another touch up.

I am picking up the last of the drop cloths when I hear Jerome’s car in the driveway. I just made it. He’s going to get to see the room in its finished state, just with one extra bag of trash. And a filthy me.

I look down, bunching up the cloth to shove it into the last waiting trash bag. There’s a stain on the wood floor. I thought I had protected them, contained all the mess. That was the point of all the drop cloths. I guess I was more careful when I was painting than I was when I killed that man two days ago. This stain is blood, much too red to be the paint on the walls.

It’s too late. Jerome is here. He’ll see the blood, the one remnant from the tiny mistake I made. I covered the blood on the walls, but I can’t cover this, or replace the floor.

I’ll just have to add Jerome’s blood to it.

I drop the cloth and go to find my knife.

Saturday, June 1, 2019

Magic For Liars and Other May Reads

I finished nine books in May:

The Farm by Joanne Ramos (ARC)
The Make or Break Year by Emily Krone Phillips
The Serpent’s Shadow by Rick Riordan
Dark Sacred Night by Michael Connelly (audiobook)
Sleeping Beauties by Stephen and Owen King
The Unbound by Victoria Schwab
Magic For Liars by Sarah Gailey (ARC)
Donna Has Left the Building by Susan Jane Gilman (ARC)
Why Didn’t I Learn This in College? by Paula Rutherford

Of the three ARCs I read this month, Magic For Liars was my favorite. My full review is below. Reviews for the other ARCs can be found here (The Farm) and here (Donna Has Left the Building).

I received an Advance Reader’s Copy of Magic For Liars by Sarah Gailey from the publisher (Tor) in exchange for an honest review. Magic For Liars is scheduled for release on June 4, 2019.

Magic For Liars is a private detective novel. It is also a novel of magic. Ivy is a private detective hired to investigate a death at a private high school. This high school is unlike most that we are familiar with. This school teaches magic.

Ivy was born unlucky. She has no magic, but has spent her entire life imagining how things would be different if she did. Ivy’s twin sister, Tabitha, was born lucky. She has magic, and is currently working at the school where the murder took place.

Ivy takes the job, seeing it as not only a big paycheck, but a chance to experience the life she was denied, and perhaps a chance to reconnect with the sister she deliberately grew away from. The job turns out to be more complicated than Ivy imagined, with the truth she seeks hidden by the secrets of students, teachers, and Ivy herself.

This story is told from Ivy’s point of view, and we get to know her quite well. I found her very believable as a non-mage interacting with a world of magic. She alternates between being jealous of magic and despising both the magic and the people who wield it. Frequently throughout the story, Ivy is disgusted by the way magic is wasted on trivial things when it could be used for important things like saving lives.

Other characters are more distant to us as readers. We only get to see them through Ivy’s lens and her interactions with them. Since they are presented to us through Ivy, we are limited in how well we get to know them, but they are still present as individuals. For the most part, these characters are clear, but there are a couple of sets of people (a group of high school girls, for example) that blurred together a bit for me.

I enjoyed the setting of this novel a ton. This is not Hogwarts. It is a modern day, American, boarding school that happens to teach magic in a world where Harry Potter exists. There are references to Hogwarts throughout, primarily with Ivy comparing what she is seeing in front of her to imaginary school. There are lots of details here that make the school come to life and make it a real place instead of a fictional castle.

Overall, the plot is well written. There are twists and turns through the story, as you would expect in a private detective novel. There was a good balance of shifts that I saw coming and surprises that I did not. There were, however, quite a few glitches in the story. These were minor inconsistencies in the timeline, and inconsistencies in characters and what they knew when. These were minor, but they were enough to catch my attention and pull me out of the story. Hopefully, these issues are resolved in the final published version of the novel.

Magic For Liars is an enjoyably fresh take on the private detective genre. If you like mysteries, fantasies, and stories that aren’t afraid to look at their tropes and poke gentle fun at them, you will most likely enjoy this novel.

Saturday, May 11, 2019


I wanted to paint his hair from the second he sat down across from me. Jet black. Just long enough to fall in waves across his forehead and brush against his brows.

I think he spoke as he sat, but I was too busy imagining the stroke of my brush against canvas, recreating those waves, to reply. Eventually I pulled myself away from his hair long enough to speak, long enough to convince him that I was a mostly normal human.

That’s when I noticed his eyes, slate grey. Perhaps if he were wearing a different shirt, something other than black, they would have a hint of color, some blue or green. But against the stark solid black of his hair and clothes, they were the unyielding grey of storm clouds.

I wanted to paint them, too.

My wrist turned, swirled the brush in a gentle circle, leaving behind imagined traces of the paint on my palette back in the loft.

He saw the movement, and smiled. The smile changed the planes of his face, revealed architecture I hadn’t noticed. This I didn’t want to paint. This I wanted to sculpt. I needed to copy the lines and shadows, the edges gently rounded by flesh.

He asked if I played an instrument, if that’s what the movement was. I told him I was an artist. His smile turned, twisted, the storm in his eyes darkened as he offered to be my model.

I couldn’t say no. I took him home.

I don’t think he believed I really wanted him to be my model. I had to convince him to stop removing clothes after he peeled off his jacket, convince him to sit on the stool near the window instead of sprawling on my bed.

I got lost in the paint. The black from the tube was almost a match to the deep dark of his hair. I added just a touch of Prussian blue, a dab of Brown Madder. I took a long moment choosing my brush, trying different ones until the weight felt right, allowed the perfect curve of my wrist.

When I looked up, that smile of his was back. He seemed to be enjoying watching me. I didn’t look away as I slid my brush across the canvas. My eyes traced over the strands of his hair as my brush transferred those lines to the canvas.

It should have been perfect. Instead, it felt off, just a bit wrong. I looked at the canvas, tried to find my mistake. It was the paint, the brush, the canvas. The whole thing.

This was the wrong medium.

I stepped to my work bench and found my sketch book, a knob of charcoal.

Across the room, his brows furrowed as he asked what I was doing. I didn’t explain, just shook my head and told him to stay where he was.

The second the charcoal hit the page, I knew it was right. His hair, his eyes, his skin. All black, white, and grey. I was wrong to add any color. The sketch was fast out of my fingers, strokes and smears of coal racing across the page to form the man in front of me.

I don’t know if it was five minutes or fifty when I came out of the sketch and back to the real man. He still wore the smile, but seemed to have lost his shirt, revealing even more amazing architecture.

I waved him over to show him the sketch. He stood behind me, looking down over my shoulder. I felt the warmth of him, waves of him washing over me before he made any actual contact.

His hand brushed my neck, swept aside my hair. His lips fell to my skin, landing on the tender flesh where my shoulder joined my neck. Shivers raced down my arm, across my chest.

I was surprised by the touch, how deep it traveled. Even more surprised by the sweet salt smell of him. I wanted to taste that scent, touch him, absorb the lines of him into my hands.

So I did. It only seemed fair to let him touch me back. For all I knew, he was an artist, too.

He fell asleep before I did. I sat beside him while he slept, my eyes tracing every curve, every sharp line. I wanted to trace those lines, but I didn’t want him to wake. I wanted to study the shape of him in peace.

I moved away from the bed, quietly shifted materials until I found my clay. Safely at a distance, I sculpted him. The silky grit of the clay between my fingers was more intoxicating than the velvet of his skin had been.

The clay felt right, but what I was making was still wrong. I was missing something, some part of the structure that made him him. Something below the surface, hidden within.

I moved back to the bed, studying him where he lay, trying to see what was beneath his skin. I was looking for the answers, searching for what my clay was struggling to replicate.

I wished I had X-ray vision.

I opened the drawer of my bedside table and removed the closest item. I turned it in my hand, testing the feel of it as I had tested the feel of my brushes.

I climbed onto my bed, rising up on my knees next to him. I raised both arms above my head and blew out a breath before dropping my arms and all of my weight onto his chest.

The ice pick slid in, stabbing through his chest as easily as a knife through butter. His eyes flew open, the storm raging in them. His arms lifted, but he was already mostly gone, unable to push me away. One hand brushed against my arm as his hands fell back to the bed. A shiver crawled over me again.

I watched his eyes, watched the shifting of the grey until it iced over, leaving only slick, cold stone.

I looked to my hands, to the blood that seeped up around the ice pick. It was a deep, rich red, just like the blood that flowed in my veins.

There must be more. I reached back to the drawer, removed the other item. The metal scalpel was cold against my palm, unnatural compared to the wood of my brushes, the wooden handle of the pick. I waited for it to warm, become part of me.

Then I opened him.

I thought I’d find his secrets inside, the mysteries he held that made him so beautiful on the outside. But he was just like all the others.

Tuesday, April 30, 2019

Wunderland and other April Reads

I finished 12 books in April:

Wunderland by Jennifer Cody Epstein (ARC)
Normal People by Sally Rooney (ARC)
To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before by Jenny Han
Dust by Patricia Cornwell (audiobook)
Song Yet Sung by James McBride
End of Watch by Stephen King
The Archived by Victoria Schwab
Shutter Island by Dennis Lehane
On Writing by Stephen King
Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi
Freefall by Mindi Scott
Guilty Pleasures by Laurell K. Hamilton (audiobook)

My favorite ARC this month was Wunderland by Jennifer Cody Epstein (review below). I also reviewed an ARC of Normal People by Sally Rooney. Click here for my review.

I received an Advance Reader’s Edition of Wunderland by Jennifer Cody Epstein from the publisher (Crown/ Penguin Random House) in exchange for an honest review. Wunderland is scheduled for release April 23, 2019.

Wunderland is a story about Ilse, a young woman in 1930s Berlin who joins the Hitler Youth movement. This is complicated by her friendship with Renate, another young woman who tries to join as well, but is turned away.

We learn Ilse’s story partly through the eyes of Renate as their friendship first slowly fades and then implodes with the revelation of secrets and betrayals. The rest of Ilse’s story comes from her daughter, Ava, and what she learns from letters left for her to read upon her mother’s death. Ava’s relationship with her mother has always been strained, mostly due to secrets Ilse kept. Ava doesn’t know who her father was, she doesn’t know why her mother abandoned her to a German orphanage after the war, she doesn’t know why her mother wrote so many letters to a woman named Renate.

Through the eyes of Renate and Ava, we slowly begin to understand the reasons for Ilse’s secrets and choices, though we don’t necessarily begin to forgive her for them. This novel does not apologize for Ilse’s choices, it does not ask us to forgive her, but it does remind us that people make bad choices and there are usually reasons behind those choices, not just the label of evil. Sometimes they can make up for those choices, other times the consequences linger for generations.

While this story moves back in forth in time from 1930s Berlin to 1980s New York, Epstein did a very good job of keeping the story line clear. There are twists and turns and surprise, but nothing felt out of place or forced into the story.

The same applies to both setting and character. Epstein captured the essence of these places during these times, mostly through the interactions of her characters with the world they are in. Especially well done, in my opinion, was the character of Ilse. While we never see the story from her point of view, the interactions of Ava and Renate with her over several decades give us some insight into her actions. We do get to hear from Ilse a bit from the letters she left behind, letters that she wrote to Renate after the end of their friendship, but never mailed. These letters fill in some pieces of the story that Ava and Renate were unable to witness on their own. The result is a picture of Ilse and her motivations that is filled in enough for us to get a sense of the woman, but with enough small gaps and shadows that we don’t feel 100% confident that we fully understand her.

Overall, Wunderland successfully explores the need to be part of something bigger than oneself and how that need can send ripples through generations.

Monday, April 15, 2019


I’ve spent my whole life waiting for someone to see me. I’ve just wanted one person to look at me, see what I can do, and reward me for it. I haven’t been looking for a big reward. I only need some small sign that I’ve really been seen. Give me the job, the promotion, the employee of the month plaque. Anything.

Thirty-six years and it still hasn’t happened. I’m still invisible.

I’m tired of waiting.

I turn the key and settle my hand against the rough wood of the front door. I could drag my hand down, impale myself with splinters. Instead, I pull my hand back to reach for the knob. Flakes of white and blue stick to my hand, layers of the past passed from this ancient house to me.

This house is my reward, the one I chose for myself, scrabbled for cash to purchase. Quit my job for.

This abandoned house is my future. This house is how I will make the world see me. This house is how I will finally get what I deserve.

I brush the past off my hands and walk through the door to my future. The house smells every bit as old as it is. A century’s worth of dust and mildew crawls up my nose, forcing a series of sneezes.

It takes me a moment to catch my breath and I am left dizzy. A flick of my wrist and the windows on the first floor open. A wave of my hand and the dust carpet in the house flies out into the yard.

I turn in a slow circle. As I turn, the overhead lights flicker on revealing the deeply scratched and stained wood floors, the peeling layers of wallpaper, the broken lathes poking through crumbling plaster.

My eyelids drop closed and I continue to turn, lifting my arms as I pivot. Three turns. I stop turning and open my eyes.

Beneath my feet the floors give off the rich glow of well-tended oak. The walls are unbroken, smooth surfaces painted a deep burgundy. The room is brighter, the light fixtures now clean, polished glass and crystal.

I smile and head for the stairs.

As I climb, I trail my hand along the banister, sending tendrils of color and polish ahead of me. By the time I reach the top, the rooms are ready for me.

On my right is a sitting room, three black velvet chairs, two side tables with legs so ornate there is no chance of ever dusting them. Well, not for most people. The floor lamp in the corner has a blood red shade, tinting the room rose.

On my left is the room I have most been looking forward to. No chairs here. A single table stands just above waist high. It is long, a little over six feet, but only three feet wide. The perfect shape for an adult to lay on. I wasn’t willing to sacrifice and go with steel to make clean up easier. Again, for me, it doesn’t matter. I chose mahogany here.

I skate my hand across the surface. Silky smooth, almost soft. I consider climbing up, laying down to test it for myself. But I don’t really care if they’re comfortable.

I reach up and adjust the overhead lamp. Right now it’s dim, so I turn the knob, testing the range. The room goes from candlelight to surgical theatre in a count of three.

It’s all perfect.

I look to the wall to check the time. No clock. I sigh and twitch two fingers to fix the problem. I only have five minutes before my first appointment. I have cut this close.

I turn, again three times, this time to perfect myself. A floor length black skirt. A simple black tank under an elaborately beaded flowing shirt. I’ll take that off later, when we’re ready to begin. Wouldn’t want to ruin it.

The doorbell rings.

I glide down the stairs to meet my first client.

He’s a large man. Larger than I expected. Maybe too large for the table.

I lead him upstairs and ask him to wait in the sitting room. Across the hall, I tap the table to adjust it for him. I slip off my shirt and replace it with a gleaming white lab coat.

I call him to me, invite him to take his place on the dark wood. I don’t ask if he’s comfortable.

I close my eyes and settle my hands on his temples, letting myself imagine what he wants. It’s unclear. I linger there longer than I should, shifting my focus back and forth, trying to focus.

I force myself to relax, to let go. He finally flickers into view. He’s already a big man, but oddly he wants to be bigger, taller, more muscular. He wants to be sculpted.

Again, I smile. Now that I know what he wants I am ready to begin. Keeping my eyes closed and my fingers on his temples, I start to reshape him. His legs are the first to be noticeably different. They are shrinking, the muscles beginning to atrophy. His torso follows.

I didn’t get what I wanted, what I deserved out of life. Why should I give this man what he wants and thinks he deserves?

His wants flicker into view again. It’s not just bigger that he wants. There’s something else there, something he’s hiding. Deep in the process of changing him, I abandon myself to his vision.

He is huge. Strong. Ferocious. And he’s smiling. Smiling down at what his hands are doing. They are wrapped around something. Wrapped around someone.

I am a moment too late in letting the vision slide out to show me what he’s holding.

I am a moment too late in taking the strength from his arms.

His hands have found me, snaked around my neck, cutting off my oxygen. Cutting off my power.

I lift my hands to him, wishing I could change him into sand that would blow away on a breeze. My hands are ordinary, mortal, and useless against his own.

The table crumbles into dust, dropping the man onto the floor. He doesn’t let go, taking me down with him. The lights flicker off as wallpaper sprouts on the walls, peeling down like drooping flower petals. 

Everything I have done is coming undone. Including him. His once again powerful thighs pin me to the floor as he gets his deepest desire, canceling out my work, canceling out my life.

One last time, I fail to get what I want.