Tag Archives: #family

Prompt: She watched the blood-stained dress burn, as I watched her.

Cheap Sparkles

Mama stood in the already blistering heat of the Nevada desert we both loathed. She watched the blood-stained dress burn, as I watched her. Black Irish, my mama looked like a Disney princess, with her long dark hair and fair skin. But she was no princess. Not that she was evil. It’s the ridiculous nature of the princesses that I deny in her. Practical to her core, does what she’s gotta do.

She had to do this.

Podunk, Kentucky was founded in 1842, boomed with forty-niners, and exploded with railroad and river travel. Then it slowly died. I lived in a dead town. Mama worked in the big chicken farm, like most everyone else. Smelled like shit every day. Whole town smelled like shit.

I heard Mama making call after call one day when I got home after school. I lingered in the doorway to the kitchen, so I could get the gist of it from her side of the conversations. They all sounded the same.

“So you work for Harley? Uh-huh. I see. Oh, really? It pays well? Higher than most? Oh, that’s good. You like living there? Gotta be better than Podunk, Kentucky.” She didn’t have to laugh that loud, and not every time. I could even hear the other women laughing loudly with her. Whoever they were, I didn’t want anything to do with them. After the fifth phone call, she turned and saw me. I faked like I was just coming in, threw my backpack on the table.

“Hey, Suzi Q, how are you?” I grinned. Though she said it every day, that phrase made me feel loved. Maybe it was the continuity of it, the expectation fulfillment. “My precious girl.” Mama kissed my forehead and pulled out a chair. “Sit down. I’ve got big news.”

“Yeah?” Why was I suspicious? Was it the phone calls, all them women laughing at my home town? Mama sat next to me, held my hands, and took a deep breath.

“We’re leaving this chicken shit town.”

“What?” She placed her hand on my cheek.

“Mr. Harley, the guy I met yesterday? He’s legit. He does own a club in Vegas. I called all nine of the dancers on his list who work for him.”

“Mama, you ain’t been a dancer since before I was born.”

“Ain’t that kind of dancing, sweetie. it’s all a show of fancy costumes and bright lights, with easy dance steps. Mr. Harley told me I’d fit right in.”

We piled everything we especially wanted in our old pickup and drove west on the advance from Mr. Harley. Two days later, we pulled into Vegas near midnight. It was glorious. Sparkles everywhere, even from the fountains. Huge fountains of sparkling water in the desert. Crazy.

On Mama’s first night, I went with her. The club was way off the strip, with a couple bars on both sides. Harleys filled their parking lots. Inside was busy, women wearing extraordinary costumes. We passed a wall of photos across a map of the US. I pointed out Mama’s picture to her and she grabbed a passing dancer.

“Why’s my photo on this map?” The woman looked at the photo and back at Mama.

“Rosalie!” She hugged Mama. “I’m so glad you’re here. I’m Donna. Let’s get you a costume. You’ll be in next week’s show, so you’ll be backstage tonight. But you gotta get used to the heavy costume.” She took her by the hand, but Mama didn’t budge.

“Tell me about the photo.” Donna turned around with a blank face.

“Oh, that’s how Mr. Harley chooses his dancers. He’s got a whole system of traveling salesmen and tourists giving him pictures of beautiful women. He’s rescued all of us from dead boring little towns across the country. Isn’t that wonderful?” Mama snake-eyed her, then followed her to costuming. On the way, Donna explained, “When someone leaves, we dancers get to pick the next one on the map. We chose you. Anyone else goes, you get to help choose our next dancer.”

Mama’s look told me she didn’t give a crap. She smiled and shrugged at me, whispered, “Whatever.”

In the costume room, Donna helped Mama pick out her size in the white dress covered with rhinestones, with slits up the sides at the waist. Mama handed it to me. Man, was it heavy. Then she tried on the headdress and nearly fell over.

“Yeah,” Donna said, “Practice at home. That’s what we do. Each costume forces a different center of gravity. Just a matter of focus, really.” She stopped and looked at me. “Hey, if you’re interested, we can get you a costume for backup. I mean, it’s not regular pay, but…..you’re still in high school, right?”

“She’s 13,” Mama snarled.

“Holy geez! I thought you were at least 17. Sorry.”

Everything went okay, I guess. I wandered through the casinos every day after school before I did my homework. Mama made more money and nobody smelled like chicken shit. Vegas had its own stench. The desert, however, had no scent of its own, which freaked me out. Mama didn’t seem too much happier here than in Kentucky. Still didn’t date, said cuz of me, how I didn’t need no one messing up my childhood.

About three months into Vegas, on a Tuesday, the only night I was allowed, cuz of low traffic, a dancer’s boyfriend touched me.

Mama danced on stage as I watched from the sidelines. She was gorgeous in the rhinestone dress with the feathered headdress that doubled her height. Just before she came offstage, Ella’s new boyfriend stepped close to me and breathed into my ear lewd suggestions that I didn’t understand. Then he latched onto my butt cheek and I screamed. I didn’t mean to. I’d never been touched like that before.

Like Mama says, all hell broke loose. The music went louder. Mama and Ella crashed through the other dancers. Mr. Harley was yelling on the other side of the stage. Mama launched herself at Ella’s boyfriend. Ella jumped me. I went down easy, the breath knocked out of me. Mama hauled Ella off me. Then the weirdest thing happened. Ella reached into her dress. I swear I heard the “snick” of the switchblade, though I know I couldn’t have. Out of the tussle, Ella backed away with big eyes.

Mama’s dress was shifting to red, like a wave coming in. The boyfriend snatched Ella by the hand and dragged her out the back door. I helped Mama to the truck. For the first time in my life, I drove. I felt bad for every jerk and lurch that made my mama gasp in pain. I doctored her up and threw everything we especially liked in the truck. By sunrise, Mama claimed she was rested enough.

“One more thing,” she said.

The rhinestone dress sat in a bucket in the bed of the truck as we drove into the desert. We watched it burn together.

“You and me, babe.” We held hands.

“I hate this fucking town,” she said.

“We going back to Podunk?”

“Hell, no.”

“Let’s go to California, Mama.”

“Yes, my love, let’s go be beach bums.” She smiled and we hit the road.

The Handbook for Mortals by Lani Sarem

Lani Sarem spoke at a writers’ conference to give her side of the story about being the only person booted from the NYT bestseller list. She’s a good speaker–engaging, humorous, and credible. From this encounter and her summary of the story, I decided to purchase her book. Hmm…..

I don’t believe anyone edited this book. There are strange errors that are not just typos and cut and paste issues. Although this distracts from the story, it doesn’t affect the coherency, but becomes more of an interesting side note. The narrator of the story learns a secret of her mother’s, but the readers are maddeningly left to figure this out, and only at the end can connect it. The writing doesn’t flow as well for me as I would have liked. Zade (the narrator) joins a magic show in Las Vegas, keeping the true magic of her “illusions” to herself and the show’s founder. The whole idea of a real witch (Sarem doesn’t use the term) in a magic show is fascinating. Unfortunately, Sarem spends the majority of the book on the love triangle, endlessly lamenting over which one Zade should choose.

About 2/3 of the way through the novel, Zade experiences a huge glitch in her “illusion” and must be rescued by none other than her real witch mother. The scene in her home seems to go on and on while Zade lay dying, the timing of which is only explained after the fact. Zade can see everything that happened from the memories of those involved, and this fact is mentioned many times throughout that part of the narrative to remind the reader how she knows. It seems Sarem doesn’t trust her readers. She also spends too much of the story telling the reader how to feel instead of showing the characters’ emotion through behavior. I know she originally wrote this story as a screenplay and it feels like it.

I liked the story. The writing / characters need development, and Sarem needs a good editor and to move beyond obsessing over romantic interests. A writer can show that a character does this without doing it with the writing itself. Two things that stood out: a new character attacked Zade at the mall and barely featured again, with only two slight references; Zade met Carrot Top and Wayne Newton at the mall, for the sole purpose, apparently, of name-dropping in the book, as they simply had cameos in that scene. I expect that Sarem was setting up the attacking character for the next book in the series, but it was oddly glossed over by the main character, who only mentioned it casually after she recovered. The name-dropping was silly. It’s a book.

Lullaby Road by James Anderson

Ben Jones delivers necessities to the “desert rats” along the way to a small, isolated town in Utah. He keep his business to himself and ask his customers no questions. One day, while getting gas at the usual station, the owner informs him that he was left a package at one of the pumps. A man Ben knows only from tire purchases has left his child, guarded by a big dog. He can’t leave them out in the winter weather. As he prepares to leave the station, his “it’s complicated” neighbor rushes her baby to him to watch for the day. He now has two children and a dog to take on his treacherous drive to deliver items necessary to survival to the people whose experiences have led them to choose a life in a harsh climate away from society. The tale reads like a day in the life of Ben Jones as he interacts with characters who barely accept him for practical purposes, though this seems a non-typical day with the children, and then his friend, the “preacher,” a victim of hit-and-run. The story moves away from the surprise babysitting, down the path of mystery driver investigation, returning to the child at the end.

Ben learns more than he cares to know about the desert rats on this day, as though he’s hit a day of revelation. The child’s father ends up murdered, as does the station owner, who was part of a tire smuggling ring. This had turned into a child smuggling ring under the leadership of the out-of-town partner, a secret son of one of the desert rats. There was no clarity on the purpose of either of those criminal activities. Ben’s statement that he didn’t care to understand leaves the reader in the dark too. There’s a running reference to UPS and Fedex truck drivers who drifted from the highway during a snowstorm, but somehow found each other way out in the desert, huddling together to stay warm until rescued. This seemed to be the setup for Ben somehow finding the child in the desert after she runs away, although he specified repeatedly that she ran northeast and he figured out that he’d mistakenly gone west, so judgment cannot suspend. Saying that, the story is worth reading for all the fascinating characters, their speculative reasons for living in the desert, and their volatile interactions with Ben ad each other. Tension hangs in the environment like air….always there.

I received a copy through Blogging for Books in exchange for an honest review.

Everybody’s Son by Thritty Umrigar

After the death of his son, Judge Coleman uses his influence and connections to foster and adopt 9-year-old African-American Anton, convincing his mother Anton is happier with the Colemans. She’d been kidnapped and drugged by her dealer, leaving Anton locked in their apartment during a heat wave with little food, until he escaped a week later, unaware of his mother’s whereabouts. Judge Coleman’s position and wealth boost Anton up through the ranks of politics, with Anton choosing to have no contact with a mother he believes rejected him. The secrets seep out eventually, damaging the Coleman’s marriage and Anton’s relationships with all of his parents, as Anton desperately tries to determine his identity.

The crux of the story is that a black mother’s son is stolen from her by a white man, whiffs of slavery nipping at her heels. As Umrigar presents white privilege and systemic racism within the judicial system, she attempts to garner sympathy for a man in a powerful position based on the loss of his son and his emotional distress debating his desire to have a child and the ethical choice to keep a family together. He chooses poorly and everyone struggles with his decision.

Blackbird House by Alice Hoffman

Blackbird House witnesses unusual love stories throughout its lifetime, from the young wife waiting for her husband to return from the sea to the orphaned young woman who had no home coming to live with the disfigured man who believed he would never feel the warmth of a woman. Often the yearning is only fulfilled when it can later refuse to be acknowledged. The townspeople care for the inhabitants of the isolated home.

The characters’ circumstances are nearly as tangible as the people themselves and Hoffman has carefully shown these influences in every interaction. Each resident connects somehow with previous owners of the house, often as a relation, but always in spirit, sharing the strength to live in a harsh environment. The gorgeous prose draws the reader into the stories easily.

Foretold (Ghost Gifts #2) by Laura Spinella

Aubrey is alone, with only her position as psychic consultant to law enforcement to distract her from the fact that her husband Levi has taken their son away in the hope that he can somehow circumvent the inherited psychic ability unfolding in frightening ways in their only child. As Levi reports on a mysterious murder connected to a crime family, Aubrey reconnects with Zeke, her first love, who visits her unexpectedly, and has always understood her psychic power better than anyone, perhaps even her spouse. Levi suspects her friend is involved in the homicide, but Aubrey knows better, as their jobs lead them to the same crime. Spinella keeps the reader guessing about Zeke’s motives and actions. When their son is kidnapped, Levi questions Aubrey about Zeke, but she maintains focus, and they reunite to save him.

The Ghost Gifts series presents ghosts as an actuality, invisible to all but a few. Complex characters play out complicated dynamics with psychic ability at the core of the conflict. Spinella carefully weaves it into the story as one more thing to deal with in the life of Aubrey and her family. She is considered a paranormal romance writer; however, her stories are fantastic mystery thrillers, as well as unique ghost stories.

Laura Spinella gifted me an autographed copy in a giveaway and I love it!

The Zanna Function by Daniel Wheatley—pub date March 20, 2018

Zanna is accepted into the St. Pommeroy’s School for Gifted Children, where she learns that she is a Scientist, who can bend the rules of physics. A mysterious woman attempts to prevent her from attending the school, and Zanna must draw upon her new abilities, resources, and friends to fight her. The secret she discovers about the woman must be setting Zanna’s story up for a series.

This story sets up the conflict immediately with the mystery woman thwarting Zanna’s attendance at the school through scientific “magic,” carefully detailed by Wheatley. The capabilities taught in the school intrigue Zanna, and the reader needn’t be a scientist to follow along.

I was fortunate to receive a digital ARC through NetGally of this delightful story.

the sun and her flowers by rupi kaur

Rupi Kaur divided her poetry collection into five sections. Wilting begins…on the last day of love…my heart cracked inside my body…and continues this part of the story throughout the following poems. Falling exposes the self in an introspection of negativity, moving from grief to the numbness of sudden aloneness. Rooting reaches the stage of connecting with community, recognizing pain and fear, power and strength on a larger scale. Rising expands and contract the self, bringing the strength inward…i will welcome…a partner…who is my equal…celebrating the self and being proud of ancestry. Blooming shares the fruits of the labors of those who have gone before…i am the first woman in my lineage with freedom of choice…praising her parents’ decision to immigrate and allow daughters to fully become themselves. Kaur’s poetry has been derided for being so accessible to the masses, which is a shame, because what then is the point of exclusivity of art…

This is a beautiful collection of poetry on many ideas, including love, family, immigration, and feminism. Kaur’s work is succinct and deep, thought-provoking, and conversation-inducing.

Perennials by Julie Cantrell

Lovey allows herself to be chased from her childhood home in Oxford, Mississipi by her older sister Bitsy’s inexplicable animosity. Though she calls foul on sibling rivalry, her parents don’t back her up, making Lovey feel damaged. When their mother’s garden shed burns to the ground after their friends Fisher and Finn barely make it out, Bitsy blames Lovey and no one protests, leaving her alone for years wallowing in the injustice. Bitsy uses Finn’s injuries to fuel Lovey’s guilt, prompting her move to another state, another life, away from his brother Fisher, who asked Lovey to marry him. Emotions run rampant through Lovey as she tries to balance her current life and the one she ran scared from decades ago. Her parents convince her to return home for their 50th wedding anniversary party. She complies, facing her lost love and antagonistic sister. When she’s called to return to work to resolve a hostile takeover by the boss of her ad campaign project, her father changes her mind when he confesses that her mother is terminally ill. She stays, determined to treasure every last moment with her mother, making a truce with her sister, and dealing haphazardly with Fisher’s current “it’s complicated” relationship status. Lovey continues to bond with her mother over their shared love of gardening, with life lessons inspired by gardening and favorite local writers Welty and Faulkner sprinkled throughout the book by both parents. Religious themes run a bit strong in this story and can be distracting, assuming that readers are Christian and accepting of religiosity as part of the lessons. Lovey makes a breakthrough with her father after a particularly hurtful encounter with Bitsy, which starts her healing process. She is home. This is her home. Everything comes together, albeit some of it a bit too easily, as there are decades of pent-up hurt to be worked through, especially for the sisters.

This novel lays a family bare across the lush backdrop of a Mississippi farm, with floral imagery cascading over it all, a tragic history made bigger by time, southern literary greats explored, and long ago loves who may not be lost.

Tranquility by Laurie Gardiner

Single mom Sarah starts day shift in the dementia ward of the healthcare facility Tranquilty, moving from nights in palliative care. Her new co-worker Tracey immediately befriends her, introducing her to the “cast of characters” for whom she will be caring: Sam, who randomly prefers nudity, gentle, inquisitive Rose, the bickering twins Lily and Beth, the wheelchair menace Mrs. W, who remembers a concentration camp more vividly than contemporary events, quiet Mrs. Sellers, Italian immigrant Mrs. Gallo, whose husband visits her daily, Alfred, who has a tendency to call for a once beloved cat named Hairball, and Mrs. Amaral, a sweet Portuguese immigrant. Gardiner’s work in such a facility inspired the story, and to ensure accuracy, her research included interviewing employees in all areas of the facility, from bathing to housekeeping. New residents to Tranquility bring a professional dilemma, a dangerous situation, and potential romance for Sarah. Edie, with her soft Scottish brogue, does not appear to be suffering from dementia, but when she fakes it to expose an abusive employee, Sarah keeps an eye on her. After two violent incidents, endangering staff and residents, John is quickly moved again, to the psych ward. With Georgia comes a big family, including her great-grandson Jay, who lights a fire in Sarah. Along with all this, Sarah’s own grandma suffers a second stroke, and her mother must deal with end of life choices, a struggle for a woman who hasn’t really gotten over her husband’s death a decade earlier. The brightest light in this story is Kayla, Sarah’s daughter, who gives her grandma life, and handles great-grandma’s struggle with surprising grace for a 4-year-old. Sarah and Tracey execute a not-quite-legal plan to prove the co-worker’s abuse, but it’s waylaid by Edie’s plan to do the same. Everything comes together in the end in a complicated, bittersweet resolution, just like in real life. Characters learn and grow, while others astonish, but most of all, the ones who need to find themselves do so.

This is a beautiful story of faith in humanity, dignity in aging, justice for the vulnerable, and finding strength in family and friends.