☕ Book Break ☕ | A Song Below Water by Bethany C. Morrow

A Song Below Water by Bethany C. Morrow

In their junior year of high school, Tavia and Effie are best friends. Tavia is a siren and must hide her powers from those who seek to harm her.  Effie is haunted by a childhood tragedy. A mystery surrounds Effie, and she comes to suspect she, too, has magical powers, but isn’t sure what those are. 

Very timely social commentary and all around good read.

If I had a teenager I would have them read this and talk about BLM, the history of the movement, politics, family relationships, societal issues.

The homeschooler in me wants to write a lesson plan.

I was captured by the first part of the book. Around halfway it started dragging a little bit for me, but picked up shortly thereafter and I couldn’t put it down until I finished.

Relevant.

Great characters. 

I like characters I can relate to, and Bethany C. Morrow did a wonderful job creating the characters in this book. Effie has my heart, though.

Loved  the friendship between Tavia and Effie. So nice to see supportive female relationships. Effie has come to stay with Tavia because of complicated family dynamics (ooh boy, talk about complicated—yes, there is some magic involved here) and the girls call each other sister. 

Mostly serious and thought provoking, with a few moments of humor, which is exactly how I like my novels. 

Nice wrap up.

☕ Book Break ☕ | The Girl with the Louding Voice by Abi Daré

Adunni’s mother always stressed education for her daughter, and Adunni loves school. But her mother dies. Her father ignores the promise he made to his wife on her deathbed, the promise to send Adunni to school. Instead, he sells Adunni to be third wife to a man eager for a son.

⭐️

She runs away to the city, only to find herself in servitude, with no rights and no resources. She finds a way to speak not only for herself, but for other girls.

⭐️

The voice of the presentation of the main character story is beautifully done. I don’t think this is a story that could be easily forgotten. So very human and heartbreaking, yet hopeful.I  read this book from cover to cover. It kept me awake at night until I finished it.

⭐️

Y’all know I regularly fall in love with fictional characters, but Adunni has completely stolen a piece of my heart but I don’t think I’m getting back. I will not forget her story.

⭐️

All the stars.

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Hopeful.

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Inspiring.

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Informative.

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Beautifully written.

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

 

For those sensitive to language, there are some terms used that could be considered crude language, but they are not used as such. It reads as if this is the everyday language.

Sunflowers on a Windy Day~ Jory Sherman Short Story Contest Honorable Mention

 

Monday morning, early, while he sleeps, I enter the field to cut an armful of sunflowers. The doctors said surround him with familiar things. What could be more familiar? The house with its heavy front door, handmade by my daddy? The cracked linoleum in front of the sink? Me? We were childhood neighbors. He spent more time at our house than his own. For the last five years, since Daddy passed and I came back home, Pierce has been my plus one. Long ago, Daddy nicknamed him P.S. because he hung around so much. A tag along. But his name is Pierson Ansel Stevens the Third. And apparently, last.

I squint into the sky. The misty haze could be predawn, or a harbinger of showers. The forecast is fifty fifty for the morning. He doesn’t do well with storms. The rain would come, but later would be better. My arms ache as I cut the thick stems. I’d forgotten gloves. My fingernails bite the tender stalks’ skin. The sharp green of summer wafts into the new day’s air, mixes with the good dirt smell my clumsy feet stir up. Wind slaps at me. I forgot to tie my hair and it thrashes my cheek, gets stuck in between my squeezed shut eyelids. I bow my head and blink it clear. The hem of the old cotton housecoat I’d thrown on whips around my legs. A gust caught the big sunflower faces, tried to kite them away into the cloud strewn gray expanse. I have to hang on or lose the whole bunch. Contrary, nature stills, pausing in her tirade, and lets me catch my breath.

At least the wind cleaned out any bugs for me.

The kitchen door bangs shut behind me. It settles wonky. The loose hinge needs tightening. I hold the sunflowers close and they scratch the tender skin of my neck. I deposit them on the counter, dig in the cabinet beneath, and fetch out my vases, line them in a row. They’d grown dusty already. Pierce used to bring me flowers, so many they filled the house. He claimed to be making up for lost time. I have a lot of vases.

When he’d first started to forget things, I’d thought he was cheating on me.

 

On laundry day, an orange scrap of paper rested in my hand. I’d fished it out of the pocket of his coveralls.

My ears throbbed with each pulse beat of my heart.

Don’t be stupid. Pierce loves you.

The clink of his tea glass as he set it on the table brought me into the kitchen. “Whose number is this?”

Pierce unlaced his boot, let it drop to the floor. “What number?”

My hands shook the tiniest bit as I handed it to him. Pierce’s face went blank, another indication of guilt, I thought.

He studied the numbers, the small V of an almost scowl marked the space above his eyes. Eyes gone dark-cloudy, he crumpled the paper in his fist. “It’s nothing.”

But it hadn’t been nothing. I was right to be terrified, for he’d been stolen, that was certain.

It shames me now, to think I imagined he’d  go willingly.

 

I focus on the task at hand and rinse the four biggest vases one by one. Water beads on the blue and green and yellow, waiting for my dishtowel to wipe away drops that streak and puddle. The vases don’t match, but that’s all right. Under the tap they go. At the half mark, I stop filling.

My gathering had been messy. The shears neaten raw ends to a forty-five degree angle. The vase sits ready. I divide and arrange the flowers. Perhaps those big cheery faces will push back the gloom settling into the corners of the house like untended dust bunnies left to breed and multiply.

Generous bouquets fill three vases. The fourth waits, empty. There are plenty more blooms in the field, but the sun is coming on soon. It’s always good to leave some for tomorrow. I tip out the forlorn, forsaken receptacle and watch the water swirl down the drain. I dry the outside of the vase and set it back in the cabinet. One arrangement goes on the kitchen table, the second on the top of the old wooden writing desk in the corner and the final in front of the window. After breakfast, I’ll move them to the T.V. room.

A series of thumps from upstairs catches my attention and I hold my breath. No fussing. No calling out. Just him coming down.

Please God, let it be a good day.

I pluck at my collar and dip my face into my cotton blouse, pat my eyes and cheeks.

Pierce comes into the kitchen, his robe tied askew. His hair sticks out like he’d been through a windstorm. I should trim it later if the morning goes well. We would see. After I got him to shave. I bought an electric shaver, but he hates it.

His favorite blue cup hangs on the mug tree and I unhook it, cradle it in my palm. “Would you like coffee?”

He nods and shuffles over to a chair.

Hot, dark liquid from the carafe streams out as I pour, and wisps of fragrant steam fog the air above his cup. I dollop it good with cold milk and a heaping spoonful of sugar. For a second, my hand hesitates near the can of protein powder. Not yet. Wait. Coffee first. If he refuses the drink, he might not take in anything all day.

I set the mug down in front of him. My own cupful had grown tepid, but I pick it up and sit down, scooting over to get closer. In case. Pierce’s coffee was cooled considerably by the milk, but still.

He leans back a little, not so slumped as some days.

Ignoring the cup before him, he reaches out and with one finger traces the bright petals on the smallest flower in the arrangement centered on the table.

His gaze lingers on the yellow bloom. “I went to China for you.”

“You did.”

He did. I’d run away from him and he’d chased me. To China.

“I’d go to China a thousand times for you.”

The dry, empty places in my body and soul rush with blood and water. He takes my hand, turns it palm up, kisses the sweet, tender center. The morning sun slants in. A beam strides boldy across the table, dips into our coffee.

“P.S.” My voice is so calm and regular, part of me marvels. “I love you.” My hand, palm open, waiting to snatch whatever gifts the day gave, stays in his grip.

He smiles at me. “P.S. loves you, too.”

I curl my fingers around his. We drink our cold coffee and watch the sun kiss the faces of the flowers.

 

 

 

LSUS Exhibit Art and Writing Collaboration

 

My flash fiction piece, One of the Team, was paired with art in a collaboration with The Shreveport Art Club for an exhibition. The display will be open to the public for viewing in the LSUS University Center Gallery in Shreveport until February 28th.

The painting is by Joan Cole.

 

One of the Team

by Donna Jo Stone

 

His sweaty hands grasp the bat. The band of his cap itches. He ignores it and concentrates on the ball.

He swings.

Whack.

It’s a hit!

His eyes widen as he tracks the ball’s arc. The bat slides from his grip, the gentle landing thump lost in the rush filling his ears with each beat of his red-blooded heart.

Run to first base.

He hears nothing, sees nothing but the white triangle. No one tags him. Should he stop? His feet keep running and the rest of him follows.

Pound, pound, pound.

A cloud of fine red dirt rises up to baptize his virgin white cross-trainers. Dust flies. So does he.

Safe!

At home plate he leans over, hands on knees, panting.

All at once, the volume comes back on. The yelling is not happy.

“Wrong way!” a boy shouts. “You went the wrong way!”

It’s hard to tell which teammate he is. They all wear red shirts. The boy’s mouth and eyebrows are mad.

Coach comes near, saying something.

“Look at me.”

He tries to make eye contact, but the angry face pushes him away. He looks hard at Coach’s middle.

“Look,” Coach says.

Look?

“First base is that way.” Coach points. “You should know that by now.”

The team clusters on the sideline, distancing themselves from the loser.

Game over.

In his room, he sits on the floor. There is a file box in his mind where he keeps all the facts. These are today’s facts.

Fact #1 He went the wrong way.

Fact #2 First base is to the right.

Fact #3 He should know this.

When the mother finds him, he is rhythmically banging his head against the wall, repeating a mantra.

Stupid. Stupid. Stupid.

Beside him, on the floor, lays a dirty red baseball cap.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

My Hero

I shared this as part of another IG challenge, this one a writing challenge with @simmeringmind. The prompt was: A real life hero or writer who inspires you. Photo from Unsplash.

Anytime I think of a hero, I think of my kids. My kids are the reason I write what I do. The snippet below is an excerpt from the speech I gave at my youngest son’s graduation.

Eddie Rickenbacker, the WW I Ace and Medal of Honor recipient said, “Courage is doing what you are afraid to do. There can be no courage unless you are scared.”

There have been many things to be afraid of. When the world is loud and crowds you and it’s hard to tell up from down, in from out; terror doesn’t only stalk, it sidles up next to you and tries to claw its way into your back pocket.

When he was small, the invisible and seen were jumbled together and everything screamed danger. Fears were faced daily, but I remember one day in particular. We were at the church door, and he could not move.

He did not bury his face in my skirt, but edged closer to me. We waited. After a pause, his big brother opened the glass door. We all went in together.

Our place was in the back row. During the singing all the people stood, so we did, too, and he leaned into me. His little boy body trembled. I sat back down, but did not take him into my lap. Instead, with one arm I circled his thin shoulders and laid my other hand on his sticky-damp forehead.

A man stared at us. I joined in to sing the chorus with the congregation, my arms remaining around my child, the pressure firm and sure while he sat, solid and still.

He closed his eyes. We breathed in unison. In, out, in, out. His balled up fists became loose and lost their whiteness around the knuckles.

He has always been the bravest one. 

I’ve watched him square his shoulders more times than I can count.

“Courage doesn’t always roar.

Sometimes courage is the quiet voice

at the end of the day, saying,

‘I will try again tomorrow.’”

Mary Anne Radmacher

There have been many, many tomorrows. There are Giants in the land. Everyday courage takes everyday perseverance. To see the persistence, the faith walked out in small, careful steps has grown in me a deep and steady strength I never knew was possible.

“Courage is not simply one of the virtues, but the form of every virtue at the testing point.”

C.S. Lewis

To see him get up, try again, time after time is enough to produce a vision of what heroic truly means.

Thanks for reading. If you liked this post, leave a comment telling me about your biggest hero.

 

If you enjoyed my writing and liked to keep up to date, please sign up for my announcement newsletter here. I promise I won’t spam you.

☕ Book Break ☕ | Before We Were Yours by Lisa Wingate

~Before We Were Yours by Lisa Wingate~

Lisa Wingate delivers. This book wrecked my productivity. Once I started I had to finish it. The Tennessee Children’s Home Society was a real organization that removed and sometimes even kidnapped children from poor families and sold the children to wealthy families wanting to adopt.

Twelve year old Rill is the eldest of five, and the siblings are taken away against their will to a boarding house of horrors while waiting to be placed. Rill knows her parents would never give them away. The story alternates between 1939, Rill’s story, and present day when Avery narrates as she unravels the past mystery of deep family secrets.

I had heard about the Tennessee Children’s Home before, but I didn’t realize the extent of the abuse. I was holding my breath hoping for Rill to get away. This one may end up being my favorite Lisa Wingate novel. It is definitely on my list.

This book will make you hate Georgia Tann, the woman who ran the Tennessee Children’s Home Society. I don’t think I can read another story about her for a while.

Four Simple but Significant Gift Ideas

Four Simple but Significant Gifts

 

I am sentimental. I love old photos and quilts, but the things I cherish most are memories. I like to give gifts with significance attached to them, and I love books.

 

Journals or Fill in the Blank Books

Most people think their lives are boring, but this couldn’t be further from the truth! I love getting and giving journals. Some people may need journals with prompts.

 

 

My mother’s and my grandmother’s stories are irreplaceable treasures. If I hadn’t given each of them a spiral-bound set of cards with short, easy to answer questions, I would have missed some gems.

My mother is from England, and as a young bride her experiences arriving in America are noteworthy, even if she didn’t think so. For instance, one of the prompts was a question about the Fourth of July. My mother wrote about her first celebration of this holiday. My grandmother, her mother-in-law, told her there would be a picnic. They were to have the usual fixings, including hotdogs. My mother wrote, with typical British understatement:

“I’d never eaten a hotdog before. I’d read that the Indians ate dog, but I wasn’t sure if I wanted to try it.”

Thinking about how the scenario must have played out, with my grandmother in charge and my reserved, soft spoken mother trying to fit in, cracks me up every time. My mother never mentioned this bit of family history until she was prompted by a journaling card. This one incident made me see my mother in a completely new light. Before, I hadn’t taken the time to imagine how strange it must’ve been to be young, newly married, away from family and everything familiar.

I learned from my grandmother’s responses about my father, as a toddler, climbing to the top of the windmill. My grandmother could do nothing about it. In those days, there was no 911. No one was around to help her, and besides, the structure was too fragile for an adult to climb up or she would have gone up after him herself. With no other recourse, she reprimanded him and yelled at him to get down right now. Then she went inside and closed her eyes while she gripped the edge of the kitchen sink, waiting for a scream. Can you imagine?

Recently my daughter and I were going through some of our old journals. We found plenty to laugh about, and a few things to cry about.

 

Books, Old or New 

The older I get the more I appreciate things that are handed down. One of my greatest treasures is a set of books that was originally a Christmas gift given to my father when he was a boy.

 

 

Finding an old book with an inscription in it ties us to the past. Old favorites shared by generations through the ages makes me feel a certain kinship with people of the past that I have no connection to otherwise. There’s something magical about a book given as a Christmas gift, inscribed with love. The sharing of beloved tales is a marvelous gift.

 

A Book of Memories

One year my mother wrote a compilation of her life and made copies for all of us grown kids. What a gem! How can you put a value on this kind of gift?

 

 

 

Recorded Storybook

If you have a young child in your life, a storybook accompanied by an audio recording of you reading the book aloud is sure to be a hit. My mother did this for my eldest when he was small. It’s not something he’s likely to ever forget.

Stories connect us in a way nothing else does.

 

What are some of your favorite gifts to give or receive?

Chasing Contentment

 

It happened again. I find myself in the same position. The position of discontentment.

When my bones rest easy, laughter fills the house, and the world is sparkly, it’s child’s play to wrap myself in contentment.

Before the race gets muddy with feet bogging daily grime and I run slap into a mountain full of sharp teeth, I am doing all right. I can be content.

But I have to work at being content. It’s not one time accomplishment. Contentment is easier to misplace than my keys, my wallet, and that book of stamps that keeps walking off.

Contentment is elusive. Just about the time I’m thinking I’ve got this thing down. I finally learned my lesson, I slide back into the pit. I don’t notice it on the way down. I’m certain those around me do, but all my complaining and grumpiness is completely justified. That’s what I tell myself.

It comes from wanting to much. It comes from being unhappy with my destiny. It’s completely different than the failures, and failure is inevitable, that provoke and motivate me to strain toward the prize.

When contentment is lost, I gain nothing but a bad attitude. I forget all the blessings that surround me. Simple pleasures are overlooked and I fail to recognize the joy I hold in my hands.

I forget to breathe.

I forget to see.

These spider  lilies came up in my front yard. They wouldn’t have bloomed if the grass has been cut regularly. Some people call them surprise lilies because you never know where they might come up.

Surprise lilies don’t need special tending. A person doesn’t have to do anything to be graced with these flowers except allow them to be.

I didn’t even notice the flowers in the front yard until one of my kids told me about them. When I glanced out of the window, it was obvious surprise lilies were making an appearance. You can see the red from some distance, lacey flags of scarlet demanding attention before the season turns and they sleep under the ground once more.

I wonder how many other simple pleasures I’ve missed because I’m too busy being discontented to count my blessings.

How do you keep contentment?

I need to remember who I am, and who I am not. The comparison game is a contentment killer.

I need to recapture my ability to take joy in the simple things. Moments of beauty are fragile. They are like iridescent soap bubbles, reflecting the light in rainbow promises of better things that live on the edges of our perception,hints of the greater things we cannot see at present. Moments of beauty fly on whatever breeze exposed to, delicately ethereal, meant to be enjoyed in a fleeting space of time.

 

Evelyn’s Autumn

This essay was in an old folder. Fall reminds me of my grandmother, Nana, and I’m feeling a bit nostalgic. I still have fond memories and miss her.

******

 

In Autumn I always think of Nana Evelyn. Lord, what a grouchy old woman. The entire time of my growing-up years she was always there, in the background. She was never demonstrative, and I was sure she didn’t care for me at all, but every once in a while she would spend time with me. One summer she taught me how to paint. I vividly recall her exceptional patience, as she showed me how to blend the reds and oranges to make fall landscapes, flicking a bit of yellow ‘just so’ to finish the medley of colorful leaves. My mother still has one of my paintings from that summer.

Fall colors just seemed to BE Nana. Anything with rich browns, warm reds and orangy golds would make her smile. She didn’t really come alive until October, a respite from the sweltering heat. Transplanted from Wisconsin, the southern climate sapped her. She never complained, just wilted.

She was different from us. I never once heard her say y’all or ain’t. When she was amused she would draw a deep breath and her eyes would widen as she pushed the air out with a little smile. The rest of us cackled and brayed. She was a tad more subtle than us girls.

She and I finally became friends after I had my third child. I began to understand her a little. I think she began to understand me, too.

During cool weather she would tramp through the woods, and pick up scraps of moss, bark and any other interesting bit of nature that caught her eye. My middle son shared a passion for creation with her, and she loaded him up with hick’ry nuts, pine cones and interesting twigs. She would explain what each thing was. “See” she would say, and he would, because he took time to notice the treasures.

She saved nature magazines and stamps for the kids, and always had a pepsi for them.

Every Christmas we would receive a plastic canvas ornament, or a ceramic angel with a crooked smile painted on by shaking hands. She made crocheted rugs out of plastic bags. My boys thought that was so cool. My sisters thought it was tacky.

Every holiday she remembered to send cards and had some small toy and candy for the boys when we dropped by.

No one seems to care about family holidays anymore. I never thought it was Nana holding it together. She never orchestrated the ordeal. That was left to the rest of us women. She just always showed up with that awful cranberry relish and tuna salad.

I have an unfinished cross-stitch I bought to make for her with two of her favorite things in the design, brown and red cardinals in an autumn setting.

When I’m out shopping this time of year and see something in her colors, I always think, “This is perfect for Nana’s birthday.” (It’s November 16) Then I remember and put it back.

I am glad I was finally able to see the colors of Evelyn’s Autumn.

********

Do the seasons trigger special memories for you?

IG Bookmarker Giveaway

 

I’m doing my first Instagram giveaway. These are two book markers I made with watercolor. Head over to this IG post if you would like to enter. You chances are pretty good since not many entered yet. Ends tomorrow.

Do you do giveaways? Do you have any tips for me?