Review of HONEYSUCKLE SEASON by Mary Ellen Taylor

Mary Ellen Taylor has written a book about the ties between generations, secrets, losses, resentment and regret. I assumed when I started reading this book that it would be a light and sweet romance with little conflict. I was so wrong! I was drawn quickly into the story because of the setting in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains, where I was raised. I understood the struggles of young Sadie, trying to help her family to survive any way she can, especially with the secret family recipe of adding honeysuckle to the white lightning that is the family’s main source of income. Sadie is one of the narrators during the time period set in the 1940’s. Fast forward to the current day and the narrator is Libby, a young woman who is aching over the loss of her husband and their dream of having children. Libby is pursuing a new career in photography and it is that job that leads her to Elaine Grant, the owner of Woodmont, a fancy mansion that is perfect for having weddings on its grounds. Elaine introduces Libby to the groundskeeper and handyman Colton and therein lies the hint of romance. There were so many secrets in this book, and the author did a fabulous job of weaving the tale of the main characters and how all of their stories were connected. This is a generational story that was a very satisfying read, but I must say that I want to read more of the story. There was an ending, of course, and it did bring the story to a conclusion. But I think that there are more stories to be told in these secretive mountains. Fans of romance with the nuances of mystery will totally enjoy this book, just as I did.
Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher via Netgalley. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255, “Guides Concerning the Use of Testimonials and Endorsements in Advertising.”

This is a mostly clean read that I would rate G.
Photo is from the author’s website at

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I really enjoyed this story and hope that you will buy it and love it, too! The author is from my home state of Virginia, so she holds a special place in my heart. She also writes romantic suspense/mystery books under the name of Mary Burton. Please check out her books! She is fantastically talented!

Review of THE AMISH NEWCOMER by Patrice Lewis

This is a very quick and entertaining book! The premise is that a former newscaster from LA is in witness protection, and the U.S. Marshalls hide her with an Amish family. Dressing like the Amish is not a big problem for Leah, but learning the Amish way of life was a bit of a challenge. Much of the book reads like a primer about the Amish lifestyle and religious beliefs and I found it all very interesting. The characters were believable and likable as well as presented realistically for that culture. My favorite character was a young woman named Rachel who had physical problems but who tackled life with zest and wisdom. The plot also includes drama, conflict and a romantic interest between Leah and a young Amish man named Isaac who is devoted to his faith. Both of them know that for her to have a relationship with him would be almost impossible since she is “Englisch” and he tried that world and returned to his Amish life. I really enjoyed the descriptions of how the Amish do things like laundry and healthcare, things that we take modern conveniences for granted. I learned more about reading this book than I thought possible and was entertained as I read it. Fans of light, clean romance will enjoy this book and the light that it sheds on a group of people who live a different kind of life.
Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a complimentary copy of this book from Harlequin via Netgalley. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255, “Guides Concerning the Use of Testimonials and Endorsements in Advertising.”

Good, CLEAN read with an unbelievable but entertaining premise


Living on a remote self-sufficient homestead in North Idaho, Patrice Lewis is a Christian wife, mother, author, blogger, columnist and speaker. She has practiced and written about rural subjects for almost thirty years. When she isn’t writing, Patrice enjoys self-sufficiency projects, such as animal husbandry, small-scale dairy production, gardening, food preservation and canning, and homeschooling. She and her husband have been married since 1990 and have two daughters.

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Excerpt, THE AMISH NEWCOMER by Patrice Lewis

So,” he added as he released her hand and fell into step beside her, “you said you were from Los Angeles?”
“Big city. Why are you here in Pikeville?”
Leah froze inside. It was the one question she didn’t want to be asked, but at least she had a predetermined story she could tell, one that mingled with just enough truth to be plausible. “I was in a car accident.” She touched her cheek. “It messed me up pretty badly. I used to work as a television journalist, but you can’t be in television with a face like this. I—I needed to get away. I have friends who know the Bylers, and they invited me to stay with them until I heal up.”
Unlike some other men she’d encountered, Isaac didn’t seem to be put off by the scar in the slightest. “And then what? What happens after your face heals?”
“I don’t know.” Her shoulders slumped, and for a moment she allowed despair, which was never very far away, to claim her. “I don’t know. I suppose I’ll have to change my career, and it’s something I’m reluctant to do. I loved being a TV journalist.”
“Why are you dressed in Amish clothes? It seems unusual for a visitor.”
That was a question she hadn’t anticipated. “Uh… uh…since I’m here for so long, I wanted to fit in. I speak a little German, and Edith thought it best if I didn’t stand out. But I’m hoping everyone can forgive me for any blunders I make.”
“Oh, they will.” He fell silent as she padded along, her bare feet still tender. “Will you be attending the hot dog roast at the Millers’ tonight?”
“I don’t know. I’m not sure it’s polite to show up without an invitation.”
“The Millers won’t mind. They’ll have a large crowd of youngies anyway, so one extra person won’t matter.”
“What’s a hot dog roast?”
“Just as it sounds. They have a long pit where they build a fire, so everyone has a chance to stand by the flames and cook their hot dogs.”
“But what do they do, besides eat hot dogs?”
“Talk. Sing. Play games. And sometimes flirt.” He grinned at her.
Leah caught her breath. If she didn’t know any better, she might have thought Isaac was flirting with her. If so, it was subtle almost to the point of imperceptible. And there was no possible way she could flirt back, not with a man bound within the rules of a faith she didn’t share.
She looked away. “I’m much older than Sarah or Rachel. Is this a gathering just for young people?”
“How old are you?” he blurted, then made a gesture as if to snatch the words back. “Sorry, I hope that wasn’t rude.”
His expression was so comical she laughed. “It’s no secret. I’m twenty-eight.”
“Ain’t so? Me too.”
“And you’re not married? That seems unusual, from what I know of the Amish.”
“I had—” He hesitated. “I spent some time away. Many years, in fact. Now I’m back and I intend to stay, but many of the women in the community aren’t encour-aging when it comes to risking their future with me. I have too much Englisch in me, they say.”
She couldn’t help but chuckle. “I assume Englisch is the catchall phrase for anyone who isn’t Amish.”
“Ja. It’s not meant as a pejorative, just a distinguisher for anyone who isn’t Amish.”

Get this delightful, new romance today!

Thursday’s Quotation

Have you ever been at the beach and awakened early, before anyone else was up? Have you gone walking on an empty beach and watched as your feet sank into the sand? Then, have you turned around to walk back the way you came and have you seen your footprints on the sand? Have you thought about the fact that others will come after you and form more footprints, either on top of or next to yours?

Now, take that visual and apply it to the fact that if you are walking ahead of someone, there is someone behind you who may need your help. When we help, sometimes we feel like that other person is holding us back. But this quotation tells us a truth. Helping others challenges us to grow, to become more like Christ, to become more mature in our faith. Yes, it takes time to help others, but it will always be worth it.

Please look for someone today who needs your help. It may be a child or grandchild who needs a kind word of encouragement. It may be an elderly neighbor who just needs something picked up at the store and delivered. It may even be your spouse who just needs your time. My friends, I will be taking my own advice today. I hope that you have a blessed day so that you can reach out and be a blessing.

Look for the hidden blessing when you help others, for in reaching out to them, you are reaching your hand out to God.

Review of WHEN I WAS YOU by Amber Garza

I was absolutely “wowed” by this debut thriller by Amber Garza! I couldn’t read it long enough or fast enough, right from the beginning. The plot is an original one about a lonely empty nester who really needs someone or something new in her life. One morning, she gets a phone call reminding her of a well-baby appointment at the office of her former pediatrician and she is amazed to find out that there is another Kelly Medina in town. Her objective becomes to find this young woman who shares her name. Well, she finds her and befriends her and then the total compulsive obsession begins. This is a real page-turner that I thought was very well-written, with gripping revelations of truth in the lives of women. The author demonstrates an authentic understanding of women’s issues and has written an exceptionally good mystery with a phenomenally shocking conclusion. I sincerely enjoyed how the story unraveled itself slowly and methodically, with so many twists and so much that I could identify with as I fell into the pages and was captivated by the drama of the lives of these two women. Fans of mystery/suspense/ and psychological thriller will enjoy this book that is definitely women’s contemporary fiction, too. It’s hard to classify the genre because this book fits into so many places!
Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher via Netgalley. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255, “Guides Concerning the Use of Testimonials and Endorsements in Advertising.”

Four stars because of the slow build up at first, but once the action started, it never ended. I would probably rate it a PG-13 due to the mature content and topic.
Author: Amber Garza
ISBN: 9780778361046
Publication Date: August 25, 2020
Publisher: MIRA Books
Amber Garza has had a passion for the written word since she was a child making books out of notebook paper and staples. Her hobbies include reading and singing. Coffee and wine are her drinks of choice (not necessarily in that order). She writes while blaring music, and talks about her characters like they’re real people. She lives with her husband and two kids in Folsom, California, which is—no joke—home to another Amber Garza.

Author Website:
TWITTER: @ambermg1
FB: @ambergarzaauthor
Insta: @ambergarzaauthor

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Chapter One

It was a Monday morning in early October when I first heard about you. I was getting out of the shower when my phone rang. After throwing on a robe and cinching it, I ran into my bedroom, snatching my cell off the nightstand.
Unknown number.
Normally, I let those go. But I’d already run all the way in here, and I thought maybe it was a call from Dr. Hillerman’s office.
“Hello?” I answered, breathless. Goosebumps rose on my pale flesh, so I pulled the robe tighter around me. My sopping wet hair dripped down my back.
“Is this Kelly Medina?”
Great. A salesperson. “Yes,” I answered, wishing I hadn’t picked up.
“Hi, Kelly, this is Nancy from Dr. Cramer’s office. I’m calling to remind you of your well-baby appointment this Friday at ten am.”
“Well-baby?” I let out a surprised laugh. “You’re about nineteen years too late.”
“Excuse me?” Nancy asked, clearly confused.
“My son isn’t a baby,” I explained. “He’s nineteen.”
“Oh, I’m so sorry,” Nancy immediately replied. I could hear the clicking of a keyboard. “I apologize. I called the wrong Kelly Medina.”
“There’s another Kelly Medina in Folsom?” My maiden name had been Smith. There are a million other Kelly Smiths in the world. In California, even. But since I’d married Rafael, I’d never met another Kelly Medina. Until now.
Until you.
“Yes. Her child is a new patient.”
It felt like yesterday when my child was a new patient. I remembered sitting in the waiting room of Dr. Cramer’s office, holding my tiny newborn, waiting for the nurse to call my name.
“I have no idea how this happened. It’s like your numbers got switched in the system or something,” Nancy muttered, and I wasn’t sure if she was talking to me or herself. “Again, I’m so sorry.”
I assured her it was fine, and hung up. My hair was still wet from the shower, but instead of blow-drying it I headed downstairs to make some tea first. On my way, I passed Aaron’s room. The door was closed, so I pressed it open with my palm. The wood was cold against my skin. Shivering, I took in his neatly made bed, the movie posters tacked to the wall, the darkened desktop computer in the corner.
Leaning against the doorframe of Aaron’s room, my mind flew back to the day he left for college. I remembered his broad smile, his sparkling eyes. He’d been so anxious to leave here. To leave me. I should’ve been happy for him. He was doing what I’d raised him to do.
Boys were supposed to grow up and leave.
In my head I knew that. But in my heart it was hard to let him go.
After closing Aaron’s door, I headed down to the kitchen.
The house was silent. It used to be filled with noise – Aaron’s little feet stomping down the hallway, his sound effects as he played with toys, his chattering as he got older. Now it was always quiet. Especially during the week when Rafael stayed in the Bay Area for work. Aaron had been gone over a year. You’d think I’d be used to it by now. But, actually, it seemed to get worse over time. The constant silence.
The phone call had thrown me. For a second it felt like I’d gone back in time, something I longed for most days. When Aaron was born everyone told me to savor all the moments because it went by too quickly. It was hard for me to imagine. I hadn’t had the easiest life growing up, and it certainly hadn’t flown by. And the nine months I was pregnant with Aaron had gone on forever, every day longer than the one before.
But they were right.
Aaron’s childhood was fleeting. The moments were elusive like a butterfly, practically impossible to catch. And now it was gone. He was a man. And I was alone.
Rafael kept encouraging me to find a job to fill my time, but I’d already tried that. When Aaron first left, I applied for a bunch of jobs. Since I’d been out of work for so long, no one wanted to hire me. That’s when Christine suggested I volunteer somewhere. So I started helping out at a local food bank, handing out food once a week and occasionally doing a little administrative stuff. I enjoyed it, but it wasn’t enough. It barely filled any of my time. Besides, I was one of many volunteers. I wasn’t needed. Not the way Aaron had needed me when he was a child.
When he left, the Kelly I’d always known ceased to exist. Vanished into thin air. I was merely a ghost now, haunting my house, the streets, the town.
As the water boiled, I thought about you. Thought about how lucky you were to have a baby and your whole life ahead of you. I wondered what you were doing right now. Not sitting alone in your big, silent house, I bet. No, you were probably chasing your cute little baby around your sunny living room, the floor littered with toys, as he crawled on all fours and laughed.
Was your child a boy? The lady on the phone didn’t say, but that’s what I pictured. A chubby, smiling little boy like my Aaron.
The kettle squealed, and I flinched. I poured the boiling water in a mug and steam rose from it, circling the air in front of my face. Tossing in the tea bag, I breathed it in, leaning my back against the cool tile counter. The picture window in front of me revealed our perfectly manicured front yard – bright green grass lined with rose bushes. I’d always been particular about the roses. When Aaron was a kid he always wanted to help with the pruning, but I never let him. Afraid he’d mess them up, I guess. Seemed silly now.
Heart pinching, I blew out a breath.
I wondered about your yard. What did it look like? Did you have roses? I wondered if you’d let your son help you prune them. I wondered if you’d make the same mistakes I had.
Bringing the mug to my lips, I took a tiny sip of the hot tea. It was mint, my favorite. I allowed the flavors to sit on my tongue a minute before swallowing it down. The refrigerator hummed. The ice shifted in the ice maker. My shoulders tensed slightly. I rolled them out, taking another sip.
Shoving off the counter, I was headed toward the stairs when my cell buzzed inside my pocket. My pulse spiked. It couldn’t be Rafael. He was a professor and his first class had already started.
Nope. It was a text from Christine.
Going to yoga this morning?
I’d already showered. I was about to tackle my latest organization project. Today was the kitchen pantry. Last week I’d bought a bunch of new containers and bins. Friday I’d spent the day labeling all of them. After taking the weekend off since Rafael was home, I was anxious to continue with it. I’d already organized several closets downstairs, but my plan was to work my way through all the closets and cabinets in the house.
Usually I loved yoga, but I had way too much to do today.
No, I typed. Then bit my lip. Backspaced. Stared at the phone. My own reflection emerged on the slick screen – disheveled hair, pale face, dark circles under the eyes.
You need to get out more. Exercise. It’s not healthy to sit in the house all day. Rafael’s voice echoed in my head.
The organizing would still be here tomorrow. Besides, who was I kidding? I’d probably only spend a couple of hours organizing before abandoning my project to read online blogs and articles, or dive into the latest murder mystery I was reading.
I typed, yes, then sent it and hurried to my room to get ready.
Thirty minutes later, I was parking in front of the gym. When I stepped out, a cool breeze whisked over my arms. After three scorching hot summer months, I welcomed it. Fall had always been my favorite season. I relished the festiveness of it. Pumpkins, apples, rustic colors. But mostly it was the leaves falling and being raked away. The bareness of the trees. The shedding of the old to make room for the new. An end, but also a beginning.
Although, we weren’t quite there yet. The leaves were still green, and by afternoon the air would be warm. But in the mornings and evenings we got a tiny sip of a fall, enough to make me thirsty for more.
Securing the gym bag on my shoulder, I walked briskly through the lot. Once inside, it was even colder. The AC blasted as if it was a hundred-degree day. That’s okay. It gave me more of an incentive to break a sweat. Smiling at the receptionist, I pulled out my keys for her to scan my card. Only my card wasn’t hanging from my key ring.
I fished around in my bag, but it wasn’t there either. Flushing, I offered the bored receptionist an apologetic smile. “I seem to have misplaced my tag. Can you look me up? Kelly Medina?’
Her eyes widened. “Funny. There was another lady in here earlier today with the same name.”
My heart pounded. I’d been attending this gym for years and never had anyone mentioned you before. I wondered how long you’d worked out here. “Is she still here?” My gaze scoured the lobby as if I might recognize you.
“No. She was here super early.”
Of course you were. I used to be, too, when Aaron was an infant.
“Okay. You’re all checked in, Kelly,” the receptionist said, buzzing me in.
Clutching my gym bag, I made my way up the stairs toward the yoga room, thoughts of you flooding my mind. A few young women walked next to me, wearing tight tank tops and pants, gym bags hanging off their shoulders. They were laughing and chatting loudly, their long ponytails bouncing behind their heads. I tried to say excuse me, to move past them, but they couldn’t hear me. Impatient, I bit my lip and walked slowly behind them. Finally, I made it to the top. They headed toward the cardio machines, and I pressed open the door to the yoga room.
I spotted Christine already sitting on her mat. Her blond hair was pulled back into a perfectly coifed ponytail. Her eyes were bright and her lips were shiny. I smoothed down my unruly brown hair and licked my dry lips.
She waved me over with a large smile. “You made it.”
“Yep.” I dropped my mat and bag next to hers.
“I wasn’t sure. It’s been awhile.”
Shrugging, I sat down on my mat. “Been busy.”
“Oh, I totally get that.” She waved away my words with a flick of her slender wrist. “Maddie and Mason have had a bazillion activities lately. I’ve been running around town like a crazy person. I honestly feel like I’m going insane.”
“Sounds rough,” I muttered, slipping off my flip-flops. This was the problem with getting married and having a kid so young. Most of my friends were still raising families.
“I know, right? I can’t wait until they’re adults and I can do whatever I want.”
“Yeah, it’s the best,” I said sarcastically.
Her mouth dropped. “Oh, I’m sorry. I wasn’t talking about you…” Her pale cheeks turned pink. “I know how much you miss Aaron. It’s just…”
I shook my head and offered her a smile “Relax. I get it.”
Christine and I met years ago in a yoga class. She’s one of those women with almost no self-awareness. It’s what first drew to me to her. I loved how raw and real she was. Other people shied away from her, unable to handle her filter-less statements. But I found her refreshing and, honestly, pretty entertaining.
“I remember how insane it was when Aaron was younger,” I said. “One year he signed up for baseball and basketball. They overlapped for a bit, and I swear I was taking him to a game or practice like every day.”
“Yes!” Christine said excitedly, relief evident in her expression. “Sometimes it’s all just too much.”
“Yeah, sometimes it is,” I agreed.
The class was about to start and the room was filling up. It was mainly women, but there were some men. Most of them were with their wives or girlfriends. I’d tried getting Rafael to come with me before, but he laughed as if the idea was preposterous.
“Remember when there were only a few of us in this class?” Christine asked, her gaze sweeping the room.
I nodded, glancing around. There were so many new people I didn’t know. Not that I was surprised. Folsom had grown a lot in the ten years I’d lived here. New people moved here every day.
Staring at all the strangers crowding around us, I shivered, my thoughts drifting back to you. We hadn’t even met, and yet I felt like I knew you. We had the same name, the same gym, the same pediatrician for our child.
It felt like kismet. Fate had brought you here to me. I was certain of it.
But why?

Excerpted from When I Was You by Amber Garza, Copyright © 2020 by Amber Garza. Published by MIRA Books.


This is a perfect book to give as a gift to the Tween in your life! With each daily devotional, there is an excerpt from a chapter in Anne of Green Gables followed by the devotional, a personal application, Scripture and a prayer. It has everything that parents are looking for in a devotional and it links the life lessons that Anne learned to lessons that teens and tweens need to learn today. I loved how practical and easy to read it was! I also enjoyed the excerpts from the book that was a favorite from my own childhood. Also, each chapter has a beautiful illustration with it. I am definitely adding this book to my list of gifts for my granddaughters for Christmas or birthdays. I think that they would even enjoy reading a chapter of Anne of Green Gables along with the devotional, so it would be prefect for homeschoolers who are looking for a book to read together for literature. The uses are innumerable, and the book is a real treasure!
Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher via Netgalley. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255, “Guides Concerning the Use of Testimonials and Endorsements in Advertising.”

If I could give this book a higher rating, I would! Best devotional gift book that I have found!

Available on November 1st! Perfect Christmas gift for the tween/teen in your life! Purchase Links:


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Never Fear!

I remember watching a cartoon when I was a child called “Mighty Mouse.” Just about every day, they sang the song that had as its basic theme to never fear because Mighty Mouse was on his way. Well, in these days of American cities being destroyed, abortion becoming more acceptable, LGBTQ+ agenda being pushed on us and the general mayhem that Covid-19 has brought, we need a hero. Who will it be? 🤔

God is not just sitting around watching all of this happen. He is speaking to our hearts: Help is on the way. Just wait and watch and believe. Jesus, the Lion of Judah, is our hero who will free us from this declining world. I hope that we are all prepared for His coming. I’m not saying He will come back today, or tomorrow, or even next week or next month. He will come when the Father says, “Go!” And we have to already be prepared. The Lion of Judah has been prepared since the beginning of the earth as we know it. Now, we wait for our hero and listen to the words of our loving Father that tell us to have hope and to never fear.

Blessings, my friends, for a day filled with hope and expectation!

Contest Winner

Using the app Random, a winner was chosen this morning for the awesome giveaway of an autographed copy of this book. And the winner is….

Jackie Shepherd

Congratulations, Jackie. Please message me your mailing address.

Many thanks to author Laura Griffin for providing the prize for this giveaway!

This fantastic book is available today, so go to your favorite bookseller, online or in person, and get your copy now!

Review of THE DAZZLING TRUTH by Helen Cullen

For me, this was a book that was difficult at times to stay focused on and to read for long periods of time. That is not to say that it was not a good book. It was a thought-provoking novel that made me think each day of what I had read and ponder its significance to the story and any insights into my own life. The story begins in the present and then goes back almost four decades to the past. Maeve and Murtagh met in Ireland when she was doing an internship in acting and he was a pottery student. The inevitable romance, marriage and motherhood follow, with a great deal of description of the setting and the characters. The author’s ability to help me to visualize the setting of the small island off the Irish coast where the Moone family settled and to empathize with the very deep feelings or each character was a definite strong point of the novel. The tragedy that falls on the family forces them to confront the dark days of the past and to decide to march forward into an unknown future. With themes of depression and the challenges of creating a family together, this novel seemed to wander aimlessly into the past, just as the family members did in their desperate search for a resolution to their hidden past. The story was extremely emotional, with waves of emotion coming from the pages at unexpected times. I cannot say that it was a lovely story because at times the truth was ugly, but the author treated all of the topics with sensitivity and an empathy that made me ponder the whole thing long after I turned the last page. Fans of contemporary fiction will enjoy this book but will want to take time to savor its message.
Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher via Netgalley. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255, “Guides Concerning the Use of Testimonials and Endorsements in Advertising.”

Because of the mature subject matter included in the novel, I would rate this book a hard PG-13.
Author Bio:
HELEN CULLEN wrote her debut novel, The Lost Letters of William Woolf, while completing the Guardian/UEA novel writing program. She holds an MA in Theatre Studies from University College Dublin and is currently studying further at Brunel. Prior to writing full-time, Helen worked in journalism, broadcasting and most recently as a creative events and engagement specialist. Helen is Irish and currently lives in London.
Social Links:Author Website
Twitter: @WordsofHelen
Instagram: @WordsofHelen
Facebook: @WordsofHelen

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Inis Óg: 2005

Murtagh had woken that morning, once again, to an empty bed; the sheets were cool and unruffled on Maeve’s side. He had expected to find her sitting at the kitchen table, wrapped in her hound’s-tooth shawl, pale and thin in the darkness before dawn, a tangle of blue-black hair swept across her high forehead like a crow’s wet wing, her long, matted curls secured in a knot at the nape of her neck with one of her red pencils. He had anticipated how she would start when he appeared in the doorway. How he would ignore, as he always did, the few moments it would take for her dove-grey eyes to turn their focus outward. For the ghosts to leave her in his presence. The kettle would hiss and spit on the stove as he stood behind her wicker chair and rubbed warmth back into her arms, his voice jolly as he gently scolded her for lack of sleep and feigned nonchalance as to its cause.

But Maeve wasn’t sitting at the kitchen table.

Nor was she meditating on the stone step of the back door drinking milk straight from the glass bottle it was delivered in.

She wasn’t dozing on the living-room sofa, the television on but silent, an empty crystal tumbler tucked inside the pocket of her peacock-blue silk dressing gown, the one on which she had painstakingly embroidered a murmuration of starlings in the finest silver thread.

Instead, there was an empty space on the bannister where her coat should have been hanging.

Murtagh opened the front door and flinched at a swarm of spitting raindrops. The blistering wind mocked the threadbare cotton of his pyjamas. He bent his head into the onslaught and pushed forward, dragging the heavy scarlet door behind him. The brass knocker clanged against the wood; he flinched, hoping it had not woken the children. Shivering, he picked a route in his slippers around the muddy puddles spreading across the cobblestoned pathway. Leaning over the wrought-iron gate that separated their own familial island from the winding lane of the island proper, he scanned the dark horizon for a glimpse of Maeve in the faraway glow of a streetlamp.

In the distance, the sea and sky had melted into one anthracite mist, each indiscernible from the other. Sheep huddled together for comfort in Peadar Óg’s field, the waterlogged green that bordered the Moones’ land to the right; the plaintive baying of the animals sounded mournful. Murtagh nodded at them.

There was no sight of Maeve.

As he turned back towards the house he noticed Nollaig watching him from her bedroom window. The eldest daughter, she always seemed to witness the moments her parents had believed—hoped—were cloaked in invisibility, and then remained haunted by what she had seen. Ever since she was a toddler, Murtagh had monitored how her understanding grew, filling her up, and knew it would soon flood her eyes, always so questioning, permanently.

He waved at her as he blew back up the pathway. Later, he would feel the acute pain of finally recognising the prescience his daughter seemed to have absorbed from the womb.

‘How long is she gone?’

Nollaig was now standing before the hallway mirror, her face contorted as she vigorously tried to brush her frizzy mouse-brown hair into shape. She scraped it together into a tight ponytail that thrust from the back of her head as if it were a fox’s brush.

‘Ach, you should leave your gorgeous curls be, Noll,’ her father cajoled, ‘instead of fighting them.’

She smiled at him but slammed the mother-of-pearl hairbrush down on the sideboard.

‘I don’t have curls, I have Brillo pads,’ she sighed. ‘Did she say where she was going?’

Murtagh squeezed his daughter’s arm as he continued into the kitchen. ‘I’m sure your mother is just out for a walk. Happy birthday, love. Lá breithla shona duit.’

He placed a small copper saucepan of water on the range to boil and waved the invitation of an egg at his daughter. She nodded begrudgingly and curled into the green-and-gold striped armchair that sat in front of the stove.

‘With your white nightdress, you could almost pass for the Irish flag,’ he joked, and was gratified with her snort of glee.

He watched the clock hand count three minutes in silence. Expected any moment to hear his soaked wife splash through the door. He was poised, ready to run towards her with a towel and hushed reprimands for her careless wandering, but the boiling, cooling, cupping, cracking and spooning of each egg passed uninterrupted. Nollaig yawned, stretching her arms and legs before her in a stiff salute.

‘Why don’t you go back to bed for an hour?’ Murtagh asked. ‘We’ll all have proper breakfast together later.’

She eyed him with suspicion but acquiesced. ‘If Mam’s not back soon,’ she said, sidling away, ‘come and wake me. Promise? We’ll go out and find her. Remind her what day it is, for God’s sake.’

Murtagh nodded, ushered his daughter out of the kitchen and watched her climb the stairs.

Born on Christmas Eve, twenty years before, she was the only one of their children who came into the world via Galway maternity hospital and not into the impatient arms of Máire O’Dulaigh, the midwife of the island. She resented it; how it made her feel less of a true islander. What was more, the specialness of her own day for individual attention, her birth day, was irrevocably lost in the shared excitement of Christmas. In retrospect, it had been a mistake, perhaps, naming her Nollaig, the Irish for Christmas, and further compounding the association. No nickname had ever stuck, however. She wasn’t the sort of child who inspired others to claim her for their own with the intimacy of a given name.

‘Born ancient,’ her little sister, Sive, always said of her, with bored disdain.

And Murtagh sympathised. Nollaig carried the weight of being the eldest with pained perseverance, heavy responsibilities that were self-imposed. Her mother harboured a not always silent resentment of it, and it seemed only natural, if unfair, that Maeve and Sive gravitated more towards each other; the baby of the family shared her mother’s wit and wildness and often expressed the irritation her mother tried to hide at Nollaig’s sense of duty.

Excerpted from The Dazzling Truth by Helen Cullen, Copyright © 2020 by Helen Cullen. 

Published by Graydon House Books

Contest Until August 25th

Just another reminder that you can still comment on one of my posts about HIDDEN by Laura Griffin and be entered to win an autographed copy. I will choose the winner randomly on August 25th, release day for the book. It’s the first book in a new series by Laura and I read it and loved it!

I gave this book a five-star review because it captured my mind totally.

Two more days to enter! Comment on my blog and throw your name into the hat!