It’s Not All Gravy

Musings on Life and Writing


Interview with author Ivan Brave

Posted by mcm0704 on July 1, 2020 |

Ivan Brave, author of the literary novel, They Lived They Were at Brighton Beach, that I reviewed last Sunday, is here as today’s Wednesday’s Guest. He has some interesting things to say about story and the writing process. This is an unusually long blog for me, but I thought you would enjoy meeting this fascinating author. Grab a cup of coffee and read on…

1. What prompted you to explore the theme of fear of commitment and success, which is a theme I gleaned from reading the book?
You don’t start off easy, do you Maryann! For one, fear of commitment and success are two different subjects. But, since you ask, let us relate them and answer accordingly.

I argue that any meaningful success we enjoy comes as a direct result of commitment. If you succeed in finishing a novel, it is because you commit. If you succeed in marriage, it is because you commit. If you succeed in making this world just a little bit better, then it is because you commit. Conversely, failure to accomplish these feats, when boiled down to what is within your control, comes down to the opposite of commitment, which is indifference.

If you feel indifferent, then forget novels, marriage, or improving the world. What about writing one page? Going on two consecutive dates? Or even brightening a coworker’s day? How could you accomplish any of those without deciding? Without committing?

I believe the key to understanding the problem of commitment in the book is the word “fear.” But if we’re going to start talking about FOMO (fear of missing out) in the modern age, then we’re going to need a lot more space on this post. Nevertheless, you’re on to something.

2. Is the character of Ilya based on a real person?
On me, a little. But not like you would expect. When I was in college, I got into the music scene in Austin. College radio DJ, music production, rock band management, festival production, and a slew of internships at major radio stations around the city.

Seriously, I thought I had found my calling in an exciting industry! Until, after so much publicizing/reporting/producing other people’s music, I decided to double down on myself. I bought the software to do it, locked the bedroom door, and made a handful of my own songs. They were fun (still available on Soundcloud) but . . . no matter how hard I worked at it, there was a nagging feeling inside that said, “You will never be good enough.” So I quit. Followed shortly by an exit from the industry. You can imagine how that felt.

And so, Ilya is not so much his author, but rather what his author gave up in life. Given the chance to reincarnate, I would have never given up doing that which brought me so much pleasure—which is to listen to, and make, and enjoy, music. When you read TLTW, then, the reader should hear the quite voice of an author telling Ilya on every page: “Don’t give up. Don’t give up. Don’t give up!”

3. How, and why, did you decide to tell the story in the format you used, pausing the present narrative for the interlude and the coda?
Like anything about a novel, especially the motivation for certain elements, the answer is complicated.

One reason is I was influenced by Gerard Genette’s literary theory of the narration. He doesn’t regard narrators by the grammar they use (I/she: first/third person). Rather he regards narration as a matter of distance from the story plot, meaning, “Is the person telling the story involved in the story?” This view led me to experiment with various voices, at various points in time, with various degrees of bias, all telling the story of a young DJ about to break through in his career.

Another reason for the mixed format was that it felt like composing music. Depending on how much of a conductor the reader wants to be, all the instrumentation/literary-devices are there to play with—to make the book symphonic. Otherwise, you could cut to the chase, and simply read the story of a guy who loses a bad girl at the beginning of the summer and gets a good girl by the end—like it were a simple pop song.

4. Did you intentionally leave the ending rather vague so readers could imagine the “what comes next” ?
My professor Sigrid Nunez used to say a story should have “an afterlife.” As in, you want your characters to do a bunch of things while they have your attention. But even after the story ends, and characters die off, or move on, the spirit of that character or story should persist in our imagination. So, if there is any positive feeling of “the summer continues” after the last page, then, in the best of light, I take credit.

Instead, in the worst of light, if the ending is unsatisfying, then I take full responsibility as well. Can I be honest? I simply did not know how to end this story. Not that I didn’t know how it ends plot-wise (Ilya launches his EP to commercial failure, but gains the attention of a star DJ who lends him a hand at recording another EP to commercial success, then they fall in love and become the old man and the old woman of the interludes). But I just didn’t know how to write that ending without it sounding cheesy. So I hid the cheese in the closet, I suppose. Between the lines.

5. What truth do you want readers to come away with after reading your book?
That it’s possible.

6. What is your family’s favorite story to tell on you?
My favorite story to hear is from when I was a baby. My uncle lived in the apartment under us, and one night he couldn’t get to sleep. My father was stomping from his bedroom to my crib, back and forth, back and forth, all night—because I wouldn’t stop crying. My uncle, though he had a big exam the next day, thought it was the funniest thing. Apparently at one point the situation got so bad that my dad started negotiating with me, then yelling at me, then begging me to stop crying. While always, in between, there were those footsteps, back and forth, back and forth.

7. What other creative things do you do?
Lately, because my wife bought (and never used) a whole water color set, I’ve been painting mushrooms, triangles, and goofy-looking animals on Saturday. All for fun. But then, a little more seriously, I consider my private tutoring as being very creative, moreover some of the projects at my full-time job require a lot of creativity.

8. What do you like best about where you live?
I live in Bucharest. The best part is living with someone I love. I know she’s my wife, but this is the first time I ever lived with a partner. Best roommate ever. Most specific to Bucharest, however, are the great parks, the general feeling of coziness there is in my neighborhood, and also how everything is 15 mins away.

9. What else would you like to say to the people who will read the blog post?
The reason I write is to connect with individuals. And the reason we should connect is to inspire one another. So reach out to me. Share a thought. And tell me a story.

BOOK BLURB: Loyal fans know him as a rising internet star and the resident DJ at one of Brooklyn’s sauciest nightclubs. But one blistering summer day, after relapsing, getting dumped, and winding up at the hospital, Ilya Gagarin awakes in a nightmare. The only way out, he figures, is to finally debut his EP, meaning, to realize a deeper dream.

The process of producing, together with the power of music and an urge to accept his past, is passionately described in his journal—while the larger story follows the weeks leading to his EP launch, his struggle to quit drugs, and his falling in love again to a guardian angel. It is she who teaches him, “Do you know how Russians say Once Upon a Time? Жили были. It translates to They Lived They Were.” Suggesting Ilya might just get his fairy tale ending. Or at least move on.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Iván Brave lives in Bucharest, Romania, where he writes poetry, reviews, and novels, as well as promotes language learning in multinational corporations. He graduated from The New School in NYC with an MFA in Creative Writing, after earning a Bachelor in Philosophy from The University of Texas at Austin. Language, multiculturalism, and love, or anything that connects, are the themes dearest to his heart. In addition to winning prizes, such as the Writing Award from The Vera List Center for Arts and Politics, his writings have appeared in literary publications like The American Scholar and The Acentos Review. Iván’s second novel, They Lived They Were at Brighton Beach, is out June 16th 2020.



Book Review- They Lived They Were At Brighton Beach by Ivan Brave

Posted by mcm0704 on June 28, 2020 |

They Lived They Were at Brighton Beach
Ivan Brave
Print Length: 325 pages
Simultaneous Device Usage: Unlimited
Publisher: Ivan Brave; 1 edition (June 16, 2020)
Publication Date: June 16, 2020
Sold by: Services LLC
Language: English



Loyal fans know him as a rising internet star and the resident DJ at one of Brooklyn’s sauciest nightclubs. But one blistering summer day, after relapsing, getting dumped, and winding up at the hospital, Ilya Gagarin awakes in a nightmare. The only way out, he figures, is to finally debut his EP, meaning, to realize a deeper dream.

The process of producing, together with the power of music and an urge to accept his past, is passionately described in his journal—while the larger story follows the weeks leading to his EP launch, his struggle to quit drugs, and his falling in love again to a guardian angel. It is she who teaches him, “Do you know how Russians say Once Upon a Time? Жили были. It translates to They Lived They Were.” Suggesting Ilya might just get his fairy tale ending. Or at least move on.

First off, I have to say that it’s been a long time since I’ve read such an intense  literary novel. I think the last one was Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse Five. It was nice to stretch myself beyond the mix of nonfiction, mainstream and genre fiction that I normally read.
Ilya is a fascinating character, and I did enjoy so much of his story. I could relate to things he struggled with, especially the fear and insecurity that was in control of his life. Each time he came close to making the decisions that would lead him to fulfilling his dream, and he didn’t, I wanted to do the mom-thing, “Ilya you doofus. Make the right choice.”

Referring to Ilya’s dream the author wrote, “It remained in his head as dreams often do, making all sorts of excuses for it.”

How many times have we left our dreams in our heads?

The story is presented in a mix of real and ethereal, as Ilya moves through phases of confidence and hope to deep despair. His diary entries, that make up part of the narrative, reflect those extremes, becoming longer and more erratic as the story progresses. Then we’re in real time again, following his attempts to get that album finished for the special release day.

Since the author is a musician, it’s not surprising that he chose to use music as a metaphor and a framework for the narrative, with each section of the novel presented in ways relating to musical structure. And it isn’t too far off the mark to suggest that all of our lives can be described in much the same way. We have an introduction to life, often have interludes that are either positives or negatives, and then, of course, the coda – the endgame.

I really liked meeting the mystery couple in brief glimpses in the overture and interludes, where the love of two elderly people was poignantly presented in barely a page of narrative at a time. So short, but so much reflected in words that made me feel like I knew those people completely.

While I liked so much about the book, when I reached what I thought was the end, I was left rather adrift. The story didn’t feel complete, and the ambiguity was difficult to see through. Maybe that was just me and my brain that is not functioning 100 percent right now, or maybe it was done purposefully so readers could imagine what comes next in Ilya’s life.  Regardless, this is a book to be enjoyed and to make one think, pondering all the nuances of the story. I highly recommend the read.


Iván Brave lives in Bucharest, Romania, where he writes poetry, reviews, and novels, as well as promotes language learning in multinational corporations. He graduated from The New School in NYC with an MFA in Creative Writing, after earning a Bachelor in Philosophy from The University of Texas at Austin. Language, multiculturalism, and love, or anything that connects, are the themes dearest to his heart. In addition to winning prizes, such as the Writing Award from The Vera List Center for Arts and Politics, his writings have appeared in literary publications like The American Scholar and The Acentos Review. Iván’s second novel, They Lived They Were at Brighton Beach, is out June 16th 2020.


Please come back on Wednesday, when Ivan will be my guest, answering questions about his book, his writing, and why he ended to book like he did.

If you’re interested in learning more musical terminology, visit this Glossary of Musical Terms. I got lost there for an entire hour, refreshing my memory of what musical wordage I used to know.

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Friday’s Odds and Ends

Posted by mcm0704 on June 26, 2020 |

I’m finally back among the living after a week of being really sick. Not the COVID, thank God. Had a bad reaction to some new pain meds the neurologist prescribed for my trigeminal neuralgia. It took several days for that med, and the ones to counteract side-effects of that drug, to leave my system. After I stopped them all, my body had a lot of adjusting to do.

The other day I was able to get this photo of one of my cats napping with my dog.

It isn’t exactly “The lion lying down with the lamb,” but it struck me how two species that are not usually friends have worked things out regarding this crate. It belongs to Dusty, but the cats have started taking it over more and more. Instead of aggressively chasing the cats out, Dusty finds a way to get to a space where he can lie down and nap. Hermione, who is normally very skitzy, barely moved when the dog settled in.

If only all things could be worked out so smoothly.

A note to people who are waiting for local, state, or federal leaders to tell you what to do during this rise in cases of the corona virus in so many states in the U.S. Don’t wait for them to get over political posturing to come up with a plan. Be smart. You can decide to wear a mask. You can decide to practice social distancing. You can make choices on where to go and when.

I know that’s harder for younger people who have to go to work, or shop, or try to have a social life. But even then, there are safety practices that can help stop the spread. The most important being to wear a mask whenever you have to go out.

Sadly, a lot of men refuse to wear a mask because it’s not cool. Perhaps that’s why our president refuses to wear one. In this article in The Atlantic, The Dudes Who Won’t Wear Masks,  Julia Marcus  wrote:

Some Americans believe that requiring people to wear masks is an infringement on civil liberties. In practice, if Americans are going to mask up, public-health officials will have to cajole, not compel.

This will not be easy. When the president mocks mask wearers for appearing weak and sees face coverings as a political statement against him, it’s no surprise that some Americans are loudly declining to wear them. Mask refusers are more likely to be politically conservative, an ominous trend when new coronavirus cases and hospitalizations are increasing steeply in some red states—the very states where mask mandates are least likely to be adopted.

That’s the end of my Friday rant and now here’s some fun from Slim Randles to help us get through the weekend on a positive note.

Windy walked out away from his house, but kept his mask in his pocket. There was never any quit when Windy decided to whip something, and this time it was that corona-virus. Our little valley had pretty much shut down, just like almost everyone else’s.

For the loquacious Windy Wilson, whose most precious word was “audience” it was an especially tough time. Stay home. Wash your hands. Wear your mask, and don’t go where there are more than five people.

Well, that wiped out any visit to the Mule Barn truck stop coffee shop. So what was left? He couldn’t even corner any school kids coming home from class, because they weren’t going to school right now.

So Windy went home, petted his dog, Ramses, and picked up the phone.

“Hi Mamie. Windy here.”

“Hi Windy,” she said, cheerfully, “what’s up?”

“It’s this danged coronary virus goin’ round,” he said, “they tell ever-body to stay home and don’t do nothin’. Quarantine, they said. So I was a wonderin’ if you would like to quarantine with me ‘til they get this thing whipped.”

“You mean,” said the very pleasant holistic widow, “live in the same house?”

“Well, we don’t hafta go that far. I could go home and stay there overnight and then we can quarantine-up again in the mornin.’”

She chuckled. “Windy, you are a wonderful guy, but I don’t think it works that way. Quarantine means staying home alone.”

“With just my dog?”

“Afraid so.”

“Wonder why them doctors invented this here virus in the first place. Sure ain’t fun.”

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~  ~
Brought to you by the nice people who call up friends and relatives just to ask how they’re doing.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~  ~ ~ ~ ~

Many thanks to Slim who is so generous with his columns. They are always free for our enjoyment. If you like what you read here on my blog, I think you’ll really enjoy reading his books. Check out all of his award-winning books at his Goodreads Page and in better bookstores and bunkhouses throughout the free world.

That’s all for me folks. I do hope everyone has a safe and happy rest of the weekend.

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A Guide for Staying Safe- Not!

Posted by mcm0704 on June 24, 2020 |

Well, it’s Wednesday again, and here’s Slim Randles with another bit of fun with Windy Wilson. If the social limitations of the current pandemic are starting wear down your coping skills, you have nothing on good ol’ Windy. He of the fractured English and limited social graces that make the guys down at the Mule-Barn Truck Stop wish they’d stayed home when he shows up.

Me? I’m kinda glad he shows up to make me laugh a little. Goodness knows, we need plenty of reasons to laugh in these challenging times. After you read the offering from Slim, let me know in the comments how you’re coping and where you are finding a little joy in your days.

In the meantime, grab one of these scrumptious cupcakes to enjoy with your beverage of choice – chocolate even goes good with a sweet red wine, just saying…

No one will admit knowing how Windy got permission to use the police car. All we know is, he did, and some dumb @#$% showed him how to work the loudspeaker.
“Now you folks’r prolly wonderin’ who it is drivin’ ‘round makin’ sure ever-body is bein’ safe today. Yep, it’s me, Windy Wilson, behind this year mask in the cop car.
“The more ‘sperienced amongst us want to remind you to wash your hands, wear your mask, and stay away from them rock concerts, okay? Too many people. Ain’t safe.”

Windy turned right to go around the block. His voice faded a bit, but that was okay, because we’d been kinda wishing for that off and on for years. But it’s amazing how smart an old cowboy and camp cook can get when he has an audience.

“And …” he continued as he passed the drug store …”when we get all back to where it’s okay to visit with each other and go back to school and ever-thin’, I have a tip for you. If you do perambulate yourself off to a rock concert, take along some hearin’ protection, ‘cuz them guys’ll blow out yer eardrums iffen you don’t.

Why, don’t know for shore if I mentioned it before, but I went to a rock concert my ownself and saw that Starvin’ Chickens band. You talk about loud? Took me the best part of two days to stop throbbin.’

“And that reminderizes me of the time me ‘n ol’ Alberene Soapstone … you know, the Lewis Crick songstress?

Yep, the very same one’s singin’ up at the Sip ‘n Slump nightclub in the city. ‘Course, not sure if folks can go in there to listen at her ‘til this coronary virus gets straightened up, but … hey, there! Doc is that you divin’ into that doorway with the mask on? Why, folks, here’s a guy who knows his way around your pesky virus. Why, I recomember the time me ‘n Doc ….”

Some communities just have radio and television for entertainment.

Brought to you in honor of the police officers and firefighters who put their lives and health on the line for us each day. Thank you.

Check out all of Slim’s award-winning books at his Goodreads Page and in better bookstores and bunkhouses throughout the free world.

All of the posts here are from his syndicated column, Home Country that is read in hundreds of newspapers across the country. I am always happy to have him share his wit and wisdom here.

Slim Randles is a veteran newspaperman, hunting guide, cowboy and dog musher. He was a feature writer and columnist for The Anchorage Daily News for 10 years and guided hunters in the Alaska Range and the Talkeetna Mountains. A resident of New Mexico now for more than 30 years, Randles is the prize-winning author of over a dozen books. He’s also the host of two podcasts and a television program.

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#Fridayreads Excerpt From Desperate Season

Posted by mcm0704 on June 19, 2020 |


I hope the celebrations of the holiday are peaceful and filled with fun and fellowship. In our current political and social atmosphere, it’s so important to curb any impulse toward violence and pull together to mark this day without bloodshed.

Because racial issues play a central role in the Seasons Mystery Series, I thought that today would be a good day to share another excerpt from Desperate Season, the third book in the series. I finished writing the book several months ago and since then I’ve queried a few agents & editors to find it a publishing home. Unfortunately, the publisher that released the first two books in the series has stopped taking mysteries. I could publish the book myself, but I want to give it a chance to get some of the critical acclaim the other two books received from Publishers Weekly and Library Journal. Those major trade publications don’t take self-published books for review, wherein lies my dilemma.

Anyway, I hope you enjoy reading these excerpts, and I’d love any feedback you’re willing to give. Today’s excerpt picks up from where I left off last month. If you’d like to get the first two books in the series, Open Season and Stalking Season, they are available for many reading devices from Draft2Digital. As well as Amazon. Open Season  ** Stalking Season

The front door burst open, and a tall, thin man strode in. Camille half rose from the sofa. “Emilio. These policía. They say Felicity do drugs.”

Angel saw the muscles in the man’s jaws tense as he looked from the detectives, to his wife then back again. He walked over and put his arm around Camille, who was now standing, then pointed at Angel and Sarah. “You no say bad things about my girl. Get out.”

“That is not possible,” Sarah said. “We are so sorry for your loss, but we do need to—”


The word cut like a saber, and Angel noted the look that passed between the sisters. There was no doubt that they were more than a bit cowed by the husband. But she reminded herself not to read too much into that. Spanish men went to great lengths to protect their women. Another cultural thing; one she wished was more prevalent in her culture.

Mr. Santos held on to his wife, but the grim set of his jaw did not falter, nor did the fire in his ebony eyes. “You go. No bother my wife.”

“Is bueno Emilio.” Mrs Santos said in a weak voice.

“Not right,” he said. “Leave us.”

Juanita stood and gestured toward the door. “Please. Can this wait?” she asked. “Can you come back tomorrow? When emotions are not so raw?”

“Mr. Santos.” Sarah did not move. “Our best chance of finding out who did this to your daughter is in the first twenty-four hours. Are you sure you want us to delay?”

Angel recognized that low controlled tone in her partner’s voice. She’d used it before when trying to keep an interview cordial, but Angel also knew that there was a sharp edge to it that a witness or a perp would be well-advised not to touch.

“Any information you could give us might help,” Angel said stepping into the conversational opening. She gave him a moment to think about that, then continued. “Do you have any idea of who might have done this? Something not related to drugs or to the park?”

He shook his head and glanced away, but not before Angel saw a flicker of something in his eyes. Anxiety? Fear?

“What kind of work do you do, Mr. Santos?” Angel asked.


“What company do you drive for?”

“My own truck.”

“Could one of your customers—”

“No.” Santos shouted the word. “It is nothing from me. Now, you go. Leave us.”

“Just answer one more question.” Sarah again used that controlled tone that Angel knew all too well. “Where were you early this morning?”

Santos made a move like he wanted to backhand Sarah, but his wife clung to his arm. “No, Emilio,” she said.

Santos shook free of his wife and directed a torrent of Spanish at her and her sister. When he turned back to the detectives, Angel saw the fire of anger in his dark eyes. He didn’t say another word as he turned and stalked toward a doorway that led from the front room to a darkened hallway.

Angel watched Juanita, who never took her eyes off the man as he took long, angry strides away, then caught her eye when she turned. “We are not trying to pin anything on your brother-in-law,” Angel said. “Often we just have to ask tough questions.”

“I understand.”

Angel took out a card and handed it over. “Please. Call if you think of anything that might help.”

The woman took the card, then walked the detectives to the door.

Outside, they paused on the front porch. Some of the people were still in the same places as before, like some tableau frozen in time. Angel remembered it was like this when her grandmother died. And when her best friend died. In both instances, time seemed to stand still for painfully long periods. As if everyone was holding their collective breath, hoping that time could be reversed and the death turn back to life.

That’s all for today, folks. Be safe as you celebrate Juneteenth today and Father’s Day on Sunday. 

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The Key To Everything #LSL Book Blog Tour

Posted by mcm0704 on June 17, 2020 |



Valerie Fraser Luesse

Contemporary Christian Romance

Publisher: Revell

Date of Publication: June 2, 2020

Number of Pages: 352

*** Scroll down for the giveaway! ***


Based on a true story, Valerie Fraser Luesse’s new novel takes readers on an incredible journey of self-discovery. The poignant prose, enchanting characters, and captivating settings in The Key to Everything make this a moving story that readers won’t soon forget.

Peyton Cabot’s fifteenth year will be a painful and transformative one. His father, the reluctant head of a moneyed Savannah family, has come home from WWII a troubled vet, drowning his demons in bourbon, and distancing himself from his son. When a tragic accident separates Peyton from his parents, and the girl of his dreams seems out of reach, he struggles to cope with a young life upended.

Pushed to his limit, Peyton makes a daring decision: he will retrace a slice of the journey his father took at fifteen by riding his bicycle all the way from St. Augustine to Key West, Florida. Part loving tribute, part search for self, Peyton’s journey will unlock more than he ever could have imagined, including the key to his distant father, a calling that will shape the rest of his life, and the realization that he’s willing to risk absolutely everything for the girl he loves.



In this book, that is part epic tale and part a story of self-discovery, I enjoyed taking that journey from St. Augustine to Key West with Peyton. Forces that he doesn’t even quite understand at first, prod him to set out to retrace the route that his father had taken long before Peyton was born. But the reason becomes clear in the end.

This type of story – coming of age – appeals to me, so that’s the first reason I was eager to read the book. The second reason was because many moons ago, my brother and I had talked about taking a long bicycle ride. Not as long as Peyton’s, but long enough that it was going to be a challenge. My brother and I chickened out on our venture, but Peyton did not.

I’m so glad he didn’t.

Now we can all enjoy this wonderful recounting of his adventure, complete with mishaps, joyous moments, and wonderful characters who help him along the way.

Of the supporting cast, I liked Aunt Gert the best. She’s such a delightful character, and it was fun to see her often irreverent interactions with Peyton, as well as her friend, Finn. She has grace and humor and wisdom, and I couldn’t control my laughter when she told Peyton, “Oh, don’t kill yourself, honey. You’ll miss the sunset.”

She tossed that quip out after she’d been sharing some details of his parent’s relationship that Peyton found incredibly embarrassing to hear. That led him to say that if she didn’t stop, he’d throw himself off the pier.

At another point, she counsels him, “Everything worth knowing has to be learned by doin’.”

Please, can I have my very own Aunt Gert?

This is definitely a sweet romance story, with the relationship of Peyton’s parents mirroring his relationship with Lisa, the girl he loves. And the girl he sets out to find in Key West, just like his father made the trip to find his true love.

Sometimes the book reads like a travelogue or a series of journal entries. But for me, that didn’t take away my enjoyment. Right from the beginning, I was truly invested in Peyton, and the people in his life, and I was happy to go along for his ride.

Check out this cool book Trailer!

Valerie Fraser Luesse is the bestselling author of Missing Isaac and Almost Home, as well as an award-winning magazine writer best known for her feature stories and essays in Southern Living, where she is currently senior travel editor. Specializing in stories about unique pockets of Southern culture, Luesse received the 2009 Writer of the Year award from the Southeast Tourism Society for her editorial section on Hurricane Katrina recovery in Mississippi and Louisiana. A graduate of Auburn University and Baylor University, she lives in Birmingham, Alabama, with her husband, Dave.

Find Valerie on these social media sites  Website ║ Facebook  ║ Blog

Amazon Author Page ║ BookBub



One Winner: Copy of The Key to Everything, Necklace, $25 B&N Gift Card;

Two Winners: Copy of The Key to Everything + $10 Starbucks Gift Card

June16-26, 2020 

(US only)

A Rafflecopter Giveaway 


Or, visit the blogs directly:

6/16/20 Author Interview The Adventures of a Travelers Wife
6/16/20 BONUS Post Hall Ways Blog
6/17/20 Review It’s Not All Gravy
6/18/20 Guest Post Book Bustle
6/19/20 Review The Clueless Gent
6/20/20 Excerpt Texas Book Lover
6/21/20 Excerpt All the Ups and Downs
6/22/20 Review Librariel Book Adventures
6/23/20 Author Interview Chapter Break Book Blog
6/24/20 Review Rainy Days with Amanda
6/25/20 Review Jennifer Silverwood


   blog tour services provided by 

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Quilting, Coloring, and COVID-19

Posted by mcm0704 on June 15, 2020 |

Good Monday morning. I hope everyone had a good weekend. I did. I worked a bit on my WIP, then did some coloring and quilting. This is a panel for the quilt I’m making for my granddaughter.

The center piece is from one of her t-shirts, and the two side pieces I made from material with patterns related to Harry Potter that I bought. The center piece is bigger than any of the other t-shirts, so this will be the focal point of the quilt. I wish the side pieces were big enough that you could read the newspaper. LOL

I wasn’t planning to do a Monday blog this week. I’d rather be working some more on the quilt, or be coloring in some new books I just got, but then I saw how the number of cases of COVID 19 keeps growing, especially in the U.S. While checking out some news stories related to that, I came across this article in The Atlantic by Yascha Mounk

Mounk states that he was hoping to write a story with a different focus, a more positive focus, but things have changed so dramatically in the two weeks he’s been working on the piece, the news is not so positive.

Like Mounk, I was hoping for good news at this point, too. Remember back in March and April when we thought we’d all be safe by June?

Well here we are folks, and we are not safe, despite what the White House and some pundits would like us to believe.

It is not safe to gather in large crowds. I pity the folks who plan to attend upcoming political rallies, as well as the GOP national convention, which is so totally not necessary and such a public health risk.

It is not safe to be out dining and dancing, no matter how many “Girls just like to have fun.”

And sadly, it is not safe to be with family, or travel to see family, or embrace when we do see each other.

Mounk is of the opinion that because the pandemic is not a top news priority, pushed aside by the murder of George Floyd and the aftermath of that tragedy, people are no longer as worried about their health as they were three weeks ago. Not that the murder didn’t warrant being front page news. It certainly did. Just as the aftermath of the murder deserves all the coverage it gets. It’s just unfortunate that those issues couldn’t share space on the front pages with the latest about the virus.

Some of the facts worth noting:

A second wave is coming.

The virus is not going away in the heat of the summer.

A vaccine is still months away.

The virus lives the longest in the air. It can linger for hours, especially in enclosed areas.

Older citizens and high-risk individuals need to continue to practice safeguards, that especially means avoiding crowds.

What will happen as more states open is very uncertain. But even if government officials on the local, state, and federal levels don’t require certain safety measures, we can use our own common sense. I urge you to do that.

For more facts about the corona virus visit the Coronavirus Resource Center.

Some quotes from Mounk’s article:

If the virus wins, it is because the World Health Organization downplayed the threat for far too long.

If the virus wins, it is because Donald Trump was more interested in hushing up bad news that might hurt the economy than in saving American lives.

If the virus wins, it is because the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, created to deal with just this kind of emergency, has proved to be too bureaucratic and incompetent to do its job.

If the virus wins, it is because the White House did not even attempt to put a test-and-trace regime into place at the federal level.

If the virus does win, then, it is because American elites, experts, and institutions have fallen short—and continue to fall short—of the grave responsibility with which they are entrusted in ways too innumerable to list.

That’s all from me for today folks. I hope you have a safe and productive and happy week. 

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#FridayReads and More

Posted by mcm0704 on June 12, 2020 |

First, Happy Friday everyone. It’s good to be at the end of this week, which has not been one of the better weeks I’ve had recently, and I’m looking forward to a restful weekend. Then, “Come Monday, it’ll be all right.”  If I listen to that song enough times, it might come true. Plus, I really like  it. Thank you, Jimmy Buffett.

If you’re looking for some bargain books to add to your Kindle, check out this online Book Fair. There are lots of books to chose from in several genres; romance, mystery, thriller, and paranormal. I’m participating with Open Season, the first book in the Seasons Mystery Series, and I do hope you will consider adding that title to your Kindle.

On my Kindle, I’ve been reading The Mudlark Orphan by Rosie Darling and enjoying the story very much.

Eight year old Maise Clegg was plucked from the workhouse by the Rynotts to work on the banks of the Thames seeking treasures as a Mudlark.

Abandoned as a baby Maise never gave up hope that one day her mother would return to claim her as her own, but as she stood in the dirty river water that dream soon washed away. She soon learnt that life was like the river; dark, fast moving and dangerous.

Life would teach her lessons she had never wanted to learn, but would fate mend what had been broken, before she succumbed to the Thames as so many had before her?

This is going to be a short review as I haven’t finished the book yet. I’m about three-quarters into the story that is harsh at times and relentless in depicting the hardships that orphans experienced at the hands of others. While the story is fiction, the reality of what children like Maise dealt with could be a documentary.

From our positions of comfort, even the most meager of comforts, it’s hard to imagine what that life was like. What atrocities so many children faced throughout history, and my heart ached for Maise as one hope for a better life after another was washed away.

I’m at a point in the story where her life might take a turn for the good, and I so desperately hope it does. Making a reader care that much is the mark of a good storyteller, so I give Rosie Darling five stars for drawing me so deeply into Maise’s story.

Now, here’s my friend, Slim Randles with a short essay to remind us of the small pleasures in life that bring large doses of joy.

It’s the heat that defines us this month. It greets us at daybreak with its promise, but in an hour or so, it bears down on our shoulders and makes us dream of shade and something cold to drink.

The best thing about our hot season, however, are evenings when most of the earth cools, and that breeze slides in off the mesa and caresses our cheeks. Then it’s time to sit, and laugh, and tell stories and just be with someone we love. Then is the culmination of a day we can be proud of.

Inside each of us, we silently and privately applaud ourselves, because the hot day tried us, but we did it. All day. We made it through the heat today. Made it with our hands today. Made it through to another precious June evening when we can sit on the patio with something cold and someone sweet.

So it gets hot in the daytime. Okay. But just don’t forget to give us these evenings, these blessed evenings when we can recall what cooler weather felt like.

Without these evenings, it would just be another hot summer day.

Because Slim always has a sponsor line, here’s the one for this week’s column:
Brought to you to honor all the doctors and nurses and hospital workers. Real heroes in our lives.

How has your week been? Have there been joys you want to share? What about plans for the weekend? I’m going to work on a quilt and try to get some coloring in. I’ve found coloring quite restful and peaceful. What do you do for peace in these crazy times?

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Graduating This Year?

Posted by mcm0704 on June 8, 2020 |

Saturday was the official graduation day for my youngest granddaughter in Austin Texas. She’s the last of the grandkids to graduate from high school, and her graduation is so different on so many levels from her cousins.

First of all, there was no traditional ceremony in an auditorium where all the kids gathered to sweat out the hours together. Which was kind of odd because the kids all got their caps and gowns a couple of months ago. I guess in case they wanted to save them for posterity.

I wonder how many people keep their caps and gowns and for how long?

When I graduated high school, we didn’t purchase caps and gowns. We rented them. Which made sense considering that so few people actually kept theirs. I did hang on to my gold honors tassel for quite a long time, but I don’t remember what happened to that after all these intervening years. I would never have purposely thrown it away. I worked too damn hard to get it.

But, back to my granddaughter, Kat, who also graduated with honors in the top 5% of her class.

She said she was just fine with not having a ceremony. Sitting for hours in a cap and gown was not an activity high on her list of fun things to do, but that did mean that she, and her classmates, missed that important element of “finishing.”

Important milestones in life need to be marked somehow, not just melt into the ordinariness, or not ordinariness of life as we know it this June of 2020.

There was no party, no gathering of friends and family, although her mom and dad decorated the house and made it all festive. They also set up a zoom party where grandma’s and aunts and uncles and cousins could all come in and wish her well. It was fun to see everybody, and to at least be able to share that kind of celebration with her, but it definitely was not a party.

I don’t know if she was disappointed, probably on some level she was since her older sister had a very nice gathering of friends and family when she graduated high school a couple of years ago, but Kat is not the jealous type. She’s never begrudged her older sister for anything, and I’m sure that when the sun set on Saturday Kat was just fine.

Although, if she hadn’t decided what she wanted for dinner that evening she may have had to have leftovers for her graduation meal. How memorable is that?

Actually. Kind of memorable if you think about it, and in an atmosphere of total fun, I bet she’d like that.

The type of celebration that my granddaughter and her peers are having is not the only thing that’s so dramatically different for high school seniors this year. So are the plans, or the lack of plans, that they have been able to make for the future.

College is on hold. Any summer jobs are on hold. It seems like our whole lives are on hold because of this COVID 19.

But again, the impact the virus is having is not something that’s of all-consuming concern for Kat. She seems to be adapting incredibly well to whatever comes her way and perhaps one day she will be telling her kids and grandkids about the very bizarre high school graduation she had.

In the meantime, this proud grandma wishes her well for whatever comes next in her life. I know she will accept it with as much grace as she has everything in her life, and good things lie ahead. She is smart. She is strong. She is… Kat.

Have you had a not-your-ordinary graduation in your family this year? Want to give a shout out to a kid or grandkid you’re proud of? Go ahead and leave a comment and we will celebrate all.

And in case you haven’t seen the nationwide online celebration to celebrate all graduates, here’s a link to the YouTube video.

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Systemic Racism Has Got to Stop

Posted by mcm0704 on June 5, 2020 |

Okay folks. This isn’t an easy blog post to write. I’m going to be honest about my failings as a white woman in America when it comes to issues of bigotry and racism.

I was inspired to write in part by this awesome painting by my daughter, Anjanette. She created this a couple of days after the murder of George Floyd, and it has such a powerful statement.

When I saw the photo of the painting on Facebook, I cried. Just like I cried the day I saw the video of George Floyd being murdered by cops in Minneapolis. I cried, as I have almost every day since, when I see pictures and videos of the chaos and violence in so many cities across the country.

But let me go back to the beginning of my journey toward those tears.

In July 1967, I lived in Detroit and clearly recall every day and every hour of the race riots there. I remember my husband slept downstairs for three days with the shotgun at his side after we heard that people were coming to the Tank Arsenal and the General Motors complex next to it. Both were frightfully close to the apartment complex where we lived.

I will be honest and admit I really didn’t understand why people were rioting. Even though I’d been active in Civil Rights efforts a few years prior, life issues had pulled me away from finding out any more about the disparity between the way I lived my life and the way black people lived their lives.

Sure, we had a shared history of poverty, and I experienced some discrimination because of where I’d lived when I was growing up. It was a poor neighborhood, but all white. And, as a good friend pointed out many years after 1967 while holding her brown arm next to mine, “Nobody will ever know about the discrimination of your past. Mine is indelibly marked in the color of my skin.”

Still, it took the passage of many more years and lots of reading about the black experience and racism and bigotry to gain even a smidgen of an understanding of the depth of the problems in our society. A society that has been dominated and controlled by white Americans who have stepped on the backs of black Americans to keep them down.

I even had the audacity to write a book about bigotry Coping with a Bigoted Parent, which is thankfully out of print. I say “thankfully” because I didn’t know shit about the topic back then. And I really thought we’d solved the major issues of racism with changes that came out of the Civil Rights Movement. But we didn’t do enough. Not nearly enough.

More recently, I’ve listened to podcasts like Throughline and Code Switch that often tackle topics of racism, offering the listener a different perspective – that of a person of color. And I’ve watched videos on YouTube, like ones from LeRon L. Barton, and really see some of what has brought us to this point of cities burning.

It’s the pent-up anger, exhaustion, and fear experienced by black, brown, and indigenous people facing structural racism and systemic disparities between the way white and black people are treated.

A common term to describe those differences is White Privilege.

In September 2017, Lori Lakin Hutcherson, Editor in Chief of Good Black News responded to a friend who was asking for clarification of what White Privilege means. Jason, a white man, was confused about the concept, never having it pointed out to him in specifics. So, Lori did that pointing in a terrific article that was originally published in Good Black News and was reprinted later in Yes Magazine. Here are just a few of her answers to Jason:

White Privilege is being able to move into a “nice” neighborhood and be accepted not harassed, made to feel unwelcome, or prone to acts of vandalism and hostility.

If you’ve never had a defining moment in your childhood or your life where you realize your skin color alone makes other people hate you, you have White Privilege.

If you’ve never been on the receiving end of the assumption that when you’ve achieved something it’s only because it was taken away from a white person who “deserved it,” you have White Privilege.

If no one has ever questioned your intellectual capabilities or attendance at an elite institution based solely on your skin color, you have White Privilege.

What this past week of listening, of reading, of really paying attention to the messages of black people has taught me is that White Privilege is having the luxury of going to bed and forgetting about the problems of being black.

Instead of forgetting, I’m going to remember what has happened in recent days and find one way that one old lady can make a difference. Enough is Enough and Black Lives Matter need to be more than just a hashtag.

Have your thoughts about racism changed in light of the murder of George Floyd and the subsequent protests and riots?

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