MEMORIES OF THE PAST: EXCERPTING “SHROUD OF SILENCE”

farm- shroud of silence

 

On a hot summer day, a young boy goes missing; what transpired during those mysterious minutes plagues his sister for years. Excerpted from Shroud of Silence.

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Overhead, the blue sky hung, thick as a quilt; like tufts of cotton, the puffy white clouds dotted the sky on that hot summer day.  In the air around me, the scent of fruit rotting in the nearby orchards assaulted my nostrils.  I scrunched my nose up as a swarming fly zoomed in for a landing and I pushed down harder on the pedals of my bicycle, eager to reach my destination.

 
It wasn’t every day that I got such an unexpected reprieve — an afternoon to hang out with my friend Casey Ayers — and I didn’t want to waste a minute of it.  Casey and her four siblings lived just down the road and around a corner from our house, probably less than a quarter of a mile.  Sometimes it seemed to take forever to get there, but today, for some unknown reason, the wheels of my bike didn’t sink into the hot asphalt.  Instead, they smoothly sailed along as if my bike tires had sprouted wings.

 
I rounded the last turn in the road, catching a glimpse of Casey’s blond curls pulled back in the familiar ponytail; I waved ecstatically.  She jumped down off the fence and ran toward me, her mouth agape to release her shout of greeting.  I pulled into the yard and jumped off the bike, tossing it down against the bushes that jutted out near the stoop.  We hugged and then ran quickly through the back door and into Casey’s room, tucked away like a lean-to in back.

 
As the oldest girl, she had the biggest half of the room, divided from her younger sister’s space by a thick curtain hung on a rod.  But today, her sister Cary was nowhere in sight.  We threw ourselves onto the bed in a burst of glee and immediately started whispering our secrets to one another.  At twelve, we had our whole adolescence ahead of us and we couldn’t wait for all the excitement to begin.

 
We read Casey’s latest issue of Seventeen, oohing and ahhing over the outfits, the hairstyles, and the makeup.  Her eyes huge with anticipation, Casey opened a top drawer in her dresser, showing off three different shades of lipstick lying neatly in a row, just waiting to be sampled.

 
After we’d tried all three shades in turn, examining our faces with the lights on and then with them dimmed, we finally set them aside, satisfied with our experiment.

 
One of the best things about Casey’s house was her mother.  Mrs. Ayers didn’t bother us…not ever.  She stayed in the front part of the house, doing whatever she was doing…Cleaning or sewing or baking.  When she made cookies, the scent wafted down the hall to us, beckoning us out to the kitchen.  Then, and only then, did Mrs. Ayers appear, wearing a big smile as she placed a big plate of cookies and a pitcher of milk on the table.  Then, disappearing into still another part of the house, we were on our own again.  She really respected our privacy.

Sometimes we watched TV in the living room while we ate our snacks.

 
After a blissful afternoon of just hanging out with Casey, I rode my bike more slowly back toward my house.  Like a magnet sucking me backward, I had to fight against the pull away from home and back to Casey’s, where the scents of baked goodies and the cozy warm voices still hung in the recesses of my mind, enticing me.  Ahead of me lay the heavy darkness of Father’s stormy moods, mixed in with Mother’s nervous silence as she rushed around to try and head him off at the pass.  And we’d all be called into service.  Trying to keep Father from going into one of his full-blown tantrums, we scurried about like so many mice trying to appease the cat.

 
On most days, I had to babysit my three-year-old brother Kevin.  Not that watching him was such a chore, really; he was actually pretty cute and his adoration felt kind of neat.

 
He’d follow me around, hanging on my every word, and calling out:  “Look, Sylbie, see my tower!  I can make it bigger.  Look!”  Or, “please, Sylbie, push me higher in the swing.  I want to fly!”

 
He couldn’t say my full name, Sylvia, but I kind of liked his version.

 
I rounded the last curve in the road and on the final stretch, I stood up in the pedals to move myself along faster.  I might as well get back and face whatever waited for me.

 
I strained my eyes toward the front of the stucco ranch house as it came into view, but something was off.  I could see Mother running around near the edge of the bushes, calling out something, her frantic movements clearly visible as I pulled into the driveway.  And behind her, Father stomped, his face glowering, and when he caught sight of me, he yelled.  “Sylvia!  Where is your brother?  And where have you been?”

 
My heart in my throat, I braked, dropping the bike where it landed.

For the rest of the story, visit Author’s Den.

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When I think of my family connections, I am reminded of moments from the past.  This story was grabbed from my own memory banks, and while the characters are fictionalized versions of people I knew, they are very close to the real thing.

Enjoy!

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REVIEW: PLAYING DEAD, BY JULIA HEABERLIN

13147826When Tommie McCloud returns home to Ponder, Texas, it is for her father’s funeral. And sadly, it might as well have been for her mother’s, too, as she is in a nursing home, suffering from dementia, her health deteriorating.

The funeral is scarcely over when her father’s secretary hands her a letter from a stranger. A missive that will change her life in unexpected ways. A letter that makes Tommie question everything she thought she knew about her family and who she is.

Set on finding out the truth behind the secrets and lies of her childhood, Tommie’s journey takes her to Chicago, to various places in the Southwest, and to a bank vault, where more of her mother’s secrets are revealed.

But will any of the questions find answers? What is Tommie’s connection to mafia prisoner Anthony Marchetti? Who really murdered the family of an FBI agent, and what really happened to Tommie’s brother Tuck?

With the help of special friends and a reporter, Tommie tries to sort through the pieces to the puzzle. Happily, her time at home has given her special moments with her younger sister Sadie and her niece Maddie. But when she finds the answers, will her life as she knew it be over?

I enjoyed the settings, the characters, and the continual surprises that kept me from guessing the answers right away. I always love being surprised by who did what and to whom.

Playing Dead: A Novel is a story that engaged me from the very first page and kept me intrigued throughout. I recommend this book for anyone who enjoys a good mystery, with all the twists and turns and unexpected surprises that this author so brilliantly provides. Five stars.

HOW ARE FAMILY CONNECTIONS CREATED? — A REVIEW

A family is created in many ways and takes many forms.

Marnie, age 15, and her younger sister Nelly, 12, have been neglected and abused their whole lives. Their circumstances seem inescapable, and seemingly nothing can save them.

But then something happens to change their lives, beginning with the death of their father, followed soon after by their mother’s death. And even when the girls bury them in the backyard, how they died is only revealed in bits and pieces throughout the story; the secret is one the girls plan to keep forever, even as the obstacles arise and the threat of exposure hovers nearby. Exposure would mean the descent of the social workers who could separate the sisters and defeat their efforts to create their own family.

Will their neighbor Lenny’s support keep the girls on an even keel indefinitely? What does the sudden appearance of a never-before known maternal grandfather mean for their fledgling little family? What will ultimately bring the secrets to light and turn the forming connections inside out?

Every struggle tests the bonds between the sisters, but in the end, their connections trump the efforts of the outsiders who threaten them. A beautiful testament to the idea of family, no matter what form it takes, The Death of Bees: A Novel is unforgettable. Four stars.

THE UNBREAKABLE SISTERHOOD CONNECTION — A REVIEW

 

 

 

Ten years after leaving her disabled sister behind at an institutional care center, Nicole Hunter is stunned by a call from her mother. A devastating rape and subsequent pregnancy have changed everything about her sister Jenny’s future.

Returning to Seattle and leaving behind the settled and supposedly stable life with her boyfriend Shane in San Francisco, Nicole must sort out the complicated situation ahead and deal with the guilt that has surrounded her since she “abandoned” her sister.

Has the special communication between the two of them–nonverbal on Jenny’s part–remained in place? Will Nicole find the strength to care for her sister, after she and her mother remove her from the Wellman Center? And what about the baby? Who will take care of her?

Reconnecting with childhood friend Nova, now the mother of four, helps Nicole settle into the new routines of her life. But can she make the important decisions that lie ahead? And will she be able to let go of the life she had built? Will the disturbing secrets from the past come back to haunt her, or will she find that the pieces of the puzzle she had put together configure into totally new patterns?

A fan of Hatvany, I enjoyed The Language of Sisters. The story touched on some important issues and addressed feelings about old and new connections, and how unique bonds develop a language of their own. However, the end seemed to wrap itself up too neatly for me; therefore, four stars.

MISSTEPS, MISUNDERSTANDINGS, & DARK SECRETS — A REVIEW

A family saga, The Sisters: A Novel sweeps the reader forward from 1927 through the year 2007, depicting the branching out of a family tree that was torn asunder through missteps, misunderstandings, and horrific secrets that seemingly set the tone for many more secrets and misunderstandings. Almost as if errors, missteps, and wrong choices were written into their genetic code, the two Fischer sisters seemingly leap into an unseen future without one another and not knowing why.

As mysterious as all this sounds, suffice it to say that when Mabel Fischer, the older sister, sets a plan in motion, she has high hopes that she is saving her sister Bertie. On the other hand, Bertie only sees betrayal and spends the next several decades covering her tracks and severing all ties.

Meanwhile, each sister carries on separate lives for the generations to come.

But as each sister nears the end of her journey, her thoughts will be with the other, remembering and seeking to fill in the void that would have been their familial bond.

I could not stave off the sadness that rippled through me as I read this story. Like tossing a stone into the stream and then watching it as it floats away, these characters could seemingly do nothing to right the wrongs in their lives. Each sister told pieces of her story to her daughters, but without the missing perspective, the other side of it all, there was no resolution. No mending of the torn fabric of their lives. The characters seemed doomed to continually make errors within their individual families, repeating mistakes and failing to correct the old ones. The seeds of this dysfunction were planted long before, when a dangerous secret set the tone for the rest of their lives and the lives to come.

As much as I connected to the characters and their stories, I felt frustrated by the inability of any of the characters to set things right. Yes, they went on with their lives and did the best they could—but without any kind of closure. I would recommend this story for those who do not mind long, detailed stories that seemingly go nowhere, with loose ends that do not come together. Four stars.

REASSEMBLING THE MISSING PIECES OF THE PAST….

Therapist Kate Sinclair seeks to repair other people’s lives. Her own stable marriage and handsome home are like the icing on the cake of a perfect life.

But when Kate’s emotionally fragile sister Jo Lynn develops an obsession with alleged serial killer Colin Friendly, the first signs of trouble begin to appear. At around the same time, an old love interest from Kate’s past surfaces and starts making overtures, even tempting Kate with her own call-in radio show (he owns several radio stations). Adolescent hijinks from Kate’s oldest daughter Sara add just enough high drama to the mix to tear into the now fragile fabric of Kate’s stable life.

As her life begins to unravel, missing pieces of a puzzle about the past begin to trouble Kate, with nightmares interrupting her sleep. Her mother’s symptoms of Alzheimer’s add to the confusion. Meanwhile, Jo Lynn and Sara become bosom buddies, both lashing out at everyone around them.

Once Colin Friendly is convicted and given the death sentence, Kate believes that things will finally calm down. Unfortunately, the trouble is only beginning.

What new pieces of the puzzle from Kate and Jo Lynn’s past will come to the forefront? What surprising move will Jo Lynn make, and what will finally bring the whole family to the point of crisis?

The suspense builds while all the characters are suddenly thrust into a highly dangerous situation. Missing Pieces, told in the first person voice of Kate, is one of those books that you cannot put down. (If you do put it down, like I did briefly, it may disappear; that is why I had to get the book from the library to finish it). It was well worth the slight delay in my reading momentum. Once I picked it up again, though, I was drawn again into the very real world of the characters that is believable and memorable.

Five stars.