The Thing About Leftovers

by C.C. Payne

True confession time: I’m a retired woman, on a budget in a town of 600 people with a teeny library.  To feed my book habit, I enter EVERY contest I can find.  Every Single One. Most times I am unaware of the author, and often don’t even bother to read the book description.  There was over a year of my life when a brain injury meant I was unable to read, and once healed I vowed to read like a maniac. So, I contest like mad.  blog

I won The Thing About Leftovers and eagerly began the book several days ago.  A few pages in, I became suspicious and started looking closely at the book information. I was saddened when I read: Readers Ages 10 up.

FYI, I am way up past 10 years old.


But, I’d won the book, the author had kindly personalized it and mailed it quickly.  I determined to stick it out. I figured at 52 I could read faster than a 10 year old and would zip through to ease my guilt.

A funny thing happened….I became absorbed. I actually read it in two days, not to get it over with, but because I couldn’t put it down.

Payne wrote a novel with a compelling main character, Fizzy, a sad young girl who had her life ripped from her when her parents divorced.  Mom relocated to another town.  Dad found another woman. Fizzy became the new student (outcast) at an unfamiliar school.  Most teachers were uninterested, old friends abandoned her, Mom began a new relationship and Fizzy was lost.  Leftover from an old world, unsure of her place, feeling unloved, this is the story of pain, loss, rebuilding.

The Thing About Leftovers punched me in the gut.

I lived much of Fizzy’s life. My mom was married and divorced three times. There were multiple dads among the siblings, and by marriage number three I was one of the last remaining kids at home.  I had the stepfather who moved in and took over.  I lost my older siblings who fled and remained away for decades.  The only other sibling who stayed was drinking at 19, an alcoholic in his 20s and dead at 37.  My purpose as a youngster was to be the peacemaker.  To make people laugh. To be good and not cause problems.

My entire childhood was fractured and upon my parent’s deaths I was freed and packed away (much) of that pain.  I worked very hard to create a different life for my kids where they were loved unconditionally and my marriage was strong and filled with joy.

Payne crafted a novel which caused me to remember.  I remembered through Fizzy and I cried.  Several times I actually had to stop reading because I felt so much pain for a fictional character, and for me who had forgotten how hard my childhood was all those years ago.

I am sure my reaction to Fizzy’s mom is much more vitriolic than the author intended, but I felt anger any time she was in the story. Every “yes, ma’am” uttered by Fizzy hurt me.  Even though the book ended on a positive note, with some moral (hopeful) lessons for other readers, this reader hurt and felt lots of discomfort.

I am glad I won this book.  I am glad I’m polite enough to have stuck with it because the catharsis was liberating.  It’s amazing how much I’d packed away and completely forgotten.  It says a lot about the writing skills of the author that she was so spot on describing the angst experienced by many of us during our formative years.






by William Ritter

The past year I’ve invested a lot of time seeking out new authors using social media.  Thanks to fellow bloggers and peeps on Twitter, I’ve managed to win many books and discover new talent I would never have come across.  There are pluses and minuses to this method of building a TBR list, but as long as you are open to adventures you might otherwise have missed, I’m finding this an excellent way to read some amazing works.

Jackaby by William Ritter was a novel I won, and to be honest, I entered the contest because of the gorgeous cover.  I rarely read the book descriptions and roll the dice whether the material will be my cup of tea.  I’d classify Ritter’s first novel as a detective fantasy work.  It is also considered a YA novel, but it easily crosses over to readers of all ages.  Set in 1892 New England, this tale features Jackaby, a Sherlockian detective with a flare for the paranormal and his new intrepid girl Friday, Abigail Rook, who is on the lam from her boring life seeking adventure.  I love these two characters together.  blog

The writing is witty and the characters are both charming and strong. A heroine who doesn’t faint in the face of danger, especially in a 19th century setting, is very much appreciated.  Despite fantasy and paranormal not being my regular choice of genres, Ritter created a story which was highly entertaining, and which I looked forward to returning to every day.

The small town of New Fiddleham is the stalking ground of a serial killer and between Jackaby’s knowledge of mythical underworld beings, and Abigail’s ability to notice everyday nuances, the team leads the reader on a very enjoyable adventure.

Although I’m not a huge fan of the Sherlock Holmes movies and television offerings of my youth (70s and 80s), I do like Benedict Cumberbatch as Sherlock and couldn’t help but see his face as I read Jackaby’s nonplussed reactions to a world most of us cannot see.

Ritter is an author to watch and the first chapter of book two of the Jackaby series, Beastly Bones, is included at the end of this novel.  Glad to know he is continuing the characters, but, of course, I didn’t read this teaser.  I prefer to open a book having no idea where I am to be led.


Into the Land of Snows

by Ellis Nelson

I read young adult novels.

At almost 52.

There, I’ve said it.

A book worth reading must make the reader feel a connection to the characters. When reading a legal or medical thriller, or contemporary women’s fiction, I relate to those characters in a way reflective of my current life.  I can commiserate with the struggling mom, worry for the cancer patient, feel anger for the victim in a lawsuit.  And that is good.  Empathy and understanding are traits which are necessary in our world.

What I enjoy most about YA fiction is returning to my younger self.  Not identifying with the middle aged mom but, instead, seeing the world through the eyes of the angst ridden teen; reflecting on my own childhood and feeling the pain and rooting for this younger soul at the start of their journey.  blog

“Into the Land of Snows” by Ellis Nelson is not your typical YA book.  One clear distinction is the lack of young adults in the novel.  Sixteen year old Blake, a child of divorce, runs into some trouble with drugs and is sent to spend time with Dad, a doctor with a climbing expedition at Mount Everest.  Blake talks about a friend from home, and one of the Sherpas seems to be young, but otherwise the novel is filled with (don’t be offended) old people, or at least older people than you’d expect in a YA book.

This is actually crucial to the growth Blake experiences during his travel.  The use of marijuana is the least of the issues with which he struggles. He is angry. His entire world collapsed when his parents divorced. And the icing on the cake was Mom moving him from his hometown to her childhood hometown.  She immersed herself in her own depression. Dad escaped to the Himalayas. Blake was left alone with his own sadness and no way to process his grief.

The trip to Everest was supposed to be an opportunity for father and son to reconnect, but after an unexpected climbing tragedy, and potential further danger, Blake is instead sent on a hike with Sherpa Ang, across the mountains to safety.  Opportunity for introspection, long discussions with wise Ang, encounters with Buddhist Monks, a truth which had been kept from him, all provide Blake with the tools he needs to move forward.

Nelson created a world which also allowed the reader to grow.  As a Christian, I admit to ignorance of Buddhism, and probably also an inability to accept a lot of their beliefs, but I did appreciate the opportunity to hear of their religion and culture and to think.  What struck me most about Blake’s travel in a world so completely different from the United States, was the civility he encountered.  Spend some time on social media reading the vitriol spewed right now about our presidential election and see that rich, first world, is not kind to one another.  I enjoyed the kindness shown by those who welcomed a stranger.  It was a respite of peace.

“Into the Land of Snows” is a journey worth taking.


The Secret Life of Bees

by Sue Monk Kidd

Found on the shelves of our new home, again, a book I would not have selected had I read the cover, but one I couldn’t read fast enough once I started.

I spent most of my adult years reading medical thrillers (think Robin Cook) and legal thrillers (John Grisham), and mostly avoided anything that would have led to thinking about feelings.  Coming from a dysfunctional childhood with lots of baggage best left packed, I avoided connecting to my emotional side.  Then my kids grew up, I became ill and suffered for 2 years, and I suddenly understood that the healthiest thing I could do to enjoy the rest of my life was to face the demons I battled and embrace every emotion, even the painful ones.  As the ability to read has returned, I’m feeling even more connected to books and more grateful to authors who invest of themselves for my pleasure.  blog

“The Secret Life of Bees” takes place in the 60s in South Carolina.  Although the main character is a young white girl, Lily Owens, her much needed support system ends up being blacks in a time when racial unrest was prevalent.  As I write that sentence, I should probably cross it out as the current United States continues to battle its own demons of racial divide.  As a white person raised in Jersey, I do not have the emotional background of having to fight for my civil liberties, yet Monk made me connect to her characters in a way that hurt.  I hurt for the country then; I hurt for us now.

There is mystery surrounding Lily.  She lost her mom at a young age, and the reader can only make guesses through most of the story how that occurred.  What we are sure of, however, is the loss of mom, and life with an angry 1960s white farmer father, is painfully hard.  She feels unloved.  And that is where I connected closest to Lily.  My childhood did include a mom, but a mom with 3 husbands and siblings only partially related.  A mom who might as well have been absent, and a stepfather who didn’t know how to be a dad.  Up until the last 4 years, I can honestly say I would have defined myself as unlovable.  Unworthy. The catalyst for loss and never on solid ground when it came to faith in the world around me.

Once I realized my connection to Lily, I was absorbed by Monk’s writing.  If I were a highlighting woman, this book would have looked like the sun when I finished because I wanted to capture so much of the wisdom being shared with Lily by the beekeeping mom-substitute, August Boatwright.  As I read the passages there were times when I just had to stop because I couldn’t read through the tears.  I’m sure the author intended to evoke emotion, but I’m also sure she wrote this book just for me.

I could fill the rest of this post with prophetic quotes from this book, but I want you to read and discover for yourself, with your baggage and perspective.  I’m sure each verse would mean something quite different for every reader.  If I had to choose a favorite, this would be it:

“The world will give you that once in awhile, a brief timeout; the boxing bell rings and you go to your corner, where somebody dabs mercy on your beat-up life.”



For the Reading around the states challenge, this book takes place in South Carolina.

Book #39 – Okay, I gave up on this series

Weird title for a book, huh?  That’s because it is not.  book

This is the first time I just quit.

I read, but hadn’t yet reviewed book #1, Ashes by Lisa J. Bick.  It is the story of the world after an EMP happens and not just electronics are affected.  For unknown reasons, depending on a person’s age or health conditions, they either remained the same or became one of the “changed”.  This story focuses on a teen orphan with cancer who now exists in a world of danger.

Earlier in this blog I discussed the validity of “reading” via audiobooks.  Friends disagreed with me that audio was an acceptable format to count as reading.  Since I am both a book reader and an audio book listener since the days of cassette tapes, I disagreed.  For some, audio books make reading a possibility.  I do not like silence so as I cook, clean, walk, I enjoy the stories being told to me to keep me distracted.

Okay, so for the first time I am perplexed by my response to this book, and the second book in the series, Shadows, which I just stopped listening to on my iPod.  I literally could not take any more of the story.  Too many characters, too much going on, I didn’t like any of the people so it is hard to care about the story itself.  Finally, the narration in this story was enough to drive me insane.  Her voice was fine, and when she spoke in a normal tone, it was acceptable.  Unfortunately, this book is NARRATED AS THOUGH MOST OF THE SENTENCES ENDED IN FIVE EXCLAMATION POINTS!!!!!!!!


After considering book 1 acceptable, by 3/4 through book 2 I decided my mental health meant allowing myself to walk away.  Just walk away.

Perhaps in another time and space I will pick up a copy of Shadows to read to myself, but that is after I have recovered FROM THE CONSTANT YELLING!!!!!!

Book #38 – The Maze Runner

by James Dashner blog

I came late to this party of Dashner books, but the benefit of that is the sequels are already written.  Young friends bought and delivered me this book to read – that is high praise.  For teenagers to not only love the material, but purchase it and encourage others to enjoy it, is impressive.  So glad for the gift of a book as well as a new favorite series.  Even before finishing Maze Runner, I downloaded book two for a seamless continuation of the story.

This is a futuristic, dystopian young adult novel set in a world created by unknown people for unknown reasons.  Populating the world are  boys/teenagers who appear at regular intervals, delivered in a mysterious “box” and without memories of themselves or previous lives.  The boys have created their own society, and operate in a system which requires working to maintain their lives, but also to determine a way out of this maze in which they live.  Unlike the chaos which naturally developed in the classic “Lord of the Flies”, this society maintains order and all serve a purpose.

I have enjoyed YA novels for years, and when my own boys were growing up, we frequently listened to them on audiobooks for long car rides.  This ended, however, when they were old enough to realize most YA books feature young girls.  Their vehement protests that they were not interested in teen girls saving the world led us away from fiction and to non-fiction.  Not a terrible thing, but what I liked about Maze Runner is that this was a book young men could read.  Girls can enjoy it as well, but it was just nice to have male characters featured who were not vampires in love.

4.5/5 Stars



Book #37 – Ashen Winter

by Mike Mullin   book

I stumbled on this great new series, Ashfall Trilogy, a few weeks ago and was so pleased that the second book, Ashen Winter, was already waiting for me at the end of book one.  Sadly, book three won’t be out for months.

Mullin’s tale involves a world devastated by a super-volcano in Yellowstone.  His two main characters, Alex and Darla, are older teens who not only rise to the occasion, but show pretty awesome survival skills in a world gone mad.  This is an action packed tale where man not only battles the environment and circumstances surrounding them in a world covered by ash, but also must overcome the expected decay of civilization which happens quickly.  What I was struck by is the growth of Alex in this 6 months time.  It felt realistic and believable.

As an adult reading YA material, sometimes the dialogue can feel stilted, or the characters stereotypical.  Mullin has mastered the art of writing a YA book which crosses the age gap.  Not only should teens find this material worthwhile, but it is crafted in such a way as to capture adults who appreciate dystopian fiction.

As a reader I also breathed a sigh of relief that book 2 was as good as book 1.  I often find in a trilogy that book 1 sets the stage, introduces the characters and runs at full force to engage the reader.  Book 3 is the culmination of all the action, suspense and drama for the characters we have come to love.  Typically, for me, book 2 is just the time filler between those two dramatic events.  Not so with Ashen Winter.  This one also kept me up reading and reading and grateful to have found a new favorite author.

In case you want to take a look at the review for book 1, Ashfall, please follow the link

5/5 Stars