Thursday, November 30, 2017

How Cold is your Christmas?

Christmas is coming, and author Sheila Roberts is touring the internet with her latest Icicle Falls novel, Christmas in Icicle Falls. Feeling the need to get into the mood, I decided to read and review it...

Christmas in Icicle Falls is the first Sheila Roberts book I’ve read. It’s the last in the Icicle Falls series, which is just one of many series penned by the author, so I’m not sure how I’ve missed reading her novels so far. But it’s a very enjoyable standalone book, so a good introduction to the author’s characters, style and stories. Plus it’s a Christmas story, perfect for the season. It involves an ugly artificial tree, made beautiful with wise decoration. And it involves very real, messed-up human lives, made equally beautiful.

Single mom Sienna Moreno just wants a safe environment for her developmentally challenged son. Local author Muriel Sterling wants lots of people to find Christmas joy in her book. Friend Arthur wants Muriel to go on vacation with him. And the grouchy old man just wants… to be a grouch perhaps.

As the story continues, backstories add just enough depth to each character, creating believable quirks and compelling explanations, decorating human imperfection with touches of delight, and leading to happy conclusions. Simple acts of kindness add up. Simple misunderstandings retreat. And messed-up relationships give way to trust. It’s a sweet novel, with just enough tart for laughter, heartache and hope. It stands alone easily if, like me, you've not read the rest of the series, and it ends with sweet recipes too.

Disclosure: I received a free copy of this book and voluntarily chose to review it.

For more information about the book and/or author, including a short video, please read below:

Author: Sheila Roberts
Publisher: Harlequin Mira
Pages: 368
Genre: Women’s Fiction

When Muriel Sterling released her new book, A Guide to Happy Holidays, she felt like the queen of Christmas. She's thrilled when the new tree she ordered online arrives and is eager to show it off—until she gets it out of the box and realizes it's a mangy dud. But rather than give up on the ugly tree, Muriel decides to make a project out of it. As she pretties up her tree, she realizes there's a lesson to be learned: everything and everyone has potential. Maybe even her old friend Arnie, who's loved her for years. Except, she's not the only one seeing Arnie's potential…

Meanwhile, Muriel's ugly-tree project has also inspired her friends. Sienna Moreno is trying to bring out the best in the grouchy man next door, who hates noise, hates kids and hates his new neighbors. And while Olivia Claussen would love to send her obnoxious new daughter-in-law packing, she's adjusting her attitude and trying to discover what her son sees in the girl. If these women can learn to see the beauty in the "ugly trees" in their lives, perhaps this might turn out to be the happiest holiday yet.


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Chapter One
“This is the time of year to give thanks for all the wonderful people in our lives.”
- A Guide to Happy Holidays by Muriel Sterling
Thanksgiving, a day to spend with family, to give thanks for all your blessings, to … have a close encounter with your cranky neighbor’s shrubbery. Oh, yes, this was how Sienna Marks wanted to start her day.
Why, oh, why, had she ventured out in her car on an icy street to go to the grocery store for more milk when she could have asked her cousin Rita Reyes to bring it? Rita’s husband Tito worked at the Safeway meat department. He could have picked up a gallon.
But oh, no. She had to go out on her cheap no-weather tires. She should have stretched her budget a little further and gotten those snow tires like Rita had told her to do. “Here in the mountains you want snow tires,” Rita had said.
Yes, she did, especially now as she was skidding toward Mr. Cratchett’s front yard.
“We’re gonna die!” her nine – year old son Leo cried and clapped his hands over his eyes as they slid up and over Mr. Cratchett’s juniper bush. Sienna could hear the branches crunching under them, the bush equivalent of breaking bones. Madre de Dios!
The good news was, the bush brought her to a stop. The bad news was she was stopped right in front of Mr. Cratchett’s house.
Maybe she hadn’t damaged the bush too much. “It’s okay, honey. We’re fine,” she assured her son, and got out of the car on shaky legs. She probably couldn’t say the same for Mr. Cratchett’s landscaping.
She was barely out of her car before her neighbor stormed down the walk, an ancient navy pea coat thrown on over pajama bottoms stuffed into boots, a knitted cap pulled over his sparse gray hair. He was scowling. Great.
“What have you done to my juniper bush?” he demanded.
“I’m so sorry, Mr. Cratchett. “I hit a slippery spot.”
“You shouldn’t be out if you don’t know how to drive in the snow,” Cratchett growled.
She wasn’t sure how she’d learn to drive in the snow if she didn’t get out in it but she decided this wasn’t the time for that observation.
He leaned over the bush like a detective examining a corpse. “This thing will never come back. You’ve damaged it beyond repair.”
“I’ll buy you a new one come spring,” Sienna promised.
“You certainly will,” he snapped. “If you don’t, you’ll be hearing from my lawyer. You’re becoming a real nuisance.”
“So are you,” she muttered as she got back into her car.
“He’s mad,” Leo observed.
There was an understatement. “It’s okay,” she said as much to herself as her son. She put the car into gear, held her breath and inched toward their driveway. The car swayed as they turned in. Ooooh.
“I want to get out,” Leo said.
“Stay put. We’re fine.” She bit her lip as she braked – oh, so gently – and the car fishtailed to a stop right before she hit the garage door.
She let out her breath. There. Something to be thankful for.
She could see Cratchett standing on his front walk, glaring at her. “You shouldn’t be driving,” he called.
Yeah, well, neither should he. She’d seen him behind the wheel and he was scary even when there wasn’t snow. Honestly, what had she ever done to deserve inheriting him?
“Just lucky, I guess,” teased her cousin Rita later as Sienna recounted her day’s adventures to her family over their evening Thanksgiving feast.
There were plenty of people present to enjoy it – Rita, her husband Tito and their toddler Linda were present along with Sienna’s tia, Mami Lucy and Tito’s sister and brother-in-law and their two small children. It was Sienna’s first holiday celebration in her new house and she loved being able to fill it with company.
Especially on Thanksgiving, which was her favorite holiday. The food – turkey and pork, tamales, Mami’s arroz con gandules, coquito and flan for dessert, the music – salsa, merengue, and bachata, and, of course, time with family. With her parents and two brothers still in L.A. it was a comfort to be able to have her aunt and cousin living in the same town. It was also nice to have them right here to complain to.
No, wait. No complaining on Thanksgiving. She was simply venting. Justifiably venting. “I mean it’s not like I meant to run over Mr. Cratchett’s juniper bush.”
“You didn’t exactly get practice driving in snow down in L.A.” Rita said consolingly.
“That man.” She shook her head in disgust as she helped herself to more fruit salad. “Neighbors should come with a warning label.”
“This one should have,” Sienna said. “He shouldn’t be allowed to have neighbors. He should be hermit. Actually, he’s already close to one. He hardly ever comes out of that big, overgrown house of his except to yell at me.” Okay, maybe that was a slight exaggeration.
Or not.
“Mr. Cratchett’s mean to me, too, Mommy,” put in Leo.
Tito shook his head. “Threatening to call the cops over a baseball through the window.”
“I didn’t do that,” Leo declared hotly. “It was Tommie Haskell. Tommy said it was me.”
Poor Leo had taken the fall and Sienna had bought Mr. Cratchett a new window.
“Culo,” muttered Tito. “I should have come over and taken a baseball to the old dude’s head.”
Tito’s sister pointed her fork at him. “Then he really would have called the cops.”
“He’s been there, done that,” Sienna said. “Remember?”
“Yes, making such a stink when we had your housewarming party,” Rita said in disgust. “Too loud my ass. It was barely nine.”
“Maybe that’s what got us started on the wrong foot,” Sienna mused.
Tito frowned and shook his head. “No. The dude’s a cabrĂ³n.”
“Oh, well. Let’s not think about him anymore,” Sienna said. There were plenty of nice people in town to make up for her un-neighborly neighbor. She liked Rita’s boss, Charley Masters, who owned Zelda’s restaurant, and Bailey Black, who owned a teashop, was quickly becoming a good friend. Pat York, her boss at Mountain Escape Books was great, and Pat’s friends had all taken her under their wings.
“Good idea,” agreed Rita. “Pass the tamales.”
Venting finished, Sienna went back to concentrating on counting her blessings. So she didn’t have husband. (Who wanted a creep who walked away when the going got tough, anyway?) She had her family, new friends, a wonderful job and a pretty house. It wasn’t as big as Cratchett’s corner lot mansion – nobody’s was – but it had three bedrooms, two baths, and a kitchen with lots of cupboard space, and it was all hers. Or it would be in thirty years. And she had the sweetest son a woman could ask for. Her life was good, so more complaining, er, venting.

Olivia Wallace’s feet hurt. So did her back. For that matter, so did her head. Serving Thanksgiving dinner to all her guests at the Icicle Creek Lodge was an exhausting undertaking, even with help.
Thank God she’d had help. Although one particular ‘helper,” her new daughter-in-law, had been about as helpful as a road block.
“I was a waitress at the Full Table Buffet,” Meadow had bragged. “No problemo.”
She’d showed off her experience by setting the tables wrong, spilling gravy in a customer’s lap and then swearing at him when he got upset with her. She’d capped the day off by leaving halfway through serving the main course.
“Meadow doesn’t feel good,” Olivia’s son Brandon had explained.
Meadow didn’t feel good? Olivia hadn’t felt so good herself. She’d been nursing a headache for days. (Perhaps it had something to do with the arrival of her new daughter-law?) But running an inn was not much different than show business. The show must go on.
And so it had, but Olivia was still feeling more than a little cranky about the performance of one particular player. “Whatever did he see in her?” she complained to her husband as James rubbed her tired feet. Besides the obvious. The girl was pretty – in a brassy, exotic way. Brandon had always dated good-looking women.
James wisely didn’t answer.
Olivia had been longing to see her baby boy married for years, but she hadn’t expected him to sneak off to Vegas to do it. She certainly hadn’t expected him to commit so quickly, before anyone hardly had a chance to get to know her. Before he hardly even had a chance to get to know her!
Brandon had met Meadow when he was skiing. She’d been hanging out at the ski lodge at Crystal Mountain after her first ski lesson and there was poor, unsuspecting Brandon. They’d wound up having dinner together and then spent the night partying. That had been the beginning of private ski lessons followed by private parties for two. And then it was, “Oops, I’m pregnant.” And that was followed by, “Surprise, we’re married.” Of course, all this had taken place quite clandestinely. He’d only known this girl a few months. Months! And never said anything about her. Now, suddenly, here they were married. And, well, here they were.
Not that Olivia wasn’t happy to have her wandering boy home again, ready to help run the family business. It was just that the woman he’d brought with him was taking some getting used to. Actually, a lot of getting used to.
The couple had started out living in Seattle and Brandon had settled down and gotten a job working for large company that was slowly taking over the city. The benefits were great, but the hours were long, and Meadow had complained. So he’d called Mom and suggested coming back. The lodge would be passed on to him and Eric anyway, so of course, she’d gotten a little suite ready for them, one similar to what her older son Eric and his wife had, making them all one big, happy family.
With a cuckoo in the nest.
“She tricked him into marrying her, I’m sure,” Olivia muttered.
Olivia’s second son had always been a bit of a ladies’ man, but she’d never known Brandon to be irresponsible. The idea that he’d gotten someone pregnant – someone he barely knew and who so clearly was not his type – didn’t make sense to her at all. It was just so unlike him, In fact, the more she thought about it after hearing the news the more she couldn’t help the sneaking suspicion that the whole pregnancy thing had been a ploy to pin Brandon down. Olivia’s suspicion only grew when, a few weeks after they were married they told her the pregnancy had ended. It was a terrible thing to think, and yet Olivia couldn’t shake the feeling that there probably hadn’t even been a baby – only a trashy girl looking to snag a good-looking man and some financial security. How had she been able to afford ski lessons, anyway?
Okay, she had to admit that Brandon did seem smitten with Meadow. So there had to be something hiding behind the trashy clothes, the lack of manners, the self-centeredness, and haze of smoke from her E-cigarettes. Such a filthy habit, smoking, and so bad for your health.
“I’d rather smoke than be fat,” Meadow had said to Olivia when she had – politely – brought up the subject.
Olivia was a little on the pudgy side. Was that a slur?
Not only did Meadow appear to disapprove of Olivia’s looks, she obviously disapproved of her decorating skills. The first thing out of her mouth when she’d seen the lodge had been, “Whoa, look at these granny carpets.”
Granny carpets indeed! Those rose patterned carpets were classic, and they’d cost Olivia a small fortune when she first put them in. Plus, they complemented the many antiques Olivia had in the lobby and the guest rooms. Well, all right. So the girl had different tastes. (Obviously she wouldn’t know an antique if she tripped over one.) But did she have to be so … vocal?
She’d hardly raved over the small apartment that Olivia had given her and Brandon. She’d walked into the bedroom and frowned. “Where’s the closet?”
Olivia had pointed to the German antique pine armoire and said, “This is it. It’s a Shrank.”
“A what?”
“For your clothes.”
“I’m supposed to fit all my clothes in there?”
Taking in Meadow’s skimpy skirt and midriff-bearing top, Olivia had doubted that her clothes would take up much room. “I’m sure Brandon can remodel for you,” Olivia had said stiffly.
“I hope so.” Meadow had drifted over to the window and looked out. “Wow, that’s some view.”
At least she’d appreciated the view.
“It’s gonna be really cool living here,” she’d said, and Olivia almost warmed to her until she added, “Once we fix this place up.”
“So what do you think of Meadow?” Brandon had asked after the first he brought her home to meet Mom.
By then they were already married. It had been too late to say what she really thought. “Wasn’t this a little fast? I always thought we’d have a wedding.” I always thought you’d pick someone we wanted you to marry.
That was when he’d blushed and confessed that they were pregnant. They’d wanted to get married anyway, so what the hell.
What the hell indeed.
“Dear, this isn’t like you,” James said, bringing Olivia out of her unpleasant reverie. “You’re normally so kind-hearted and welcoming.”
“I’ve welcomed her,” Olivia insisted. She’d given the girl a home here at the inn with the rest of the family. That was pretty welcoming.
But you haven’t exactly taken her in with open arms.
The thought gave her conscience a sharp poke and she squirmed on the sofa. Her cat Muffin, who had been happily encamped on her lap, meowed in protest.
“If only she was more like Brooke,” Olivia said as if that excused her attitude. “At least Eric got it right.” Brooke was refined and well educated and loved the lodge. Not only did she truly want to be helpful, she actually was. She and Olivia were on the same wave length.
James couldn’t help smiling at the mention of his daughter. It had been Brooke who was responsible for James and Olivia meeting. “No one’s like Brooke,” he said proudly.
“She is one of a kind, just like her daddy.”
James, who had spent most of his life playing Santa Claus, was as close to the real deal as a man could come. With his snowy white hair and beard, husky build and caring smile, he embodied the very spirit of Christmas.
“Thank you, my dear,” he said, and gave her poor, tired foot a pat. “But, getting back to the subject of Meadow, I’m sure she has many redeeming qualities. All you have to do is look for them.”
“With a magnifying glass.”
“Olivia,” he gently chided.
“You’re right. I’m just having such a hard time warming to the girl.”
“I know. But this is the woman Brandon has chosen.”
Olivia sighed. “Yes, and I need to make more of an effort for his sake.”
And she would. Tomorrow was another day.
Another busy day. They’d be decorating the lodge for the holidays. Meadow had been excited over the prospect and assured Olivia she loved to decorate. Hopefully, she’d be better at that than she was at helping serve food.
The next morning, Eric was knocking on the door of Olivia’s little apartment in the lodge. “We ready to do this?” he asked James.
“Yep. Let’s start hauling up the holidays.”
There was plenty to haul up from the huge basement storeroom where Olivia kept the holiday decorations – ornaments to go on the eight-foot noble fir they’d purchased for one corner of the lobby as well as ones for the tree in the dining room, snow globes and red ribbons for the fireplace mantel and, of course, the antique sleigh which would sit right in the center of the lobby. It was a favorite with their guests and people were constantly taking pictures of it. There were stuffed Teddy bears and antique dolls to ride in the sleigh, mistletoe to hang in the hallways, and silk poinsettias to be placed on the reception desk. Decorating the inn was an all hands on deck day.
“Where’s your brother?” Olivia asked as he set down the box of toys for the sleigh.
“He’s coming. Meadow’s just now getting up. They closed down The Man Cave last night and she’s pooped.”
So, she’d recovered from her earlier illness. How convenient. “Maybe she’s too tired to help,” Olivia said hopefully. Playing pool all night could be exhausting.
No such luck. Fifteen minutes later Olivia and Brooke were sorting through the first bin of decorations when Meadow dragged herself into the lobby accompanied by Brandon. She was wearing tight, ripped jeans, complimented with a sheer blouse hanging loose over a low cut red camisole which perfectly matched the patch of hair she’d died red. The rest was a color of blonde that made Olivia think of lightbulbs. Olivia could just see the tip of the wings on the butterfly Meadow had tattooed over her right breast peeking over the top of the camisole. She made a shocking contrast to Brooke with her soft brown hair and tasteful clothes. Now almost eight months pregnant, she was wearing a long, gray sweater accented with a blue silk scarf over her black maternity leggings and gray ankle boots. Meadow even looked like a total mismatch with Brandon, who was in jeans and a casual, button down black plaid shirt.
“I feel like shit,” she confessed. “I think those fish tacos were off.” She shook her head. “Now I know what they mean when they say toss your tacos.”
The queen of refinement this girl was not. To think Brandon could have had sweet little Bailey Black for a daughter-in-law if only he’d gotten with the program. Bailey had carried a torch for him for years. Too late now. She was happily married. And Brandon was … trapped. So were the rest of them.
You’re going to have to make the best of it, Olivia reminded herself. Her son loved his new wife. He’d obviously seen something in her. She probably would too. If she looked harder.
James and Eric arrived in the lobby bearing more decorations. “You’re just in time,” Eric told his brother. “You can help me haul in the sleigh.”
Brandon nodded and followed the men back out.
Olivia pasted a smile on her face. “Well, girls, let’s get started.”
“All right. This is going to be fun,” Meadow said eagerly, and opened a bin.
Eager and excited to help, that was commendable.
Meadow pulled out a pink ribbon ball holding a sprig of silk mistletoe and made a face. “What the hell is this?”
“It’s mistletoe,” Olivia explained.
“Mistletoe.” Meadow said it like it was a foreign language.
“You’ve heard of mistletoe, right?” Brooke prompted and Meadow shook her head.
Both Olivia and Brooke stared at her in amazement.
“So, what is it?”
“You hang it up and then when you catch someone under it you kiss him,” Brooke explained.
Meadow shook her head. “Why do you need a plant for that? If you want to kiss a guy just kiss him!”
Good Lord. The child was a complete Philistine.
Brooke smiled. “It’s a fun, little tradition people enjoy.”
“Whatever,” Meadow said, unimpressed.
She was impressed with the sleigh though. “Wow, that’s epic.” The minute the men had set it down she climbed into it and tossed Brandon her cell phone. “Take my picture, babe,” she commanded and struck a rapper girl pose, complete with the weird finger thing and the pout.
An older couple was walking through the lobby, and the husband stopped to enjoy the moment. “Now there’s my kind of Christmas present,” he joked.
His wife, not seeing the humor, grabbed his arm and got him moving again. “Tacky,” she hissed.
Meadow flipped her off and Olivia’s cheeks heated.
Dear Santa, please bring me an extra dose of patience. I’m going to need it.

Watch the Book Teaser!

USA Today best-selling author Sheila Roberts has seen her books published in multiple languages and made into movies. She lives in the Pacific Northwest, dividing her time between a waterfront condo and a beach home. When she’s not on the tennis courts or partying with friends she can be found writing about those things dear to women’s hearts: family, friends, and chocolate.

Her latest women’s fiction is Christmas in Icicle Falls.

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Will you leave your friend to walk alone?

Walking the Labyrinth of My Heart by Dianna Vagianos Armentrout
Author Dianna Vagianos Armentrout is touring the internet with her book, Walking the Labyrinth of my heart. She is a woman who has known a mother's greatest fear, and she offers a powerful message for all whose hearts are in pain. In return, I'm honored to offer my review of a wonderful book.

Writer, poet, therapist and researcher, Dianna Vagianos Armentrout offers a poignant and realistic view of life and death as she shares the grief of losing a newborn child in Walking the labyrinth of my heart.

The author knew for months that her baby would not live. This foreknowledge gives an interesting perspective—to carry a life that is somehow called defective, wondering who or what to blame, and receiving in answer the uncertainties of medicine. As the author so poignantly says, “It is very difficult to live with pregnancy and infant loss in our hyper-electronic, fast-paced, death-fearing American culture.”

In the first section of this book, Dianna shares her pregnancy journal. She describes her choice not to terminate the pregnancy, and her curiosity about how her dying child is growing. Flowers and church make her “sadder.” Books about having an angel instead of a baby depress her even more. Her Qigong teacher tells her to “let go of all expectations,” but she is expecting, and she thinks reverently of Mary, “her womb holding God.”

Readers of many spiritual backgrounds and religious persuasions will find much food for thought in this book. Those facing the same sense of loss will find a friend walking beside them—no trite answers, no judgment, no “spend time with the baby before it dies” over-simplifications—this book offers honest complexities and sorrow. Throughout it all, the author knows her child is alive; she has a soul and a reason to be. And she invites readers to ponder both.

Essays and blog posts follow the path of grieving and praying, faith and miracles, fate and karma, and even politics. Drawing on backgrounds as far apart as Greek mythology and Catholic catechism, each essay stands alone, smoothly written and smiting to the heart. It’s impossible to read this book without being drawn into deeper thought about faith, science, morality and more. Is abortion the same as refusing life support, or faith the same as demanding a miracle?

Birthing a dying child has many complications, not all of them emotional. The author walks her readers through each step of her path, negotiating with doctors and hospitals, learning how to stop a mother’s milk, hiring a doula, avoiding pitfalls of social media and unsocial responses, bringing up the name of the dead, and understanding death. At the same time, the author never attempts to persuade her readers; other choices will be equally valid; each decision is personal and unique.

Giving birth to a dying child is like “standing on the threshold of the worlds,” birthing a soul into or out of this world, accepting “the bramble and the rose.” I am glad it’s not something I’ve ever done. But I am glad as well to have read this book. The writing is smooth, like listening to a wise counsellor. The poetry is haunting and enticing. The story is honest, the wisdom gentle and far-reaching, and the “art of grieving” is a lesson all should learn.

Disclosure: I was given an ecopy and I offer my honest review.

Walking the Labyrinth of My Heart by Dianna Vagianos ArmentroutAbout the author

Dianna Vagianos Armentrout is a published writer, teacher, workshop facilitator and poetry therapist. She graduated from Adelphi University’s Honors Program and earned her MAW from Manhattanville College.

Dianna’s pregnancy with her daughter, Mary Rose, who died an hour after birth of trisomy 18, changed her life completely. Her blog, Walking the Labyrinth of My Heart, was launched in April 2015 as a way of offering support to others going through pregnancies with difficult and fatal diagnoses.

Dianna wishes to change the cultural fear of death and social awkwardness around the bereaved by educating others to be present and open to the natural process of death. Not knowing what to say is fine. Let’s sit together quietly not knowing what to say about our most difficult and sacred losses, because a loving community is vital to the healing of the bereaved in our broken world.

Dianna volunteers with Isaiah’s Promise as a peer minister, and can’t help sending “Healing Companion” cards to mothers facing pregnancy and newborn losses.

Dianna’s poems, short fiction and essays have been published in several journals and anthologies, including The Vermont Literary Review, The Connecticut Review, The Dos Passos Review, Melusine or Women in the 21st century, Sacred Fire Magazine, Sensations Magazine, and Inkwell. She has taught at Southern Connecticut State University, Quinnipiac University and The Graduate Institute, and has facilitated poetry workshops in the tri-state area. As a poet and teacher, she believes that everyone has the inherent gift of poetry. Her workshops create the space for people to be still and access their own words, images and metaphors as they step into their healing. She lives at the foothills of the Rocky Mountains. When she isn’t writing or reading, she spends her time outdoors walking and gardening. Dianna also tinkers with recipes for paleo cookies and shares them with those around her.

Where to find her:


About the book:

Walking the Labyrinth of My Heart Dianna Vagianos ArmentroutPublisher: White Flowers Press (May 22, 2016)
Category: Self-Help, Grief & Bereavement, Parenting & Relationships, Spirituality, Healing from Loss
ISBN: 978-0982117644 ASIN: B01I2KD37Q
Available in Print & ebook, 130 pages

Walking the Labyrinth of My Heart: A Journey of Pregnancy, Grief and Infant Death breaks the lonely, silent suffering of bereaved mothers facing infant and pregnancy loss.

Dianna Vagianos Armentrout details her pregnancy journey with her daughter, Mary Rose, who died an hour after birth of trisomy 18, a random genetic illness described as “incompatible with life.” For five long months of pregnancy, she knew that her baby would not live and thrive, planning a funeral and seeking hospice for her unborn daughter. The heaviness of this grief, which most women bear alone, is shared here and will comfort mothers who have experienced miscarriage, stillbirth and infant death.

With eloquent language, fierce honesty and a record of the rawness of grief, readers in the midst of their own suffering will recognize the path that bereaved parents walk. Dianna’s experiences with infertility, motherhood, infant loss and miscarriage infuse her writing with compassion for all women. Through journal entries, essays and poetry, Dianna invites the reader to process grief and honor the life of the child, no matter how brief. In addition, readers will learn how to support the bereaved by remembering the baby and pregnancy.

Finally there is a book to honor the pregnancy, baby and loss, loving the children past their death, loving the wombs that nurtured them and accepting the sacred path of mothering children whose bodies are broken, but whose souls are intact and perfectly whole. This book shines with love and the knowledge that even the briefest life is holy. Read it. Share it. Spread the word. We no longer have to grieve our infants and pregnancies alone.

Where to find it

 Walking the Labyrinth of My Heart

Praise for Walking the Labyrinth of My Heart by Dianna Vagianos Armentrout

“This beautifully written story of loss, and redemption, is a must-have for anyone who has faced the devastation of losing a child. Yes, you will cry with Dianna, but you will also admire the beauty of her soul.”- Mary Potter Kenyon, author of ‘Refined By Fire’, ‘Chemo-Therapist’, ‘Mary and Me’, et al

“Pregnancy is often thought of (and typically is) a time filled anticipation and joy.  The deep, dark secret is this: pregnancies are sometimes lost. Dianna Vagianos Armentrout, author of Walking the Labyrinth of My Heart, shows us the inner workings of that harsh reality. With beauty and rawness, she shows the innermost parts of her heart as she journeyed (and journeys) through the "diagnosis" of a Trisomy 18 baby. She shows us her emails, journals, poems, and the "art" of grieving. She explains that the loss of a child is not the end of loving that child. Nor is the grief something that goes away a few weeks after the funeral. It is a heartfelt and honest read that I would highly recommend to any woman who has dealt or is dealing with a defect. It would also be beneficial to any woman who is dealing with the loss of a baby. Dianna writes the way her spirit is: open, raw, beautiful. She walks with every mother who has ever lost a child.”- Gloria Miles, Simple Miricles Birth Services

“Dianna Vagianos Armentrout takes the grief and heartache of her journey and creates a space that opens hearts. Dianna has written a seminal book that will resonate with those who know the primal pain of losing a child from stillbirth, miscarriage or newborn death. To moms reeling in deep grief, Dianna offers words and comfort and, in doing so, creates a circle of tear-stained realness, fortitude and big love. Brava! This book poignantly and beautifully sings the heart's song of infant loss.”- Adele Ryan McDowell, Ph.D., author of ‘Making Peace with Suicide’ and ‘Balancing Act’

“Dianna is an amazing woman and a brilliant writer. This book is useful to anyone who has experienced an infant loss or anyone who supports families experiencing infant loss. The work that she is doing in sharing her story is so important to help give perspective and help move through the natural process of death.”-Mr. Books, Amazon Reviewer

Find out more: Follow the Tour

Teddy Rose Book Reviews Plus Oct 17
Kickoff & Giveaway Katy Amazon Review Oct 18
Review Donna My Life One Story At a Time Oct 23
Excerpt & Giveaway Pamela S Thibodeaux Nov 11
Spotlight Don Amazon Review Nov 14
Review Lu Ann Rockin' Book Reviews Nov 21
Review, Guest Post & Giveaway Cremona Mythical Books Nov 22
Guest Post Teddy Rose Book Reviews Plus Nov 28
Review Sheila's Guests and Reviews Nov 29 Review & Guest Post

Friday, November 10, 2017

Does fiction make you think?

I like books that make me think. I'm rather fond of serious tomes on my favorite topics - Bible, science, history, math, how to write better, etc. But I'm totally addicted to fiction. I'm the sort of person who walks around the house with a book in her hand, while other books reside beside the bed, on the dining-room table, in the newly refurbished library (aka son's bedroom, but he's moved out)... and I'll be reading them all. But what I like most is fiction that makes me think. I'll usually only read one "thinking" book at once - a factual book that fills my mind with knowledge, or a fictional novel that makes me ask questions and ponder ... hmmm ... Is informed pondering the beginning of wisdom? If so, I'm somewhere near the beginning and loving it.

22: the biography of a gun by Christopher Geoffrey McPherson certainly made me think when I read it this week. I like the novel's unique construction, like a series of short stories linked by the travels of a gun - so I suppose I spend some time thinking on and appreciating the idea. But most of all, I love the way the stories take me into very real lives in a future not very far from here. Guns are controlled. People... maybe not so. But is it guns or people who kill? What would happen if the gun in question didn't "happen" to be there? Definitely a book to make you think. A must-read in any world with guns and people, and a thoroughly fascinating, absorbing tale, to be enjoyed with a suitably complex four-star cup of coffee.

Defending Jacob by William Landay is another thought-provoking tale, as a father well-versed in the law finds his son accused of murder. Balancing details of social awkwardness, bullying, the online lives of children, and the genetic inheritance of violence, together with believable investigation and haunting family drama, it's a novel that haunts the reader long after the final page. Enjoy with another complex four-star cup of coffee.

Chris Knopf's eight Sam Acquillo Hampton's Mystery, Tango Down, is another thought-provoking tale, filled with action, adventure, great characters, very different kinds of terror, and a real sense for the real world's complications. Exploring the place of illegal immigrants in society, American interference in foreign politcs, and medical intervention in human ailments, it's a gorgeously constructed tale to be enjoyed with another four-star complex coffee.

With a very different focus, Isaiah’s Daughter by Mesu Andrews recreates a historical Biblical world and invites the reader to think about the meaning and implications of prophecy. Where does prophecy end and intuition begin? And how far does God's faithfulness go when a leader loses faith? Looking at history and faith through very human, female eyes, and revisiting familiar quotes through ears that heard the words when new... this is a truly enticing historical romance, honestly faithful, and faithfully thought-provoking. Enjoy with some more four-star complex coffee.

Finally, Christmas in Icicle Falls by Sheila Roberts, while being a much more cozy and comfortable read, has its own thought-provoking message in the redeeming of an ugly Christmas tree. Just possibly, ugly relationships can also be healed, and ugly misunderstandings made clear in brighter light. Enjoy this lighter read with some lighter easy-drinking two-star coffee.

So... what will you think about as you read.

Saturday, November 4, 2017

Can you look through different eyes?

Part of the fun of reading is to see the world through other people's eyes. It's part of the fun of writing too. Books let us travel to times and places we might never see, and show the thoughts behind attitudes and beliefs we might never share. They keep us from passing judgement till we've walked in someone else's shoes. And if they succeed, we might just keep ourselves from passing judgement in our daily lives too. No one can really see through someone else's eyes. And other people's shoes will rarely fit. But books... we might learn facts from non-fiction books, but from fiction we learn other people's feelings too. I love to read!

The Leaf Queen by Janet Roberts takes readers to Catholic Ireland and the tortuous consequences of wounded family ties. Blending Maeve Binchey's Ireland with modern-day America, it invites readers to see through the eyes of a mother filled with heartbreak, a sister wounded by unintended condemnation, and a woman who gives her heart to freely to those who might not deserve it. It's a haunting, hopeful tale. Enjoy with some complex four-star coffee.

Me Before You by JoJo Moyes tackles misunderstandings too, as a young woman in England learns to care for an abrasive, wounded man -- and to agree with the sort of decision that causes serious religious and political arguments. I love how the author introduces such seriously big questions, viewed so consistently through the eyes of real people that the reader's own interpretations have to wait. Definitely a book to make you think... and care more. This is another one to read with some complex four-star coffee.

Forgotten Reflections: A War Story by Young-Im Lee, while set in the past of the Korean War, has much to tell of the present. Truths aren't always what they seem. Life's necessities aren't predictable. And life's secrets aren't all as they're assumed. Forgotten Reflections allows readers to visit Korea, to learn the value of rice, and to enjoy the mysteries of relationship, all with a pleasingly complex four-star coffee.

Moving to the US, Neespaugot: Legend of the Indian’s Coin by John Mugglebee tells a story that begins with Massachusetts tribes and broken covenants, then progresses through tales of runaway slaves, Chinese immigrants, betrayals, promises and more to the present day, typing people to land and hope. It's a haunting tale, filled with fascinating substories, and tied together in family and mixed heritage. Enjoy its complexities with some more complex four-star coffee.

And finally, in a world where Christian and Muslim are almost assumed to be bosom enemies, it's good to read a novel like The Merchant’s Pearl by Amie O’Brien. Beautifully researched and convincingly told, it's the story of a Christian missionary girl, abducted into a prince's harem in the time of Napoleon and Suez (not so long ago!), and learning to stay true to her faith while falling in love with someone just as true to his own. Yes, more four-star coffee.

I loved all these books, and loved visiting all these different people with different backgrounds to my own. Reading is FUN!

Friday, November 3, 2017

Are you writing yet?

It's November. It NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) again. So... are you writing yet? I wish I was. I'm not sure I want to try writing a whole novel in November - it being the month of Thanksgiving means lots of time spent shopping and cooking for example, therefore less time to write. But I'd love to finish work on Imaginary Numbers, the next one in my Mathemafiction series. So... am I writing yet? Not really, I must confess. But I wrote a Kitkit story (related to Tails of Mystery) and a poem for our latest Writers' Mill contest. I released two books for the Writers' Mill (our sixth Writers' Mill Journal, and Carl and June: Tales of Two). And I'm on the cusp of posting tons of book reviews. Does writing book reviews count? Does reading count? (Can't write without reading surely!)

Am I writing yet? I'm writing a blogpost.
Am I writing yet? I've just finished reading about how to get published.
Am I writing yet? I'll certainly need to finish the book(s) before they get published. But for now, here's a couple of non-fiction book reviews.

Yeah, that getting published thing. The Authors Publish Guide to Manuscript Submission is an easy read, written in a pleasant conversational style with well-organized chapters. If you've got something written but not yet worth submitting (e.g. if you wrote it in a month a la NaNoWriMo) there's some good advice on polishing it up. And if you're wondering how or if to submit to a publisher, there's fairly simple advice, even with a glossary for those unfamiliar words. Not taxing, it's a good place to start and the links are invaluable. And, since all book reviews should be accompanied by coffee, enjoy with some one-star light crisp coffee.

I think I prefer reading fiction (no, I know I prefer it). But I was given a copy of Rock Trivia Madness 60s-90s volume 1 by Bill O’Neill and Ray Connor and, since I did indeed listen to pop music (in England) in those days, I certainly found it interesting. If you listened, or listen now to the stars of those not-too-long-ago days while you write your NaNoWriMo work of staggering genius, you'll find it interesting too. Best enjoyed with some more crisp one-star coffee.

Are you writing yet?

Thursday, November 2, 2017

Past, present or future? Which do you prefer?

Can a novel set in the past have a message for the present? Can one set in the future hold a mirror up to today? And can a novel of today hold warnings for the future born in the past?

I read because I love reading. I love to lose myself in a book. I love to walk around the house, pages in hand, dreaming another life, another time. But I also read because I love to think. I love that feeling when fictional characters become so real I want to discuss the present with them. And I love the sense that characters born in the past and the future have enough to say that I can stay in long conversation, even when the pages have ceased to turn.

So my answer to the question, which do I prefer of novels set in the past, present or future, is probably all three. I love novels that make me reexamine what I think I know--novels that don't just offer a mirror or wall, reflecting back my own ideas, but ones that offer a friend by the fireside feeding their thoughts into mine.

A Family of Strangers by Kathleen Flanagan Rollins is set in the past and filled with wonderfully flawed human characters. Using a quietly unobtrusive and intriguing spirituality, the author recreates a convincing prehistoric world and gives each stranger in this ill-matched group a chance to step forward from the mistakes of the past. Nothing can be changed. What's broken is gone. But there's always tomorrow--a very wise message for today! Enjoy this truly rich and elegant novel with a rich elegant four-star cup of coffee.

Set in the present day, No Direction Rome by Kaushik Barua is a very different novel, it's spirituality (or rather lack thereof) vibrantly in-your-face, its personal immediacy enhanced by addressing the reader as "you," and its recently-wounded past carefully disguised in an awkwardly careless present. The protagonist might be hard to get to know, but he's hard to forget and his world is alternately ridiculous, real, and poignant. It's a dark tale best enjoyed with some five-star darkly brewed coffee.

And then there's Red Rising by Pierce Brown, first in a trilogy (and I can't wait to read the rest). Set in a dystopian future with some great future history woven into a well-timed backstory, and characters that are convincingly different from their present day equivalents, it holds a complex mirror to the present, inviting but never demanding analogy. Enjoy with some more dark five-star coffee--the story's dark and compelling.

I really enjoyed all three of these books, past, present and future. And I really enjoy reading in all three times.

Wednesday, November 1, 2017


November is National Epilepsy awareness month, and I'm delighted to welcome McCall Hoyle to my blog, author of The Thing With Feathers. We're going to enjoy some coffee together, so please find a cup and join us. But first...

Some info bout the book.

Sixteen-year-old Emilie Day is not like the other girls from her town on the Outer Banks of North Carolina. She has epilepsy, is homeschooled, and would rather be reading classic literature than be the center of attention.
 Ever since her father’s death and her diagnosis, risk has not been in Emilie’s vocabulary. Unfortunately, all the safety she’s built for herself is about to be stripped away when, on her doctor’s recommendation, Emilie is sentenced to spend her junior year at North Ridge High School. Fueled by frustration, Emilie doesn’t plan to stay…or tell anyone about her epilepsy. 

But Emilie isn’t banking on meeting new friends or getting to know the handsome and charming Chatham York. And she definitely isn’t counting on falling for him. Chatham challenges Emilie to face her fears—but he doesn’t know what she dreads most is a public grand mal seizure.

So, may I ask you some questions...

What inspired you to write The Thing with Feathers ?

As a teacher and mom, I observe so many teenage girls hiding their true selves from their peers. So I wanted to write a hopeful story about a girl learning to a accept herself for who she was. I taught a student whose family was greatly impacted by her sister’s epilepsy and learned about the unique challenges of living with a covert disability that isn’t immediately visible to strangers and acquaintances.

I also love dogs. By chance, my family inherited a golden retriever who was bred to do service work. The dog was more human than many humans.

Oh, they so often are! I love dogs!

I began working with this amazing dog training him for agility and obedience. I became fascinated by golden retrievers and assistant dogs and did a tremendous amount of research and reading about service dogs and the people they love. I was especially intrigued by seizure alert dogs as seizure alerting cannot truly be taught and is greatly affected by the bond between the owner and dog. I knew I had to write a story about a girl with epilepsy learning to love herself unconditionally the way her golden retriever did.

What is behind the title? Dogs don't have feathers...

The title is a line from a well-known Emily Dickinson poem. She writes: “’Hope’ is the thing with feathers; that perches in the soul; “ When the title came to me, I knew it was perfect. Everything about this book and about Emilie, the main character, is about learning to find hope even in the most difficult circumstances. And reading poetry and studying Emily Dickinson have a major impact on Emilie’s emotional arc in this story. Thankfully, my agent, editor, and publisher also agreed the title was perfect. I don’t personally think a title is going to make or break a book, but I love a nice title—especially one that’s somehow connected to the theme of the book and that readers have to uncover the meaning of for themselves. And I think this title does just that.

As a writer, was it difficult to combine romantic elements with the exploration of Emilie’s condition?

This is an excellent question. First, I wanted this to be Emilie’s story. I wanted it to be a story of strength and resilience and hope. I did not want the romance to overshadow Emilie’s emotional growth. But in my experience, relationships are a central part of who we are. We’re constantly starting, developing, and ending relationships. Emilie’s story is about opening up, taking risks, and learning to hope. Taking a risk on friendship and first love were a natural part of her growth as a human being. I feel like it worked. Epilepsy is a big part of Emilie’s life, but it’s not her entire life. She’s a perfectly average teenage girl. Yes, she has epilepsy, but she’s also dealing with all the things teenage girls deal with including boys.

Do you feel like your book depicts a pretty realistic view of what life is like for a teen with an illness or a disability?

I’ve taught middle school and high school for twelve years. I’ve raised a teenage daughter, and I was a teenage girl. On an average day, I spend more time with teenagers than with adults. Also, I experienced some of the greatest trials of my life during my teenage years. It’s actually frighteningly easy for me to put myself in the mindset of teenage girls. So I feel really confident about the teenage girl part.

As far as living with epilepsy is concerned, I interviewed several students who either have epilepsy or love someone with epilepsy. I also did lots and lots of research and had several parents of children with epilepsy read the book. Because there are so many types of epilepsy and types of seizures, almost everyone who has epilepsy has a unique story.

Emilie struggles with managing the challenges of her epilepsy and her seizures, but in my experience, most teenage girls are struggling. When I write, whether it’s about a girl with epilepsy, or a girl struggling with grief, or a girl struggling with body image issues, I try to tap into the emotions I’ve experienced in similar situations and write from those emotions. And above all, I aim for honesty. I want teenage girls to know that no matter how flawed they feel, there is a place for all of us. And there is always room to hope.

What was one of the most surprising things you learned in writing, or in researching Emilie’s story? Any interesting facts that you found out?

As I said, I’ve been fascinated with service dogs for years and have worked with students with epilepsy and their families for years. I also mentioned Emily Dickinson’s poetry plays a central role in the book and in my main character’s emotional development.

Emilie, the protagonist of The Thing with Feathers , must complete a research project on Emily Dickinson for her English class. I’m an American Literature teacher and thought I knew a lot of the basics about Dickinson as a reclusive poet, but I still needed to verify things like when she died, where she went to school, etc. In the process, I came across a biography published in 2011 that hypothesized based on several poetry references that she suffered from a disability of her own and went on to explain that the disability could very possibly have been epilepsy or some type of seizure disorder.

I don’t think anyone will ever be able to confirm this one way or another, but it certainly added to the already growing connection between Emily the poet and Emilie my main character.

How you do think this book will open dialogue among teens about mental health and disability awareness?

I hope that The Thing with Feathers will open dialogue concerning the invisible and covert nature of mental health issues and a wide variety of other illnesses. Mostly, I want teenagers to realize that growing up can be really painful but really beautiful as well. I want all of us to remember that just because someone doesn’t wear an illness, or disability, or emotional wound on the outside doesn’t mean she isn’t carrying one on the inside. Mostly, I wish we would all learn to be a little gentler and kinder with one another and with ourselves.

Do you have plans for more YA books? If so, can you share what you have coming up? 

I love the Outer Banks setting of THE THING WITH FEATHERS and am working on another book that takes place on the ruggedly beautiful barrier islands of North Carolina. In this story, two teenagers with very different outlooks on life, and death, and love are trapped on the islands, cut off from the rest of the world in the face of an oncoming hurricane and have to learn to put their differences aside in order to survive.

Find Mcall Hoyle on Twitter at:
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and find her novel at