A Light, Enjoyable Series

Over the Christmas holidays I discovered a new series and have been reading through them one after the other. This is the Markham Sisters series by Diana Xarissa, who also does the Aunt Bessie (An Isle of Man Cozy Mystery) series.

The Markham sisters are two retired teachers who spend their little inheritance windfall on a bed & breakfast in what they think will be a calm little English village. Which it is, for the most part; the locals do their best to make the sisters welcome. The constable drops in often just to check on them—and is easily persuaded to stay for a bite to eat, seeing what a great cook Joan is.

Owning a bed & breakfast has been Joan’s dream since she was young, and since she’s the older, she’s persuaded younger sister Janet to go along with the plan. But running a business and dealing with customers sometimes proves intriguing. Joan has a stronger sense of propriety — which means “no snooping.” It’s Janet who gets quite curious about people who are acting suspiciously or whose stories don’t add up. Joan tells her to mind her own business, but Janet can’t resist doing some investigating.

This series is quite tame, more along the lines of Nancy Drew mysteries. Just what I like: no dead bodies discovered, but smaller crimes like art fraud, an odd shortage of narcotics at the drug store, counterfeit money being passed, and people who aren’t who they claim to be. The novel “cases” are named alphabetically and each book is a short, easy read.

There are ordinary day-to-day details some might find rather boring, but I enjoy the setting and characters. I’d take away one star, though, for the way the sisters interact sometimes. They are in their 60s but Joan is still bossing Janet like a teen older sister — at times this seems overplayed. And Janet, when she’s miffed, still sticks her tongue out behind Joan’s back. I’d think if they’ve lived together all their lives they’d have developed more of a respect for each other, show more of an accepting, “live-and-let-live” attitude. (Mind you, I’ve never lived with a sister for years, so I can’t say what roles they might fall into.)

There is a certain “ghost” angle written into these tales that, for my part, could have been left out. In the stories I’ve read so far it’s only been references to sounds Janet hears and occasionally a strange wind slamming a door.

Anyway, I’d give this series four stars. I read each book separately, but I see the author has published collections now, available free to those of you who have Kindle Unlimited. Here are first four cases:

A Markham Sisters Collection - ABCD by [Xarissa, Diana]

 

New Words Learned

Over the Christmas holidays I dug out my dictionary and learned a few new words. The first was Merriam-Webster’s Word of the Day a couple of weeks ago. The second is the word I’d have used.

Coruscate

1 : to give off or reflect light in bright beams or flashes : sparkle
2 : to be brilliant or showy in technique or style

Scintillate

1 : to emit sparks : spark
2 : to emit quick flashes; sparkle (stars scintillate in the sky)
3. to throw off, as a spark or as sparkling flashes (scintillate witticisms)

Here’s tale I wrote to use my new word:

Lacey stood by the entry to the restaurant and smiled as her new friend walked through the door.

“Hope you haven’t been waiting long?”

“No, just got here.” Lacey turned as the hostess came toward them. “We’re ready to be seated now.”

She and the other single working girl had seen each other different times at this downtown café, each one dining alone. One day when the two of them arrived at the same time, Lacey asked the other girl if she’d like to share a table. It was a savvy move on her part; the two hit it off well.

She learned that the young woman’s name was Sarina and she worked at an office building down the block from Lacey. They were almost the same age, both came from small towns to find a job in the city. Each of them enjoyed reading historical mysteries, so were soon comparing notes about their favourite authors and suggestion books for the other. When they parted they agreed to meet every Monday for lunch; today was their third time.

They followed their hostess and she seated them at table right next to a large group. Their orders were quickly taken and they had a scintillating conversation about office politics as they waited for their food.

At first the clank of cutlery and murmurs of conversation were all they heard from the next table, but after those dinners were done and their plates were cleared away, they started making witty remarks that made Lacey and Sarina grin. They caught on that it was one fellow’s thirtieth birthday and he proved himself good at repartee as the various remarks were fired at him.

His friends were teasing him about “soon needing a cane, having dentures fitted, buying a toupee” and such. When he noticed Lacey and Sarina chuckling over one comment, he winked at them and told everyone his eyesight hadn’t dimmed yet. He could still appreciate beauty when he saw it.

Someone suggested they’d seen the one beauty before. A few details were exchanged and Lacey was excited to learn that this group of people worked for an insurance company three floors above her office and one of the women rode the same bus to work.

A few minutes later two waiters came with dessert plates and a third followed, carrying a huge piece of cake with a sparkler coruscating on the top. At a signal everyone began to sing “Happy Birthday.” Lacey and Sarina joined in, happy to enjoy a moment of camaraderie with the unknown group.

Before they left, Lacey invited her fellow bus rider to join them for lunch next Monday. Sarina seconded the offer after she noticed a paperback poking out of the other woman’s purse. Another historical mysteries reader.

Books: Rescuing Finley

I have great news for readers who like an inspiring contemporary fiction story. Dan Walsh is one of my favorite writers and the first book in his Forever Home Novels, Rescuing Finley, is FREE today on Amazon. NOTE: Last Day of giveaway.

Rescuing Finley CoverMy Book Review:

Two people in desperate situations, one abandoned dog.

Amy Wallace was a recovering meth addict, who lost her job and needed friends. Sad to say, two “friends” had in mind some shoplifting: they wanted to steal an expensive ring from a department store’s jewellery section. And they had in mind Amy should be the one to pocket the goods. Which meant Amy was the one who got caught and sent to prison.

Ever since he finished high school Chaz wanted to sign up with the Marine Corps. His mother protested angrily when he told her, “I signed up today. It’s for two years — but they’ll go fast.” She needed him to help her survive. And what about his dog, Finley? Did Chaz expect her to look after him?

Chaz was Finley’s whole world, the one human who loved him. Chaz’s mother barely tolerated Finley in her small apartment. We understand through his eyes how abandoned and confused he was when Chaz left — and never returned. Finley couldn’t know his master’s life ended on a battlefield, but he knew something was very wrong. Lost in her own grief Chaz’s mother couldn’t deal with a dog — especially a huge one like Finley. Feeling guilty but desperate, she dropped him off at an animal shelter.

Chris Seger’s life as he knew it also ended while on a mission in Afghanistan, when he stepped on a land mine. A permanent ticket home — minus one leg. Stateside, after months of therapy, he found work with an understanding and flexible employer, but he wrestled constantly with PTSD, depression and the nightmares. Then a pal suggested he look into this new program: service dogs for the disabled.

Dan Walsh does an excellent job of taking us through Chris, Finley, and Amy’s lives as they struggle to start again. Then he brings them together in a winning story of forgiveness and healing. At the same time he walks readers through a great program where prisoners work with dogs, training them as companions for veterans with PTSD.

I found this a terrific, heart-touching book and shed quite a few tears as I watched the story unfold. Five stars from me.

Flash Drive Lessons

salesman + title 2
The older gentleman was fishing in his coat pocket as he approached the customer service desk. Mark greeted him with a cheerful, “How may I help you, sir?”

The customer pulled out a small bag with the store’s logo on it and plopped it on the counter. “My wife got me these for Christmas and I wanna return them. Useless things don’t do nothing for my computer. Nothing at all.”

Curious, Mark upended the bag and two very ordinary flash drives fell out. He picked up each one and examined it for damage. “They appear to be okay…”

The man continued his complaint. “I plugged the one in and nothing happened. I tried the other and still no change. So I plugged both of them in. They made no difference whatsoever.”

“Excuse me? What difference were you expecting them to make?”

The man scowled. “They’re flash drives, right?”

Mark nodded, totally clueless.

“My computer’s old, like me, see? Well, a couple of weeks back we were at my nephew’s place and he was telling us he’d bought himself a new computer and a couple of flash drives. Got them right here in your store.”

“I see,” said Mark, though the picture was still fractured.

“He was showing us his whiz-bang machine and what all he could do. Man, that thing was fast! Click-click-click and he was all over the internet. Weather, maps, whatever, all in a flash. So I says to my wife later, ‘I need to get me a couple of those flash drives to speed up my computer.’ She got me these for Christmas but, like I said, they don’t do nothing.”

“Uh…but flash drives are just storage.”

The man looked bewildered. “I thought they’re supposed to drive something?”

“Listen, sir. Just let me call one of our sales reps and he can explain what a flash drive is and how it works.” He pushed the intercom. “Pete to Customer Service, please.”

~~~

At lunch time Pete sat down beside Mark in the staff room and gave Mark a nudge with his elbow. “About that fellow with the flash drive problem… That’s called passing the buck, you know. You could have explained just as well as I.”

Mark grinned. “Can you forgive me? I could see myself being tied up all morning. I noticed he didn’t come back for his refund.”

He gave Mark a thumbs-up. “Sure I can. I sold him a new super-speed system , plus he kept the flash drives.”

Wars, Words and Testy Judges

Back in the mists of ancient history a Norman army from France crossed the English Channel and battled the Anglo kings at Hastings.

Back then the Brits lacked a BBC and a Winston Churchill to rally the troops with:
“We’ll fight them at sea and we’ll fight them on land; we’ll fight them in the fields and we’ll fight them in the ditches…etc. We will never surrender.” In those days of poor communications one doubts there was any kind of significant country-wide clarion call of “Rally the troops!

Consequently the Normans took control of England. Lacking a successful counter attack and rout by the inhabitants, they claimed everything, grabbed all the castles, fortresses and whatever other good stuff they spied— as invaders are wont to do. They settled down to enjoy the spoils and make the Anglo-Saxons work for them.

They brought with them many weapons of war — and their language. There began at this point a steady trickle of French into the Saxonized English of the day:
“Non, non, stupide anglaise chef! Quelle offence! Such ignorance. This is NOT a spitted cow. This is a roti de BOEUF. And this is NOT pig. Non, non, this is PORC. We do not have zee PIG to feed us at our table!”

The phlegmatic cook, having sprung from an old English “Farmer in the dell” lineage, hadn’t adopted the Saxon swine yet — which was just as well. She didn’t do so well with roti de boeuf, either, and slurred it to roast beef. She was pleased, though, to be elevated from cook to chef. (Wouldn’t you be?)

Fast forward almost a millennium, to where a Yank calling himself Fandango gives us the word prompt: PENDING.

Thus today we’re prompt-writing about this word, originally forced onto the French by the Roman conquerors of Gaul, then delivered via the sword and the trickle to the Brits. As Norman rule was suspendu over Britain, this word slowly wormed its way into the emerging English language. By now it’s established itself in oodles of English subdivisions — much like Norman DNA in general. And from there it’s crossed the Atlantic.

Definitions given by my Collins Canadian Dictionary, First Edition:

Pending:
– while waiting for
– not yet decided or settled
– imminent

Impending:
something (esp something bad) about to happen

Suspend:
– hang (something) from a high place
– cause something to remain floating or hanging
– cause to stop temporarily
– to remove (someone) temporarily from a job or position, usually as a punishment

Depend:
– to put trust in; rely on
– to be influenced or determined (by)
– to rely (on) for income

Expend:
– to spend or use up (something)

Real Life Uses:

Judge Smith was motoring sedately along the highway, expending serious thought on the impending decision over custody of the Watkins’ dog. Considering the vicious ongoing battle for ownership, she’d suspended all visiting rights pending a dog psychologist’s report on the dog’s behaviour in the presence of its master and its mistress.

Little did Judge Smith know that Sam Slatter had expended a lot of energy intoxicating himself on a suspension of fermented barley and hops, and was heading toward a STOP sign to her left.

The county had suspended a flashing red light above the intersection to doubly warn motorists that they MUST, MUST come to a complete stop at the white line. How well Sam perceived this sign and/or light was dependent on how clear his vision was. And it wasn’t. Sad to say, his befuddled brain’s reaction time was as impaired as the rest of him.

The impending arrival of Sam’s vehicle was not noticed by the judge, distracted as her thoughts were. She only caught a glimpse of the oncoming vehicle on her left periphery and the question flashed through her mind, “Will it stop?”

Sam made a brave attempt to brake when the Judge’s vehicle swept in front of him, but the momentum of his vehicle couldn’t be checked. There was a dull crunch as he clipped the tail lights and rear fender of the Judge’s car.

Several days later Sam’s fog had mercilessly left him to his fate. Worse, he could see clearly now that the person whose car he had damaged was sitting in the judgement seat above him. What could he say? What could he do but sniffle as his license was suspended indefinitely, pending a police report on his past behaviour behind the wheel.

The Watkins’ case came up next. Worse luck for them, Judge Smith was in no mood to be patient. The dog was awarded to the husband’s aged uncle and all visiting rights were denied.

Writing Delights

Writing is a delightful pursuit. As some great author once said, “It’s easy. You just sit down at the typewriter and open a vein.”

And then there’s the joy of editing, which I’ve tried to capture in this senryu:

editor slings red ink
bloodied words fly here and there
novel shavings
🙂

Alas! Those days are long gone when writers handed their books to an editor and the editorial staff did the fixing. Now it’s up to the writer to have the manuscript error-free and print-ready. Which usually means hiring a freelance editor.

Self-Publishing Options:
Print-on-demand companies like Amazon make publishing a price-painless proposition. Download a pdf, hit publish, and you’re good to go.

Now comes the joy of marketing. If a traditional publishing company is selling your book, they expect hands-on involvement from you. If you’ve self-published with Amazon, Kobo, Barnes & Noble, or any similar company, your hands are the only ones working the Ads & Sales desk. Unless you have kin and friends who’ll help promote your book, you’re on your own.

Thankfully companies will help in small ways. I recently made a deal with PrairieView Press, the printer/seller of my children’s book, The Rescuing Day, to list it in a flyer they are sending out to bookstores.

Rescuing Day cover.jpg

Plus, I’ve just made an agreement with Amazon.com to do a special free book offer for my e-book, Silver Morning Song.

SMS Cover page
As you see in my side bar, my book will be free on Amazon.com this coming weekend, November 22 to 26. So if you enjoy my blog, with it’s mix of short fiction tales, poetry and micro-poetry, take this opportunity to get your free copy. Here’s the LINK.

NOTE: I wasn’t given the option to list this on Amazon.ca, so I’m not sure if you’ll find the FREE COPY listed there. If you’re a UK reader, I plan to make the same offer on Amazon.uk next month.

And of course, if you do pick up a copy, I’m really hoping you’ll leave an honest review on Amazon. Even a couple of sentences will help. Thanks much!