Book Review: Shades of Chocolate by Cecelia Dowdy

Cecelia Dowdy wrote a Bakery Romance series that, just by its designation, intrigued me. I read the first, Raspberry Kisses, and enjoyed it enough that I was glad to read book two, Shades of Chocolate. (I was offered this book free for purposes of review, but a review was requested, not required, and a “good” review was never mentioned. These are my fair opinions.) Book three just came out mid-summer, Sweet Dreams, and there is a Christmas novella I own, but haven’t read yet; saving it for Christmas. A fourth is soon coming out!


Shades Of Chocolate (The Bakery Romance Series Book 2) by [Dowdy, Cecelia]

I love stories in which someone’s dreams and passions and talents are at stake. This series follows the lives of women chasing the dream of owning their own bakeries. (Each is stand-alone, connected by theme more than characters.)

In Shades of Chocolate, Toni runs a bakery inherited from her aunt, who raised her in many ways and taught her to bake. Baking—and the bakery itself—is a deep part of who Toni is. The offerings of Toni’s bakery are all chocolate themed…even the coffee. Here’s the problem. Dowdy does such a fantastic job of making the bakery real, I want to go! Alas, it’s a fictional bakery, and the book doesn’t come with any samples.

Toni and her love interest, Jason, are written in the same way. So real, I’d like to sit and talk with them. At the Shades of Chocolate bakery, of course. Alas, they, too are fictional, but I thoroughly enjoyed my sojourn with them.

But if you think this is just a sweet story where they fall in love over sweet chocolate treats, you are wrong. Their very real pasts wreak havoc, but I won’t offer any spoilers. As a writer, Dowdy is unafraid to look face on at very real, contemporary issues through the medium of her fictional world…without wallowing in those issues as certain books and TV shows and movies do.

She is also unafraid of Christian faith. The characters in this book grapple with faith issues, as do the most committed Christians. (Book one, as well.) So many authors are unable to do that.

So, what do I not like about the book? Well, the writing can be overdone, the dialogue full of the truth of the characters, but unnatural-sounding in places. However, when you are immersed in the setting and characters that seem real, that’s a relatively minor flaw.



FLASH FICTION: Christmas at Ground Control


He tapped the steering wheel in frustration at the slowing traffic.

Astronaut Shelly Fender had been in space for 461 days, fifteen hours, seven minutes—he glanced at his watch—and thirty-four seconds.

They’d miss the window to get her back to earth for Christmas with her little boy if he didn’t get into mission control posthaste. He was the flight director, and today was the last window of opportunity before Christmas.

Just ahead, a cow was walking nonchalantly down the freeway. He screeched his tires to avoid it, swerving a bit before coming to a stop in the shoulder.

Not one cow. A herd.

Ah … an overturned cattle truck up ahead.

Traffic would be a mess for hours. He punched numbers into his phone.

Ten minutes later, he heard a helicopter approaching.

It would be an unconventional commute, but that kid would not miss another Christmas with his mama.

Merry Christmas Blessings,


Picture credit:

The Gathered Waters

The Gathered Waters He Called Sea


The pounding of the ocean waves, pummeling the shore…

The deafening whoosh of the waterfall…

The rush of the mighty river…

The babbling of the brook…

The stillness of the gentle lake on a summer day…

The laughing splash of the swimming pool…

The “Ahhhh” of a cool draught of water…

The quiet of the trembling drop clinging to the limb…

The plop as it lands on my nose.



Picture credits: 
Waves: “Waves in pacifica 1” by Brocken Inaglory – Own work. Licensed under GFDL via Commons –
Water Drop: By Lourie Pieterse (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 ( or GFDL (, via Wikimedia Commons

When God Surprises

The other day, I was out watching the Coast Guard Youth Group playing soccer in the chilly Alaska fall. I looked around as the sunset covered everything with an aura of beauty.


Surprise! It took my breath away. “I will lift my eyes to the hills, from whence cometh my help.” Psalm 121.

I remember one day about seven years ago when Rich answered the phone…

Surprise! We’re moving to Alaska! To an island in Alaska!

The other day, we drove past Barometer Mountain…termination dust! Yep, a beautiful, light white dusting of snow on the tip top of the mountain. Surprise!

“To everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven.” Ecclesiastes 3:1

At a writer’s retreat recently, I came barreling out of my cabin and…



Look how close she let me get.  She just looked at me and returned to eating. Winter cometh! “As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, my God.” Psalm 42

Then, on a different day, I walked out on the deck of my cabin, and…



“For who in the skies above can compare with the LORD? Who is like the LORD among the heavenly beings? Psalm 89

The other day, I was driving home from dropping Rich at work, the same old way (not too many roads in our small island town). Then the road curved…



(Thanks so much Patricia for actually taking time to stop and snap this picture of it.) I keep thinking, If I’m God, I’m like *Boom! I created blue!* But not our Creator! So many shades of blue! –Psalm 89, again–

I know…

Sometimes the surprises aren’t good.

That’s when you remember what God said about his creation: “It is good.” God did not create evil; we did that. We chose that, as human beings, as sons of Adam and daughters of Eve. We choose that, as individuals.

God did not create dark.

He created light.

Time after time after time after time in my life, I’ve seen God use those dark moments. I’ve seen His light during those times.


Jesus said, “I am the light of the world.”  Amen!

How has God surprised you lately?




GIVEAWAY NEWS: I was traveling back to Alaska from my mother’s memorial, and we had to spend the night in the Anchorage airport. Therefore I’m late in announcing that Trixi won the copy of Learning to Die by Amryn. Sorry, Trixi! Now back to your regularly scheduled flash fiction: 

This is week four–the last week–of my Flash Fiction Feature, introducing you to some of my awesome Christian writer friends. For the month of June, I challenged four of them to write a flash fiction piece for my blog…only I sent each of them the same photograph as inspiration. It has been fun to see how each one took the same photo and wrote such different stories!

Please welcome the fabulous Amanda Holland!!

Author Pic (1)

Amanda Holland is the author of three short stories and a 2014 ACFW First Impressions finalist for mystery/suspense. Her stories The Love She Never Had, Salt Water, and Coyote have appeared in Splickety magazine. She is currently polishing her first novel and preparing to send it to agents. Working mom by day, writer by night (and weekend and lunch break), Amanda was born and raised in south Arkansas and now lives in Texas with her husband of fifteen years, two boys, and a Yorkie. In her spare time, she runs, knits, and blogs at Grace In Our Moments


And here is the photo with which I challenged Amanda, and the other three writers.


By Amanda Holland

No escape. Mud sucked at her hiking boots as she slid to a stop. She stared up at her escape route, now covered in fog and mist, the mossy rocks too slick to climb. Well, she could scale the hill, but not fast enough to get away. Fear twisted her stomach into knots.

Voices echoed behind her. The cold, damp air muted the sounds. Impossible to tell how far back they were, but the very presence of the sounds assured her they were too close. Another glance up. The other sides of this cut were sheer walls. Her only options were to risk scaling the slippery rocks, or die here in the woods. Death might be her only way out, but she would die fighting.

“Can’t be far.” Clearer. Sharper. Time was almost up. Adrenaline pushed her to the mossy surface of the lowest rocks. Faster. The crescendoing thump of her heartbeat threatened to drown out the voices behind her.

“There’s a dead end ahead. We’ll get her there.” A shiver crawled over her. The distance and echoes warped the voice, but that sounded like—no. Sheer terror and her longing for the safety of home made her imagine things.

Why did she hike that trial? If she’d stayed with her plan, she wouldn’t have seen the body, and she wouldn’t be in this mess. A weekend on the hiking trials of her favorite state park usually erased her stress. With her husband’s “business trips” coming more and more frequently, her suspicions grew that something was wrong. She wanted a clear head when she confronted him and asked for the truth. Instead she’d stumbled across a horrible scene. She might never make it home to sort things out with him.

“Are we close?” Too close. Time’s up. Her muscles went weak. It was over. She’d be dead in minutes. Unless – a small opening, half hidden by moss and leaves, caught her eye just ahead. One more careful foothold pushed her to it. Her hands trembled as she pushed the moss aside to reveal a tiny cave formed by rocks and a fallen tree. Thank you. She breathed the silent prayer as she forced herself into the space, pulling the moss back over the opening.

“Where is she?”

The men came into full view below. Their backs were to her. That voice, the way he carried himself…no. It couldn’t be. They turned. As their faces came into view, she fought back a scream. Her husband gripped a rifle as he scanned the dead-end.

The other man circled the area. “How did she get away?”

“She knows these trails. Came here all the time as a kid. She must’ve cut back somewhere. C’mom, we’ll find her.”

The man she loved wasn’t having an affair—he was a monster, a killer. The sudden cold sweeping over her made her teeth chatter as the men retreated. Escaping this morning was just the beginning. She was going to be running for a long time.



Another fantastic author, right?

I encourage you to leave a comment below for a chance to win a handknit tea/coffee cozy from Amanda! What better to go with reading than tea and coffee, right? I’ll draw from all the commenters on Wednesday.



Blessings, Voni

Photo credit: Paul Baxter


This is week three of my Flash Fiction Feature, introducing you to some of my awesome Christian writer friends. For the month of June, I challenged four of them to write a flash fiction piece for my blog…only I sent each of them the same photograph as inspiration. It has been fun to see how each one took the same photo and wrote such different stories! Tune in each Saturday of June to check it out…and leave a comment for a chance at the weekly GIVEAWAY! I’m so excited.

Please welcome the fabulous Amryn Cross!!

Amryn Cross

Amryn Cross is a forensic scientist and author of romantic suspense novels. As a lover of college football, Shakespeare, superheroes, and traveling, she is drawn to complex characters who aren’t always what they seem. Her novels are character-driven stories of people who face down some of life’s darkest moments and learn to reconcile that darkness with God’s light. She refers to these as “between the shadow and the soul” moments. Amryn is a member of the American Christian Fiction Writers and My Book Therapy.


And here is the photo with which I challenged Amryn, and the other three writers.

By Amryn Cross

What a beautiful place for a murder.

Detective Amelia Soren knew better than to voice that, of course, but it didn’t make it any less true. Then again, this particular killer, who she’d been one step behind for months, did have a flair for the dramatic.

The mist currently drying on her bare face and arms gave the slender branches and moss covered rocks an ethereal feel. Something nearly palpable hung in the air, surrounding her and the body nearly buried in the leaves behind her. Was it fear? No. Amelia had never had much use for that. Still, something held her back from her usual all-encompassing examination of the body. All her senses remained on high alert.

Maybe she shouldn’t have followed this lead alone. Such was the burden of being ahead of the curve. Her partner said she thought too much like the killers they were trying to catch, but that was exactly the point. He’d thought she was crazy for following hunches in the past, but now she had a body to show for it. Plunging her hand into her pocket, she pulled out her cell phone and groaned. No reception.

Well, that settled it. She’d have to take photos on her phone and try to protect any evidence from the elements until she could hike back out of the forest and call for back up.

With each step she took in a wide circle around the body, her feet sunk into the spongy ground. A sharp bite of wind prickled the hair on her arms and the back of her neck.

Amelia froze, though she wasn’t sure why. Instinct. She’d learned long ago not to second guess them. With another scan of the forest surrounding her, she noticed for the first time how much the bare branches resembled bony fingers stretching to the sky—from the grave, reaching for salvation. It was enough to make her shiver.

Behind her, a branch snapped, and she whirled, gun drawn and at ready.

“Who’s there?” She was surprised at how steady her voice sounded given that she felt anything but.

After a moment of stillness, a shadow stepped from behind a tree about ten yards from her.  She recognized the silhouette immediately, and nearly dropped her gun in surprise.

“Fancy meeting you here.”



See why I just had to introduce her to you?

I encourage you to leave a comment below for a chance to win an electronic copy of Amryn’s Learning to Die. I’ll draw from all the commenters on Wednesday.


Learning to Die


A ghost running for her life…
Emily Fox died ten years ago, but she’s not dead enough for Endriago—head of the Colombian drug cartel who murdered her brother while she looked on.
A past she can’t escape…
Now living in Miami as criminalist Kate James and under the protection of the U.S. Marshals, Emily is explosively reunited with her past, propelling her headlong into a web of corruption.
A man who threatens everything…
Two men stand in her way—one threatens her heart, the other her life. Both underestimate her. Because in the race to solve her brother’s murder, she has nothing left to lose.


Check out Amryn’s other books on Amazon, too, or connect with her here: 

And, of course…Tune in next Saturday. Amanda Holland was the next writer to accept my challenge and write a story inspired by the same photo. Another giveaway, too!!

Blessings, Voni

Photo credit: Paul Baxter

Flash fiction winner for the week

Congratulations, briarhopper! You won this week’s drawing, an electronic copy of Kelli Hughett’s Red Zone. I didn’t even give you three chances, though you made three comments, lol. Feel free to continue beg her for the “rest of the story” from her flash fiction piece here last Saturday.

There will be another giveaway next week, for those who comment on the blog Saturday when Amryn Cross will be sharing a flash fiction piece.

blessings, Voni