Posts tagged ‘Fiction’

Review: A Portrait of Emily Price by Katherine Reay

A Portrait of Emily Price by [Reay, Katherine]

“Francesca sported a perfect American accent–one that stretched flawlessly from Chicago to Seattle, dipping down through Colorado rather than passing up near the Canadian border.”

This…this is why I loved Katherine Reay’s Book, A Portrait of Emily Price. These characters are friends to me, now. Emily simultaneously broke my heart and warmed it with her instinct to fix everything, whether it be a pan with a loose handle or a teenager whose home Emily was restoring from a fire, whether it was her sister or her mother-in-law. I don’t do spoilers, but this instinct to fix things comes from Emily’s childhood, and it is the very thing that brings her family to a boil. And solves their problems, in a way, ultimately through faith and family. I loved watching the art come out of Emily the way pizza came out of Ben, pasta out of Donata, and bread from Lucio.

And that’s the thing. Often in a Hallmark movie, a character has a job…something artsy or community-service oriented in some way. But the writers/actors fail to make that a real part of who the character is in their core. It’s kind of a token designation that a character is a florist or a poverty lawyer or whatever.

Reay has no such failure! The artsy, fix-it side of Emily, the food-and-family side of Ben made them who they are, and it made the story what it is. I want to be frowned at by Donata, given a book by Lucio, and fed by Ben. I want to help Emily fix something and watch Joseph paint. These are people I feel like I know. This is a family whose Sunday Dinners I want to join.

I was surprised not to find myself in Atlanta or Italy when I had to look up from the book…Oh, the field of sunflowers! I wanted to go sit there until they turned my direction. I want to go truffle hunting with their dog.

But the story of Emily and this family stopped my heart in places, as it frequently stopped Emily’s heart, left her not knowing what to do, panicked. As warm as these people are, as close as they are…the secrets buried in this family are heart-breaking. And heart-warming.

It’s that kind of book.

So what did I not like about A Portrait of Emily Price? The end. I literally flipped the page on my Kindle, desperate to read more, not conscious I had reached the end. But it was over. Reay does not tell us what happens with Joseph (oops, almost committed a spoiler there). She leaves us hanging, having to think it through for ourselves. Heart-warming. And heart-breaking.

Yep. It’s that kind of book.

Blessings,

Voni

Flash fiction: The Ice Cream Competition

writingprompt1

The ice cream Jeff had made looked beautiful…all the colors swirled just right, an invitation to the perfect creamy summer treat.

But the flavors were all wrong.

Red tasted like orange, instead of raspberry or cherry. Or even apple.

The orange tasted like licorice.

Green looked like mint or pistachio. But it tasted like popcorn.

Yellow tasted like…he tasted it again…sunshine. Nothing else to describe it. It was wonderful on the tongue, fruity and fresh and creamy and sweet and tart—not too tart—all at once. But it was supposed to be lemon. He dipped his finger back into the left-over yellow and closed his eyes as the flavor tingled each taste bud.

Blue should’ve been blueberry. Yet it had a distinct garlic taste. Garlic ice cream? Really? As if he would ever do that!

And the purple. Worst of all. It tasted just like tunafish.

He saw the three judge’s faces crinkle in disgust as they tasted his rainbow ice cream cone. He would not be winning this competition.

Crud! He’d pulled out all the stops to win. The judges owned this famous creamery and were looking for a young up-and-coming partner. What could’ve happened?

He gazed over at the creamery’s famous Wall of Flavors just in time to see Michael messing with the “licorice” and “orange” labels two of the flavoring bottles. Well. That explained how his flavors got mixed up. But they would never have tunafish and garlic. He glared at his competitor.

But wait…that sunshine flavor still filled his mouth.

The judges hadn’t seen Michael switching the labels. Or the two presumably smelly containers that looked just like the Wall of Flavors bottles that practically hung out of the man’s apron pockets.

They were too busy gushing over Michael’s peppermint mocha ice cream.

He strode over to his competitor. “Funny joke, Michael. Switching the labels on the bottles.”

He shrugged. “Whatever it takes to win.”

True. With Michael as his competitor, it would have been smart to taste his ice cream bases before putting them in the ice cream maker. But he’d been making so many different flavors, he hadn’t had time. His overconfidence had beaten him.

“It’s okay. I just have one question.”

Michael shrugged again.

“Which label did you switch with the lemon flavoring?” He leaned against the wall nonchalantly.

Michael pointed. “The yellow one over there without the label. Banana? I don’t know.”

Thank goodness. “Like I said, funny joke,” he responded, as though it made no difference. Michael walked over to where the prize ceremony was getting ready to start.

Jeff sauntered over to where Michael had pointed on the Wall of Flavors and picked up the small yellow bottle without the label. He opened it and sniffed. Definitely not banana. It was that sunshine flavor.

He looked around. Everyone else was focused on the awarding of the prize to Michael. No one was looking.

He stuck it in his pocket.

Then he left.

This could make all the difference.

Review: Warror’s Seal by Ronie Kendig

I was enjoying my lunch out (it was my birthday, and Rich was traveling for work). I took my Kindle and was reading Ronie Kendig’s novella, Warrior’s Seal.

The waitress walked up to ask me if I wanted a refill. “Oh! Sorry!” she said. “I didn’t mean to startle you.”

Yep.

I was that into it.

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Ronie has a way with a military novel. She has a way with imagining an impossible (fiction) situation, and making it more impossible. She has a way of connecting your heart with the characters, so that when they are nervous, you are; when they are determined, you are; when they are exhausted, you are; when they are happy, you are.

All these things are very evident in Warrior’s Seal. Thus, the waitress’s ability to startle me.

What did I like about this novella? The situation, first and foremost. The main character, Tox, is the leader of a military team tasked with a mission to save the President, a mission that is complicated by his personal relationships (no spoilers here, but this is a doozy). I absolutely love how Ronie was able to bring in ancient history, too. Do we today have the ability to save the world from the ancient toxin that is released?

What did I not like about Warrior’s Seal? Not much. It makes me angry that Tox is in trouble (I told you it was a doozy), though his loyalty to his team is very evident in the end. It makes me even more angry that Tox accepts the trouble. He is an extraordinarily capable warrior of integrity and yet sees no way out? He obviously feels powerless, destined to the trouble. He has more strength of character than this; If he told his story, explained why he did what he did, America would be on his side.

Of course, it’s complicated (I told you it’s a doozy), and Tox himself is complicated.

I did not like the ending: I wanted more!

But that’s the purpose of this free prequel. (Get it here) It’s setting up her Tox Files series, the first book of which is on preorder now, and releases tomorrow. It’s called Conspiracy of Silence.

Ronie is sending the more that I’m craving.

Thanks, Ronie.

Blessings,

Voni

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.

Blessings,

Voni

Flash Fiction Friday: That’s All It Took?

Balloon ride

THAT’S ALL IT TOOK?

Flash Fiction by Voni Harris

He was nervous.

That’s why he slopped the dollop of mustard down the front of his shirt. Went perfectly with the already stinking baby spit-up from his last client’s baby.

He’d shouldn’t have stopped at the sidewalk vendor on his way out to his car, even if it was destined to be a late dinner. Now there was no time to change before he met her.

Fortunately, there was an extra shirt in his car.

Unfortunately, it was his yellow shirt with large dots of many shades of green. Perfect for alumni events, with jeans. Not so perfect with his blue pin-striped suit pants.

Better than smelly baby spit-up and a mustard blotch. He quickly switched shirts at the side of the road. Glancing at his watch, he saw he was cutting it close, and he needed to impress tonight. She was looking for romance tonight; she’d made that clear.

He pulled up outside her office. She gave his clothes a quizzical look through the window, then waved and came lightly running out to the car with a smile, full skirt flowing behind her. He got out and walked around to open the door for her…

…just in time to knock her off the curb and send her rolling onto the lawn.

“Are you okay?” he asked, reaching to help her up.

She dusted the grass off her backside.

“Perfectly fine,” she answered, then frowned. “However, my shoe is not.” She held it up for his inspection. The heel of the left shoe was rolling in the gutter.

“Sorry about that,” he mumbled, embarrassed.

“That’s okay.” She opened her voluminous purse and pulled out a pair of flats. “I came prepared.” She slid onto the car seat and slipped on the flats, tossing the heels in the back seat.

Great. Just great. This date was supposed to knock her socks off, not break her shoes!

He closed her door for her, then walked around and started the car. She teased about his clothes, chattered about her day, and there had never been a faster 45-minute drive. With her in the car, even the pot holes after they turned onto the dirt road didn’t annoy him.

This was a woman he intended to impress and keep impressed.

 

They pulled up in front of a barn and parked. She took one look at the sign and squealed. “A hot-air balloon ride? Seriously? I can’t wait.”

Score!

She dug a ponytail holder from the depths of her purse and pulled her hair back to combat the wind while he walked around the car and opened the door for her.

The balloonist came walking over. The man rocked back and forth on his heels as he greeted them. “Sorry to give you bad news. I was hoping this wind was going to die down by the time you got here, but it increased instead. It’s too heavy for us to go up tonight. We’ll have to reschedule.”

He looked up to see her face fall, and his stomach fell to his feet.

“I’m sorry.” he told her, grinding his toe into the dirt.

“Not your fault.” She deliberately put a smile on her face. “Nor yours,” she told the balloonist, who smiled back in relief.

She turned to look at him. “Now what?” she asked.

He hoped she didn’t just write off the whole date. “We could go on to the restaurant. I was a little worried we wouldn’t make our reservation, anyway, and it’s quite a drive.”

“Let’s do it!” They waved to the balloonist as he drove away and slid into their seats.

That’s when the car refused to start. It wouldn’t even turn over. He got out, muttering a prayer, and looked under the hood. He saw the problem and hooked the loose wire back up.

The car still wouldn’t start.

He got out of the car again. That is when he noticed the pool of liquid under the gas tank; one of the pot holes must have caused the obvious hole in the tank.

At least they came across a field of wild flowers as they walked around, waiting on the tow truck. A girl seeking romance had to have flowers, right? He picked her a mess of them and hoped she’d not notice that he’d forgotten to order a bouquet for the night.

Sitting between him and the tow truck driver on their way back into town, she rubbed her arm where she’d been stung by the bee he’d unwittingly picked along with the flowers. Loud and twangy country music on the radio kept them from any conversation, but she did he reach over and take his hand.

They left the car at a repair shop near the restaurant and walked down the street, still holding hands.

That’s when they were deluged by the storm the wind had been blowing in. They took off jogging and pushed into the restaurant soaking wet.

The maitre d’ inside looked them up and down and gave a self-satisfied smile as he tapped his notebook. They’d missed their reservation time after all.

They ran to the restaurant next door. The wait was over ninety minutes. She tapped his arm, “It’s getting late at this point. McDonald’s is across the street.”

McDonald's

McDonald’s. I am such a clod.

But he couldn’t take her home hungry after all he put her through. He sighed in agreement, and they ran through the rain once more.

McDonald’s. So this is where our perfect date ends up.

Fifteen minutes later, she took a huge bite of her burger as she ran her fries through a pile of ketchup.

She threw her head back in laughter. “This has been the most perfect date night!”

His jaw dropped.

“I love being married to you,” she said, her sky-blue eyes sparkling.

With no idea what to say, he just grabbed her hand. And held on.

 

The end

 

Blessings,

Voni

 

Flash Fiction Friday: The Valentine’s Mistake

iphone

“Will you be my Valentine?”

His hand paused above the send button on the text message he’d just typed; it was shaking, if you looked hard enough to notice.

He looked around his office. Empty. Through the open door he could see several people gathered at the water cooler, but no one was watching.

He clicked send, then tossed his phone on the desk.

Quickly turning to his computer, he got back to work, putting out of his mind the consequences of what he had just done.

Two minutes later, the phone buzzed, alerting him that a text had come in.

The consequences.

His whole body felt like a giant exclamation point. He shook it off.

I’ll check it later. I’ve got work.

And he did work.

For about forty-seven seconds.

Could be that text I’m expecting from Mr. Houghton over at Houghton Associates.

Unable to ignore the firm’s biggest client, he pushed his chair away from the computer and picked up his phone.

It was from his wife. What does Sheila want to nag me about now?

Suddenly, his body went on high alert.

Consequences.

But how could she possibly…

He rotated his shoulders to relieve the sudden tension. Might as well get it over with.

He clicked through to her text.

“Yes! Of course I’ll be your Valentine, Samuel! You’ve been sooo distracted lately, but then I know how your job can get when you’re closing a big deal. How about we go to Italiano’s for supper? I’ll call Debbie to babysit. She could keep the kids at her house for the night.”

Frowning, he pulled up his original text.

Yup. He’d sent it to Sheila.

He’d meant to send it to Allison. Kind of an icebreaker for the obvious attraction between them.

He returned to Sheila’s message and was surprised to find himself smiling. She’d always insisted on calling him Samuel and not Sam. With the smile, a thought dawned on him.

He grabbed his phone before the idea could leave and began tapping keys.

“Call Debbie, but instead of Italiano’s I think we’ll go through the driveway at McDonald’s and eat in the car at the harbor and watch the ships come in. I love you, Sheila.”

He found himself blushing at the remembrance of taking her to the harbor for the first time on their first date. McDonald’s included. He’d been embarrassed at his lack of funds.

But they’d stayed there in the car, talking, until 2 AM.

Scrolling to Allison’s name on the contacts list, Sam quickly punched “delete contact.”

He’d have to find a different spin class.

He wasn’t going to make this mistake again.

 

The End

Blessings,

Voni

P.S. My Barometer Mountain 52-week Photo Challenge will be posted on Monday. Unless I post it on Tuesday like I did the last two weeks. 🙂 At any rate, please check it out! No guarantees, but there may be sunshine in this picture.

Flash Fiction Friday: Rory’s Story Cubes, Week 3

Rory3

The shadows grew like monsters behind the little boy as Jeremy took his hand. They went deeper into the alley, ducking under the clothesline where the boy had been playing.

Jeremy wanted to ask, where’d you get that tattoo on your hand, but thought it better to ask, “What’s your name?

The boy looked at him oddly. “My mama has your cell phone.”

Great. The cell phone with my passwords and bank account apps, and my credit card info. “Where’d you get that tattoo on your hand?” Jeremy asked.

The boy shrugged. “Where’d you get yours?”

“I don’t have one.”

The boy looked at him oddly. This time, Jeremy gazed back at him. Just in time to walk into a spider web. He brushed it from his face quickly with a fling of his hand.

Like Alice falling down the rabbit hole! Nevertheless, he decided to try the conversation again. “How much further?”

“Not much.” The boy made it sound like Jeremy should know how much distance was left.

Sighing, Jeremy made one last attempt. “How old are you?”

The boy looked at him oddly. “Here we are.” He took a sudden left and brought Jeremy up some crumbly concrete steps into a brick house with blue trim standing on the corner of the alley and the main drag toward which they’d been headed.

They stood in a run-down, but clean, living room, with the only light coming from a naked bulb overhead. The TV, or was it a radio, spoke softly from the next room.

“Mom! We’re here! The man stirred.”

The radio came off, and out came a woman, drying her hands on an apron as she entered the room. It was the woman with the parachute. And the Box-L tattoo.

“But, Mom,” the boy continued, “he didn’t know how old I was.”

She cocked her head in mild confusion. “He’s six,” she informed him.

Jeremy opened his mouth to make introductions, and the woman did too, but they didn’t get a chance.

“Mom, the man didn’t even know my name.”

How could I? I’ve never seen you before!

The woman looked at Jeremy oddly. Runs in the family. He rolled his eyes.

“His name is Ari.”

“Short for Antares,” the boy piped up. “You know, the star? In the Scorpio constellation? The Breast of the Scorpion?”

Jeremy opened his mouth to politely compliment the name, but the boy wasn’t finished talking.

“Mom, he said he doesn’t have a tattoo!”

“What? He doesn’t?” The woman’s ears turned red, and she pursed her lips.

Jeremy recognized the dare in her eyes from the rooftop parachute jump and didn’t dare move. Ari ran into the other room and returned a few seconds later with a flashlight that burned blue with some sort of black light.

“Show me your palm,” Parachute Woman demanded. She held out her hand like a mother checking her child’s hand cleanliness before a meal.

I am a grown man! “What are …”

“I said, show me your palm.”

Tune in next week for more! And check out the Rory’s Story Cube app on your phone. What fun! You’re welcome to share your own results in my comments section.

Blessings,
Voni