Tonight near midnight I had a nagging urge to check the horses, one of those niggling feelings along the back of my neck that wouldn’t let go. I called the dogs from my daughter’s room, slipped on my flip flops, grabbed a flashlight, and headed out the door. There was no moon, but it was light enough to see the way to the corral. Brownie came to the rail to greet me with a nicker and a slight cough I’ll check in the morning. All seemed well, so after a few pats and a double-check on the water, I headed back to the house. That’s when I heard it–the long, low cry of the wolf pack. Not close, in the hills a few miles away, I think, but it’s been a couple of years since I’d last heard them call. Wildlife officials say there are no wolves in these parts, but they are mostly nine to fivers. You have to be a night owl to run with the wolf pack. Keeping the dogs in tonight.
Isn’t it gorgeous? I love all the hidden faces and creatures in it. This is a new edition of Jabberwocky by Daniel Coleman with illustrations by E.K. Stewart-Cook. From the back of the book:
How can a boy succeed where an army has failed?
Tjaden, a young man who aspires to be an Elite soldier, blames himself when Elora’s beautiful face is disfigured by a bandersnatch. Elora hides behind her scars, feeling unlovable in a world that only confirms her doubts.
Before Tjaden has a chance to convince her that scars don’t matter, an even more terrifying monster comes between them—the Jabberwock.
If the secrets of the vorpal sword fail, so will Tjaden.
This book is on my to read list. I’ll be reviewing it soon. There’s a pre-release eBook sale going on where Jabberwocky is a steal at $.99. Don’t miss it.
I recently interviewed Brenda Corey Dunne about her newest book, Dependent. This was a big summer for Brenda and her family as they sold and bought houses, renovated the new one, and moved the whole family–horses and all–across Canada to her husband’s new military posting. Somehow between the move, the new book launch, and discovering where to buy groceries and back to school clothes, Brenda found the time to answer a few of my questions.
In Dependent Ellen makes many sacrifices for her family and husband. Do you think that’s typical of all women or something special about Ellen?
That’s a tricky question to answer! I’m not a fan of the ‘the woman’s place is in the home’ stereotype. Women should be able to do whatever they want. This is the 21st Century for goodness sake! And so many husbands make sacrifices for their wives careers.
But I DO believe women take on the nurturing role more often than men. And I live in a world of military relationships. It takes only quick mental review of all of my friends to realize that almost all of my married female friends and closer acquaintances have sacrificed for their husbands in some way. They’ve given up good paying jobs to follow their spouses. Most of them have had to start at the very beginning at least once in their careers. They’ve moved thousands of miles away from family and friends. They’ve scrubbed and staged houses over and over again for a quick sale. They’ve smiled bravely as their husband shouldered his bag and walked away for another deployment. And they’ve done it willingly.
Dependent exposes some of the unique challenges military families face. How can non-military families reach out and support military families more?
Another tricky question. Military families are often strong and proud. They don’t want charity and they don’t want pity. And they won’t ask for help because that would be considered weakness…so they suffer in silence. I think the best way to support them is to put yourself in their shoes. Imagine you are a thousand miles away from home, your house is full of boxes, you have two toddlers and are pregnant with the third, and your hubby has just left for a two month ‘refresher’ course in a different state. What would you like most?
A friendly smile. A cup of coffee. Help getting the trash to the curb on the right day. Knowledge of where the local library is. Hot brownies. Someone to talk to while your kids play at the park. A line on a good daycare in town.
Really, the best way to help a military family is to extend the hand of friendship. I have made so many wonderful friends over my 25 years associated with the military. Some came and went, but most will always have a place in my heart. Those friendships have sometimes been my lifeline—the only thing that helped me cope when things went downhill. That kind of support is the priceless.
Without giving too much away, how do you imagine Ellen’s life now?
I think Ellen is realizing that university is a lot different at 46 than it is at 19! I think she’s dealing with different issues, still trying to figure out how everything works in her new life. Not sure I can give you much more than that!
Thanks, Brenda for stopping by. Click here to see my review of Dependent. Dependent by Brenda Corey Dunn is published by Jolly Fish Press and is available as a trade paperback or eBook from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and other purveyors of fine books.
Connect with Brenda Corey Dunn
It’s gonna be a tough day when you discover Satan’s been searching your whole life for you so you can bear his child.
It gets even rougher when bad feels soooo good.
On the surface, Copper Descent, the New Adult debut novel by Angela Hartley, is a love story about teens Nina and Nate who meet while working at an upscale vacation resort in the wilds of Midway, Utah. But Nina faces much more than a simple love triangle when Sinclair Devereux, lead singer of Revelation, rushes in to sweep her off her feet. Copper Descent is really a story of fate, redemption, and the power of free agency as Nina learns her true identity and the role she’s destined to play in the multiverse evolution of mankind.
Nate is full of real world charm, but Sinclair offers the forbidden. Mix Native American folklore, mean girls, murder, suicide, a love triangle, and an old dude who just may be God and you’ve got a hint of what this book is all about. It’s a richly textured story about temptation and desire, the first in an epic series of seven novels by Angela Hartley that weave a new narrative about the genesis and ultimate destiny of mankind.
Copper Descent by Angela Hartley is published by Fox Hollow Publications is available through Amazon.
The librarian called me a liar.
“There’s no way you read those books! You just took them home yesterday. You’re trying to cheat!”
Now a wiser child would’ve simply said something like, “No, ma’am! I live thousands of miles away, but I’m spending the summer with my grandparents. I don’t know any local kids, and my grandparents are happier if they can’t hear, see, or smell me, so I spend my days perched in the top of an old oak tree with an apple, a bottle of Coke, and a couple of books. I’ve already read every word in their house twice which is why I’m back at the library for more.”
But I all I heard was cheat and that hurt my pride.
“I did too read those books! You don’t want to sign my book log because you’re afraid I’ll win the prize!”
Yesterday, the sign was the first thing I saw when I entered the tiny public library. In big, bold letters it announced the annual summer reading program with the prize of a free ticket to the magical land of Lagoon for any kid who read one hundred books. I’d heard of my cousins speak of Lagoon in the hushed tones reserved for church or when Grandpa was napping. “It makes Saratoga Springs look like the dinky Strawberry Days Fair,” they said. Saratoga Springs with its waterslides and rows of skee-ball alleys was the bomb-diggity. Lagoon, I figured, was a ten year old’s version of paradise. If I got a free ticket, my grandparents would have to take me.
But that would never happen if this dried prune of a librarian kept giving me heat, saying I didn’t read the three measly books she let me borrow a whole lifetime and twenty-six hours ago. I crossed my arms and stuck out my bottom lip.
She raised an eyebrow and picked up the top book from the pile, Rose in Bloom by Louisa May Alcott. “So when Kitty married Mac—”
“Kitty never married Mac,” I interrupted. She married Steve. Rose married Mac.”
She sniffed. “You read it before.”
“Nope.” I picked up Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl. “I did see this movie, but it was called Willy Wonka. In the movie Charlie and Grandpa Joe find the golden ticket, but in the book only Charlie does. I liked the book better.” The last novel was A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle. I held it up. “I loved this. I want to be Meg and have a brother like Charles Wallace. Do you have any more like this one?”
She narrowed her eyes, but grabbed her rubber stamp and dated my log, scrawling her initials next to each title. The war with the librarian was on.
Almost every day I’d walk the two miles each way from my grandparent’s house to the library, toting the three books she let me borrow in the horrific July heat, stopping to splash in the irrigation ditches and to check if the pawdawadames that grew along the banks were ripe. Each day with the bitter taste of too-sour plums teasing my tongue, I’d get quizzed on the books I returned and watched as the librarian reluctantly stamped my official reading log.
I drove her nuts checking out every book deemed fit for children in her library. I read all the Nancy Drew, Hardy Boys, and The Three Investigators mysteries on the shelves and moved on to Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House on the Prairie books. I escaped into Narnia, Middle-earth, and Pern. Huck Finn, Tom, Becky, and I explored the Mississippi, and once I went to a strange planet where all the aliens were made of mushrooms. To this day, I can’t remember the author or book title, but I remember how the space children had to eat boiled eggs. I detested boiled eggs.
The summer I turned ten should’ve been lonely, but with my book friends and imagination I was never bored. I rode my aunt’s old bike around town, played in tennis tournaments, impressed my land-locked cousins by jumping off the high dive, and peeled mountains of cucumbers for my grandmother’s refrigerator pickles, but mostly I read. I discovered that books didn’t care what you looked like, what you wore, or where you came from. Unlike people, you could put them down and pick them right up where you left off, ready to entertain, amuse, and amaze.
Years later when I was studying how people learn, one of my professors talked about how reading with speed and fluency were the most important things for a child to learn. In fact, from kindergarten to sixth grade, average kids who spent only twenty minutes a day of their free time in silent sustained reading were guaranteed to score in the ninetieth percentile on standardized tests regardless of IQ. Like a basketball player working the free-throw line after practice, it was a matter of building muscle memory and neural pathways. In a year, those daily twenty minutes compounded into more than one million additional words read. During tests this was a huge advantage because more time could be spent figuring out the best answer and less on reading through the questions. Studies showed that any sustained reading—comic books, magazines, newspapers, the backs of cereal boxes—as long as a reader stuck to it for a significant amount of time, it helped improve reading speed and fluency.
I never imagined that while I was reading about flying dragons, I was really preparing for SATs and earning college scholarships.
The take away here for parents is that we should worry less about grade level appropriateness and vocabulary building—just those concepts alone are enough to turn kids off reading—and more about finding stories that keep kids engaged. It’s sad, but true that my son taught himself to read when I finally refused to tell him what each of his Pokémon cards said. Highly motivated, he learned to read. I’ve seen similar things happen when kids discover Amelia Bedelia, Encyclopedia Brown, or Harry Potter. For some kids reading becomes fun when they discover stories about world records, survival tips, or sports heroes. With sustained reading as the goal, the right kinds of books make all the difference. Libraries with their varied offerings are exactly the kind of smorgasbord kids crave.
It was late in the afternoon and I was leaving for my Hawaiian home in the morning when I returned my last borrowed books to the Pleasant Grove Library. “See?” the librarian smirked, “I knew you couldn’t do it.”
A smarter kid would’ve shrugged, knowing there was no time left in the summer for a trip to Lagoon. I went to the baby section and read thirteen picture books. “Here,” I said, dumping them on her desk, “one hundred!”
“Those don’t count!”
“Your sign says books. These are books. I bet you’ve never given a ticket away. You probably don’t even have one. The whole summer reading program is a scam!”
When I walked into my grandmother’s house, I handed my golden ticket to my nine year old cousin. Lagoon, she later wrote in my Christmas card, was glorious.
Dependent, the stunning new novel by Brenda Corey Dunne, is an unusual coming of age story about a forty-five year old woman finding herself after making hard choices at nineteen that set the course of her life.
Ellen Michaels has been an officer’s wife for twenty-five years. Living in the military’s shadow, all of Ellen’s decisions have been influenced by her husband John’s career—where she lives, what she does, and who her friends are—as well as the choices she makes to protect her family. Lumped in with John’s worldly goods as “dependents, furniture, and effects,” it’s profoundly shocking for Ellen to discover that with John’s death her future is her own again.
Much of Dependent is told in flashback, and we see Ellen grow from a young teen to a mature woman. We see the struggles every young mother faces and typical challenges even the best marriages go through. With John’s death we see the devastating effect of losing a partner and father. But Ellen also has a terrible secret she’s kept for twenty-five years, and she fears this secret is what killed her husband.
Told from an insider’s perspective, everything from early marriages, frequent moves, and long absences to the culture of rank and stiff upper lip is vividly portrayed. It’s these military culture conventions—and the idea that everything is happy, happy, happy!—that keep Ellen prisoner until she finally realizes that she independent and powerful.
And when she does you’re going to want to stand up and cheer.
But I’m not going to spoil it!
Summer used to mean trips to the library, at least once a week and usually more often. Books had to be gathered from under beds and behind car seats and children rounded up and loaded into those same seats, wiggling with anticipation over the new stories they’d discover and bring home.
Often we’d get sidetracked and end up grabbing a shave ice from a local teenager sweltering in a temporary shed covered in plastic raffia. I used to keep baby wipes in the car so sticky tiger’s blood wouldn’t dot the new book covers.
But now things are different. Last week my 14 year old daughter asked if I could take her to the library. I turned away from my computer, blinking. It’s the middle of July and I haven’t had a single strawberry shave ice. We’ve driven by the library a zillion times. Why haven’t we stopped in?
Oh, man. Does this mean I’m a terrible mother? My kids are not reading this summer. They are going to fail their SATs and end up addicted to video games and living in my basement until I die, a cold Diet Coke clutched in one hand and a dusty library card in the other.
Quick! How many books do they have to consume in the weeks before school starts to catch up? 10? 20? We’ll give up tv. We’ll give up sleep. We’ll—
“Mom? Did you hear me? Can we go to the library? Or can you at least recommend something from your eBook collection? Since I can’t pick up the books and check the back, I don’t know what’s good.”
Oh, yeah. EBooks. Between gifts, subscription services, and purchases, there are thousands of books in my digital library for the kids to choose from. “Son,” I yelled up the stairs, “what are you reading?”
The 16 year old peeked over the railing. “Last week I read Brandon Sanderson’s newest. Yesterday I finished the entire Sherlock Holmes collection and I’ve started on Terry Pratchett.”
“So you don’t want to go to the library?”
He waved his smart phone at me. “Whatever for?”
My daughter said, “Well, I want to read The Fault in Our Stars.”
“Mom’s got it,” he replied. “Check her Amazon account.”
“I also wanted dystopian.”
“Mom’s got the Legends series.”
“I want books.”
I get where she’s coming from. There’s something about holding a book, measuring your progress through it, trying to slow down when you know the end is coming up and you war with yourself over wanting to prolong the journey as much as you want to find out what happens.
I also know that eBooks are immediately available and infinitely more portable.
At the library, I wasn’t surprised that when my daughter borrowed Legend by Marie Lu she had to put her name down on the wait-list for the next books in the series, Prodigy and Champion. It’s popular and there were four or five kids ahead of her. I also wasn’t surprised when she came to me at 11 pm asking how to download the final two books.
The desire to know what happens next crushed the book purist in her.
And now I fear I’ll have to find new excuses to make summer shave ice runs. But the kids are reading. Won’t have to finish the basement after all.
When Nels, the Kingdom of Avërand’s most eager aspiring knight, is murdered, his ghost haunts the only person in the kingdom who can see and hear him: the beautiful – but headstrong – Princess Tyra.
Together, the ghost and the princess learn that an ancient magic, called Fabrication, has prevented Nels from crossing over to the other side. Because Nels isn’t really dead – he is just unwoven.
To weave him back to life, Nels and the princess must journey to find the magic Needle of Gailner. They struggle to get along, but when secrets unravel, Nels and Tyra realize they’re the only ones who can save each other, the kingdom, and reality itself.
We are deep in the Mexican campo, far off the beaten tourist path. We’ve come to a wide place in the road that marks a small tienda, a cinderblock and corrugated tin hut that serves as the only grocery, hurricane shelter, gas station, post office, and cantina for miles around. My daughter has asked that we stop here. After a day exploring authentic Mexican ruins she wants authentic Mexican gum.
Newborn, my daughter’s skin was the color of Ivory soap; blue veins ran like lace beneath her tender knees and elbows mapping the way to her heart. Now at thirteen, she’s all legs like a colt, but unlike a colt she walks with the grace of an athlete and the unconscious entitlement of Bolshoi ballerina.
Gathered high on her head in a no-nonsense pony tail, her Nordic blond hair shimmers as she moves from the sunlit road through the doorway, cascading like molten gold down her back. She sets her sunglasses on the top of her head and pauses to let her ice blue eyes adjust to the dimness. Turning to her left, she stalks the scant aisles and shelves for interesting candy or gum.
Behind her to the right, a small brown button of a girl stands enrapt as this vision glides by like a lioness. The girl turns and furtively follows my daughter, touching what she touches, examining what she sees. I stand by the cash register, waiting. A woman old enough to be the girl’s great-grandmother putters around the counter, watching without looking.
Unaware, my daughter turns abruptly, bowling over her shadow, knocking the girl off her tiny bare feet.
“I’m sorry, I’m sorry,” my daughter flutters, helping the girl up. She brushes the dirt from the floor off the girl’s dress and glances around for nonexistent shoes and adult supervision.
“Are you okay?” she asks.
“¿Eres un ángel?” Are you an angel, the girl whispers.
My daughter smiles. She doesn’t speak Spanish, but it’s apparent that the little girl is okay. She warmly pats her shoulder, flashes another Colgate smile, and turns her attention to the few boxes of sweets that originally caught her eye. Impatient, she flips her hair back over her shoulder. Mesmerized, the girl reaches out, but her fingers stop just shy of nestling in Rapunzel’s golden web.
Realizing her shadow is still next to her, my daughter squats on her heels so they’re near the same height. The girl drinks all this in. My daughter motions to the candy.
“Which do you like?” she asks.
The girl gravely considers her toes.
“This?” In my daughter’s hand a pineapple dances the merengue with a banana on a bright green and yellow package.
The girl glances up, then shakes her head no.
Another package. “Chocolate?”
The girl shrugs her shoulders. My daughter stands and holds the package out for me to see.
“It’s chocolate,” I say. “Probably over thin sugar wafers with vanilla crème in between.”
She nods and puts it back.
“Get what you want,” I say, “but hurry. It’s a long way back to the harbor.”
My daughter makes a pouch out of the bottom of her tee-shirt and fills it with more treats than she’ll ever eat, more than what everyone waiting in the rented van would eat. It’s an odd sampling of golden taffy, fruit chews, gum, and chocolates that she dumps on the counter.
The elderly woman raises an eyebrow. I’m sure we’ve wiped out most of her supply. She calculates and I pay; the total is less than the cost of a Coke on the cruise ship.
The shopkeeper sweeps the sweets into a brown paper bag, creases the edge, and hands it to my daughter.
“Que linda.” How beautiful, she says to me, shaking her head in pity.
“Gracias.” Thank you, I murmur, rolling my eyes. I know what she means.
At the doorway my daughter rummages through the candy and pulls out a package of gum. She refolds the bag and holds it out.
“For you,” she says, handing the rest of the treasure to her shadow. “I didn’t know what you liked. I hope there’s something in there that’s your favorite.”
The girl takes the bag and raises her arms.
“Oh, sweetheart, of course I’ll give you a hug!” My daughter bends down and wraps her arms around the girl, engulfing her in an embrace. “I’m sorry I knocked you over.”
“Angel bellisima de Dios, llévame contigo. Quiero irme al Cielo,” the girl says. Beautiful angel of God, take me with you to heaven.
“Conchie!” snaps the woman, followed by a torrent of colloquial Spanish I didn’t learn in high school.
Stung by a whip, the girl jumps back.
“Oh,” my daughter stumbles, “I—,” no longer a lion, like a gazelle she flees out the door.
“Lo siento,” sighs the woman. I’m sorry. She looks at the girl, then back at me, touching her forehead with a flick of her fingers. “Tocada.” Touched.
“No problema,” I say and walk out the door.
Back in the van my husband teases our daughter, “Just a pack of gum? Looked like you had a shirt full.”
“I bought more, but gave it to a girl. Did I do something wrong, Mom? Are they mad at me?”
“Of course not.”
She cracks the cellophane wrapper and hands the hard Chiclets out.
“I just wanted to see,” she says.
After many years of thinking of myself as a feminist, I’ve realized that I’m not. That definition has become too loaded with baggage I don’t want to carry any more. There’s a particular brand of feminism that proclaims if you’re a feminist, then you’re for everything womyn and against everything male. Modern feminist rhetoric lost me when their pendulum swung so far that it’s no longer about gender neutrality, but feminine superiority.
That’s just swapping one form of tyranny for another. If you haven’t picked-up on it yet, I have a low tolerance for bullies.
Now I absolutely support wage equality, shattering glass ceilings, and social, economic, educational, and political parity. Ain’t nobody gonna put Baby in the corner, right? So if that’s how you define feminism, preach, sister, preach.
In my head, what these ideas have in common is that they’re all about how groups of humans work and live together. I think most of us would agree that the rules, expectations, and opportunities in a secular society should be gender neutral.
However, it’s at the individual level where much of what modern feminists beat their drums over loses me, particularly when they start placing value judgments against women who choose differently than they do and claim that all differences between men and women are irrelevant. A lot of feminists groups are drawing hard lines in the sand and to my surprise some of those lines exclude me.
If being a modern feminist means fitting into a narrow definition and being anti-male, I’m going to have to pass.
Besides, some of the finest human beings I know are male. It’s not gender, it’s attitude.