Book Review: The Memory of Us by Camille Di Maio

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The Memory of UsIn her novel The Memory of Us, Camille Di Maio carries us away in the love of a lifetime, forbidden by circumstance and overwhelming obstacles.

Julianne Westcott’s life is perfect. The daughter of an English shipping magnate and socialite mother, she has everything she needs and wants. But when she discovers a twin brother, Charles, who was institutionalized at birth – blind, deaf, and mentally challenged – she realizes her life is much more complicated than she knew.

Kyle McCarthy is a landscaper’s son, living within very modest means. Julianne first meets him during a visit with her brother. While taking a break from his landscaping duties, Kyle introduces Charles to the beauty of plants, using only touch and smell.  Her heart is taken with Kyle’s loving, gentle soul. But she soon learns that his heart has already been promised to another – Kyle is studying to be a priest.

Julianne’s best friend Lucille convinces her that it would be a sin to seduce a boy bound to God. But even though she tries her best to forget him, Kyle never leaves her thoughts. By chance, they see each other numerous times over the next year, and each time, Julianne feels her attachment to him growing stronger.  He is handsome, funny, and kind.  All the things a priest should be.  But all the things a husband should be as well.

Even if Kyle weren’t promised to the Church, his situation in life is far beneath the approval of her parents. They would never accept her marriage to a boy without station. Julianne would surely have to choose between him and the life she’s always known.

As time passes, Julianne and Kyle battle the devastation that World War II brings to England, coping with the love and loss each struggles to understand and accept.

Misery loves company, they say, and if the war had brought about misery, it had also created a company of friendships that were forged through common suffering.

It was bewildering to see the everyday aspects of life go on amidst such a ravaged landscape….Perhaps the most unnerving sights were the few children that remained in the city, prancing among this new concrete playground and making toys out of the scraps of someone’s former life.

In The Memory of Us, Di Maio surprised me with twists and turns. Just as I was expecting the plot to take one path, it would turn toward another. The first person narrative brings the reader into the brain of Julianne Westcott, following the longing of her love-torn heart as she tries to deal with her passion for a man she can’t have.

As I read, I was filled with the strong emotion of my past, as well as Julianne’s. I suffered the same struggle as a young woman – falling in love with a man whom the world didn’t see as a perfect match, but loving him none-the-less.  The conflict in the novel makes the reader consider the question: How much would you give up for the love of your life? And how would you deal with the consequences?

The people I’d loved, the people I’d left, their voices came back to me in a rising tide until, overwhelmed, I crumbled down onto the floor and wept with abandon. The tears burned my skin and I made no attempt to wipe them away. I was supposed to suffer – my eternal punishment – because of what I’d done.

 For a poignant look into the hearts of forbidden lovers who must question destiny to survive, The Memory of Us will wrap itself around your heart until you cry for what was never had, what was had and lost, and what was never meant to be.

Review of A Promise of Fireflies by Susan Haught

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Promise of FirefliesA Promise of Fireflies wraps us in the turmoil of a woman lost to herself, her life splintering into disconnected pieces that she can’t seem to put back together. But what she finally discovers amid the remnants will change her life forever.

Ryleigh Collins has just lost her mother, and grieves for the person who always gave her sunshine on cloudy days.

Not far from here, Ryleigh had brushed through her mother’s hair as white as the roses she so loved and held her misshapen hands for the last time. It seemed peculiar how quickly the memory had become engraved on her mind like the names carved in granite.

But while sorting her mother’s belongings, Ryleigh discovers her mother wasn’t quite the person she thought she knew so well.  After deciding to pursue answers to the riddles left behind, Ryleigh finds that the family she thought she had was only an illusion, white roses and fireflies defining the part of her life she knew nothing about.

Life’s earthquakes rattle our lives – sometimes they are mere tremors that moderately rock your world. Sometimes they split the earth beneath your feet and swallow you into hell. Then there are tornadoes – dust devils that stir the dirt a bit…then quickly die. But sometimes they pick you up, spin you around, and toss you to Oz. Life is not about how to survive… – it is how you weather the storm and your actions in the wake of the aftermath. You must learn to dance in the rain.

Ryleigh has had no enthusiasm for life since her husband Chandler left her for another woman. Now their divorce is final, and she grieves for the loss of her husband, and for the absence of her almost-grown-son’s father. Even writing her column at the local newspaper doesn’t excite Ryleigh anymore, not to mention the unfinished novel she just hasn’t had the enthusiasm to complete. Ryleigh is paralyzed in the quicksand of her life.

To remain in the shadows of grief seemed effortless. To move forward, an unwelcomed burden. Yet life drifted by – air, light, and sound. Only she stood lifeless.

Then a favor done for her best friend surprises Ryleigh with an unexpected chance for the love and romance she thought were forever lost to her. Or is she just torturing herself with what might have been?

Save for the occasional hiss of pitch from the fire, the room remained quiet. No one to remind her how silly she’d been. No one to emphasize her uncanny ability to create fiction from nothing more than an indiscriminate kiss and an overactive imagination, a talent that should have remained an imaginary scene on a disconnected flash drive.

Will Ryleigh Collins unravel the truth about her family? And will she ever know true love and trust again?

Susan Haught has woven a tale of loss and love, the search for truth and forgiveness, and the rebirth of souls which have lost their purpose. Her lyrical writing style painted magical images of both beauty and grief, thrusting me into the acute emotions of her characters. I was lost in Ryleigh’s pursuit of love, and her compromise with loss.

A Promise of Fireflies is a promise to its readers: they will be engulfed in a rich and tantalizing romance one can only dream about, and the gift of finally dancing in the rain.

Review of Summer Secrets by Jennifer Levine…

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SummerSecrets_CoverFNEveryone has secrets.  Some are big and some are small, but they’re there.  In Summer Secrets, Jennifer Levine takes us through a tumultuous summer in the life of Lauren Breckenridge. She discovers that each member of her family has secrets, and uncovering them nearly breaks her heart.

Lauren seems to have it all.  A loving husband, and two great teenagers.  The perfect family – or so it appears from the outside. But inside, Lauren is struggling.  Her husband, David, has been distant, caught up in his professional life, and his own issues.  He’s been more of a roommate than the romantic man she married.  Her handsome athletic son Jason hardly gives her the time of day, just home to sleep and eat.  And her rebel daughter, Audrey, is a closed book when it comes to sharing with her mother. She is sullen and rebellious; Lauren doesn’t even recognize her anymore. Instead of a mother sharing in the lives of her husband and kids, Lauren feels more like a live-in housekeeper and cook.

The image of her close-knit family is just a mirage.

To help them get to know each other again, Lauren takes her best friend’s suggestion, and plans a getaway vacation. The whole family will stay at an upscale club on the shores of Lake Charlevoix in Michigan for the entire summer. But will her plans for family togetherness mend the distance between them, or unravel right before her eyes?

Lauren painfully discovers that each of her children has been hiding the truth about their lives, and she and David have secrets of their own. How much trauma will they be able to endure and still stay together as a family?

Jennifer Levine has done an excellent job of taking us through a mother’s journey of revelations, disappointments, and dilemmas. Lauren’s raw emotion while struggling to keep her family intact is sewn into the very fabric of the narrative. I appreciate the way Levine makes us feel the pain of a wife and mother whose family may no longer belong to her. What must Lauren do to get a grasp on the life she thought she had? The answer may surprise you.

For a family drama that could be taken right from the newspaper, Jennifer Levine’s Summer Secrets is the perfect read.

Review of Missing Emily by Gerri LeClerc

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Missing EmilyWhat would you do if you were walking your four-year-old daughter down the street, and an unknown person jumped from a car and snatched her from your grasp? What would you do if your five-year-old daughter was destined to die from Leukemia if you couldn’t find a bone marrow donor? And how far would you go to protect your child from sickness and harm? These are the questions that Gerri LeClerc explores in her novel Missing Emily.

Thea Connor is a promising law student ready to graduate, looking forward to a stable life with her four-year-old daughter, Emily. But a week before they were to move home to Cape Cod from Boston, Emily is kidnapped in broad daylight. The police investigation moves ahead full force, but has few leads, and Thea Connor is distraught at the realization that she is a prime suspect. Thea refuses to believe that Emily isn’t alive, but the thought of a horrible outcome makes her numb.

Thea felt as if she was crawling through heavy fog as she made her way to the kitchen. She couldn’t stop the thought, the picture in her mind of why a medical examiner needed dental records.

But memories of her recently deceased mother give her the strength to keep hoping Emily will one day be returned to her.

Thea smiled. Her mother had seen the word through a mystic veil that softened all the sharp edges. Everything had the potential for a happy ending.

Katherine Anderson is a wealthy divorcee living in an upscale Boston neighborhood.  But she’d trade all of her wealth if she could only make her five-year-old daughter, Madison, well.  If a suitable bone marrow donor isn’t found soon, Leukemia will take her daughter. After considering every option, Katherine is willing to sell her soul, and take the only action she has left to save Madison.

Missing Emily is a suspense-filled story of two very different mothers, and the lengths they’d go to take care of their daughters.  One finds strength and hope in surviving the struggle; the other finds despair, with insanity lurking around the corner.

Gerri LeClerc has spun a very believable tale with characters that will pull your emotional strings, and will leave the reader considering what if this happened to me? I highly recommend Missing Emily for a thought-provoking and entertaining read.

How far would you go to save your child?

Using The 12 Stages of Physical Intimacy To Build Tension In Your Novel

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For all you writers, this is a great article by Jenny Hansen, on how to build sexual tension in your stories.

Jenny Hansen's Blog

Several days back, I did a post on Sexting and questioned whether all this “virtual intimacy” between couples would change the “Levels of Intimacy” chart I use in my writing. I had several writers ask me about it in the comments section so I’m bringing it to you on this fine Techie Tuesday.

I first learned about the 12 Stages of Physical Intimacy from Linda Howard, who used to give a very popular talk on the subject based on the work of Desmond Morris, Intimate Behavior: A Zoologist’s Classic Study of Human Intimacy.

On the downside, Linda gave her last edition of this talk to our RWA chapter in 2010. On the upside, Linda has spoken to enough writers that I was able to Google and find a great post on the topic by one of my online pals, Terry O’Dell.

I’ll give the stages and my thoughts here but…

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Review of THE BLUE BATH by Mary Waters-Sayer

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The Blue BathThe Blue Bath, by Mary Waters-Sayer, is a story of unexpected passion and forbidden love. Reminiscent of The Thorn Birds and The Bridges of Madison County, but set in Paris and London, The Blue Bath forces readers to consider what we’d do for the love of our lives, and how far we’d go to keep it.

At nineteen, Kat Lind travels to Paris to study French literature, and to soak up as much of the French culture as she can in her brief time there. But soon after her arrival, she unexpectedly meets Daniel Blake, a struggling British artist whose brooding intensity is an attraction she can’t resist.  Their year together living in his small French studio insulates her from everything outside of their apartment. Kat doesn’t know his past, or anything about his present, other than what they share together in a bubble of rapturous captivation. And she doesn’t care. He is her enigmatic soul mate.

Then Kat discovers something that will change their lives forever, and she runs back to New York, terrified that staying with him will ruin both their lives. And even though she no longer has any contact with him, Daniel seems to be a part of her, never very far from her heart or thoughts.

Years pass.  Kat marries Jonathan, a budding tech entrepreneur, and they have a son, Will.  Jonathan’s business skyrockets him into a global tech magnate, but steals his time and attention away from his family in the process.  Kat feels her loneliness. Then seemingly from nowhere, Kat sees Daniel’s image on the television, in advance of his show that will take the London art world by storm.  Kat can’t help herself – she is drawn to the show – and is stunned to discover her own image on every canvas.  Or at least, the girl she used to be, painted from the memory of the man she left behind.

Will Kat let her love for Daniel lead her into another whirlwind romance? What secret caused Kat to run from him so many years ago, and what of the new secrets they now hide from each other?

Reading The Blue Bath, I was thrown into the middle of a passionate love affair, and felt the hollowness of loss when their romance ended. When they reconnected twenty years later, I acutely felt Kat’s struggle to choose between the man who loved her more than he loved himself, and the man who gave her a child to cherish forever.

I was also shocked to learn how far she’d go in the name of love.  But whose love?

If you’re like me, you’ll be thinking about this passionate story long after the last page.


(I’d like to thank the author, and St. Martin’s Press for providing me with an advance copy for reading and review.)

Guest Post: What’s a Parade Without It?…

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ConfettiMy talented writer-friend, Scott Wilbanks, has kindly allowed me to post his essay as a guest post on my blog. In the wake of the Orlando massacre, we need to remind each other that even though different, we’re all just people.  But unfortunately, there are those who hate what they fear or don’t understand.

Scott’s essay is a beautiful and poignant commentary on valuing our differences, and truly accepting and welcoming each other.  Thank you Scott for your touching words.

What’s A Parade Without It?   by Scott Wilbanks

The Orlando massacre is barely in my rear view window, and I’m already seeing it.  My LGBT family is doing what it does best.  We’re dusting ourselves off, reaching out a hand to lift one another up, and getting ready for the next round, because, let’s be honest, when it comes to the queer community, there’s always another round.

You may write me down in history

With your bitter, twisted lies,

You may tread me in the very dirt

But still, like dust, I’ll rise.

Thank you, Ms. Angelou, thank you.  You know.

It’s happening as I type—our stubborn refusal to be erased—though, by God, there are a lot of people trying.  It started quietly, unremarkably, but has built quite a head of steam.  It’s a grassroots groundswell that is best illustrated through an example that’s repeating itself around the world like some queer, universal ditto.

My husband called me during my stateside visit the day the heartbreak made the news to tell me he’d attended a vigil back home in Auckland, New Zealand.  A single call had gone out—one—and before the sun had fully set that same evening, in a local park on the other side of the planet, seven hundred people had gathered.  They embraced, lit candles, and raised their flames overhead to memorialize our dead and console the living, while trying to make sense of the senseless—the nature of hate, and our role in it.  Words were spoken afterward, some in the form of prayer, others an acknowledgement that while we are not victims, neither are we the cause to hate’s effect.

Seven hundred flames to counter a pastor in Sacramento and another in Tempe who both lamented that not more of us had died.

How many, I wonder, in Paris, then?  In Seattle?  London?  How many calls?  How many thousands and thousands of flames to illuminate a path for the “peaceful migration” of our brothers’ and sisters’ souls*, even as the Twitterverse erupted with countless versions of the following from one Jonathan Howell: “Florida Pulse gay club attacked I’m so happy someone decided to start shooting perverts instead of innocent people.”  Or this one from Drew (last name blocked out): “Nothing wrong with shooting a few gays.”

Drew added a laughter emoji to impress upon everyone that he thinks killing us is… funny.

To these people, we’re not headlines.  We’re punchlines.

The truth is we’re old campaigners when it comes to hate, all of us in the LGBT community; battle scarred veterans who are forever dusting ourselves before stretching out a hand to those of us still on our knees.  We’re a team, but never more so than after a tragedy; a bloodied, big hearted amalgam of the little engine that could, no one left behind, and the ugly duckling.

Not so long ago, it was the fight for marriage equality.  Before that, the big bugaboo—AIDS.  Sixteen thousand died—among them my partner and twenty-odd friends—before President Reagan even acknowledged its existence publicly.

My participation in this larger cycle began with Anita Bryant.  I was a teenager, all of sixteen, and while I should have been addressing issues no more grave than acne, I had to grow into my sexual awareness as she marched across America to “save the children” from those animals.  Which was I, Ms. Bryant?  The child or the animal?  It doesn’t matter, I guess.  Your lesson plan, with its orange juice wholesomeness, big teeth, and talk of God’s will, was effective.  I learned to hate myself and to fear everyone.

And that, my friend, is why Gay Pride Month is so necessary.

Somewhere within all these battles, and within my personal recovery, lies its essence, at least to my eyes.  Triumph.  Indomitability. Perseverance.  Self-worth.


So it shouldn’t come as any surprise when I say I’ve been thinking about the connection between the Orlando atrocity, Gay Pride Month, perseverance, and, more to the point, parades.

My thoughts, though, have taken a decided departure.  I’ve not been thinking of these things from the perspective of a gay man in a straight world. Rather, I’ve been thinking about my LGBT siblings who find our celebrations embarrassing, even mortifying.  Strip away the pretty words, and their arguments are all variations on a simple theme:  We must fit in.


The truth is that we must not, especially now, and for three reasons I can immediately see.  Though I’m sure others will come to mind.

Fear.  It’s not an argument.  It’s a reaction.  And it’s the last thing we should succumb to.  Its focus is survival, which is, despite what just happened in Orlando, the antithesis of Gay Pride.  We’re not throwing on the paint and glitter bomb to survive.  We’re doing the bloody opposite and thumbing our noses at it with as much leather, chenille, and theatre as possible.

Beyond their wayward concern over how others may perceive us when we throw caution to the wind for a single day and unleash the full force of our fabulous differentness, our square-peg-in-a-round-holeness, the people who subscribe to the conformity argument are missing the point altogether.  Our parades are for us, and us alone.  If the world wants to join, it’s more than welcome, but this is our playground, and while you may not understand the rules, they must be respected.

You see, we’re celebrating the fact that we’re the every-colored polka dots in a world of hole-punch tabs.  And that makes us a gift the world has yet to open.

We’re defined by our theatrics, and we should be, but what does it say about those who are blind to our other qualities; the patience, the compassion, the empathy, the right-brained, left-handed brush stroke of the master, the insistent tap at the door of the world’s conscience, the paradoxical shaking-in-our-boots courage that marches relentlessly forward, the collective will to forgive, and now the NRA’s worst nightmare, because, what the hell, we’ll be your knights in shining armor, if you’d only let us.

If you’d only let us.

A little love goes a long way with my crowd.  We can ration that shit like there’s no tomorrow, because, as Orlando proved, there may not be one.  Yet, even in the face of all that—and here’s the main point—we remain the Ever-Ready Bunnies, staring the world down from behind our Ray-Bans, our lips set in a grim line, as we beat our drums on and on and on.  We’re Matthew Shepard.  We’re Virginia Woolf.  We’re Bayard Rustin, Jane Addams, Tennessee Williams, Oscar Wilde, Alice Walker, Alan Turing, Michelangelo, Cole Porter, Frida Kahlo.

We’re confetti.

And let me ask you.

What is a parade without it?


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