Sunday, January 22, 2017
When I was working on my first novel, one of my earliest bits of writing advice was never kill off or injure a pet because most people were pet lovers and doing so would put them off.
This advice came back to me in the very opening pages of Don’t Turn Out the Lights.
The prologue, which the author termed an Overture, was such an extreme example of this, that the scene haunted me for days. A man out in a severe snowstorm, aided by his devoted dog, comes across a cabin where (an extremely gory scene) he finds a mutilated woman’s body, still warm. He decides he has to take her corpse to his car and leaves the cabin with her body. Back in the storm he discovers that a pack of wolves are waiting to devour him. He believes that the only way to make it to the car with the body, is to sacrifice his dog to the wolves and he commands the dog to attack the wolf pack. If that isn’t bad enough, the author describes the sounds.
I would have stopped reading right then, but the author quickly covered up the scene by telling the reader it was a dream. Too late. The disgust was already stuck in my mind.
After that opening, the book became quite interesting, so I kept reading, foolishly, as it turned out. In a later scene, an intruder injures a woman’s dog so badly that his leg has a bone sticking out. Rather than take him to a vet, Christine calls her boyfriend, who she no longer trusts, and asks him to call his friend who is a vet. When he refuses and hangs up on her, she forgets all about the injured dog and goes to work the next day without pursuing the poor thing’s injuries. Hard to believe, since she lives in a big city, that there wouldn’t have been an emergency vet service available.
I rarely do reviews on books I don’t finish, but these two scenes took me so far out of the story—which could have been good without them—that I put the book aside for something better that didn’t describe cruelty to animals. Unfortunate, because otherwise the book had an interesting plot.
My advice to other readers is to avoid this book unless you don’t care for animals or can tolerate reading about their abuse
Saturday, November 12, 2016
THE KEPT WOMAN
Much as I enjoy Slaughter’s Will Trent, a detective with a complex past and an even more complex relationship with a woman from that past, I found this latest episode of Trent’s life frustrating to read.
Trent’s new involvement with Sara Linton is crippled by Trent’s inability to let go of Angie, the woman from his childhood whom he both grew up with and married. A lot of series do this, keep the main character from moving on from an old relationship that forever pops up when he or she has a new person in their life. I think most of us readers get weary of ongoing triangles and would appreciate new obstacles for the main character.
Not only does Slaughter bring Angie back in this novel, but also, despite several attempts on her life, she manages to survive to come back in the next one!
As a whole, the book was rather long. It might have been easier to read if it had been tighter, especially a long episode of Angie’s life and an endless survival scene near the end.
Despite those criticisms, The Kept Woman is an enjoyable suspense read, worthy of a weekend spent on the couch.
I am sure that many, if not most of Slaughter's fans will not mind Angie's perpetual returns to Will's life. I do love her writing, but found the above mentioned criticisms rather slowed down my enthusiasm as I read The Kept Woman. It could be just a personal like, but at some point in a series, I want the main character to move on and learn from past experience.
Have a warm and wonderful Thanksgiving,
Saturday, October 15, 2016
Insidious runs two parallel plots. One is about a serial killer in LA who targets starlets. The other takes place in D. C. when a wealthy woman who is a family friend of Savich is poisoned, and every member of her immediate family becomes a suspect. The plot of the latter is so clichéd that we've all read something similar over and over again, beginning with Agatha Christie. I found myself skipping through those sections to get to the other plot, which was more interesting.
Overall, the book was disappointing. Coulter’s books should be described as romantic suspense since nearly everyone in the story ends up connected with someone else or is already in an idyllic relationship.
Coulter’s fans are loyal, and she definitely has a huge market following, based on how frequently her books hit the top ten on the NYT bestseller list. Insidious, however, drew a lot of unhappy reviews from her fans.
What authors can learn from Insidious:
1. Be true to your genre. Don’t describe your book as something it is not.
2. A dash of romance is enjoyable to most readers. If your book is not advertised as romance/thriller or romantic suspense, then keep it to a minimum.
3. If you’re going to use a plot that’s been used a LOT, be sure you have a creative twist to it. You may not be accused of plagiarism but you will bore your readers to death with a hackneyed plot.
I hope you are enjoying a lovely autumn. Here in the upper Midwest we are having warmer-than-normal weather and mostly sunny days. Make time for reading, and remember to leave a review for every book that you read, even if you didn’t enjoy it. Authors appreciate each review!
Till next time,
Friday, September 16, 2016
I LET YOU GO
I Let You Go, was for me, a 5 Star read. Psychological suspense at its best, the story kept me eagerly reading until the end.
The book is divided into Part one and Part two. Part one, especially at the beginning, moved rather slow, but picked up quickly as the story moved on. The character of Jenna was extremely well developed and I found myself living through the story with her.
It is difficult to review the book without giving away the plot, but I’ll do my best:
Jacob, a 5 year old boy who lets go of his mother's hand for a brief moment is killed in a hit and run accident when he rushes across a dark street in the rain. His mother’s life is forever changed and she flees town immediately following the accident.
Two police officers are assigned to find the hit and run driver. After months of frustration with no new leads they are forced to move on to other crimes. On the anniversary of the accident, a surprising new lead brings it back to the forefront with an exciting twist.
I think my only real complaint was the final scene, which for me, went on too long. The ending, however, was excellent.
I think my only real complaint was the final scene, which for me, went on too long. The ending, however, was excellent.
Three things Mackintosh did well that other authors can learn from:
1. Make your main characters sympathetic. Show them in their best light often (especially in the beginning) to keep the reader interested in what happens to them. This doesn’t mean they don’t have flaws!
2. The beginning is the most important part of your novel. Keep the reader engaged by making it exciting. Don’t overload it with back-story or over describe scenes.
3. The final action scene. This may be a personal taste thing, but I really hate one that goes on too long, with a protagonist who seemingly keeps rising from the dead to attack over and over again like a cat with nine lives. Keep it believable.
I love reading. So much so, that at times my own writing slows down as a result. That said, I will never give up my favorite pastime! Hope your reading stack is close by, even if you are an author like me, or maybe, especially if you are an author like me. Stephen King’s number one point of advice to other authors is, “Read.”
So keep reading and don’t forget to add your reviews on Amazon. Authors love them.
Have a wonderful fall season,
Thursday, August 4, 2016
By John Sandford
Having recently been critical of Sandford's novels—his early ones were my favorites—I was thrilled to find Extreme Prey to be a real page-turner!
Lucas Davenport takes a job investigating a threat to a presidential candidate who is making her political rounds in Iowa before the caucuses begin. Davenport no longer beds every woman he meets, a fact I found refreshing, although, oddly enough, I saw a review that mentioned this fact made the book boring.
Having spent a lot of years living in Iowa, I particularly enjoyed following the trail with Davenport as he visited so many small Iowa towns trying to find the culprits. The suspense carries the reader quickly through the book to a nail-biting final scene at the state fair. A great read, one I highly recommend to lovers of suspense.
Things authors can learn from Extreme Prey:
- There is always a fresh approach to a long-term series.
- Always have a few characters that are sympathetic.
- Have interesting characters! The Purdy family was excellent, and even had one member who was a sympathetic drunk.
- Have the main character visit lots of different places searching for clues, and interview many kinds of people.
- Keep the suspense and conflict at a steady pace, don’t slow it down with lengthy back-story or family drama. In Extreme Prey, the reader sees just enough about Davenports own family to understand where he’s coming from.
As a long-time Sandford reader, I was happy to be able to share a glowing review for one of his Prey series’ books. Glad I hung in there. Hope you will enjoy reading Extreme Prey. If you’ve discovered another suspense book we should know about, please comment.
Hope, you’re enjoying the summer,
Friday, July 1, 2016
by James Patterson
The first half of this Women’s Murder Club story drew me in from page one and I had a hard time putting it down. When a disturbing double murder takes place in an exclusive San Francisco hotel, Lindsey Boxer is drawn into a case with far-reaching, even global implications. While investigating the murders on a surveillance tape from the hotel, Lindsey sees a man who looks remarkably like her husband and becomes personally drawn into the case.
Before I was halfway through the book, I lost interest in hearing about Lindsey’s devotion to her infant daughter: the detailed descriptions of the child’s every expression, diaper change, and mood, became extremely tiresome. Patterson claims to write this series for women. But as a woman and a mother, I don’t need a reminder of maternal love and the cuteness and demands of babies on every-other page. Enough is enough. I read suspense for the plot, not to read a detailed account of Lindsey's motherly devotion in every paragraph.
The reader need not be a rocket scientist to figure out that despite the many clues to the contrary, Lindsey’s husband would turn out to be on the side of the good guys. (How could he possibly be a villain when he had fathered such an adorable baby?)
We don’t see much of the Murder Club in this book. It was mainly all about Lindsey and her frustration with her husband’s (possible) betrayal and her dedication to a case that put her child constantly in the hands of an always-available sitter.
Yes, the second half of the 15th Affair was a letdown and the ending predictable.
Hard to recommend this one.
What other authors can learn from the 15th Affair:
1. Readers do enjoy subplots that tell them about the main character’s family life, but it’s important to find a balance. Every chapter does not have to include family drama.
2. Keep things unpredictable. The sitter shouldn’t always be available, the husband always perfect, and the plot does not have to always end up being part of a global conspiracy; unless, of course, your book falls into the thriller genre instead of suspense.
3. If you’re writing a series that includes more than one main character as the Women’s Murder Club does, try to keep a balance of the characters in every book. Readers do complain when one is missing from the action.
I am definitely a Patterson fan, but not necessarily a fan of every one of his series. I don’t care for suspense books that go into too much detail about the personal lives of the characters unless their families are somehow involved in the plot. That is why I don’t read Patterson’s series about the New York detective who is a single parent with about 10 children. I quit reading them after one of the books had scenes in every chapter describing the children’s stomach flu and how much they threw up.
That is not to say that every reader feels the way I do. I’m sure there are many who enjoy a lot more family drama included in a mystery/suspense book than myself. But as authors, we would like to satisfy both group of readers, wouldn’t we?
Finding the right balance can be tricky, but worth the effort.
Have a wonderful summer and Fourth of July,
Friday, June 3, 2016
BY LISA SCOTTOLINE
I haven’t enjoyed all of Scottoline’s recent books. Many have leaned away from mystery, with at least half of the book going heavily into family drama. For me, a good suspense story does have some amount of personal-interest story lines for the protagonist, but I’m quickly bored by things like lengthy dialogue with their children and endless pages with extensively detailed family background.
But in Most Wanted, Scottoline finds a perfect balance. I started reading this book on Memorial weekend and finished it in twenty-four hours. It’s that good.
In an absorbing and creative plot, Scottoline’s protagonist, Christine Nilsson, and her husband Marcus have just become pregnant using donor sperm. Then Christine sees a photo of a newly captured serial killer on the news and realizes he looks just like her donor. After the agency they used refuses to confirm or deny he is the same man, she takes it upon herself to discover if she’s made the right connection.
As she delves deep into uncovering the truth, Christine is forced to face her worst fears and make a painful decision.
The end of the book has a surprising twist, culminating in what most will find a satisfying ending, although I was somewhat disappointed at the progression of Christine’s husband’s personality.
Overall, Most Wanted is an amazing, five-star suspense read. Be sure to start reading it when you time to finish!
I hope you are enjoying these late spring days. Here in Wisconsin we are facing some warm-weather storms, and fortunately, most of the damage done by them has missed us and no one in our area has been injured.Stay safe wherever you live and enjoy the season.
MarlaPS - I hope the photo Isn't confusing. I was unable to duplicate the cover of Most Wanted.
Saturday, May 7, 2016
THE STEEL KISS
By Jeffrey Deaver
Jeffrey Deaver is my most admired author. His stories are immediately captivating, and he writes suspense that is loaded with detail, managing to do it in such an interesting way that the reader enjoys every word, a truly unique trait.
The Steel Kiss is right up there with Deaver’s best, pulling the reader into the plot with a horrific and never-before-heard-of death: an escalator trap door opens at the top of the stairs, pulling a man on the stairs into the mechanism below. Amelia Sachs, who happens to be in the shopping mall at the time following a suspect, witnesses the accident. She drops what she’s doing and crawls into the innards of the escalator in an attempt to save him.
Lincoln Rhyme is as interesting as ever, even working independently of the police. He gets involved in the escalator death when he forms an alliance with an attorney attempting to help out the man’s widow by recouping a death benefit for her from whoever is responsible for the accident that killed her husband.
The plot moves on from there at a rapid and detailed pace, introducing a new character, Juliette Archer, in a way that makes her immediately interesting and enjoyable to the reader.
The author concludes with a superb and memorable ending.
Kudos to Deaver on this super suspense read.
As I write this, I’m working on the finishing stages of my own suspense novel, Promise of Malice, the third in my Detective Kendall Halsrud series. I feel so inferior as I absorb Deaver’s words that I nearly want to stop writing!
But then I remember how many different writing styles I read and enjoy, reminding me that there is room for everyone’s writing style, even mine. Deaver has a style totally different from James Patterson, for example, and yet both have wide, appreciative audiences, leaving plenty of room in between for the rest of us striving authors.
Till next time, take care and have a wonderful May,
Monday, April 4, 2016
Are you an AMAZON & KDP basher?
Every day I receive dozens of emails from sites for authors, and every day, somewhere on the list is a recurring theme—complaints about Amazon. I don’t believe I’ve ever seen one that had something good to say about any of Amazon’s practices regarding things for writers.
Are you among the many authors who constantly criticize KDP and take your books out every time Amazon does something that you don’t approve of?
It’s important to take a step back and examine the big picture here—Amazon’s KDP does authors a huge service.
Don’t think so?
Then take an even further step back and think about what life would be like without Amazon's assistance. Realistically, chances of getting your work published the traditional way, through an agent and then a publishing house, are similar to your odds of winning your state lottery.
And even if you do manage to get a publisher to pick up your work, then guess what? The publisher expects authors to do their own marketing. Now, you’re making considerably smaller royalties, while doing the same amount of endless marketing chores.
Maybe this phenomenon of complaining is a natural thing; Amazon is, after all, our employer, and everyone loves to complain about their employer. Unlike a traditional employer though, there are no touch-bases, no monthly or even annual dialogue to discuss how the employer/employee relationship is going. Admittedly, our Amazon employer is not easy to communicate with.
KDP does answer email questions, although it takes one to two days to get an answer. Their answers are canned, and are usually not specific enough for your problem unless you happen to ask just the right question. If it were up to me—and I know many of you will violently disagree—I’d be in favor of Amazon charging authors a minimal fee for publishing in order for them to pay for an easy-to-access support system.
Most of us have a love & hate attitude toward Mother Amazon.
Where is the love?
Ten things to love about Amazon and KDP
1. Any writer can publish his/her eBook on Amazon in only 2 days.
2. There are now millions of Kindle owners all over the world buying eBooks.
3. Amazon has made it easy now for people with other digital readers to download AZ products.
4. An author can get as much as a 70% royalty from his/her book sales.
5. KDP pays authors for eBooks lent to Prime members by paying for pages read.
6. Profits are deposited directly into an author’s bank account.
7. Amazon sells eBooks to a worldwide market and shares the profit.
8. KDP’s Select program offers authors free days to help promote their books and many other options for promotion.
9. Amazon is continually adding new ways for authors to market their writing.
10. Author profile pages give writers a platform for all their books, their trailers, their blogs, and other information they want to supply to their readers.
My personal experiences with publishing on AZ have been over a period of five years. I’ve seen their promotion choices go from offering free days to many different options. Formatting instructions for uploading books are improved regularly, making the publishing process simpler.
For an indie author Amazon and KDP remain—the best game in town.
You’re probably wondering if I ever add my complaints about Amazon to the long list that others whine about daily. Like any employee, yes, I have my criticisms.
Right now, I love the profits I’m receiving from their pages-read system of rewarding those who put their books into Amazon Prime. I write long books and people tend to read the entire thing, so pages-read has been a bonanza for me. I know that system most likely is not something that Amazon will use forever and when it’s changed, I'll probably complain. But I believe that Amazon wants to keep their authors happy and when it is changed, I trust that it will be to something equally profitable.
Wishing everyone a happy, healthy, and successful spring,
Saturday, March 5, 2016
WHAT’S LUCK GOT TO DO WITH IT?
FIVE WAYS TO GET LUCKY
March, the month of four-leaf clovers and little green leprechauns, is right around the corner, and along with it come visions of green beer and the famous pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. Everyone is Irish on St. Patrick’s Day, and all of us want to be showered with that famous luck of the Irish.
The word luck, beaten and bastardized, gets tossed around like a day-old doughnut whenever Indie authors discuss success (or lack thereof) of their book sales.
The first time I ran a KDP free book promotion, and placed my suspense eBook, She’s Not There, free on Amazon.com, I only had 8,202 downloads at the end of the first two days. This result was disappointing compared to those of an author friend, who had 26, 000 downloads for her book when she used the same promotion.
When I asked her about it, she said that her huge number of her downloads were a matter of luck, due the fact that a popular eBook site noticed her promotion and highlighted it for their readers. I know firsthand that her success is not all due to luck. She is a devoted marketer and spends every available moment working to maintain her book’s sales momentum. Me, I’m addicted to things like playing bridge, reading, and watching soap operas; my marketing ethic is not nearly as fierce!
I’m going to let you in on a secret about luck.
This is a universal truth:
Luck is more likely to happen to those who go after it.
None of us want to hear that luck takes effort. We would all prefer to cling to magical thinking: I’ll get rich when I win the lottery, the perfect man will come knocking at my door, a stroke of fate will send my book sales through the roof. And with rare exceptions:
It ain’t gonna happen!
HOW TO GET LUCKY
- Secrets of Lucky People
1. Believe you will be successful.
Research shows that if you believe you’ll succeed, your odds of hitting a lucky streak go up. There is no magic involved—expectancy is a true driver of results. Expecting something, as opposed to wanting or hoping for it, will enhance your decision–making and you’ll put in more of an effort than you normally would. Expect success and find ways to stay positive—it works!
2. Pay Attention! Notice What Others Miss.
Lucky people are open to random opportunities. They notice chance situations and act on them. Curiosity, courage, and diligence are traits that prepare you to recognize opportunities and act on them. Put down your cell phone and turn off the computer games. Look around and keep your eyes open for opportunities—they’re out there!
3. Be Willing to Take a Chance.
If you try more things, more good things will happen. Serendipity is more likely to occur if you take risks and move outside of your comfort zone. Be willing to accept occasional failures. If you only try things that guarantee success, you will miss out on many opportunities to succeed.
When chance encounters occur, don’t over-think them, act on them!
4. Switch Things Up
Lucky people increase their chances of positive opportunities by meeting new people, experiencing new places, activities, and information. They are constantly trying new things.
Luck won’t come looking for you or call you on your Smartphone.
The more you put yourself out there, and experience new things, the more likely it is you will find luck.
5. Practice Bouncing Back
Lucky people don’t let failure sidetrack their road to success.
Unlucky people tend to be data collectors for bad experiences, constantly dwelling on every detail of negative events. When you let a bad break get you down, you close the door on new situations that could lead to a lucky break.
Learn to let it go.
Closely linked to the first trait, expecting the best, bouncing back means you will have a greater chance of success with each failure, because you’ll be trying new experiences more often.
Regard every bad break as an opportunity to find the right course for you.
So many of us, myself included, wait for that magical break that will mean success for our writing, or success in love, life and career. But magical thinking delays success. Practice these habits of lucky people and reap the rewards.
Happy St. Patrick’s Day,
Note: I seldom repeat a blog, but this one on luck has been so popular that I repeat it every March when the luck of the Irish is on our minds and in the air!
Sunday, February 7, 2016
A Heart Full of Chocolates
A short story
The only thing more depressing than Valentine’s Day itself was having it fall on a Saturday night. It didn’t matter that Jorie spent most Saturday evenings at home in front of her computer. What got stuck in her craw was the principal of the thing—Valentine’s Day honored three kinds of women: mothers, grandmothers, and the very slender. Thirty-three-year-old women with size eighteen bodies did not receive roses or red satin heart-boxes filled with chocolates.
“Hey Jorie,” she heard when she opened her phone after hearing the opening notes of Adam Lambert’s Mad World. “What are you doing tonight?”
Crap. It was Heather, her least-favorite friend. “I’m just hanging out here—no big deal.”
“On Valentine’s Day? Don’t you have a date?” The little bitch knew Jorie didn’t have a date. If Jorie didn’t get rid of her fast, she’d have to listen to Heather brag about her latest Mr. Wonderful.
“Heather, my front door buzzer just went off. Gotta go.” Jorie closed the phone and hit the off button. Then turned the phone back on. You never knew who might call.
Chocolate hearts. Roses. Gushy cards. Jorie hated them all. The sleazy satin hearts filled with chocolates were the worst of the phony love stuff and were advertised everywhere you looked, even on the side of busses splattered with street slime.
In need of a distraction, she went to her computer and opened her favorite site for writers. The site allowed fiction writers to display their work, get feedback from other writers and even publish poetry or topic rants. Jorie was ready to fight back. No hearts and flowers or melodramatic poems from this writer; she’d write a Valentine’s Day rant!
The thousand-word rant turned out sarcastic, sharply witty, and brilliantly hilarious. Hah! She placed her razor-sharp words on a pink background and added a picture of a lovely woman—a size-two woman—holding a bouquet of roses and a box of candy. Perfect. Jorie hit the button, posting her rant for all to see. Well, anyone who was sitting in front of his or her computer on Valentine’s Day. Pandora, was Jorie’s username on the site. No one would know who was the pathetic writer, home alone on Valentine’s Day writing rants.
The phone again. Now what? Her mother? She should have left the thing off.
“Hey, Jorie, it’s me.” Damn. It was Joe, a loser boyfriend from her recent past. The creep had only dated her because he was always broke, their dates usually paid for by guess-who. Until guess-who got sick of supporting their dates and dumped him.
“What brings you out from under your rock?’ She was in no mood for games.
“Is that any way to talk? I thought maybe we could get together tonight, you know, do something for Valentine's Day.”
What a total ass. Do something—sure—something she would be willing to pay for.
“I don’t think so, Joe. I have to stay in and wash my hair. See ya!” Jorie closed the phone and hit the off button. She’d heard from enough annoying people tonight.
Maybe it was time to toss the pepperoni pizza she'd bought into the oven as a consolation gift to herself. But just as she was about to get up from in front of her computer, she noticed a review for her rant had already popped up on the writer’s site. She wondered which other dateless loser was home alone tonight. A five-star review. Could have been worse. At least someone understood. Jorie opened the review. Nothing but praise for her writing. She noticed she’d also gotten a message from the reviewer.
A Valentine’s Day rant! Original, Pandora. What can I say? Well-written rant? Sorry you are so unhappy tonight. It was amusing to read, though, and well written; your writing is always entertaining.
So, username, Edukator. He’d given his real name. Or, maybe he had. He and Jorie never failed to review each other’s work on the website. One of the good ones, Jorie always took his words to heart. Grateful for his message, she typed in a response and added her name.
Thanks for the nice review, Rick. And for the kind words. This night will pass.
Jorie put the pizza in the oven and opened a can of soda. Funny, but the message from Edukator had tweaked her attitude a little. Maybe she hadn’t said enough in her answer. She returned to her computer to expand her response and, back on the website, she found another personal message waiting for her.
I was thinking about you and noticed on your profile that you also live in the Chicago area. Not sure where you are, but maybe we should meet tonight. No pressure, of course, we would simply meet as kindred writers no longer alone on Valentine’s Day.
Wow! She didn’t think people from the site ever got together. Not that there was anything wrong with it. She hated blind dates about as much as she hated satin hearts, but he said this wouldn’t be a date.
Your note surprised me. As long as we’d be meeting just as friends, maybe I’ll consider it. FYI, I’m thirty-three and I’m full-figured. But you’re right; we could meet as fellow writers. I’m in Waukegan, IL, just south of Chicago.
The delicious odor of baking pizza had lost some of it’s enticement. She told herself she was stupid to get excited about meeting a stranger. Many of the writers on the site were retired people; this guy could be in his seventies. Jorie pulled the pizza out of the oven and set it on a breadboard. Maybe she’d have a piece or two. The cheese was bubbly and the crust lightly browned. She could decide what to do while she munched. After adding a few pieces to a plate and grabbing a Diet Coke, she returned to the computer and found another message waiting for her.
Staying in the full-disclosure mode, I’m forty-eight and have never been attractive to younger women. So like I said, no pressure. Let’s meet.
I have to go out tonight anyway. I’m in Schaumburg. That big bookstore in Gurnee, which is close for you, is having a poetry reading for Valentine’s Day. I planned on stopping in to listen to some of the poets, and I also have some shopping to do while I’m there. If that interests you, I’ll be there by about eight. I’ll be wearing a dark blue jacket with khaki pants. I’m about six feet tall and wear wire-rimmed glasses. (I’m a teacher and I look like one.)
As you know, I love mysteries, so you’ll probably find me browsing the mystery aisle.
Hope you to see you there,
An hour later, Jorie walked into the bookstore wearing her favorite outfit—black jeans with a fuzzy black cardigan sweater over a white turtleneck, topped by her favorite black wool jacket. The outfit was slenderizing and complemented her long, golden blonde hair, definitely her best feature, if you could call hair a feature.
As promised, she spotted him in the mystery aisle, a youngish, forty-eight-year old, with thinning, light brown hair. Just as she was about to walk his way she saw a woman approach him. Older than Jorie by at least ten years, she was all glammed up like she was going somewhere fancy. Hair styled to perfection, an outfit that probably cost more than Jorie’s weekly salary, and fingernails, blood-red daggers. Rick—if the guy was Rick—looked uncomfortable, shifting his weight from foot to foot.
Jorie, remembering he didn’t know what she looked like, moved close enough to eavesdrop. And close enough to smell the woman’s cloying, floral perfume.
“Rick," the woman gushed. "I’m so glad we ran into each other! Maybe we could have coffee or something.” She batted eyelids heavy with mascara and smoky eyeshadow.
“Yes, it’s nice to see you, Madeleine.” His body language revealed his discomfort as he backed up into the shelves, holding a book in front of him like a shield. His eyes were everywhere but on the woman in front of him. He looked around the aisle, and met Jorie’s gaze. “Uh, I’d really like to but I’m meeting someone here.”
Madeleine’s brown eyes narrowed, clearly doubting the truthfulness of his excuse.
Impulsively, Jorie walked up to him, and slid an arm through his. “Hi, sorry I’m late!”
His eyebrows raised, startled, then he recovered and said, “No problem, I haven’t been here very long.”
She held out her other hand to the stylish woman, hoping to avoid the dangerous nails. “Nice to meet you. I’m Jorie.”
Rick cleared his throat. “Jorie, this is Madeleine. I’ve probably mentioned her, she’s our assistant principal.” He returned his book to the shelf, and casually placed an arm on Jorie’s shoulder. Madeleine sniffed, mumbling something unintelligible while she turned on an impossibly narrow heel, and flounced out of the aisle.
“Aren’t you a surprise.” Rick said, his blue eyes twinkling. “You certainly undersell yourself, don’t you?”
Jorie had been thinking the same thing about him. He didn’t look his age at all, and the shy smile below the blue eyes made her heart flutter. She shrugged, flattered. “You said no pressure—you’re too old for me—I’m too…” Unsure how to end the sentence gracefully, she said, “young for you.”
He chuckled. “Yes, no pressure. We’re here as fellow writers.”
They spent the next two hours browsing, listening to the poets, and talking over a cup of coffee in the coffee bar. Jorie could have sworn she saw Madeleine circling in the distance like a bird of prey. Was the woman a stalker? Jorie was starting to wonder if she’d misread Rick's signals. Maybe he would have preferred the other woman’s company and had only been uneasy because he had promised to meet Jorie.
“I think your friend Madeline is still here.”
He sighed. “When you’re my age and get divorced, everyone tries to fix you up. Some well-meaning friends invited her over for dinner one night, trying to get us together. Well, you know how that is.”
A single woman her age wasn’t very marketable. Things like that never happened to her. “Sure. Happens all the time,” Jorie lied.
“I went to a school function with her after that dinner and now she thinks we’re dating.” He smiled, but only the corners of his mouth moved. “Thanks for helping me out. I think she got the message.”
“Maybe.” Jorie wondered why it even mattered to her since she wasn’t interested in him as a man, just as a friend to share Valentine’s Day with. He was kind of cute, but not her type. She preferred the tall, dark and jerky type, unfortunately. Maybe it was time for a change. But even forty-eight-year-old men didn’t like overweight women.
Jorie took the last sip of her coffee. “I’d like to find out who wins the poetry contest. Do you want to go back?”
“You know, I have an errand next door. If you don’t mind, I’ll run over there and meet you back here. I’ll only be a minute.”
“Sure.” For a moment, Jorie wondered if Rick would come back. But he didn't seem like that kind of person—not like the men she dated.
He met her a short twenty minutes later at the area where the poets were now doing book signings. “Mom gets a dreaded heart of chocolates,” he laughed, and held up a shopping bag bearing the logo of a local candy store.
When they left the bookstore, they walked into a winter wonderland. Large, heavy flakes were drifting onto the pavement, covering it just enough to make it slippery. “Let me carry your packages,” he offered, taking her bags. As usual, Jorie hadn’t been able to leave the store without buying a stack of books.
At her car, he asked for her snow brush, and cleaned the car off for her as she warmed it up. Damn. She liked him. But their meeting was strictly no-strings, probably a pity thing on his part. Although this had been one of her better Valentine’s Days, thanks to him. They’d still be friends on the website, anyway, that wouldn’t change.
When he finished clearing the snow from her car, she opened the window to thank him. Before she could say the words, he leaned in and kissed her on the cheek. “Happy Valentine’s Day, Pandora,” he said, grinning.
Jorie smiled back at him and drove slowly out of the parking lot, glancing in the rearview mirror as he walked to his car.
When she got home, Jorie changed into her pajama’s and robe, her mind and imagination still on Rick. A kiss on the cheek meant nothing, she told herself. Friends did that all the time. And he hadn’t said a work about seeing her again. Well, she had her new books. Reading always made her happy. She’d go through the books, pick one to start on, and be asleep in no time. She plopped the bag of books on her bed.
When she looked inside the large bag she found a smaller package that wasn’t one of her own purchases. Rick must have mistakenly added one of his packages to hers when he was carrying their purchases. She looked inside and saw a bright, red satin heart box. And a card. Could he have left the gift for his mother in her bag by mistake? But on the front of the envelope—in heavy, masculine handwriting, was written—Pandora. Her heart raced as she opened the card.
Your rant was not accurate. Valentine hearts filled with chocolates are for all lovely ladies.
Will you have dinner with me one night this week? But, no pressure!
Jorie picked up the heart box, running her fingers over its smooth satin exterior. A velvety, red rose, its petals tipped in white, was centered on a red bow on the heart's surface, the red-satin box rimmed with a red-ribbon-and-white-lace ruffle. She grinned. As she lifted the lid, the rich, mouth-watering scent of chocolate wafted up to her nose. Inhaling the heady scent, her eyes scanned the assortment. All milk chocolates. How had he known?
Picking up what looked like a chocolate-covered cherry, Jorie popped the smooth globe of chocolate into her mouth. When she bit into it, the sweet syrup that cuddled the cherry oozed over her tongue. She chewed, savoring the luscious blend of flavors.
After she’d enjoyed every bit of the rich piece of candy, a laugh broke out from deep in the center of her being, the kind of laugh she hadn’t experienced in a long time. Jorie laughed until her eyes watered, then hugged herself as she pictured Rick’s smiling blue eyes and relived the kiss he’d planted on her cheek.
This was the best Valentine’s Day ever!
I've stepped out of my suspense-writer mode to entertain you with this brief, feel-good Valentine's Day Story. Hope you enjoyed it. Have a happy, loving day, and don't forget to do something nice for the person most important in your life . . . yourself!