Becoming a Soccer Mom

At the beginning of the summer, I had grand writing plans. I would sit out in the backyard whilst my children splashed around in our little inflatable kiddie pool or ran through the sprinklers and I would write. Plot holes would get filled, edits would get finished, new stories would blossom.

None of that happened. I’m not the writer version of June Cleaver.

No, our summer consisted of water play, baseball games (of the minor league variety mostly), yelling at the World Cup on TV, trips to see family at the beach or the lake, and a lot of exhaustion. It’s August and I promise that if you let you me, I could sleep until October.

Alas, my nap is not to be. We started a new adventure today. One that will dominate our schedule for the next couple of months, but one that we’re excited about. My four-year-old attended his very first soccer practice.

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Photo by Lorenzo Cafaro on Pexels.com

That’s right, ladies and gents. I’m a soccer mom. A full-fledged, SUV drivin’, uniform cleanin’, family calendar coordinatin’, picture takin’, loud cheerin’ soccer mom. And I have zero shame.

My son begged to play soccer from the moment the sign went up in the city park declaring that sign-ups had begun and you only had to be four to play. Because he can read now, so even if I wanted to ignore those signs and keep walking, he knows.

He begged to play soccer. And, to be honest, he didn’t have to twist my arm or my husband’s either. We let him sign up. And all summer he has been pumped up for this moment. He has played soccer in our front yard at every opportunity–though at four that consists mostly of him dribbling the ball across the yard and then flinging himself down in the grass just for kicks.

But today, he got to practice. He got a jersey, met his team, and ran drills. This kid could not be more thrilled. The unadulterated joy in his eyes would make the Grinch’s heart grow three sizes.

Before we ever left the house, while I was helping him get on his shin guards, his socks, and his cleats, we had a chat. I told him that just because Mama and Daddy like soccer doesn’t mean he has to. If he doesn’t have fun, that’s okay. If he doesn’t like to play, that’s okay. If he loves it, that’s wonderful too, but I would love him either way. Whether he was the best player out there or the worst one on the team, it would not change how much I love him.

He nodded and gave me a hug. And then asked if it was time to leave yet.

Practice went about how you would expect for a team of four- and five-year-olds. There was a lot of tripping, short attention spans, and at least two children stopping midfield to turn and say “Mom! I have to go potty!” In other words, it was adorable. It was also a bajillion degrees, but it was adorable.

In the car on the way home, my child re-capped every moment as if his father and I hadn’t been on the field with him the whole time. He had a blast. But being his mother, I needed full, unequivocal, indisputable confirmation.

“Does that mean you had a good time?”

“Mama, I really really loved it!”

The amazement and wonder in his voice, the reverence–it elicited more emotion from me than I expected. So, that’s it. My fate is sealed. I’m a soccer mom. I might as well buy a sticker family for my car and start monogramming sports bags.

Soccer mom and proud.

Book Review: Full Steam of Ahead by Karen Witemeyer

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Nicole Renard is brilliant, accomplished, and determined. But despite all she is her father is focused on the one thing she’s not: a son. When he falls deathly ill and his fiercest business competitor takes drastic measures to ruin his company, he asks Nicole to find a husband who can serve as his heir to the business. Disappointed that he doesn’t view her as enough, but determined to save the family business, she accepts the task.

When her plans are forced off course by her father’s nemesis, Nicole is stranded in a small town with next to no money and fewer options. She decides to find work and earn passage on the next steamer to her intended destination. The problem is, finding work in late 1800s Texas as a woman is difficult. The only person who seems willing to hire her is the town eccentric.

Darius Thornton is a man on a mission. Several years ago a boiler exploded on one of his company’s steamers. Several passengers lost their lives and many more were injured. Darius was on the boat and nothing haunts him so much as a little girl who he couldn’t save. Now, he runs experiment after experiment to try to determine why so many boilers explode with no warning. If he can make the industry safer, nobody else has to die in the same sort of tragic accident. The only problem is that he is in desperate need of a secretary who can transcribe his notes into something legible and organized so that he can spend more of his time experimenting.

Nicole has great admiration for Darius’ work and he has tremendous respect for her intellectual prowess. As they find their footing by working together, an attraction spawns. Nicole knows she must look for an heir, but she cannot deny her feelings for Darius either. When Darius discovers her intent, he shifts his laser-like focus from exploding boilers to convincing Nicole that he is the right man for her.

But with her father’s competitor closing in on Nicole’s location and with malice in mind, their time is running out. They must decide if they will let the currents pull them apart or cling to their love and forge on together, full steam ahead.

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The concept of this one was cute as a button. It seemed like a good book to read while sitting on a beach on a hot summer day. But there are flaws. And you should know them before you begin it so you can decide if they are something you can live with.

The romance between the two main characters works for me because her attraction to him stems from more than just his countenance. While she does find him handsome, she doesn’t start to see him as such until after she realizes that he’s treating her as an equal. He thinks she’s beautiful from the start, but doesn’t care until after she displays her intelligence and assertiveness.

However, as I mentioned, the story has its flaws. For one, the only non-white character in the book is a former slave who is written in a way that I don’t think many sensitivity readers would give a green light. Very “separate but equal”. I don’t feel good about it.

Another flaw I have is the villain of the story. The motivations barely make sense, how things get resolved feels disingenuous, and worst of all is the climactic scene. When the showdown happens between Nicole and the villain, he is searching for something on her person and forcefully investigates up her skirts. It is almost clinical for his single-mindedness, but in the scene Nicole feels so violated that she raises her head toward the sky and goes catatonic. It could easily cause panic attacks for anyone who has been assaulted in a similar fashion. It only lasts for a couple of paragraphs so it’s pretty easy to skip. Though, the fact that the character suffers zero ill effects (e.g. panic attacks, nightmares, etc) is hard for me to swallow. I get that she’s a strong woman, but that doesn’t have any bearing on whether or not an experience like that would affect her.

Those were the biggest drawbacks to me. It’s up to you to decide whether or not they are deal breakers for you.

 

Book Review: A Change of Fortune by Jen Turano

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Lady Eliza Sumner is the daughter of an English Earl and in the lap of luxury. Or she was. After her father passed away and the title passed to her cousin, she discovered her father’s man of business stole the entirety of the family fortune and her fiancé disappeared when the money did.

Determined to get back her family’s money and bring the blackguard of a money manager to justice, she tracks him to New York where he and his wife are parading around in society using a false English title. Since she has no money and would like to maintain the element of surprise, Eliza drops her honorific and takes a job as a governess in order to track the movement of her own personal nemesis through society. When she gathers enough information on his comings and goings to move-in, she runs head first into trouble.

Hamilton Beckett is a widow with two small children and a railroad business to run. He’s a busy man who wishes that maintaining business relationships didn’t involve having eligible daughters thrust in his path at fancy dinner parties. Especially since he has bigger problems to deal with, like catching the man who keeps sabotaging his business transactions.

When he gets word that the man he’s tracking is in a shady partnership with an English lord, he decides to do a little snooping around in Sir High and Mighty’s mansion. Unfortunately, before he can find much he collides with destiny.

Eliza and Hamilton find that their interests align. They reluctantly begin to work together to save his business and her money. If they can learn to trust one another they could get everything they crave, but they might just lose their hearts in the process.

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This book had a lot of potential. A heist. A period piece. A clean romance. And while there were cute elements to the story, I found that it fell short for me.

Hamilton’s children are used as more of a plot device than as real characters. The precocious little girl and her baby-ish younger brother who instantly love their father’s new friend. Because of the way they are treated in the storyline you know what will eventually happen to them within a few pages of their first appearance.

As so many of the stories I’ve read lately have done, Eliza’s beauty is so directly tied to her tiny waist that when she is trying to remain inconspicuous she wraps wads of linen around her midsection. The only other thing she does to disguise herself is to wear glasses. That’s it. Glasses and a padded waistline and suddenly she’s Little Miss Frumpy who easily hides in the background. But the minute she’s thin and takes the glasses off–poof–she’s the belle of the ball who catches everyone’s eye. At one point she’s told that she can’t possibly go along on a reconnaissance mission because she’s so lovely she stands out in a crowd. Even though a couple of chapters back nobody even glanced at her because of an old pair of spectacles and a thick waist. It’s insulting on several levels.

Eliza and her friend Agatha maintain over and over in the story that they don’t need a man to do things for them, they are equals and should be treated as such. The only problem with this claim is that they are both constantly getting in trouble and the men of the story are coming to their rescue. Even if they manage to start finding a solution on their own, the scene never finishes without men coming to help them get to safety. It’s such a contradiction to the tone that the author seems to want to set with the independent nature of the female characters that it becomes campy.

It has a few other failings, but if these haven’t yet turned you off, I doubt any of the others will. Don’t get me wrong, I didn’t hate this book. I just couldn’t make myself like it either.

Book Review: A Great Catch by Lorna Seilstad

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It’s the start of a new century, the twentieth, in Iowa and Emily Graham is not just a suffragist, she’s the president of the Lake Manawa Suffragist Society. She has one goal and one focus–getting women the right to vote. Her aunts, on the other hand, are equally determined to find Emily a husband.

Just when Emily manages to discourage her aunts meddling by accidentally knocking the latest suitor unconscious during an unfortunate game of horseshoes, she finds herself caught off guard by the handsome Carter Stockton.

Carter Stockton has only the summer left to play baseball. He’s the starting pitcher for that Manawa Owls, but come fall his father expects him to take his place in the family business. And if the Owls can’t maintain a winning record, his father may demand he give up the game even sooner. He doesn’t need any distractions. But Emily Graham is more than a distraction. She’s a line drive that he can’t escape.

When an opportunity arises for the Owls to get unprecedented publicity and for the Suffragists Society to make an undeniable statement for women’s rights, Emily and Carter find that their paths are entwined. If they can work together, they might get everything they are hoping for…and a whole lot more.

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If you haven’t guessed, this was one of my palate cleansers that I mentioned a few weeks back. It did its job. It was cute, sweet, and gloriously innocent.

The romance between Carter and Emily is not a slow burn, which isn’t always common among clean reads. Their feelings for one another develop quickly, but being that they are both from upper echelon families in 1901, they must move slowly because propriety demands it. So there is still a push and pull that is fun to see. But it’s not a perfect story.

I love baseball and period pieces, so this was right up my alley. While the baseball scenes didn’t always feel accurate, it wasn’t anything I couldn’t get over or chalk up to turn of the century minor league nuances. While I have a deep love for baseball, I’m certainly not a baseball historian. I tried not to stop and look up facts while I was reading. That helped too.

There is a line about Carter being able to wrap his hands around Emily’s waist and his fingers meeting in the back. That disturbed me because I’m having trouble picturing a woman that thin being healthy. There are a couple of lines like this in the story that make me cringe. Can we please stop judging a woman’s beauty by how “impossibly small” her waist is?

I was also not impressed with the villain’s rationale. He’s willing to kill one threat to his plan, but not another. This is a little too convenient for me. It didn’t feel very well planned out.

There is also zero diversity in this book. The entire cast is upper-class white people.

If you can get past those things, it’s a cute book. If any of those sound like deal breakers to you, skip it.

Book Review: The Keeper by Susan Woods Fisher

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Julia Lapp is going to marry Paul Fisher. They have been engaged for over two years and the time has finally come. But when Paul tells Julia that he wants to postpone the wedding for the second time her heartbreak is only surpassed by her anger. She knows exactly who has influenced Paul: The Bee Man.

He comes to their county every year, bringing his bees with him. He rents them out to farmers to help pollinate their crops and is in high demand, but he always makes time for the Lapp family and tends to spend most of his time with them.

When he arrives, Julia plans to give him a piece of her mind but the truth is that she needs the Bee Man, a.k.a Rome Troyer. Her father’s heart is weak and grows weaker each day. She and her younger siblings cannot run the farm alone. She needs Rome’s help.

Rome is more than happy to help the Lapp family. And he is truly sorry for the hurt he has caused Julia. He even consents to help make Paul jealous enough to whisk his bride down the aisle. But the longer he spends with Julia, the more he realizes he doesn’t want Paul to be the one to marry her. He wants to be the one to hold her hand for the rest of his life. He wants to be more than just the Bee Man. He wants to be a keeper.

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I have an affinity for Amish Romances, and Susan Woods Fisher rarely lets me down. However, there was a subplot in this one that made me undeniably uncomfortable.

The main storyline between Julia and Rome was a classic fake relationship trope and it worked, though it was painfully slow in coming. But in order to help keep things running at the farm, Julia’s uncle enlists the help of a housekeeper and caretaker for her father. The woman is harsh, but in true happily ever after fashion ends up becoming a loved part of the family.

Except that she incessantly fat-shames Julia’s middle sister. She actually refers to her as “the overfed one” several times in the story to her face. And while I’m sure it is supposed to be a good thing that the two of them bond and help the young girl discover her natural talents, never once–not a single time–is any apology ever made for fat-shaming her.

This young girl is so ashamed of herself that she sneaks food and cries in her room because she doesn’t look like her sisters. She laments her place in the family, the community, and life itself. And yet, this person who comes in the home and uproots her role not to mention her sense of normalcy and then name calls and further shames her is somehow seen as a mentor.

The main plot between Julia and Rome was cute enough, but in the end, the subplot left me angry and uncomfortable.

10 Things About Mascara

I’m not a makeup artist. Truthfully, I’m still learning what works for me. But one thing I love is mascara. Putting on mascara for me is like putting on armor. It gets me ready to face the outside world. I can be in yoga pants and a t-shirt, but mascara makes me feel “put together”.

Based on the proliferation of the product throughout the cosmetic market, I think it’s safe to say I’m not alone in this. Walk down the cosmetic aisle at your local grocery store, pharmacy, or supermarket and see how many different options there are and then tell me I’m wrong.

And it’s not like mascara just appeared on the market yesterday, some form of eyelash cosmetic treatment has existed for millennia. So if you’re writing a romance, a historical fiction, or just have characters who like to look good, here a few things you might not know about mascara.

  1. The first use of eyelash cosmetics is widely credited to ancient Egypt. Kohl was used on eyelashes, eyebrows, and eyelids. Among other ingredients, it often consisted of honey, soot, and–wait for it–crocodile dung.
  2. The use of cosmetics like kohl for the Egyptians was for more than just decoration. It was used as a religious practice and was also believed to have magical properties. While it did serve a purpose, it was less magic and more chemistry.
  3. The use of kohl spread through the Babylonian, Greek, and Roman empires from Egypt as well. But after the fall of Rome, it fell widely into disuse throughout Europe. It remained popular in Egypt and the Middle East as part of cosmetic, medicinal, and religious practices.
  4. Mascara made a roaring comeback in Europe during the Victorian era. Women sometimes made their own at home using lampblack and elderberry juice. The mixture would be heated and then applied to eyelashes in an effort to make them appear longer and darker.
  5. A more modern version of mascara was invented in 1913 by chemist Eugene Rimmel. In fact, “rimmel” is still synonymous with mascara in multiple languages.
  6. A similar product was invented by Thomas Lyle Williams in 1915 for his sister Maybel. By 1917 he was selling the substance through a mail-order company he dubbed Maybelline.
  7. Both the original Rimmel and Maybelline products were petroleum jelly based, but that was messy. The products also went through a “hard cake” phase during which a brush was rubbed against the hard, dark substance until it flaked off and then was rubbed on the eyelashes.
  8. Lash Lure was another competing product. It became available in 1933 and was an eyelash dye. However, it was highly toxic and was eventually banned by several states after multiple people went blind after using it.
  9. Mascara went largely unchanged between the 1910s and the 1950s when Helena Rubinstein made a lotion-based version of the product. Rubinstein, who was soon joined by Elizabeth Arden, promoted her mascara product by getting the Hollywood starlets of the day to wear it during filming so that the average woman would want to emulate the look.
  10. In 2016, consumers in the United States alone spent over $335 million on just the top ten selling mascara brands on the market.

So maybe your character is mixing elderberry juice in Victorian London or applying it for medicinal purposes in Babylon. Perhaps they are a modern Goth and have a meet-cute in the cosmetic aisle as they search for the perfect shade of black. No matter the scenario, knowing a little about your character’s daily routine, including their favorite mascara, might just help you connect with them a bit.

It’s also possible that this is all just a good excuse for me to go down the research rabbit hole. Either way. Win-win.

Book Review: Trail of Lightning by Rebecca Roanhorse

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The Big Water came. The world changed. The monsters returned. This is the Sixth World.

Maggie Hoskie is a Diné, or Navajo, monster hunter. And the reservation where she grew up is now Dinétah, a land surrounded by walls on each side to keep out those would try to colonize the land all over again. But sometimes what’s inside the walls is enough to give you nightmares.

Her mentor, a living legend who broke Maggie’s heart, abandoned her almost two years ago without another thought. She’s been hiding out, trying to put the pieces of her life back together. Unfortunately, the monsters don’t care that she’s experiencing emotional turmoil and when one of them abducts a little girl, Maggie knows what she has to do.

What Maggie finds when she tracks the little girl down is a lot of scary questions that need answers. The kind of monster she is tracking is one she has seen before–the kind that took her family from her. But this type of monster is made and someone is controlling it, and she needs to know who.

With the help of a handsome and charismatic medicine man named Kai, Maggie sets off to find the one responsible and do what she does best–kill them. But she’s up against more than just monsters. Witches, legends, and a meddling Coyote could mean she’s finally found a fight she can’t win. And if she doesn’t, the world will end. Again.

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It was hard to write that summary because no matter what I said I couldn’t do the story justice. It’s also really difficult to write coherently when I’m this excited. I’m going to take a deep breath and try not to oversell this one for you.

Deep breath. Okay. I’m ready.

This is the best thing I’ve read this year.

Let’s start with some of the things I liked. I say “some” because if I listed them all, this post would be encyclopedic in length.

I like Fantasy novels that incorporate mythology into the storyline. The trouble is, so many of the stories have been done to death. This is the first Fantasy I’ve read that uses Navajo, or more accurately Diné, mythology as its base and it was awesome. It was new (to me), it was gripping, and it sucked me in so much that now I’m counting down to April of 2019 so I can read the sequel.

Maggie is both strong and vulnerable in all the best ways. And by best I mean relatable. She knows she can kick butt, but she’s not great with people. She’s been burned and is afraid of letting people in because they might break her heart, or she might break them. But she doesn’t let that fear hold her back from her calling. With a custom grip shotgun that uses corn pollen bullets and a Böker hunting knife, she lays waste to the things that go bump in the night. I also love her sense of humor.

The supporting cast is lovable, flawed, and full of depth. It wouldn’t shock me at all if fanfiction involving Tah or Clive starting popping up in the near future. And Maggie isn’t the only woman who can hold her own. Grace and her daughter Rissa are smart, capable women who nobody would ever dare call damsels.

Clan powers. They’re super cool.

Okay, now that it’s getting harder and harder to rein in the gushing, let me talk about a couple of things I didn’t like.

When Maggie first begins to track the monster, she has flashbacks to when another monster hurt her. She has already mentioned that sometimes humans are the worst monsters of all. For a moment, I was afraid the flashback was going to allude to some sort of sexual assault. The kind that makes me put a book down. Luckily, I was so determined to read this book that I’d been excited about since I first saw the blurb go up on Goodreads that I kept going and discovered it was a flashback of a trauma, but not one of a sexual nature. However, if this easily triggers you, please be careful in the first couple of chapters while she hunts for the little girl and her captor.

The relationship that Maggie has with her mentor is understandable based on her backstory, but when you finally meet him he bears the stench of an abuser. Emotionally and in at least one specific instance physically, though they were in a fighting ring at the time. I concede that this may be because of who he is in Diné mythology, and since I know so little about him I didn’t know to expect it. In any case, be aware that there is an emotionally abusive relationship on the page. It is not a romanticized one, but it is there.

Those were my sticking points.

Part of me really wants to see this one made into a movie if for nothing else than to watch the scene where Clive helps Maggie get ready for The Shalimar. Also, I now solidly believe that mocassins are superior footwear for monster slayers. I want to see more of that.

If you’ve been seeing this book mentioned on social media or on Goodreads, but weren’t really sure if you should give it a shot, I encourage you to go for it.