Review of The Art of Racing in the Rain

RacingintheRainI know I’ve read a great book when I reflect on it after I close the cover, and even the day after. I believe I have a book hangover from this one…

Summary from back cover: Enzo knows he is different from other dogs: a philosopher with a nearly human soul (and an obsession with opposable thumbs), he has educated himself by watching television extensively, and by listening very closely to the words of his master, Denny Swift, an up-and-coming race car driver.

Through Denny, Enzo has gained tremendous insight into the human condition, and he sees that life, like racing, isn’t simply about going fast. Using the techniques needed on the race track, one can successfully navigate all of life’s ordeals.

On the eve of his death, Enzo takes stock of his life, recalling all that he and his family have been through: the sacrifices Denny has made to succeed professionally; the unexpected loss of Eve, Denny’s wife; the three-year battle over their daughter, Zoë, whose maternal grandparents pulled every string to gain custody. In the end, despite what he sees as his own limitations, Enzo comes through heroically to preserve the Swift family, holding in his heart the dream that Denny will become a racing champion with Zoë at his side. Having learned what it takes to be a compassionate and successful person, the wise canine can barely wait until his next lifetime, when he is sure he will return as a man.


A friend recommended this book to me when I told her about a YA fantasy book I’m currently writing. So while I began reading from a perspective to examine how the author constructed the book, I found myself completely absorbed with the stroyline in not-to-long. Stein does a masterful job at weaving in crap we face in life from the perspective of the family dog. And he does it in such a way that you can’t help but have your heartstrings drawn taut to the point of breaking several times. While there are many sad parts, just like in life, the reflections of mans best friend help convey what it truly means to be a friend and love another unconditionally…warts and all.

Stein mixes in just the right measure of humor to keep the story moving along lest we get too depressed with what’s actually happening to Denny, the dog’s master. Some of this shows in Enzo’s analysis of life using racing as the analogy–You can’t keep your hands too tightly grasping the steering wheel of you can’t react to new concerns, always act for what you anticipate will happen so when it does, you’re still in control and not taken unawares and more. All in all a great read that I recommend to anyone who loves a good tear jerker every once in a while.

Out of popular demand, Stein also created a kids version of this book known as Racing in the Rain, so if you have middle graders, this would be content appropriate for them.

Review: 5 stars

Get The Art of Racing in the Rain (Amazon)

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I also invite you to download the free ebooks of the Prequel and Book one in the Andy Smithson epic fantasy series. Links are along the right side of this page.


Review of Singularity Series Bks 1 & 2

Legacy Human    Duality Bridge

1) Will the blending of man and machine that’s happening today ever obsolete humanity as we know it? 2) If we reach singularity, what will the next step to our advancement be? If these questions have ever crossed your neurons The Singularity series by Susan Kaye Quinn might well tickle your synapses further.

The Legacy Human (Book One) Summary:

What would you give to live forever? Seventeen-year-old Elijah Brighton wants to become an ascender—a post-Singularity human/machine hybrid—after all, they’re smarter, more enlightened, more compassionate, and above all, achingly beautiful. But Eli is a legacy human, preserved and cherished for his unaltered genetic code, just like the rainforest he paints. When a fugue state possesses him and creates great art, Eli miraculously lands a sponsor for the creative Olympics. If he could just master the fugue, he could take the gold and win the right to ascend, bringing everything he’s yearned for within reach… including his beautiful ascender patron. But once Eli arrives at the Games, he finds the ascenders are playing games of their own. Everything he knows about the ascenders and the legacies they keep starts to unravel… until he’s running for his life and wondering who he truly is.


I read this book back in April this year and found it to be thought provoking. What does it mean to be human in a world filled with ascended humans who will live forever like the alchemists envisioned and legacy, unascended humans. I loved how when we meet Eli, he is drifting in unexamined narratives that ascending is the goal of legacy humans. Ascending is best. But as he hears a new, and opposite narrative for the first time, he is forced to consider it. I won’t give away what he chooses or why, but the author does an amazing job working the question of what it means to be human in the form of a YA novel with action and intrigue. Well done. I’ll definitely be reading the rest of the series!

Get The Legacy Human (Amazon)

The Duality Bridge (Book Two) Summary:

What does it mean to be human? Elijah Brighton is the face of the Human Resistance Movement. He’s the Olympic-level painter who refused an offer of immortality from the ascenders—the human/machine hybrids who run the world—in solidarity with the legacy humans who will never get a chance to live forever.

Too bad it’s all a complicated web of lies.

Worse, Eli’s not even entirely human. Few know about the ascenders’ genetic experiments that left him… different. Fewer know about the unearthly fugue state that creates his transcendent art—as well as a bridge that lets him speak to the dead. But the Resistance is the one place he can hide from the ascender who knows everything the fugue can do. Because if Marcus finds him, he’ll either use Eli for his own nefarious purposes… or destroy him once and for all.


I just finished reading book two in the series and it is as good as the first, examining not only what does it mean to be human, but what does it mean to access God. This book had me think of the ancient Hebrews constructing the tower of Babel to reach god. In this future reality, those who call themselves believers have their faith challenged and find their preconceived and most times unexamined narratives may be baseless. What does it mean to go beyond the bounds of human cognition? To access another dimension of existence and reality? This installment in the planned five book series had me thinking beyond my average read. Well done!

Get The Duality Bridge (Amazon)

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I also invite you to download the free ebooks of the Prequel and Book one in the Andy Smithson epic fantasy series. Links are along the right side of this page.

Review of The Paper Magicians Series

If you love origami and magic, The Paper Magician series by Charlie N. Holmberg is definitely for you! Let your expectations go and just enjoy this whimsical, imaginative, and sweet story.

PaperMagicianGlassMagician MasterMagician

The Paper Magician (Book One)

Summary from Backcover: Ceony Twill arrives at the cottage of Magician Emery Thane with a broken heart. Having graduated at the top of her class from the Tagis Praff School for the Magically Inclined, Ceony is assigned an apprenticeship in paper magic despite her dreams of bespelling metal. And once she’s bonded to paper, that will be her only magic…forever.

Yet the spells Ceony learns under the strange yet kind Thane turn out to be more marvelous than she could have ever imagined—animating paper creatures, bringing stories to life via ghostly images, even reading fortunes. But as she discovers these wonders, Ceony also learns of the extraordinary dangers of forbidden magic.

An Excisioner—a practitioner of dark, flesh magic—invades the cottage and rips Thane’s heart from his chest. To save her teacher’s life, Ceony must face the evil magician and embark on an unbelievable adventure that will take her into the chambers of Thane’s still-beating heart—and reveal the very soul of the man.


This was a good adventure to start a series. A coming-of-age plot has us begin with disappointment which we can all relate to followed immediately by discovery that disproves our ungrounded, and preconceived notions, to introduce a world of possibilities. The author certainly has a vivid imagination–not only does she go deep in inventing a whole world of magic possible with paper folding, but also having a good portion of this book take place within the heart of Magician Emery Thane. What a great way to weave in backstory to set up the rest of the books. Very ingenious and instructive. I’m looking forward to book 2.

Get The Paper Magician (at Amazon)

The Glass Magician (Book Two)

Summary from Backcover: Three months after returning Magician Emery Thane’s heart to his body, Ceony Twill is well on her way to becoming a Folder. Unfortunately, not all of Ceony’s thoughts have been focused on paper magic. Though she was promised romance by a fortuity box, Ceony still hasn’t broken the teacher-student barrier with Emery, despite their growing closeness.

When a magician with a penchant for revenge believes that Ceony possesses a secret, he vows to discover it…even if it tears apart the very fabric of their magical world. After a series of attacks target Ceony and catch those she holds most dear in the crossfire, Ceony knows she must find the true limits of her powers…and keep her knowledge from falling into wayward hands.


I enjoyed the Paper Magician, but this book is even better. In book two we get more background in the other types of materials that one can “bond” to, to do magic. I thought the author’s creativity shone as she went in depth to give color with other characters and their trials with these other materials. While the plot felt somewhat contrived at times, the execution of the various plot twists, vilians and the possibility of a budding romance made the resolution very satisfying.

Get The Glass Magician (at Amazon)

The Master Magician (Book Three)

Summary from Backcover: Throughout her studies, Ceony Twill has harbored a secret, one she’s kept from even her mentor, Emery Thane. She’s discovered how to practice forms of magic other than her own—an ability long thought impossible.

While all seems set for Ceony to complete her apprenticeship and pass her upcoming final magician’s exam, life quickly becomes complicated. To avoid favoritism, Emery sends her to another paper magician for testing, a Folder who despises Emery and cares even less for his apprentice. To make matters worse, a murderous criminal from Ceony’s past escapes imprisonment. Now she must track the power-hungry convict across England before he can take his revenge. With her life and loved ones hanging in the balance, Ceony must face a criminal who wields the one magic that she does not, and it may prove more powerful than all her skills combined.


What a great ending to this very creative story arc. While Ceony again falls into a very predictable trap based on her naivety (which you can see coming a mile away) I enjoyed the sweet romantic tension that the author took time to develop rather than the all-too-common hormonal lust/sex that fills many books these days. I loved the outcome of the adventure and especially the very end of the book including the epilogue. Well done 🙂

Get The Master Magician (at Amazon)

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I’m Adding My Book Reviews to the Blog!

I read an awful lot of books and it occurs to me, from comments folks have made about the reviews I post on Goodreads, that you all would probably enjoy hearing about books I think are mention-worthy. So, it is with that background I offer you the first of many reviews of books I’ve read. I hope you enjoy my thoughts and find them helpful in selecting your next great read.

QueenofSomeday  QueenofTomorrow

I’m going to start with a pair of books, the first two in the Stolen Empire series by Sherry Ficklin. This series is a fantastical telling of the life of Catherine the Great of Russia.

SUMMARY: Queen of Someday (from cover)

Before she can become the greatest empress in history, fifteen-year-old Sophie will have to survive her social-climbing mother’s quest to put her on the throne of Russia–at any cost.

Imperial Court holds dangers like nothing Sophie has ever faced before. In the heart of St. Petersburg, surviving means navigating the political, romantic, and religious demands of the bitter Empress Elizabeth and her handsome, but sadistic nephew, Peter. Determined to save her impoverished family–and herself–Sophie vows to do whatever is necessary to thrive in her new surroundings. But an attempt on her life and an unexpected attraction threatens to derail her plans.

Alone in a new and dangerous world, learning who to trust and who to charm may mean the difference between becoming queen and being sent home in shame to marry her lecherous uncle. With traitors and murderers lurking around every corner, her very life hangs in the balance. Betrothed to one man but falling in love with another, Sophie will need to decide how much she’s willing to sacrifice in order to become the empress she is destined to be.

In a battle for the soul of a nation, will love or destiny reign supreme?


I did not realize this was a historical fantasy loosely based on historical events when I picked it up, but I have to say, Sherry did a great job at bringing to life plausible scenarios about what could have made Catherine the Great the person she became. Well done. I’ll definitely be reading the next installment.

Get Queen of Someday (Amazon)

SUMMARY: Queen of Tomorrow

Sophie—now Catherine, Grand Duchess of Russia—had a tough first year at Imperial Court. Married at sixteen to Grand Duke Peter, heir to the throne, and settled in their own palace, things start to look up. As a new day dawns, Catherine thinks only of securing her future, and the future of their country, during one of the greatest political upheavals of her time. Fighting desperately against forces that try to depose the Empress Elizabeth and put the young Prince Ivan on her throne, Catherine soon finds herself in the middle of a war brewing between her beloved Prussia and her new empire. While navigating the fragile political landscape, she quickly realizes that she has only begun to discover the tangled web of deceit and infidelity woven over the lavish court of Oranienbaum Palace.

When a strange and delicate alliance forms between the young couple, Catherine glimpses a future of happiness, only to see it vanish at the hands of those who still seek to end her life—and prevent her reign. Out of favor with the empress and running out of options, Catherine must sacrifice her own innocence on the altar of Russia if she is to save the nation and herself. To survive, she will have to do the unthinkable, betray those closest to her and become something greater and more dangerous than she ever imagined she could be… a queen.


Conspiracy, deceit and intrigue… Life in the Russian court was anything but dull. While I understand Ficklin took literary license with many of the specifics, I think the overall story arc was probably close to reality. Certainly one place I would not want to be. I will definitely be reading the next installment in this gripping saga which is due out September 15th!

Get Queen of Tomorrow (Amazon)

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My Second Father

1949: The boy peered out from his hiding place as the soldiers grabbed Father and lead him away—every fiber of his being longed to cry out at the injustice, but he dared not. Father’s crime: graduating from an American university, St. John’s University in Shanghai, the Harvard of China. And now the Communists considered him a threat to their new power and they imprisoned folks like that. The boy knew what would happen now: his two brothers and three sisters would go to live with Grandpa and Grandma. He and Mother would flee to Taiwan for he was the eldest son, the one the family’s line depended upon.

So began the inspiring true life story of my father-in-law when he and his mother fled to Taiwan to escape the Communist’s takeover of mainland China. We hear many inspiring stories, but few have the opportunity to live beside someone who endured and overcome adversity as he did.

His story: Arriving in an unfamiliar country, he and Mother got along as best as they could on the money she had brought with her. But within a year, she started feeling sick and within two she died of cancer. The boy who was just starting his freshman year of high school, felt completely lost. Despair nearly won, but when things seemed darkest, one of his high school teachers reached out to a contact at the China Daily News and helped him get a job as a laborer. For a year the boy fetched tea, delivered messages and did all manner of tasks in the evenings, while keeping up his studies during the day. His efforts earned him enough to live on and helped him begin building a foundation for his future. As he started his sophomore year, his superiors promoted him to a proofreader.

Graduation brought with it the challenge of passing an exam in order to enroll in university. After much studying, he succeeded and began a two-year course in Journalism. At night he continued his work for the newspaper while pursuing coursework during the day. He graduated and the newspaper promoted him to Reporter. He covered all types of events for three years in Taiwan before they sent him to Kinmen, an island off Taiwan. While there, he covered one particular story in more depth than usual, for he had met a woman he took a liking to. At the end of a year when the newspaper called him back to Taiwan, he proposed marriage and she accepted.

Upon his return, the newspaper again promoted him, this time to editor. Seeking to improve their future, the young man again enrolled in college, this time to earn a degree in western literature in order to teach English to high school students. For three years he pursued his degree during the day and continued working for the newspaper in the evening. Upon graduation, he began work as a teacher while continuing his role as editor at night. Finally feeling he was enough ahead to support a wife, he and his beloved married.

Life seemed finally to have reached some measure of stability for the couple as they welcomed their first child two years later. But with the birth of a son, the young man’s ambitions grew. He longed to provide the opportunity for an even better life. Considering his options, he believed the United States was that possibility. But getting into the graduate school through which he could ultimately accomplish that, the School of International Law and Diplomacy, was extremely competitive. Only the top five finalists on the qualifying exam, out of several hundred applicants, would be admitted. After much studying, he sat for the exam and against long odds, he finished among the top five!

As the young man pursued his studies the couple welcomed their second child, a little girl. And with her arrival, the young man’s resolve to create greater opportunity deepened further. Just before he graduated, he sat for and passed the exam to become a career diplomat. Upon graduation, the Taiwanese government put him to work in the Foreign Affairs office where he worked until they sent him to be a representative to El Salvador.

The son and daughter, age five and three at the time, adapted to life in a strange country with a strange language and strange customs. Five years later, after the young man and his wife had saved enough to start over in the United States, he resigned from the Foreign Service and immigrated with his family to Kansas City.

DadStarting over was difficult, but the young man had done it before. And this time he was not alone. In order to immigrate, he had to enroll in college and pursue a degree, trading his diplomatic visa for a student visa which did not permit them to work. And so for two years, the family lived on savings that forbade luxuries. The son well remembers homemade clothes of remnant fabrics that begged ridicule from peers, no school supplies, and a lot of going without.

If graduations had become routine for the young man, this one was anything but, for with it he began a new career, a new life. And his children could at last flourish.

As a writer, I seek to create conflict and adversity for my characters that my readers can identify with and have their lives positively impacted from–the young man’s story is certainly that. While he did not know his ambition and choices would significantly impact my life, a WASP American, he has, for had he not worked and sacrificed all he did, my life would be nothing like it is. And so this Father’s Day, I salute my second father, Andrew Lee. Thank you for your sacrifices and your dedication to see your children prosper.

The Meaning of Mom…A Personal Story

The morning of January 5th dawned sunny. My son shouldered his backpack and headed to my car like so many times before. Despite the familiarity of the scene, I knew when he returned he would not be the same, nor would I.

An hour later, I parked and we made our way inside his Air Force recruiter’s office, the drop off point for his journey to Basic Training and the beginning of his career with the military. I was doing my best (I told myself) to be strong for him and not cry, but when his recruiter politely indicated it was time to say goodbye, a flood of emotions overwhelmed my resolve. I gave him a hug and a kiss and for the first or second time in his life, my son saw tears in my eyes.

How is it that the most significant events in life hide in the understated moments? A whirlwind of thoughts gusted through my mind: Austinthis was the culmination of nineteen years; he had grown up and was no longer a child; he was beginning the next phase of his life where my responsibility for him ended and he became responsible for himself; my role as nurturer and guardian to see him safely to this point in body, mind and emotions had ended. I found myself unprepared to let go of the familiar.

I had been the first to ever hold him when he was born – not even the doctor, but me. I well remember the moment I laid eyes on him…the awe and wonder at the miracle of new life my body had created…the embodiment of my husband’s and my love for each other. My thoughts had quickly moved to my hopes for what he might someday become. He had captured my heart in a way nothing else could, and I willingly surrendered.

I was the one who gave personalities and life to his stuffed animal buddies from whom he derived comfort when he hurt inside when he was little. I was the one who intervened when he and my husband didn’t see eye to eye, which seemed all too frequently, as he moved through his adolescent years. Yes, he vexed me plenty as he grew up, but under the busyness of daily living, I was deeply committed to his success out of my love for him.

So yes, I cried as I kissed him goodbye. While my rational mind knew this moment was healthy and certainly necessary, that simple Austin2gesture of giving him a kiss and a hug marked me letting go of the familiar and stepping into a new and evolving role as the mom of a grown son who lives on his own, who I am no longer responsible for.
He will still need comfort at times and will hopefully accept some guidance from me now and then, but he will have changed. This is a good thing, an inevitable thing, but it still brings tears.

I reflect on the first eighteen years we have with our children. Excitement surrounds the birth of a new baby and the issues you face immediately are manageable. As they grow, the challenges become more complex and you feel less and less equipped, but you figure things out the best you can and move on. Eventually, this moment arrives and no matter if you tremble wondering if they are really ready, it reveals the truth that we are now, and will forever be, powerless to control what happens in their lives. Little did I realize this is what I was signing up for when my children were born, but this truly is what it means to be Mom–to love another human being more than you ever thought possible, to be humbled by your lack of skill in raising them, to continually seek their best even when they don’t appreciate it, to hurt with and for them when they hurt, to cheer them on to realize their dreams,  and ultimately, whether you feel ready or not, to release them to be who you have helped them become.


If you enjoyed this post, I invite you to download the eBook of book one in the Andy Smithson series for FREE at

The Levity of Birds

While writing to my son who is at Air Force Basic Training, I decided to relate the latest news and happenings. The incident in question tickled my funny bone and morphed as I wrote and I thought you might enjoy.

On February 16th, I ambled into a deadly contest of wills that I was unaware existed in the world. Yes…naive, uninformed, peace-loving, little ol’ me.”What conflict are you talking about?” you ask. Oh, clearly one that has existed since the dawn of man and beast (well, maybe ‘flying beast’ would be more accurate). “And how did this conflict begin?” you ask. To answer I believe one must first answer the question of which came first, the bird or the egg? You can’t say? Well then, for purposes of this tale, let’s just say the conflict I find myself now fully engaged in, started at a subatomic level, when nature had a male bird take a liking to a female (And no, this is no tale of the bees, although it certainly does go where birds fancy one another…I digress).

The two did what, well…what they do…and the lady went and laid a nest full of eggs. Then one bright and sunny day (although it could have been cold and rainy), a little boy birdie emerged into the world after expending much energy breaking through his shell.

“A fine lad,” no doubt his mother chirped. “He’ll grow up to rule vast lands and territory.” And so, Red (we’ll call him), grew and one day left the nest.

Striking out on his own, he staked out territory unclaimed by any other of his kind. Four years, yea five, passed and he decided a bird new to the Hood (who stealithily appeared–‘ey rouge–only when he chanced to pass the posterior of a nearby house) would have to go.

“This territory ain’t big enough for the two of us!” he could be heard chirping at dawn.

It took perseverence and great diligence, but he showed the newcomer who was boss, he did. At every opportunity while the sun shone, Red threw himself at the foe. The adversary, while strangely quiet and flat, tempted to resist.

“Why that bird brain,” Red declared. “Doesn’t it know I’m king? I’ll show it yet!”

And so, to this very day, Red continues his fruitless quest to conquer the villian who mirrors his every move!

Isn’t it funny how levity helps us cope with situations in which we find ourselves frustrated by our lack of ability to change? This cardinal is unwilling to take the hint and there’s not a thing I can do to fix that for I’ve tried every online remedy (remove light from the window, use Glad Press ‘n Seal and more) to no avail. I’ve just attempted a last possibility of posting an 8″ x 10″ picture of my son when he was three in the window. “They” said a life size picture might scare the menace off. Alas, Red just buzzed the window once more 😦

The Inspiring Parents of Seahawks’ Derrick Coleman Jr.

I live in Texas, so you will understand when I say I do not follow the Seattle Seahawks. I’ve never been to Washington State. In fact, the closest I’ve come to anything related to Seattle is watching umpteen “Fraiser” episodes. So it may surprise you when I say I’ve fallen in love with the parents of fullback Derrick Coleman, but it’s true.

You may recall a moving Duracell commercial that aired a year ago when Seattle was preparing for last year’s Super Bowl. It featured the first-ever, legally deaf NFL player, Derrick Coleman Jr. and advocated trusting the power within to overcome obstacles. As I dried my tears, my curiosity sparked. This success required support and powerful narratives. I had to know more about his parents.

Derrick Coleman Sr. is a writer and a quieter soul. May Hamlin, Derrick Jr.’s mom, is more vocal, calling herself “very opinionated.” I found her to be warm, articulate and a passionate advocate.

When they received the diagnosis of Derrick’s deafness at age three, May admits, “I was heartbroken.” Derrick Sr. said, “We went through thoughts, ‘How do we deal with this? What kind of life will he have?’ Our heads were spinning.”1 Pushing aside their grief, they tapped into their courage and set out to help their son. May went to work on Derrick’s lagging verbal skills by engaging him in lots of conversation. They resolved that, despite his challenge, not to treat Derrick differently. And they adopted a “no excuses” policy where hearing could never be made the culprit.

Life in elementary school added more heart-wrenching challenges for the couple. May shared that some of the toughest moments were watching Derrick walk with his head down because no one wanted to play with him or eat with him because of his hearing aids.3 She added, “You try to be calm and hold it together for your child, but inside its tearing you up. But you don’t want to show that…You want to tell them it’s gonna be okay. You can get through this.”5 May equipped her son with a powerful response: Derrick remembers, “My mom always said people who make fun of you and try to bring you down…They’re trying to bring you down to their level.”4

In the midst of these trials, Derrick took a liking to football and wanted to try out for his local Pop Warner team. Afraid he might further damage his hearing, Derrick Sr. did not immediately agree, but Derrick Jr persisted until his dad finally gave in. May knew if her son was going to succeed, she would need to “put my all into it.” And she did, innovating ways to keep his hearing aids in and more.

And what happened? At first seeing Derrick play, his father recalls, “I was like, ‘Wow this kid can play football’. I would be running up and down the field right alongside with him…and started to feel…‘Hey, he has something.” 2 Yet critics filled the bleachers. May revealed, “I couldn’t sit around people in fear that they would say something negative about his hearing. [Derrick] knew exactly where I sat, all the way at the top, all alone by myself.”2

Derrick excelled at UCLA and hoped to be drafted in 2012. But coaches could not see past his hearing challenges. “It still hurts, as a mom.” But things changed when the Seahawks gave him a chance in 2013 and he went on to help them win the Super Bowl.

May and Derrick Sr. set out to help their child realize his dream—it’s what parents do. What they did not anticipate is the legacy they have created: Derrick’s story has inspired hundreds of physically and mentally challenged children to dream. Looking at the hope in the eyes of these kids and hearing the narratives they have borrowed from Derrick to combat bullies and spur themselves on with No Excuses, nearly brings me to tears. It’s beautiful.

I doubt I will ever have the privilege of meeting Derrick or May, but if I ever do, I would ask them where they learned their narratives, for like those that I weave throughout my books, they are empowering, but rare, and don’t just pop out of thin air.

View the Duracell commercial:


Robin Williams and My Son

I felt like a spider watching prey approach its web as I waited, eyes dancing, behind a curtain protecting my identity. The man approached, whistling without a care. He flung open the hinged lid of our trash can, threw a gloved hand over his nose and doubled over. I couldn’t help myself. I burst out laughing. “That poor man!” I convulsed. I half expected to hear sirens after he reported us to authorities – a homicide.

Rewind four hours. The warm, sunny, July day had started as uneventfully as any day with a two and four-year-old can. It was Thursday, trash day. And it seemed to be taking my husband longer than usual to move the can the ten yards to the street, so I popped my head out into the garage.

“Do you smell something…foul?” he questioned, a pained expression emblazoned across his face.

Venturing toward the open garage door, I sniffed the air then jerked back. “Did you put a dead body in your trunk?” I joked. We burrowed behind boxes, lawn tools, and bikes, the source evading us. The breeze rippled through the garage once more and, in unison, we exclaimed, “The freezer!” Full of “on sale” meat, my husband warily pulled open the door, hoping, wishing…fearing. The stench of the rank contents assaulted our senses. He nearly lost his breakfast.

“How?” he pondered. Inspection revealed the temperature dial set to “off.” We knew who’d struck again! The task of disposing of the bodies was left to me…and the unsuspecting trash man.


My husband and I were duped when our first child, a compliant, determined, self-mobilized little girl entered the world two and a half years before our son. Based on our experiences raising her, we naively thought parenting was not so difficult. But our son seemed hell-bent on shattering our bliss.

To say he was curious was an understatement. Buttons, dials, anything he did not understand, fascinated him. A few examples: smearing the contents of his soiled diaper all over himself, his walls and carpet at one-and-a-half. The events recounted above, at two. As a teenager, we changed the password on his computer to revoke his privileges for a time. He reinstalled MS Windows, effectively circumventing his problem (what kid does that?). Denise the Menace had stiff competition with this one.

You will understand then why my husband and I felt stretched. Some said, “Enjoy this time, it goes all too quickly.” I wanted to respond, “You have no idea.” What does a parent do to shape and mold a child in hopes of producing a responsible, contributing member of society when that child ignores reasonable boundaries or refuses to learn except by experiencing society’s consequences? While the challenges we faced have produced fodder for my protagonist, Andy Smithson, in my middle grade fantasy adventure series, the net result for my husband and I: being humbled, frustrated, and at times despairing, as our son grew.

Lucky for the boy, he was a cuddly kid who loved to laugh and knew no strangers. A common scene in our home was him, arms bursting, bearing a foursome of stuffed animal buddies, searching me out. I contributed personalities and voices. As for a tender heart, my son was known to give a new toy to another without hesitation.

We had him tested after fifth grade and results confirmed he is ADHD—put another way, he is off-the-charts brilliant, but cannot organize effectively nor control many of his impulses, impacting anything as seemingly simple as putting him to bed to spending to grades and everything in between. Motivating him to do anything uninteresting…a trial. But, direct him to something that captured his attention…look out! I empathized with the families of Robin Williams, Bill Gates, Adam Levine, Michael Phelps, Walt Disney, Einstein, da Vinci, Mozart, Newton and others with ADHD.

Hormones triggered the first welcome hints of maturity and I began to see some positives developing. My son’s unwillingness to conform to our punishments translated to resisting pressure from peers and I saw him begin to lead. His problem-solving ability translated into being good at building things. He was still challenging, but for the first time, I had hope something good could come of it.

Now, after all the struggles of the last nineteen years, my son leaves for boot camp with the Air Force in a few days. For my husband and I, we have instilled in him what we could; we have persevered and given him our best. Now it is up to him. He will face challenges that will test his mettle. But I know he has what it takes to soar and he will change the world.

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Harry Potter Stole Christmas!

Who has delighted in the Great Hall at Hogwarts bedecked in holiday apparel, caught one of the snowflakes that wafted down from the ceiling on your tongue, giggled at seeing the hairy-footed gnome atop the Weasley’s tree, or couldn’t hold a snicker at hearing Peeves’ raucous version of carols from inside the knight’s armor? Better yet, who felt truly loved and accepted at the Burrow? Or imagined receiving a gift thoughtfully made just for you with love, courtesy of Mrs. Weasley? Yes, Harry stole the Christmas we are used to experiencing with busy family and imperfect friends, and replaced it with an experience only our imaginations could conjure.

Christmastime captures the awe and wonder of children like few other holidays or occasions. We see their joyful anticipation as they scrutinize packages under the tree. We delight in their curiosity and chuckle at their humble attempts to deduce what treasure waits to be discovered in each present bearing their name. We smile and wonder what a child listening attentively to The Night Before Christmas, The Legend of the Christmas Stocking or other holiday tale might be contemplating.

When I was little, I’d watch the mail for the JC Penney Christmas Wish Book. As soon as it arrived, I would dig in and spend hours dreaming of play with an amazing doll house, a fun train set, a cuddly stuffed animal, or other tantalizing toy. Christmas Eve I would leave a plate of cookies and milk for Santa and struggle to stay awake just to hear his reindeer and sleigh on the roof. As I got older, I began to doubt the jolly old man’s existence. But that year I found myself on an airplane on Christmas Eve and the pilot came over the loud speaker announcing, ”Kids, we’ve just spotted Santa off the left side of the plane.” Unfortunately, I sat on the side opposite and by the time I got to a window to look, he had vanished. The following year, soot boot prints, originating from the fireplace, appeared on the carpet of our home, keeping my doubts at bay a bit longer.

I will never forget the year my husband and I decided to give our son fifty dollars as part of his Christmas presents. Knowing he would not understand the magnitude of the gift if it were a single bill, I wrapped fifty, one-dollar bills. When he opened it Christmas day, his eyes lit up, then he jumped up and, waving the wad above his head, yelled, “I’m rich! I’m rich!”

I love those fun memories! And why not? For each of these experiences began with imagination. As an author of children’s fantasy adventures, I thrill at comments I receive from readers saying the world of Oomaldee is described so well they can imagine how everything looks. Others speak to thoroughly enjoying touching moments between characters. These are folks whose imaginations transport them to another place, renewing that spark of wonder that makes them and our world a better place when they return.

So, even though Harry Potter stole Christmas, I won’t be pressing charges or filing a police report. For he is that power that takes us anywhere we can dream and makes us better than we are.


The Life and Times of Author L. R. W. Lee