Kings of Hell by Leigh Haddington Review

Floors that suddenly drop and settings that shift and change drive the action of a fast-paced story that examines, to some extent, what it means to have a soul—and lose it. Various descriptions in Kings of Hell—from a deceptively perfect and vast stretch of ocean waters to the sumptuous halls of Hades and the terrifying walls of hell, thick with flesh, limbs, and screaming heads—stand out. Additionally, the careful attention to the separation that eighteen-year-old Nick and his mother experience is one that I find particularly poignant as transitions, in my own home, are on the horizon: My only child (a son) plans on going away to college. Fortunately, I haven’t sold his soul to the devil, as Nick’s mom (Jude) has done, but the sadness she endures certainly resonates.

Memorable characters abound. Melina is dark, brooding, and clever—and Lucifer and Anton are absolutely mesmerizing and quick-witted. I just wish that Melina had been brought back into the story a bit more, and I was hoping the ending scene would mirror the action-packed momentum set up in the beginning and sustained throughout the novel. Overall though, I enjoyed the twists and turns and reflecting on what a precious, frightening, and wonderful thing it is to be in possession of a soul—to be human.

(Note: I received a free PDF in exchange for a review.)

Link to Kings of Hell, click here.

Review: Red Station by Kenzie Jennings

A red dress—elegant and somewhat out of place—is anything but a hindrance to Clyde Northway, the character who drives the action in Kenzie Jenning’s Red Station. Sometimes, a woman’s clothing is nothing but an obstacle for damsels-in-a-dress-in-distress, but Jenning’s novella slashes that convention and provides a fantastic weapon of armor in “a deep, rich red much like garnet.” Indeed, the color red dominates in the blistering sun of the prairie landscape and flows in rivers of blood. (There is plenty of blood in this “splatter-Western.”)

Red Station, with its intriguing and well-rounded characters, gory scenes, and twists and turns through desolate and wild prairie landscape is a suspenseful page-turner. Who is the family that owns the home station where four stagecoach passengers stop for the night? What could feed their ravenous desires? Who can be trusted?

The action is fast, the characters are quick-witted, and the description is rich with details. By the end of this book, I was convinced that to survive uncertain, bizarre, and threatening circumstances, it’s best to pack a red dress—and sharp accessories.

Amazon link: Red Station

Review: Be a Happier Parent or Laugh Trying by Betsy Kerekes

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The messy-dirty-diaper-on-the-floor-years and the wonders and miracles of chaos are hilariously present in Betsy Kerekes’ Be a Happier Parent or Laugh Trying (https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B07QB9MC5H/). And, at the heart of this parenting book is the following lesson: “There are probably many more parent saints than we know of. They just never had time to write anything down for the sainthood committee” (92). In other words, imperfection is more than okay. It’s the intention behind our actions, the striving towards peace and happiness that count, knowing that we fail along the way.

Throughout the book, Kerekes uses the art of exaggeration to tell humorous stories: “Lord knows you’ve already received advice . . . from everyone and the cousin’s half-sister’s babysitter’s free-range chicken inspector” (10) and sometimes, the floor “looks like the streets in New Orleans after Mardi Gras” (16). These exaggerations, of course, are interspersed with practical and comforting advice. For instance, in a world where parents are constantly competing, Kerekes says to “do what works for you” (10) and to not compare your child to others, which as I reflect on my child’s younger years, would have been a really good reminder. In those days, comparing children often led to disappointment and not seeing the unique gifts that my own child had instead. Also, in this book, there are plenty of stories of children misbehaving during mass that will have you rolling the aisles (pun intended).

Other great ideas abound:

–creating game nights to “trick” children into cleaning the house.

–sharing pictures of mishaps and messes on social media for sympathy and laughter. (To use one of Kerekes’ techniques that also pops up in her book (the “pro tip”), here is a Pro Tip: Follow Kerekes’ blog: https://parentingisfunny.wordpress.com/ Fun and hilarity ensue.)

–encouraging service and charitable acts with children. (I have fond memories of regularly visiting a nursing home with my mom. We would take some of the residents out for McDonald’s and share a meal. We just had to make sure we didn’t lose any of the residents along the way.)

–uplifting children’s feelings, rather than dismissing them.

–making paper airplanes with lists of chores and flying them into children’s/spouse’s rooms. (Oh, the fun I could have with that!)

–imparting a sense of “detachment,” so that things and objects don’t take too much importance.

–starting the day by asking, “What does God want me to do today?” This would work for any age, but when I do it, I believe God always answers, “Nothing. Take the day off,” which can’t be right, but maybe it is. (I hope it is!)

–ignoring temper tantrums: “When you act oblivious to screaming children, it deflates that misbehaving balloon and teaches them that temper tantrums get them nowhere” (46). (This may be a tactic that is also starting to work with a certain ex-president, thanks to Twitter.)

So, for me, this book reconfirmed my faith in mistakes, fun, and chaos. Laughter is something that can unite us all, and Kerekes’ book is full of hilarious opportunities. 

The Places We Haunt: Live Reading on Facebook

Places We Haunt eBook Cover

Restless spirits with stories to tell lurk in the everyday spaces of The Places we Haunt—and now—they will be given a voice in a live Facebook reading. Join in on the fun as the author, Cecilia Kennedy, reads selections from her short story collection of dark tales. The live Facebook reading will take place Wednesday, October 21st at 5:30 p.m. Pacific Time (8:30 p.m. Eastern Standard Time and 7:30 p.m. Mountain Time). The author will read at least 2-3 selections, depending on time. She is aiming for an hour-long reading but is willing to stay longer for participants who want to chat—or hear a few more stories read aloud.

How to attend:

Please RSVP by Monday, October 19th to ckennedyhola@gmail.com. You can join the reading even if you are not a member of Facebook. In the RSVP, include either your Facebook link (if you would like to connect through Facebook) or your email where the author can send a link.

–Include a request for a story you want the author to read out loud from the collection, if you wish.

Since Facebook Rooms are limited to 50 people, the author will limit this reading to 49 participants. If there are more who would like to join, the author can schedule another reading for more participants on another day/time.

For more information about The Places We Haunt, or to buy a copy, please click on the following link: The Places We Haunt.

Starfish and a Quick Update

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Purple starfish found near Bellingham, Washington. Photo by Cecilia Kennedy

It’s dangerous to leave glass objects on my desk when I’m working.  Writing gets messy; I push notebooks and reference manuals around, sending knickknacks flying.  (A plastic wind-up crab is severely cracked, and my Wallace and Gromit figures may never want to look at me again.) However, I make one exception for the glass starfish pieces I’ve begun to collect.  I take extra care not to knock them over.  Typically, I’m not one to collect objects or figurines of any kind, but lately I’ve been drawn to starfish.  I look for them whenever I get a chance to walk along a pier or the shoreline of cities near the Puget Sound.  Of course, I capture a photo, but the urge to hold something solid and colorful is strong, so I settle for sparkling glass representations.

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Glass starfish on my desk. Photo by Cecilia Kennedy

Starfish, with their ability to regenerate their own limbs–and bring such joy in color and shape, are uniquely inspiring to me.  Starfish remind me to create something new—and to count my blessings.  This year in particular, I’m grateful for the following:

New Work:

–Recently, I’ve enjoyed translating brochures and letters into Spanish for the Safe Crossings Foundation, an organization that supports Providence Hospital of Seattle’s Safe Crossings Program.  When children lose loved ones, such as parents and siblings, they need resources to help them heal.  Currently, those resources are in English, but I’ve been translating them into Spanish and have learned a lot about the grieving process in general.

–A promotion at my part-time gig as a writing tutor for an educational publishing company has led to new opportunities. I’m now training writing tutors and helping them effectively serve students.

Publications:

–In 2018, I published nine short stories in various literary magazines/journals, so my goal was to meet that number of short story publications in 2019. I succeeded—and may have exceeded that goal.  (Some stories have been accepted a few weeks ago and may be published in the coming months.)  My most recent publications are on the following web link: https://fixinleaksnleeksdiy.blog/other-things-i-do/

–My DIY humor blog, Fixin’ Leaks and Leeks (https://fixinleaksnleeksdiy.blog/) is in its third year.  Laughing while writing is therapeutic.  I’ve managed to post once a week and gain a following of over 1,300 readers.  I’m absolutely amazed by the support of the blogging/writing community.

–I’ve finished the outline and plot for a new novel.  Two completed novels need to be revised, but I can’t wait to get started on the newest one. My goal is to complete half of it by December break.

Running and Reading Projects:

–It has been three years since I’ve moved to the Greater Seattle area and I can’t believe I haven’t really met or interacted with the wonderful neighbors in my neighborhood, so I started a book club.  Several of us women in the neighborhood get together once a month over lots of wine, books, and laughter. So far, we have read:  All the Light We Cannot See (Anthony Doer), The Last Tudor (Philippa Gregory), and The Red Tent (Anita Diamant).  Currently we are reading, Song of Solomon (Toni Morrison).

–For years, running has been my favorite sport/hobby, though I don’t like to do marathons.  A 5K is fine with me.  I rarely do 5K races, but I’ve just found out about “virtual 5K” races and challenges—and now I’m hooked.  These races are run anywhere/any time within a certain number of months or weeks. The miles are logged online, and medals come in the mail.  Currently, I’m doing the Run Motivators’ “Run Like a Woman 100 Mile Challenge.”  With this challenge, I have between July 1 and September 30th to run, walk, bike, swim, canoe/kayak, etc. 100 miles.  So far, I estimate that I’ve done 240 miles, 115 of them running. My medal will come in the mail and I get to interact with all kinds of runners all over the country who are doing the same thing.  Very inspiring!

What about you?  What are your achievements—writing or otherwise? What goals have you set for the year?  Feel free to share in the comments section below.