THE FRUGAL FIND OF THE DAY: The Gift, Rachel Newcomb {$0.99 or Borrow FREE w/Prime!}

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Rachel Newcomb‘s Frugal Find Under Nine:

Description of The Gift:

Is egg donation a gift or a transaction?

After several years together, Elise and Peter’s marriage is on the rocks. She can’t get pregnant, and he can’t seem to finish his dissertation. An editor with a promising publishing career, Elise decides to shelve her ambitions to pursue the baby that she believes will stabilize their shaky union. Meanwhile, Peter’s mind is elsewhere, haunted by memories of his glory days as a Peace Corps worker in Morocco.

Celia, the Princeton scholarship student who answers their advertisement for an egg donor, appears to be the solution to their problems. The daughter of an unemployed mill worker from South Carolina, Celia doesn’t quite fit into the elite Ivy League environment. But when Elise decides that Celia needs a mentor, the situation takes an unexpected turn.



“The Gift is a moving and beautifully rendered story about ambition, whether overt or oblique, thwarted or fulfilled. In precise and elegant prose,Rachel Newcomb explores the ethics of egg donation, campus politics, and marital conflict. A smart, complex book by a deeply empathetic writer.”
- Laila Lalami, author of Secret Son and Hope and Other Dangerous Pursuits

“Clear and relentless… this timely, stark, dead-on story nails two of our biggest contemporary dilemmas and brings into question the entire arrangement of marriage in a world wrenched by torrents of ambition amid doubts about the future that turn friends and even spouses into rungs on the ladder, or roadkill.”
- Philip F. Deaver, author of Silent Retreats and How Men Pray


The Gift currently has an Amazon reader review rating of 4.5 stars from 21 reviews. Read the reviews here.


An excerpt from The Gift:

At 6:30 Peter closed the book he was reading, a weighty book about sea exploration in the fifteenth century. Somehow it must relate to his dissertation, but as of yet he wasn’t sure how. He climbed the stairs to the main floor of the Firestone Library, which at this hour hummed with activity, the large reading room with its high ceilings and tall windows packed with industrious students hunched over chemistry notes and history books.

Heading to the exit, he passed one of his students from his Introductory Arabic class, a boy with a brush cut and a face dotted with acne who had expressed interest in someday using his Arabic to work for the CIA. Peter had to fight his dislike for Kevin, who saw the Middle East as a hostile, monolithic region and showed no interest in learning more about the beauty or diversity of its people.
“Hey Professor,” Kevin said. “I went looking for you after class but you weren’t in your office hours. Could we talk for a second?”
“I was in my office hours,” Peter sighed. “I must have just been in the bathroom. Actually, I’m running late for dinner, can this wait?” He tried to keep moving, but Kevin matched his stride.
“I wanted to talk about the grade you gave me on my last paper.”
Peter stopped in the lobby.
“The paper that was supposed to be about culture?” he asked. “You mean the one where you wrote that Israel is the only civilized country in the region?”
“Yes, you gave me a D. I thought that seemed a little undeserved.”
“You didn’t respond to the question correctly.”
“You mean I didn’t answer in a way that pandered to your political views.”
“No, you didn’t do what the assignment asked. I asked you to write about some aspect of Middle Eastern culture, not a polemic. I didn’t ask you to make value judgments. No culture is more or less civilized than any other.”
“Depends on your definition of culture. I was defining culture as the elevation of civilization, which Israel has reached. They’ve got world-class orchestras to prove it. Not like their barbaric neighbors.”
“Barbaric?” Peter said. “You can’t use words like that.”
“I can’t call suicide bombings barbaric?” Kevin argued. “Honor killings? Last time I checked, both practices were popular in that neighborhood, except for Israel.”
“How about targeted assassinations?” Peter said, wanting to bite his tongue but finding himself unable to do so. He tried to keep his voice low, but the security guard was listening with interest. “How about torture in the prisons?”
“Terrorists don’t play by the rules, so why should we have to when we’re dealing with them? These are exceptional times.”
“Hitler claimed that, too.” Peter knew he was on dangerous territory.
“Well, it seems obvious to me that I got a D because you didn’t like my subject, not because of the grammar, which was acceptable. I had Dr. Thomas look it over and he had no problems with it. He said he would have given it an A.”
“Dr. Thomas is neither your professor nor your teaching assistant,” he responded. “And whether you’re writing in Arabic and English, the subject matter is just as important as the grammar and style. You did not write about culture. You wrote a political polemic. Had you written about Israeli wedding ceremonies or Bedouin goat herding practices, you would have been on safer ground. Just remember the parameters of the assignment next time.”
“I certainly will, Doctor… or wait, you’re not a doctor yet, are you.” He smirked. “I’ll definitely keep this in mind.” Kevin looked at him pointedly then turned to go back into the library.
Peter stepped out into the chilly September air. He had no interest in bringing politics into the classroom and only wished that he could teach without feeling that students cared only about their grades. If only they were there to learn Arabic because of their love for the language’s unconventional beauty, and for the region’s rich and compelling history! He was used to students complaining about their grades—this was Princeton, after all, and the students were competitive—but Kevin made him nervous. The professor he was assisting as a teaching assistant, a Lebanese expert on 19th century Levantine social history, would back him up here. He would have to tell her about all of this before Kevin went to her, if he hadn’t already.
His discussion with Kevin made him late for dinner. Elise wouldn’t care, but Peter preferred order, and for his own sanity he liked to parcel the day out into planned tasks, just to make sure they were completed. The run at six thirty each day, shower and breakfast, and on campus no later thaneight thirty, ensconced in his carrel. Teaching from eleven to twelve on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, followed by a lunch, sometimes brought from home or else in the student union. Back in the library from one until three, a coffee break at the hour when he was most likely to get drowsy, then more work again until at least six o’clock. Office hours on Wednesdays from three to five.
The dissertation would only be completed if he were meticulous about his ordering of time. Inspiration without discipline was nothing. At night he could be more spontaneous, going out for the occasional dinner and a movie, or, if Elise were out of town, a beer at the grad student bar. Arranging his life this way offered just enough comfort to prevent him from other excesses that might afflict him if he dropped his insistence on routine. Sometimes even the slightest deviation from the schedule led to chaos, and when this happened he might find himself needing to spend a good hour arranging his books, first by descending order of size, then alphabetically, then by publication date. Without the routine, other troubling behaviors threatened to appear, operating beyond his volition.
Unlocking the door to their apartment, he breathed in the smell of seafood. Seated at the functional wooden IKEA table drinking wine with Elise was a girl he didn’t recognize. He wondered if Elise had started working at the rape crisis center again. When she did, it was not uncommon for him to come home to find unfamiliar faces around the dinner table, fellow activists, or girls whom Elise was helping to get through difficult times. He suspected she had boundary issues, so he’d been relieved that she was not volunteering as much lately.
“Peter, this is Celia,” Elise said. She stood up to shake his hand. For a minute her name did not register, and Peter tried to recall where Elise might have met her. A friend from yoga class, maybe? Suddenly he remembered where Elise had been yesterday, and why he had avoided coming home until the last possible instant, when she was already asleep.
“This is…” he stalled, reaching out his hand to shake Celia’s as she stood up to meet him, her face slightly flushed, whether from the wine or the awkwardness of the meeting, he wasn’t sure. She seemed so young; she could have been one of his students, one of the masses of slender, elfin girls who populated the Princeton campus, with perfect, television-commercial hair and shiny white teeth. She wore the requisite long hair over her shoulders, jeans, and a t-shirt from a bar that claimed to be in Key West but was probably the creation of a marketer at Old Navy. She looked at him expectantly.
“I’m sorry, I didn’t know I’d be meeting you this soon,” he said. “Elise didn’t mention…”
“She caught me just as I was about to leave for dinner,” Celia said. “Risotto sounded a lot better than the usual fare they serve in the cafeteria.”
“What are they serving in the cafeterias these days?” Elise said. “When I was in college, I avoided the cafeteria assiduously. But then, I avoided food in all its guises, institutional or otherwise.”
After a few drinks, Elise became expansive, her personality a little more outsized. He knew she was planting the comments about food on purpose. Ask me about my eating disorder. But Celia was diplomatic, not falling for the bait.
“I bet the food is the same from when you were in college; they’ve just updated the names. Like calling something penne arrabiata changes the fact that it’s really just spaghetti and tomato sauce with a dash of Tabasco.”
Peter smiled and sat down at the table.
“Wine?” Elise lifted the bottle in his direction, already half finished.
“Just a bit,” he said. “What kind of cheese is that?”
“Your favorite—St. André triple cream.”
“How decadent. What’s the occasion?” he asked. Elise angled her head in Celia’s direction.
“Celia’s agreed to help us out,” she said, placing her hand over his. “She’s going to help us have a baby.”


The Gift is available for purchase at:

 Amazon Kindle for $0.99 or Borrow FREE w/Prime!


Connect with Rachel Newcomb:



Twitter: @rachelnewcomb

THE FRUGAL FIND OF THE DAY: The Brightest Moon of the Century, Christopher Meeks {$0.99}

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Christopher Meeks‘ Frugal Find Under Nine:

Description of The Brightest Moon of the Century:

In his fourth award-winning book, Christopher Meeks offers a comic and compassionate coming-of-age novel. A young Minnesotan, Edward, is blessed with an abundance of “experience”–first when his mother dies and next when his father, an encyclopedia salesman, shoehorns Edward into a private boys school where he’s tortured and groomed. He needs a place in the universe, but he wants an understanding of women.


“A truly great novel in the tradition of Charles Dickens and John Irving.” –Marc Schuster, Small Press Reviews

“In his debut novel, ‘The Brightest Moon of the Century,’ Christopher Meeks chronicles one man’s path to middle age and, in doing so, illustrates how choices and circumstances — even those that seem arbitrary at the time — have a way of irrevocably cementing a person’s future.” -Cherie Parker, Minnneapolis Star Tribune

“Charming and endlessly entertaining, ‘The Brightest Moon of the Century’ is a fine read that is an excellent addition to literary fiction collections.” -Midwest Book Review

“Edward is endearingly real, and readers will be rooting for him in every situation. ‘The Brightest Moon of the Century’ will appeal to readers across genders and generations.” -Dawn Rennert, She Is Too Fond of Books


The Brightest Moon of the Century currently has a customer review rating of 4.1 stars with 21 reviews! Read the reviewshere.

The Brightest Moon of the Century is available to purchase at:

Amazon Kindle for $0.99

An excerpt from The Brightest Moon of the Century:


Near mid-century when Edward was born, the full moon was years from being the brightest. That would happen—in terms of luminosity and size—in the last month of the century. As a child growing up, however, Edward found much splendor and mystery in the moon. It kept changing and following him around, a rock with its own rhythms, much like girls, and he knew he was years away from understanding girls.
Now in eighth grade with his mother gone, Edward felt he’d finally done something right. His father, Stanley, stood at the kitchen sink reading one of Edward’s English papers. Edward smiled, waiting for his father to see the letter grade of “A” at the end.
“What’s this quote?” asked his father, who then read the quoted line aloud. “‘The moon on the river looked like a dented hubcap floating on a cesspool. I hated rivers, and my grandfather, Elihu Twain, hated them, too.’ You say this is from Mark Twain. Where’d you find this quote?” The man frowned.
“I don’t know,” Edward said. He had to pause his breakfast spoon in mid-flight, knowing his cornflakes, bathing in the bowl’s milk, were about to turn into corn mush. “The encyclopedia?”
“Don’t you know that there were no hubcaps in those days? And Mark Twain’s real name was Samuel Clemens, so his grandfather would be named Clemens, for crissakes, not Twain. And Mark Twain, for your information, had been a steamboat pilot, and he loved rivers—compared them to pearls and opals! Where did you get this quote?”
“I was running out of time, so I had to— I mean—”
“You made it up, didn’t you?”
“It was due,” Edward said. “And I still got an ‘A’.”
“I didn’t raise you to be a cheater.”
“She mostly just wanted to see that we can write an essay, and—”
“It’s not even that great of an essay,” said his father.
“You’re always harping on grades so—”
“Don’t you blame this on me.”
“It’s a good grade. What’re we arguing about?” Edward stood, turning to the sink with his bowl.
“And what kind of English teacher couldn’t catch such a thing?”
“I don’t know.”
“Education is the asphalt for the road of life.”
“What? Asphalt?”
“The point is next fall you’re not going to that waste dump of a school.”
“Because of one lousy high-graded paper? Come on!” Edward dumped his now-soggy cereal down the garbage disposal.
His father shook his head. “I’ve been thinking about this awhile. I want you to have more opportunity than I had. You don’t want to be an encyclopedia salesman, do you? I want you to go to McCory.”
“But I love where I’m at! It’s good asphalt.”
The fact was Edward did not love his school, but no one bothered him there. At Eastbrook Junior High School, Edward Meopian was not a wallflower but more like a hearty, imperceptible weed. The girls looked through him, the guys he passed in the hallway nodded once in a while, and the teachers didn’t find him distracted or daydreaming so did not pounce on him. He was not someone who was teased, for he wasn’t nerdy or outwardly vulnerable. Rather, he came across to most people, certainly to himself, as something of an ottoman or sofa: existing and acceptable. His grades were just above average—not good enough for the jocks to ask him if it was okay to copy his homework. If he were to become a mass murderer down the road, no one would know him well enough to tell the blond TV interviewer, “Yeah, I knew him in junior high, and he was so friendly. Who knew he could turn people’s pelvis bones into ash trays?”
Rather, he was “Edward Who?”
On Saturday morning two weeks later, his father drove Edward to the McCory School to take the entrance exam. The high-class private school for boys was in a bleak brick structure above the train yards of Minneapolis, Minnesota.
His father said while dropping Edward off, “Do well on the test or else.” Or else what? Would his father force him to go to the public high school where Edward wanted to go anyway? Or would his father allow no friends over for a month? Edward had no friends. What do you take away when you have nothing?
Edward nodded and exited the car. Inside the school in the dim hallway, a thin man with a nicotine face led him to a small paneled room where a test waited for him on a wooden desk. Edward sighed, flipped the test open, and did as well as he could on the entrance exam, math and English, because he did not want to be thought of as stupid. At the end of the test was the question, “Why do you want to attend McCory School?” He wrote, “I don’t want to. My dad wants me to go.” To the question, “What appeals to you about McCory?” he penned, “Nothing. I want to go to a school with girls. There are no girls here.”
A week later at breakfast, his father said, “I got a call yesterday.”
What was that supposed to mean? His father looked serious.
“From Aunt Barbara?” he tried.
“McCory.” He broke out in a grin. “You made it in.”
“But I don’t want to go to McCory. How can you afford McCory?”
“That’s my problem.”
“I promise to do better at Eastbrook.”
“It’s McCory. We’ll go shopping for suits soon.”
“You have to wear coats and ties there.”
Edward gasped.
“Don’t give me that look,” said his father. “You’re going to be a businessman someday, so you may as well get used to coats and ties now.”
“What if I want to be a welder?”
“Then you’ll be a gentleman welder. Oh, and one other thing. Because of what you wrote at the end of your test about not wanting to go—they felt you had a maturity issue. You’ll be starting in the eighth grade.”
“But I passed the eighth grade!” said Edward.
“You shouldn’t have written what you did.” His father finished his coffee and put his cup in the sink. He beamed at Edward. “You’re going to be a McCory boy. Someday you’ll thank me.”


As the summer ended, his father took him to the Foursome, a men’s store across the bay in Wayzata. With stern looks that demanded silence from Edward, Dad bought him one blue blazer and one pin-stripped double-breasted suit, as if Edward were a thin, gawky banker. His father had never spent such money on him before. His father asked him one question: “Do you know how to tie a tie?” Edward shook his head, wondering how his father expected such a thing. They never went anyplace that demanded a tie, so how was he supposed to have learned? By the same method he had learned about girls: from boys talking in line at gym?
“I know just the trick for you,” said his father, and stepped away. Edward would have followed, but he noticed a college-age woman, very pretty in a flowered dress, adjusting the tie of her smiling, husky boyfriend in what must be a new blue suit. There was something about her touch, sure and casual, that made Edward stare. As she gazed at her man up and down, the way his mother had once looked at him and his father, Edward wondered if he would ever share such a moment with someone again. Would he ever get a girlfriend?
“Here you go,” said his father, carrying two pre-tied ties. “These are called clip-ons. You’re slow enough in the morning as it is, so this should help you.” His father clipped it on just under Edward’s throat as easily as a horse was attached to a tether.
Weeks later, walking stiffly in his blue blazer and clip-on, Edward walked the half-mile to the corner where the McCory bus would pick him up. The bus was orange like other school buses, but when he stepped on, only boys in coats and ties stared at him, looking like miniature accountants.
“Who are you?” said the first kid, about fourth grade with eyes resembling a gerbil’s.
“Oh,” said the kid. “Got gum?”
A half-hour later, the bus pulled into a long tree-shrouded drive that took them up the hill to the school. The three-story building called the Upper School technically had no grade levels, but rather “forms,” as in English schools. Seniors were Form Six, Juniors, Form Five, etc. Edward was in Form Two, the youngest in the Upper School. The Lower School, a smaller, one-story building a long block away, held grades three through six as well as Form One. The athletic fields lay between. The three wings of the Upper School formed a U, which backed its open end against a berm, giving the central, grassy area in back the feel of a prison yard.
The rooms inside, most of them built for fifteen or fewer students, were small with chipped blackboards and wood floors that had nearly seventy years of yellowed varnish, the color of dead men’s fingernails. The rooms echoed the confinement that Edward soon felt. Between classes, the olive green cement stairs that led to each floor flowed with students, the only time that Edward experienced, in his first days, any sense of positive energy, mainly because each step was that much closer to the final bell. The school motto, “Far from noise and smoke,” which was perhaps meant to suggest healthy isolation and the flowering of minds in a quiet, smogless atmosphere, did not take into consideration the horn blasts and diesel exhaust from passing trains below. As Edward would learn, the world was an ironic place.
Within the first week, one of Edward’s new classmates, John De Bernieres, a husky kid from his English class who walked as if he had a cigar up his butt, beelined right up to him. “What’s your dad do?”
“Why?” said Edward.
“My dad runs a big law firm,” said De Bernieres, “Maybe he knows your dad.”
“Mine’s in publishing.” That was a stretch. His father sold encyclopedias.
“Oh.” De Bernieres yanked Edward’s tie, and when it pulled off, he shouted to no one visible, “Hey, you’re right. The new kid has a clip-on!” Word spread quickly. In the olive drab hallways of McCory, his tie was being yanked off dozens of times daily by an equal number of classmates, including Lee Boatswain, son of the president of Northwest Banks, Robert B. Dalton, whose parents later named a large bookstore chain after him, and Reese Freely, son of the CEO of Dairy Queen.
On Sunday night after his first week of McCory, in bed early, Edward wondered what to do about the ties. His stomach felt as if it were a washrag wrung and twisted so hard, soon there would be no more liquid. Maybe his whole body would dry up and disappear.
Staring up into the darkness beyond the deepest moonless night, Edward realized maybe his father wasn’t the best person to get him through things. His father no longer understood what it was to be a kid. Edward was simply a responsibility. Edward then thought of the time their Sunday dinners had had three placemats, not two. He remembered how he could be with his mother alone, and with a quick hug and a laugh at something Edward said, the world was made right. Maybe she was a ghost, and he could find her. He really wanted to find her. But even if she came to him now, could she help him with a tie? No. The sense of aloneness overwhelmed him. Edward would have to learn how to tie a tie on his own. But how?
Minutes later, he knocked on his father’s bedroom door. Edward was scared to knock on the door, of course, but he had nowhere else to turn, even if his stomach told him not to. “What is it?” barked his father.
“Can I come in?”
“May I come in?”
“May I?”
He found his father in bed, the same king-size bed the man had shared with Edward’s mother, whose last paperback book, Jacqueline Suzanne’s Valley of the Dolls, was still splayed face down on the bedside table as if she would return. His father looked up from a history book about Rommel.
“Aren’t you supposed to be in bed? This is my time. I’m tired,” said his father.
“I’m sorry. I just— I was— I mean—”
“Spit it out!”
“A tie. I’d like a regular tie, if that’s okay. For school.”
“I got you two, didn’t I?”
“They’re clip-ons, not regular.”
“Clip-ons look just fine.”
“Not really.”
“But they’re fast to attach.”
“The other kids tie regular ones fast. So will I.”
He thought his dad might raise his voice at the possibly impertinent answer, but instead his father said, “You can tie ties now?”
“Yeah . . . I mean yes.” He had entered the room also meaning to ask him how, but now, seeing how irritated his father might be, thought it better to pretend.
“Open my second closet and take any two you want,” said his father.
Edward nodded. He opened the closet and, from about fifty ties hanging neatly from their own little bars, looked at all the variations on stripes. Nothing stood out, nothing seemed special, so Edward took one in blue and another in green.
“Thanks,” said Edward, and, to his surprise, his father smiled.


The Brightest Moon of the Century is available to purchase at:

Amazon Kindle for $0.99

Connect with Christopher Meeks:


Twitter: @MeeksChris

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Salty Miss Tenderloin, Jacki Lyon {$3.99}

SALTY MISS TENDERLOIN is a fiercely tender novel by award winning writer Jacki Lyon. Never shying away from the dark side of humanity, Lyon introduces Starlight Nox, a scrappy girl born on the gritty streets of San Francisco’s Tenderloin District when Jimi Hendrix and the Vietnam War are center stage.

Starlight learns at an early age to rummage food from dumpsters and collect clothes from the corner charity for survival. When the girl’s father dies with a needle in his arm and her mother disappears searching for her next fix, the forsaken twelve-year-old is adopted by wealthy grandparents. Uprooted from San Francisco to Cincinnati, Star spends the next two decades learning that danger doesn’t lurk just in pimps and pill pushers on Turk Street. She discovers that evil finds a welcome host in tailored suits and Chanel dresses and even glossy church pews. Star calls on her early, bitter lessons from the streets to navigate the more sinister roads she travels as a young woman.

SALTY MISS TENDERLOIN is a poignant coming-of-age story that proves the transition from child to adult is a process that repeats itself many times in life. Coming-of-age is about survival. For the lucky, the change begins with a raging gnaw of desire; for the unlucky, the change begins with a crying gnaw of hunger. For Starlight Nox, the treacherous journey begins much too early in life and continues to test her ability to grow and persevere, time and time again.

What readers are saying:

Jacki Dillon Lyon hit a home run again!!! I loved this book. Star is a character that you will fall in love with because of her determination, loyalty to her friends and grandmother and her ability to keep it all together at times . . . Get your book groups to read this. You will not be disappointed. Barb Rohs, Cincinnati, Ohio

I just finished reading Salty Miss Tenderloin and am not ready to let the heroine, Star, go. Jacki Lyon has written an awesome novel, but more importantly, she’s shown through Star, that regardless what life offers, one can find the strength to overcome adversity and perservere! Becki D., Sarasota, Florida

Click here to read more about and purchase Salty Miss Tenderloin for $3.99

THE FRUGAL FIND OF THE DAY: A Deconstructed Heart, Shaheen Ashraf-Ahmed {$4.99 or Borrow FREE w/Prime!}

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Shaheen Ashraf-Ahmed‘s Frugal Find Under Nine:

Description of A Deconstructed Heart:

Mirza is a middle-aged Indian college professor whose wife has left him. He moves out of his house into a tent in his back garden, where he sets up an outdoor classroom and serves tea to his kind but bewildered neighbors. He is visited by the irritable spirit of his long-dead teacher, Khan Sahib, who is befuddled by the dysfunctions of modern life.

In the north of England, Mirza’s niece, Amal, is finishing up her last year of college before she is expected to join her parents in their new home in India. Asked by her father to talk her uncle back into his senses, she moves into Mirza’s house, and they soon are connected by their shared loneliness. She meets Rehan, Mirza’s student, and is intrigued by the path of certainty he has built over his own loss and loneliness–a certainty that is threatened by his growing feelings for her.

When Rehan disappears, Amal’s suffering forces Mirza to face the world once more. Together, Mirza and Amal must come to a new understanding of what it means to be an immigrant family when the old traditions have unraveled.

A Deconstructed Heart is a novella that explores the breakdown and rebuilding in one immigrant family trying to adapt: how lines in families and cultures are forcibly redrawn, how empty space can be reframed by a tent into a new definition of home… but how, no matter how hard we may try to forget, the past refuses to be contained.



“Beautifully written story about loss, heartache and family.
The story brings together two individuals, uncle and niece, who have their own heartache in life. Uncle Mirza’s wife left him, sending him on a mental roller coaster, which brings in his niece Amal to help bring him back. The story is so well written with deep moments of sorrowful reality, painful existence and love.
R.C. Bennett, Amazon reviewer

The characters are developed with subtle strokes, and the author’s lyrical language enhances the setting. Mirza’s ability to disconnect from reality and yet function within its bounds, holding his architecture class in a tent and conversing with his neighbors as if it were perfectly normal, was the highlight of the story for me. I look forward to reading more of Ashraf-Ahmed’s work.
Ken Doyle, author of Bombay Bhel.

The novel is sedate and thoughtful. It’s well written with touches of dry and wry humour. It’s entertaining and leaves you thinking. It also provides an interesting insight into Indian culture with the importance it gives to family and duty. Very well worth reading.
Stephanie Dagg for

The “deconstructed heart” of the title concerns the disconnection between a husband and wife, but could also be a stand-in or metaphor for the disconnection within a family separated from loved ones in a former homeland, or between old and new cultures. The author has a fine sense of style, with a wry sense of humor, rich images, and skillful use of simile and metaphor. Writing this good is rare.
O.J. Barnack, Amazon reviewer

“I would highly recommend A Deconstructed Heart be put on anyone’s must read list.” Review by


Amazon Reader Reviews:

A Deconstructed Heart currently has a Amazon reader review rating of 4.9 stars, with 9 reviews! Read the reviews here!

Excerpt from A Deconstructed Heart:

Chapter 1

When Mirza awoke, his wife was picking lint from their bedspread, a small sheep gathering existence between her fingers. “I’m leaving,” she said, looking for the next flea-sized victim to wrest with her long nails. Mirza propped himself up on one elbow and sucked the air between his teeth. His long exhalation did not make a ripple in the fjords of his wife’s gray and black hair. “Thinking…” he said, because he was, and did not quite know how to handle this moment. She snorted. “Well…” he continued, wondering why his arms were not flailing like a man slipping on ice, “…what you want we should do about the cat?”
He waited for the slam, but the quiet click of the bedroom door was like a switchblade closing. He fell back on the pillow and pulled the covers over his nose and mouth, breathing the warm, humid air from his lungs. He closed his eyes tightly for a long time until he saw bright flecks of color behind his eyelids, like shards of green glass. Finally, he rose. “That cat will need feeding,” he said to the pink roses on the wallpaper as he pushed the covers back and dug his toes into the carpet pile seeking his slippers. As he passed his wife’s dresser, he crossed his eyes when he saw the bamboo box where she kept her bangles, and the effort not to see it made his head ache.
He stopped at the bedroom door. There were noises from downstairs, drawers being rummaged in, a stack of plates sliding in the sink, the rattling of the glass panes in the front door as Naida left. He waited for the small cough of the Honda before he stepped out onto the landing and waited again until the roar of the car’s engine faded. The square window above the stairs was usually a delight to him every morning, a postage stamp that framed the houses on the next street over with a winking blue eye of sky, a perfect brushstroke of trees. He stood looking for a long time, feeling like a bell had been rung in his head, the clanging reverberations fading now to a soft hum.
There was no milk in the fridge, so he filled a saucer with water and called the cat with loud kissing sounds. She poked her head around the sofa cushions and was with him in one leap. “Aaah, Moriarty,” said Mirza, rubbing her behind her ears as she lapped dejectedly at the water, “Le coeur a ses raisons, no?”
He picked her up and, trading his slippers for his outdoor shoes, he stepped out of the side door in the kitchen, not caring to change out of his kurta pajamas. It was cold and damp outside, and Moriarty soon bolted from his arms, her tail flicking through the cat flap as she disappeared back into the house. The grass tickled his ankles as he strode to the middle of his lawn, but today he did not feel his usual dread of the lawnmower that waited in the tool shed like a neglected dog.
He settled in the small dip of lawn that rolled away from his house, his arms on his knees, and watched the ants weaving over and under the grass blades. At ten o’ clock that night, Mrs. Minton next door saw a white shirt in the gloom and told her husband that someone’s laundry must have blown off the washing line. She reminded herself to check whether any of his vests was missing in the morning.

Chapter 2

Frank Minton fell over the side of the fence between his home and the Chaudry’s with a small whoop of panic. A former police officer, he underestimated the effect that fifteen years and as many pounds took on his litheness, and when he straightened up his face was a shade of plum. Nobody witnessed his undignified descent, however; the form on the Chaudry’s lawn was still inert. Frank stepped around the dustbins and moved cautiously across the grass until he recognized his neighbor sleeping on the lawn, one arm above his head, another out to the front as if he were directing traffic.
“Mirza, is that you?” he asked, shaking his shoulder. “Are you locked out?”
“Yes, yes,” mumbled Mirza, “I told her myself,” he said, sitting up, his eyes still closed. The side of his face was indented with a thatch of grass blades and his nose immediately began streaming.
“What were you thinking, man?” asked Frank, not unkindly. “Where’s Naida? Your wife, where’s your wife?” he continued when Mirza did not reply. “You’ll freeze out here.” He gave him another hearty shake about the shoulders.
“Yes, yes, yes,” said Mirza, wiping his nose on the back of his sleeve and opening one eye. Frank looked around helplessly and spotted Ella, his wife, in her dressing gown at the window of their house, staring down at them. She shrugged a question at him, and he shrugged back.
“Let’s get you inside.” He started to pull Mirza to his feet, but was surprised at the smaller man’s strength when he resisted. “For God’s sake, are you trying to kill yourself? You need to warm up!”
“Yes, what a good idea, I was very foolish,” said Mirza, locking his arms around his knees with one hand gripping the other’s wrist. “A blanket would be good. Also, I think I am out of milk, but perhaps a cup of tea…?”
Frank made a pouring gesture to his wife, and when she nodded, he strode into Mirza’s house to find a blanket. He returned with the scarlet and indigo duvet from Mirza’s bed (Naida’s taste) and a cellphone. As Mirza pulled the duvet around his shoulders, Frank waited, one large meaty finger hovering above the phone keypad.
“What’s the number, then?” he asked.
“Oh, no, not necessary,” said Mirza.
“Oho, trouble in paradise?” said Frank jovially. “Well she’ll be back here in a flash when she learns that you’ve been a proper Romeo for her. Hurry up, then.”
“There is no need,” said Mirza, his lips forming a tight line, “I’m quite comfortable here in my own garden. Anyway, who let you in?” he asked, looking at Frank for the first time.
“Listen, I’m calling someone. If you don’t give me a number where I can reach your wife, I’ll call the hospital instead. You would not sleep on the lawn all night unless you were drunk—”, here his nostrils flared slightly as he took in the mud and grass aroma of his unwashed neighbor, and continued, “—or locked out or, ahem, not feeling yourself.” He studied the toes of his Clarks and his voice became more gentle. “I would really feel better if you could give me the number of someone who might come over.” They heard a china cup rattling on its saucer by the fence. “Think about it, there’s a good man,” said Frank as he strode away to update his wife.

Mirza exhaled deeply and looked at the house. The darkened windows were not yet touched by the morning sun, gaping eyesockets and yawning maws of glass among the brown brick. He imagined the cat inside, raising her head from under the sofa cushions when she saw him, the dark slits of her pupils narrowing in their pools of iridescent green. He turned to face the other way.
Ella Minton handed her husband a cup of hot, milky tea for their neighbor. “I put in an extra sugar lump,” she said conspiratorially, “he must be in shock. Did she leave him, then?”
“I don’t know,” said Frank, as they stood together on the small bank of well-tended front lawn that connected his house to Mirza’s. He smiled at his wife’s padded housecoat and hausfrau slippers. She had eased into comfortable middle age, but every now and then a cheeky giggle and a sly glance reminded him of his twenty-year-old bride, and he allowed his touch to linger as he took the teacup from her. “He won’t let me call her, and he won’t go back in. Having a ‘moment’, I think.”
“Poor dear. I always thought there was something wrong there.” Through the open gate to their neighbor’s garden they heard the door to the kitchen close.
“Sounds promising,” said Ella, arching her eyebrows, but as Frank darted through his neighbor’s gate, Mirza was already stepping out of the house and heading back to the garden once more.
“Change your mind, did you?” asked Frank when he reached him, nodding towards the house.
“A simple call of nature.” Mirza settled into the grass again and wrapped the duvet about his shoulders like a shawl. He inclined his head slightly.
“Perhaps you would like to call my niece.”

Chapter 3

The first time Mirza met Naida, he was scraping off the remnants of a cow pat from his shoes at the front steps of her home in Lucknow. He was to be introduced to Naida’s elder sister for marriage and Bata shoes that signaled his prospects in life had been bought for the occasion. His father and uncle were offering dung-removing advice when Naida wobbled up on her brother’s bicycle and jumped off deftly as the wheels teetered to a stop.
She pulled her book-bag strap over her head, put her hands on her hips and flashed a gap-toothed smile at Mirza. He edged slightly behind his male relatives, still fervently wiping his shoes on the grass.
“Uncle… Uncle, assalamu alaikum,” she said, dipping her face into her cupped hand, then darting into the house, her light blue scarf the last thing they saw of her before the door closed. While Mirza and his male elders were still examining his shod feet, the door opened again and a slender brown hand placed a bucket of water, a bar of soap and a cleaning rag on the doorstep.
“Put your best foot forward!” a girl’s voice declaimed in schoolgirl English. Naida’s face appeared around the edge of the door. Her long braid flicked in orbit about her as she turned away.
The house was warm and stuffy. Mirza’s father passed him a handkerchief to wipe off the sweat that was trickling down from his forehead to his shirt collar. Mehjabeen sat opposite him, staring at her lap, and Mirza looked at the long bridge of her nose and her eyelashes. The veil over her head was trembling. As he stared down into his teacup, he heard his father recounting his success in his engineering studies. “First position,” said Kamal, whacking his son heavily on the back in congratulation, making the tea spill into the saucer. “Stiff competition, you know, but I told him “Now you are masterclass, you can go anywhere you want.” Naida’s parents watched, rapt, and even Mehjabeen looked up as Kamal Chaudry’s hand floated in the air, inscribing the geographic boundaries that would be broken by his son’s excellence.
Mirza, however, was watching another hand, a slender-fingered one that held out a tray of samosas at the doorway. A small cough came from outside the room and Naida’s sister rose heavily, stepping carefully towards the outstretched snacks. There was a murmur as she took the tray and for just a moment, Mirza caught sight of a dark eye peering naughtily through the crack of the doorjamb. He dabbed his neck and forehead copiously.
“Our daughter has always wanted to see the world—after marriage, of course,” said his future mother-in-law and Mirza smiled uncertainly. She put a samosa on a plate and passed it to Mehjabeen, nudging her to offer the plate to the engineering suitor, who took it without looking. “So serious,” thought the future mother-in-law happily, “such a thoughtful young man.”
“But it’s the wrong girl,” she complained a week later when the proposal arrived. “We can’t marry you off before your older sister!” There was a moment’s silence, then: “What did you do?” she asked sharply, tipping her chin at the younger daughter who was biting into a sweetmeat sent by Mirza’s family.
“Hai, Ammi-Jaan,” she replied, rooting around in the box for another treat to sample, “Its not my fault he got his sisters mixed up.” Mehjabeen sniffed loudly, her eyes still red-rimmed and puffy. She vowed to put her upstart of a sister back in her place by marrying the first physician who asked.


A Deconstructed Heart is available for purchase at:

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Description of In Leah’s Wake:

***Newly edited by Sara-Jayne Slack, Inspired Quill Press***

‘Book Club Edition’ with author Q&A and discussion questions added.

The Tylers have a perfect life—beautiful home, established careers, two sweet and talented daughters. Their eldest daughter, Leah, an exceptional soccer player, is on track for a prestigious scholarship. Their youngest, Justine—more responsible than seems possible for her 12 years—just wants her sister’s approval. With Leah nearing the end of high school and Justine a seemingly “together” kid, the parents are set to enjoy a peaceful life…until everything goes wrong. Can this family survive in Leah’s wake?

Margot Livesey, award-winning author of Banishing Verona, calls In Leah’s Wake “a beautifully written and absorbing novel.”

When happens when love just isn’t enough?

Recipient of the CTRR Award for excellence

2011 Book Bundlz Book Pick

Book Bundlz 2011 Favorites, First Place



“Sometimes scary, sometimes sad, and always tender.” Susan Straight, National Book Award finalist, author Take One Candle Light A Room

“In Leah’s Wake is a beautifully written and absorbing novel.” Margot Livesey, Award-winning author of Banishing Verona

“Pulled me right along as I continued to make comparisons to my own life.” Jennifer Donovan, 5 Minutes for Books, Top 50 Book Blog

“An incredibly strong debut, this book is fantastic on many fronts.” Naomi Blackburn, Founder Sisterhood of the Traveling Book

“Easily the best read that I have enjoyed in 2011.” Bonnie Erina Wheeler, author Fate Fixed: An Erris Coven Novel



In Leah’s Wake currently has an Amazon reader review rating of 3.4 stars from 227 reviews. Read the reviews here.


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An excerpt from In Leah’s Wake:




Justine strikes a pose before the full-length mirror on her closet door. Chin up, hands at her sides. She draws a breath. “My dear…” she begins, and stops midsentence. Wrinkles her nose. She’s got it all wrong.

She’s too—stiff. Too grown up. Too something.

With her fingers, she sweeps the hair out of her pale, darkly fringed eyes and tugs at the hem of her pink baby-doll pajamas. When she learned five months ago she’d been selected to give the candidates’ address at her Confirmation, Justine was ecstatic. Now, the very idea of standing in front of the whole congregation and telling hundreds, maybe thousands, of people about how her own family has taught her what it means to be part of God’s larger family makes her sick to her stomach.

She has no choice. She made a commitment.

Folding her hands primly, she sets them on her imaginary podium. Glancing at her cheat sheet, she pulls her lower face into a smile and begins again. “My fellow Confirmation candidates,” she says this time.

Justine balls the paper and tosses it onto her bed. My fellow Confirmation candidates. What a dork. She sounds about twenty instead of thirteen.

She unclasps her necklace, places the gold cross in her jewelry box, and logs onto her computer, launching the Word document for her Confirmation speech. She scans the opening paragraph. “I’ve learned from my own family what it means to be part of God’s larger family,” she reads. Learned from my own family what it means to be part of God’s larger family? Please. Could she have been any more naïve?

She hits delete.

Typing furiously, she begins a brand new essay, the words tumbling out. In a rush of emotion, Justine describes how miserable she feels. And how very, very alone.


One – Just Do It


Zoe and Will Tyler sat at their dining room table playing poker. The table, a nineteenth century, hand-carved mahogany, faced the bay window overlooking their sprawling front yard. Husband and wife sat facing one another, a bowl of Tostitos and a half-empty bottle of Chablis positioned between them. Their favorite Van Morrison disc—Tupelo Honey—spun on the player, the music drifting out of speakers built into the dining room walls.

Dog, their old yellow Lab, lay on a blanket under the window.

Zoe fanned her cards. She was holding a straight. If she laid it down she’d win her third hand in a row, and her husband would quit. If she didn’t, she would be cheating herself.

“Full moon,” she said, glancing out the window. “No wonder I had trouble sleeping last night.”

The full moon made her anxious. For one of her graduate school internships, she’d worked on the psych ward at City Hospital in Boston. When the moon was full the floor erupted, the patients noisy and agitated. Zoe’s superiors had pooh-poohed the lunar effect, chalked it up to irrationality and superstition. Zoe had witnessed the flaring tempers, seen the commotion with her own two eyes, and she’d found the effect impossible to deny—and the nurses concurred.

Will set his empty glass on the table. With his fingers, he drummed an impatient tattoo. “You planning to take your turn any time soon? Be nice if we ended this game before midnight.”

“For Pete’s sake, Will.” Her husband had the attention span of a titmouse. He reminded her of Mick, a six-year-old ADD patient she counseled—sweet kid, when he wasn’t ransacking her office, tossing the sand out of the turtle-shaped box, or tweaking her African violets.

“What’s so funny?” he asked, sulking.

She shook her head—nothing, Mick—and forced a straight face.

“You’re laughing at me.”

“Don’t be silly. Why would I laugh at you?”

He peered at the window. Smirking, he finger-combed his baby-fine hair, graying at the temples, carving a mini-pyramid at his crown.

“Nice ’do. Could use a little more gel,” she said, feeling mean spirited the instant the words slipped out of her mouth. Her husband was exhausted. He’d spent the week in California on business. Though he had yet to fill her in on the details, it was obvious his trip had not gone well. “Sorry,” she said. “Just kidding.” She took another look at her cards, hesitated, and laid down the straight.

“Congratulations.” Scowling, he pushed away from the table. “You win again.”

“Way to go, grumpy. Quit.”

“I’m getting water,” he said, flattening his hair. “Want a glass?”

Dog lifted her head, her gaze following Will to the door. She yawned and settled back down.

Her husband stomped across the kitchen, his footfalls moving toward the family room. The music stopped abruptly and then the opening chords of a Robbie Robertson tune belted out of the speakers. Zoe appreciated the gesture. She loved Robbie Robertson; “Showdown at Big Sky” was one of her favorite songs. That didn’t mean the entire state of Massachusetts wanted to hear it.

From the kitchen, heading his way, she caught his eye. “Turn it down,” she mouthed, gesturing. “You’ll wake Justine.”

He pulled a face and lowered the music.

Exasperated, she returned to the dining room. She bundled the cards, put the deck in the sideboard drawer, and gathered the dishes.

The toilet flushed in the half-bath off the back hall. Then she heard her husband rattling around the kitchen, slamming the cabinet doors. In April, Will had won a major contract for his company, North American Construction. For five months, he’d been flying back and forth to the West Coast, spending two weeks a month on the job site in San Francisco. Zoe hadn’t minded his traveling at first. A glut of office and manufacturing space had tanked construction starts in the northeast; with sales in a slump, his commissions had steadily dwindled. To compensate, they’d initially relied on their savings. In January, they’d remortgaged the house.

The project spared them bankruptcy. But his schedule was brutal. Will hated traveling, being away from the family, living out of a suitcase. He missed her and the kids. Now, with soccer season in full tilt, it was especially hard. Last year, when she was only a sophomore, their daughter had been named “Player of the Year” on the Boston Globe All-Scholastic team. The sports reporter from the Cortland Gazette had called Leah the “best soccer player in the state.” Head coaches from the top colleges in the northeast—Harvard, Dartmouth, Boston College—had sent congratulatory letters, expressing their interest.

Since her first day on the field, Will had trained and guided their daughter. He wanted to be here now to meet the prospective coaches and help her sort through her options. Zoe knew how tough this was on him. It didn’t seem to occur to Will that his traveling disrupted her life, too. Last year she’d developed a motivational seminar, called, “Success Skills for Women on the Move.” With the girls practically grown, the workshops were her babies. The extra workload at home added to the demands of her fulltime job at the counseling center, left her no time for marketing or promotion, and the workshops had stagnated. Zoe understood her husband’s frustration. It irked her that he failed to recognize hers.

Will appeared in the doorway a few minutes later, empty-handed. Her husband was tall, a hair shy of six-one. He’d played football in college, and at forty-five still had the broad shoulders and narrow waist of an athlete. Amazing, really:  after eighteen years of marriage, she still found him achingly sexy. Crow’s feet creased the corners of his intelligent blue eyes and fine lines etched his cheekbones, giving his boyish features a look of intensity and purpose. Zoe recognized those qualities from the start, but it was only now, as he was aging, they showed on his face.

After work, he’d changed into jeans and a gray sweatshirt with the words “Harvard Soccer Camp” across the chest. He pushed up his sleeves and peered around the room as though looking for something.

“Zoe?” Normally, he called her “Honey” or “Zo.”

“I put the cards away.” She thumbed the sideboard. “You quit, remember?”

“Where’s Leah?”

“She went to the football game with Cissy. They hardly see each other lately. I thought it was nice.”

“She ought to be home by now.”

She glanced at the cuckoo clock on the east-facing wall. Their daughter was a junior in high school. They’d agreed before the start of the school year to extend her weekend curfew to eleven. It was ten minutes past.

“You know Leah. She probably lost track of the time.”

Will, nodding, went to the window.

Their driveway, half the length of a soccer field, sloped down from the cul-de-sac, ending in a turnaround at the foot of their three-car garage. In summer, the oak and birch trees bordering the property obscured their view of the street. Now, with the trees nearly bare, they could see the flash of headlights as vehicles entered the circle.

Dog hauled herself to her feet and pressed her nose to the glass.

Will stretched his neck, wincing. His back was bothering him again, residual pain from a football injury he’d suffered in college.

Zoe came up behind him, pushing Dog’s blanket aside with her foot. “You’re tight,” she said, squeezing his shoulders.

He dropped his chin. “That feels good. Thanks. I’ve got to get one of those donut pillows for the plane.”

“Try to relax. You know Leah. She has no sense of time.”

“I can’t see why Hillary won’t set a curfew. All the other coaches have one.”

“You’re blowing this out of proportion, don’t you think?”

A flash of headlights caught their attention. An SUV entered the cul-de-sac and rounded the circle, light sweeping across their lawn.

“She has a game in the morning,” Will said.

“I know.”

Will ruffled Dog’s ears. “Reardon’s coming specifically to see her. She plays like crap when she’s tired.”

The Harvard coach. She should have known. “So she doesn’t go to Harvard,” she said, a tired remark. “She’ll go someplace else.”

“There is no place else.”

No place with such fantastic opportunities, great connections…blah, blah, blah. They’d been over this a million times. If their daughter expressed any interest at all in Harvard, Zoe would do back flips to support her. As far as she could tell, Harvard wasn’t even on Leah’s radar screen. It was a moot point, anyway. Leah’s grades had been slipping. If she did apply for admission, she’d likely be denied.

“Reardon’s got pull. He’s been talking to Hillary about her,” he said. “She can’t afford to blow this opportunity.”

What opportunity? “Face it, Will. She doesn’t want to go to Harvard.”

“If she plays her cards right, she can probably get a boat.”

“Please,” Zoe said, set to blast him. He’d received a full football scholarship from Penn State. What did he do? Dropped out of college. Was that what he wanted? For their daughter to burn out and quit? Noting the purple rings under his eyes, she held back. “You’re exhausted.” His plane had barely touched ground at Logan Airport when he was ordered to NAC’s corporate office in Waltham for a marketing meeting. He hadn’t had time to stop at home to change his clothes, never mind take a short nap. “Why don’t you go to bed? I’ll wait up.”

The look he returned implied that she’d lost it.

“Relax, Will. For all we know, they had a flat.”

“She would have called.”

“So call her.” Duh.

“I did. I got voicemail.”

Shoot. “You know Leah. Her battery probably died.” She was grasping at straws. Leah was sixteen. That phone was her lifeline. Still, it could be true. It was possible. Right?


In Leah’s Wake is available for purchase at:

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Description of Refuge:

On a dusty, sweltering night, Noor Khan, a beautiful, headstrong Afghan refugee, comes face-to-face with Charlie Matthews, a brash, young American aid worker. To Noor’s fury, Charlie breaks every cultural norm and pursues her. She wants nothing to do with him: her sole aim in life is to earn an overseas scholarship so she can escape the miseries of the refugee camps.

However when Noor’s brother threatens to marry her off, she is forced to seek refuge in Charlie’s home, of all places, and suddenly everything Noor believes in is put into question.

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Refuge currently has an Amazon reader review rating of 4.6 stars from 51 reviews. Read the reviews here.


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An excerpt from Refuge:


Kabul – February 1981

“NOOR—NOOR, MY love, please get up.”

Noor opens her eyes to find her mother crouched over her, her mother’s lantern just bright enough to bathe her face in a warm glow. Noor fights the urge to go back to sleep.

“The Russians are coming,” her mother says.

Noor’s eyes snap open, and she swings her feet onto the cold stone floor.

“Wait,” her mother says. “Put these on first.”

Her mother holds out a set of clothes. It’s only now that Noor realizes her mother is wearing a shalwar kameez.

“Mamaan, do I have to?”

“Think of it as a disguise.”

That at least makes it palatable.

“Now quick,” her mother says, “we’ve no time to waste.”

Her mother hastens away. Noor pulls her pajamas off and grabs the first article of clothing, a pale green kameez.

“You ready?” a voice hisses.

Noor clutches her kameez to her chest. Her brother, Tariq, stands in the doorway, holding a lamp of his own, his shadow looming behind him.

“Get out, I’m dressing,” she says.

“Nothing to see,” Tariq smirks.

“Not the point.”

“Well hurry up.”

Noor waits for Tariq to leave before slipping on the kameez and the baggy shalwar pants. She shoves her feet into her tennis shoes and takes off at full tilt. She finds everyone in the kitchen, their faces lit by the flickering light of the stove. Her Aunt Sabha is crying, and her sobs only intensify upon seeing Noor.

“Oh my sweet, sweet girl. When will we see you again?”

“You’ll come and see us in America,” Noor says.

“That’s right, that’s exactly what we’ll do.”

Aunt Sabha sweeps Noor into her ample bosom.

“Do you have the letter from Doctor Abdullah?” her Uncle Aasif asks her father.

“The letter?” her father says.

“Good God, Aamir,” her mother snaps, “the introduction to the American Ambassador.”

Her father searches his jacket pockets and emerges with a crumpled envelope.

“Give it to me,” her mother says snatching it away.

Her mother looks around.

“Where’s Bushra?”

“She’s awake,” her father says.

“But was she out of bed when you left her?”

It’s clear from her father’s expression that Bushra wasn’t.

“Noor, go and get your sister now,” her mother says.

Noor grabs a lantern and sprints back upstairs. She finds her older sister asleep, her shalwar kameez lying undisturbed beside her. Noor shakes her.

“Bushra, you’ve got to get up.”

Bushra groans and draws her covers close. Noor rips them off and yanks Bushra out of the bed.

“The Russians are coming to arrest Baba,” Noor says.

Bushra yelps and jumps to her feet.

“We’ve got to go,” Bushra says.

“That’s what I’ve been trying to tell you.”

Bushra scrambles into her shalwar kameez, and the two of them run out the room. Noor halts outside her bedroom.

“Keep going, I’ll be right there.”

Noor enters her room and takes one last look around; at the doll’s house her father built last Eid and which, to her eternal guilt, she hasn’t played with once; her posters of Chris Evert and Martina Navratilova; her pet rabbit Bjorn, sitting up in his cage, his nose twitching. She thinks about setting him loose but knows he wouldn’t last more than a day before becoming someone’s dinner. She puts a finger through the mesh and rubs his fore-head.

“I’ve got to go, Bjorn. A long way away, but I’ll always love you, remember that.”

Bjorn’s ears prick up; outside some cars screech to a halt. Doors open, and a man yells out commands in Russian. Noor sprints out of the room and back downstairs.

“They’re here,” she screams.

Aunt Sabha lets out a shriek. Booming thuds reverberate from the front door.

“I’ll delay them,” Uncle Aasif says. “Now go, go.”

Noor’s mother grabs Noor’s hand, and they run out of the kitchen across the snow covered courtyard, past the ancient apricot tree that, to Noor’s eternal triumph, she climbed higher than Tariq the week before. Her mother tugs her into the dusty old servants’ quarters past the laundry room with its wooden washboards and iron ringer and up to a large metal door. Her mother yanks it open and pulls Noor into an alley where a donkey and cart await.

“Why aren’t we taking the Oldsmobile?” Noor says.

“It’s too conspicuous.”

Her mother grabs Noor by the waist and throws her up onto the straw. Tariq and Bushra bundle in beside her while her parents sit up front. Her father clicks his tongue, and the donkey starts plodding forward.

“Put this on, Bushra,” her mother says.

She holds out another article of clothing: it’s a burqa. Bushra complies, and her mother puts on one of her own. Noor shivers. They look like jinns sent to steal her soul. Tariq nudges her.

“You scared?” he says.

“Course not.”

Her mother hisses at them to be quiet. Noor looks towards the end of the alley. Despite the early hour, the street beyond is already bustling with traffic.

“Faster,” her mother says.

Her father urges the donkey on, but if anything the donkey seems to slow.

“We’re a simple peasant family from Aynak,” her mother says. “If we’re stopped let your father do the talking.”

“But what if they ask us questions?” Noor says.

“They won’t.”

“But what if they do?”

“Then only speak Pashtu. If they speak to you in English pretend you don’t understand.”

A car pulls into the alley its round headlamps lighting the morning mist a garish yellow.

Her father and mother stiffen.

Noor squints; in the glare it’s impossible to tell who’s inside. The car honks and she senses her parents relax; she assumes if it were Russians they’d have gotten out by now. Her father looks over his shoulder to see if he can back up.

“Don’t you dare,” her mother says.

The car nudges forward, but for once the donkey’s obstinacy works to their advantage. After some virulent honking the driver puts the car into reverse. The donkey keeps pace, as if galvanized by its victory.

Noor hears shouts behind them and twists around to see four men emerging from the back of their house.

“Stop,” one shouts.

Her mother grabs the reins from her father and whacks the donkey as hard as she can.

“Stop right now, or we’ll shoot,” another yells.

The men pull guns from their holsters.

“Children, get down,” her mother shouts.

Her mother grabs a hold of Noor and shoves her into the straw. Shots ring out, and Noor clenches her eyes shut.
Her mother yells at the donkey to keep going, there’s another crackle of gunfire. The din of traffic and the sweet scent of petroleum fumes engulfs them.

Noor opens her eyes; her brother’s crotch is inches from her, a dark urine stain smearing the front of his pants. She rises up onto her elbows and sees the owner of the car shake his fist at them before accelerating back down the alley. Her mother hands the reins to Noor’s father.

“Turn right on Chicken Street,” she says panting.

She looks back at her children.

“Is everyone alright?”

Tariq sits up doing his best to hide his piss stain with a hand-ful of straw. He catches Noor looking at him and reddens. They turn down Chicken Street with its souvenir shops and restau-rants.

Bushra lies on the straw moaning.

“Bushra, are you alright?” her mother says.

“Yes, Mamaan.”

“Then sit up.”

They come to the end of the street and merge onto another bustling thoroughfare. A convoy of Soviet armored personnel carriers rumbles towards them. Noor holds her breath. One of the helmeted gunners stares at her: the days of the soldiers pretending to be their friends are long gone. The final personnel carrier passes by, and Noor thinks it permissible to breathe. She looks at Zarnegar Park, the Mir Abdul Rahman Tomb’s dull, copper dome framed by the snow covered mountains. She wonders if she’ll ever see it again.

The cart hits a pothole. It sends Noor tumbling forward and elicits a pained groan from her mother. Noor puts a hand on the floor and feels something damp. At first she assumes it’s Tariq’s urine, but when she brings her hand up she sees it’s stained with blood. She notices her mother is bent over.


“Yes, my love.”

“Are you alright?”

Her mother doesn’t answer. Her father looks across.

“What’s the matter?” he says.

Her mother pulls up the front of her burqa. Even in the pale light of dawn Noor can see her mother’s kameez is soaked in blood. Noor cries out.

“Shh,” her mother says, “don’t draw attention to us.”

Up ahead, just before the turn for the river, a group of Rus-sian soldiers have set up a checkpoint. The traffic slows. Her father yanks on the reins and tries to turn the cart around. It’s impossible, a bus is right behind them.

“They’ll see me,” her mother says to her father.

“No, just stay where you are. We will be past this at any mo-ment, and we will go find a doctor.”

“Aamir, it’s too late for that.”


The cart edges forward, and her mother rests her burqa on top of her head. Her cheeks, so rosy even in the coldest weather, are drained. She looks at each of her children as though she wants to burn their images into her soul.

“I love you all,” she says, “more than you’ll ever know.”

“No,” Tariq screams.

Up ahead a soldier looks in their direction. Tariq wraps his arms around his mother.

“Don’t go, don’t go,” he says.

Her mother strokes his hair and whispers into his ear. The cart trundles forward again; they’re now only three vehicles away from the checkpoint.

“Please, Aamir,” her mother says.

Her father stares at her, unwilling to grasp what’s unfolding in front of him.

“For their sake,” she says.

Somehow he manages to nod. Her mother leans forward and kisses her father on the forehead.

“I love you, Aamir,” she says. “Look after them for me.”

She extricates herself from her son’s grasp, and Noor’s father wraps his arms around Tariq. Tariq fights back, his legs kicking out, his arms flailing.

“Take the reins,” her mother says to Noor.

Noor scrambles into the front seat. Her mother grabs her by shoulders.

“Never compromise who you are. You hear me?”

Her mother places the reins in Noor’s hand and pushes her-self off the cart. Noor looks back. Her mother lies there in the street, blood already staining the snow around her. With what-ever life she has left she struggles back up onto her feet. Tariq breaks free and crawls to the back of the cart.

“Mamaan,” he screams. “Mamaan.”

Her mother looks stricken. From beneath her burqa she pulls out the envelope containing Dr. Abdullah’s letter. She collapses on the ground, and a woman in the bus behind lets out a piercing shriek. Soon soldiers are running past them until her mother’s body is lost amidst a sea of green uniforms. With the checkpoint no longer manned the donkey picks up its pace. The road bends to the left, and soon the checkpoint is out of sight.

Noor turns back and sees her father’s eyes are brimming with tears. In the back her brother lies on the straw sobbing while her sister sits immobile as a statue. Noor takes her father’s hand in hers, gives the donkey a whack with the reins, and they continue on out of the city.

is available for purchase at:

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THE FRUGAL FIND OF THE DAY: Megan’s Way, Melissa Foster {$3.79}

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Description of Megan’s Way:

This book is optioned for film and a multiple award winner.

One woman’s journey, her daughter’s will to survive, and a circle of friends shrouded in secrets.



“Megan’s Way by Melissa Foster is an emotionally moving book…Melissa does a great job in bringing you into the life of her characters and keeps the story rolling smoothly…” –Jeanette Stingley, Women’s Literary Editor, Bella Online

“A wonderful, warm, and thought-provoking story with a touch of the paranormal. This is a deep and moving book that speaks to men as well as women, and I urge you all to put it on your reading list. ” –Thomas Elliott, Book Review Editor, Mensa Bulletin

”Megan’s Way” is a fine and fascinating read that many will find hope in. ” –Midwest Book Review

“Megan’s Way…beautiful and tender portrayals…very enjoyable read on the order of a Jodi Picoult novel. ” –The Bookish Dame

Review Ratings:

Megan’s Way currently has a review rating of 3.9 stars from 221 reviews. Read the reviews here.

Megan’s Way is available for purchase at:

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An excerpt from Megan’s Way:


Summer 1988

Megan and Holly ran, weaving their way through the crowds of the carnival and hollering to hear over the thick cheer that permeated the festive evening. Two teenage boys looked them up and down as they passed. Megan yanked Holly by her arm and pulled her into a long shadow cast by the colorful lights that illuminated a rickety roller coaster. They huddled together, giggling. A moment later, the roller coaster whooshed by, sending them scampering through the mass of carnival-goers, engulfed in uncontrollable shrieks of laughter.

A small red tent with a psychedelic sign that read “Psychic Readings! See Your Future! $3!” caught Megan’s attention. She dragged Holly to the entrance, and they peered into the smoky gloom as they parted the curtain of stringed glass beads, which clinked and jingled as they were pushed to the side.

Holly pulled at Megan’s sleeve, “Let’s get out of here.”

Megan distractedly shrugged off Holly’s hand. She was mesmerized by the rush of the unknown, spellbound by the eccentric woman sitting within the darkened tent. A chill ran up Megan’s spine. The woman looked into her eyes and beckoned her forward. Megan reached behind her and grasped Holly’s hand, pulling her into the tent against her will. She reached into her pocket and, barely able to take her eyes from the old woman’s, fumbled to count her money and then shoved six crumpled dollar bills into a glass jar that sat on a pedestal by the entrance.

The cacophony of the rides and the crowds seemed to fall away as a hushed stillness closed in around them, save for the crackle of the flickering flames dancing on their wicks. The girls’ hands trembled. They were equally scared and excited by the mystical old woman shrouded in veils. Several bracelets clanked and dangled from her thick wrist as she motioned for them to sit around the small round table. They startled when the old woman grabbed their hands with her rough, plump fingers, then she slowly and dramatically closed her eyes.

Her hands tightened around theirs. The woman gasped a deep breath, and her body rose up and back, as if she were being pushed against the back of her chair. She held her breath, then let it out in a rush of air. Her hands fell open, releasing theirs. Her shoulders slumped forward, and her head followed.

Holly snapped her head in Megan’s direction and mouthed, “What the hell?”

The woman opened her heavily-painted eyes, which grew wide and laden with concern, and stared into Megan’s eyes. Megan felt riveted to her chair. The woman reached across the table and touched her hand, sending a jolt of energy up Megan’s arm. Megan pulled her hand away, frightened. The woman whispered to her, “Ah, High Priestess, my teen querent. She will need you, and you will know.”

Megan’s legs trembled, her heart pounded in her chest. Her breaths came in short, clipped bursts. She and Holly turned wide, scared eyes toward each other. The woman moved her vision to the space between Megan and Holly. “Three of Swords pierce a heart. Against the background of a storm, it bleeds.” She closed her eyes again, and whispered, “I see death.” Her eyes slowly opened and she squinted, as if she were watching a scene unfold of a different time and place, her eyes darting without focus. Then seeming to recite, she intoned, “Blood or poison will come: Transformation—passage—truth.”

The girls reached for each other’s shaking hands. Holly’s eyes welled with tears, her head visibly shook. Megan remained focused on each word the old woman said, unable to turn away.

The psychic turned those same concerned eyes to Holly. They glazed over with a look the girls could not read. Fear? Hatred? Understanding? She pointed a long, painted fingernail at Holly and hissed, “Judgment asks for the resurrection to summon the past, forgive it, and let it go.” She lowered her hand and said, “One will be released,” then quietly, under her breath, “and returned after death.”

After a moment of panicked silence, the girls stood, sending their chairs flying askew. Then they fled, running fast and hard into the chaos of the carnival, caught in a frenzy of fear and hysterical laughter.

The psychic screamed into the night behind them. Her words trailed in their wake and echoed in Megan’s ears for days, “With this spell, I empower thee. I empower thee!”

Chapter One


Megan steadied herself against the cold porcelain sink, hoping the morning’s nausea would subside and trying to strengthen herself for the tough decision that had been wreaking havoc with her mind lately, and the choice that lay ahead. The familiar Tink, pause, Tink, pause on her bedroom window drew her attention. A confused cardinal had repeatedly gone beak to glass in recent weeks, as though trying to rouse her. As she tried to calculate the number of times she’d also awakened to nausea, the familiar surge of bile rose in her throat.

She clung to the toilet as if it were a security blanket. The smell of last night’s dinner still wafted in the air, sending her body into convulsions of dry heaves. Great, Megan thought as she grasped her stomach. She looked up at the ceiling, What the hell am I going to do now?

“Mom?” Olivia’s voice carried down the hall. “Mo-om!” The single word stretched into two perfect teenage syllables.

Megan heard the drama in her voice and closed her eyes against her growing frustration. She knew that particular scream, the self-centered, in-a-hurry, where’s-my-stuff scream. She did not have the patience to deal with Olivia’s drama on this particular morning. She grabbed hold of the sink and pulled herself up. Her stomach lurched again, causing her whole body to clench. She prayed for some relief as Olivia’s voice came screaming at her again.

“What!” she snapped back. She wished she could have been more patient with Olivia, but at that moment, she was overtaken by exhaustion, confusion, and anger. She wanted to kick something, to cry, to scream until she no longer had a voice—but her body was too tired to do any of those things. She had to pull herself together and get through the day.

Megan rinsed out her mouth and averted her eyes from the sheet-white face that reflected back at her.

“Never mind!” Olivia yelled from the hall. Her voice carried lightly, the tension from a moment ago gone.

Thank God, Megan said to herself. She made her way back to her bed and lay down, pulling the blanket over her head to shut out the light—and maybe life—for a moment.

Olivia bounded into the room and jumped onto Megan’s bed a few minutes later. “Come on. We’re going to be late!”

The flea market! Megan stretched her small frame and lowered the covers, revealing her mass of dark hair and a feigned wide smile. “Okay, chill, I’m up. I can’t believe you are, though.”

Olivia laughed and made a beeline to her mother’s closet. “C’mon. What are you going to wear? Can I wear one of your scarves?” She wrapped a silk turquoise scarf around her slim neck, and turned to see the effect in the mirror. A smile grew across her face. “Please? I promise I won’t ruin it.”

“It does look pretty on you,” Megan managed, pleased that Olivia’s earlier exasperation had faded.

“Oh, thank you!” Olivia wrapped her arms around Megan. She withdrew and scrunched her face, “Geez, Mom, you’d better get ready. You look awful.”

Megan felt a pang in her heart. She had liked it better when Olivia had been ten years old and had believed that even at her worst she was still the most beautiful mom in the world—but Olivia was right, she did look like hell. She felt like hell, too, and was in no mood to be told how awful she looked. She pointed to the door, silently ordering Olivia out of her bedroom so she could shower. Olivia rolled her eyes and flounced out of the room. Megan turned and sighed, relieved to have a moment’s peace. She walked past the piles of books she was considering reading, past the wicker hamper overflowing with dirty clothes, and across the thickly-piled shag rug that covered only the center of the hardwood floor. The changing of hardwood to cold ceramic sent a shiver through Megan. She closed the bathroom door and caught a glimpse of herself in the mirror. Fine lines defined the edges of her mouth, drawing the ends downward, making her cheeks appear dull and drawn. Sh e raised her eyebrows, and deep creases streamed across her forehead. Her exhaustion was evident. The face that stared back at her looked closer to fifty than thirty-eight. She wondered where the supple skin of her youth had gone, and how it had changed so fast. She turned away in disgust, summoning energy for the day ahead.

The radio played lightly in the background as Megan and Olivia worked around each other to prepare their breakfasts. Olivia hummed.

“What are you having?” Olivia asked.

“The usual, probably,” Megan smiled. “What are you having?”

“Cereal, same as always.”

Megan picked up on the flat tone of Olivia’s normally perky voice.

“Hm, I think I’ll have toast, actually, with jelly.”

Olivia stood with her back against the counter, bowl in hand, and watched her mother.

“Toast? That’s it?” Olivia said accusingly.

“Yes, that’s it,” she paused, turning to look at her. “Olivia, is something wrong?”

Olivia stared into her bowl, her lips pursed.

Megan sighed and chalked up Olivia’s attitude to being fourteen. “Sit with me,” she said.

Olivia sat and desultorily pushed her cereal around with her spoon. The silence hung in the air, uncomfortable.

Megan tried to lighten the mood. “What are you looking forward to most at the flea market?” she asked.

Olivia’s eyes lit up, but her voice remained flat. “Everything, I guess. I hope Joe is there with the wind chimes, and I want to get another pair of wraparound pants.” Olivia’s voice began to carry a happier tone, “Oh, and the jewelry! I guess all of it, really. How about you?”

Megan smiled. She knew the thought of shopping would lift Olivia’s spirits. Megan longed to be one of the flea market vendors once again, and realized that in her current condition, that was not likely to happen. “I’m just looking forward to everything, you know, being with you and Holly, and seeing everyone from last year.”

“When are you going to sell again, Mom?”

“I don’t know, Liv,” Megan’s response was short. Her bowels rumbled with urgency. She went to the sink, turning her back to Olivia. What am I going to do? “Are you ready? We don’t want to be late.”

Olivia left her unfinished bowl of cereal on the table and flew upstairs in search of her shoes. Megan made her way to the bathroom, grabbing the bottle of Pepto-Bismol along the way. The pink, peppermint liquid had become like an old friend, soothing away her daily discomfort.


Megan’s Way is available for purchase at:

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The Art of Racing in the Rain, Garth Stein {Just $2.99!}

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 heart-wrenching but deeply funny and ultimately uplifting story of family, love, loyalty, and hope, The Art of Racing in the Rain is a beautifully crafted and captivating look at the wonders and absurdities of human life . . . as only a dog could tell it.

What readers are saying:

“The perfect book for anyone who knows that some of our best friends walk beside us on four legs; that compassion isn’t only for humans; and that the relationship between two souls…meant for each other never really comes to an end.”

The average Amazon reader review rating is currently 4.6 stars, with 2,227 reviews.

Click here to read more about and purchase The Art of Racing in the Rain for $2,99 at Amazon

THE FRUGAL FIND OF THE DAY: An Uncommon Family (Family Portrait, Book One), Christa Polkinhorn {$3.99}

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Description of An Uncommon Family:

A chance meeting between a middle-aged woman, a widower, and a semi-orphaned child in the city of Zurich, Switzerland, brings together three people who grapple with a past of loss and betrayal. Six-year-old Karla, whose mother died in a car crash, has a hard time accepting the loss. Anna, her aunt and guardian, struggles with her former husband’s deception and her shattered confidence in men, and Jonas, artist and teacher, mourns the death of his wife.

While trying to help Karla, a talented but troubled child, Anna and Jonas develop feelings for each other that go beyond friendship. The budding romance, however, hits a snag when Anna discovers a sinister secret in Jonas’s past. While the two adults have come to an impasse, young Karla takes matters into her own hands. Together with a friend, she develops a plan to bring the two uncooperative adults back together. The plan, however, creates havoc and as it begins to unravel, Karla is forced to learn some difficult lessons.

An Uncommon Family is a story about loss, lies, and betrayal but also about the healing power of love and forgiveness. It takes place in Switzerland, New York City, and Guadalajara, Mexico.



Simply beautiful: Christa’s writing is top-notch, and the story will leave the reader wanting more. If you enjoy stories that tug at your emotions and draw you in, AN UNCOMMON FAMILY is for you. You’ll laugh, be angry, cry, and experience joy throughout the reading of this book. It’s a beautiful, high-quality work from an amazingly talented author.

Quite the Charmer: “An Uncommon Family” is a feel-good story that was a pleasure to read. I very much look forward to reading “Love of a Stonemason” so that I can find out what happened to Karla when after she grew up. I know I’m in for a treat!

An Uncommonly Lovely Novel: Set in Switzerland with scenes in New York and Mexico, the book offers a well-drawn visual landscape. The author also vividly describes the paintings of Jonas and the emerging talent of Karla who becomes his pupil. Yet Polkinhorn’s main strength is her ability to mine complex human emotions and interactions. Her characters are flesh-and-blood people who jump off the page, and she makes the reader care deeply about their past and future choices.

Inspiring: “An Uncommon Family” is a thoughtful and insightful story about the pathways of the human heart and mind and the passion that binds relationships. The well-developed international settings add depth and interest to the psychology of the characters. The emotional development of Karla is a fascinating study of a child who must deal with tragedy at an early age and her emotional evolution into the adult she becomes.

A Must Read: This book is written beautifully and the story is so interesting. This is one of the best books I have read on my kindle. I also read the follow up book Love of a Stonemason and it’s just as good. I could hardly put these books down. I’m looking forward to another book by this author. I hope it’s not too long.


An Uncommon Family currently has a customer review rating of 4.5 stars from 25 reviews. Read the reviews here.

An Uncommon Family is available for purchase at:

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An excerpt from An Uncommon Family:

Karla licked the crispy cone, trying to catch the sliding droplets before they hit the ground. The raspberry ice cream was a dark purple, her favorite color. She wrinkled her nose as she caught another whiff of exhaust from the busy street along the Limmat River in the city of Zurich. It was August and hot in Switzerland. The six-year-old girl scanned the scenery in front of her with dreamy eyes.

A longish canoe was sliding by a tourist boat on the river. People with funny-looking sun hats and dark glasses sat on the benches of the boat. Along the river on the other side, the built-together stone houses looked like a row of uneven different-colored teeth, gray, yellow, white, and some with a tint of orange. Behind the houses, on top of the hill, the linden trees at the park shimmered in their pale-green foliage and a curtain of dark-green ivy hid part of the gray granite wall.

Karla took another lick from her ice-cream cone, then turned around and peered through the window of the art shop, where her aunt was picking up two framed pictures. When she looked back at the sidewalk, her breath caught.

“Mama?” she whispered.

She saw the woman only from behind, but the bounce in her step, the long, reddish-blond hair flowing down her back, swaying left and right, the tall, slender figure—it must be her mother. She tossed the rest of the ice cream into the trash can, got up, and ran after the woman.

“Mama!” she called as the woman got ready to cross the street. The light turned from blinking red to solid red, just as the woman reached the other side. Karla rushed after her, barely aware of the honking around her or of the shrill warning bell of the blue-and-white streetcar. She heard someone yell at her but by then she had arrived at the other side. The woman was walking along the river toward the Lake of Zurich.

“Mama, wait!” Karla bumped into someone.

“Watch it, kiddo.” A man stepped aside.

“Mama . . .”

The woman finally turned around and looked back, scanning the people behind her, then walked on. Karla stopped dumbfounded. It was the face of a stranger.

A wave of despair washed over her. Not believing that she could have been so wrong, she started to run again. She didn’t see the slight indentation in the pavement. As she fell, she barely noticed the searing pain in her knees; the disappointment hurt more. She covered her face with her hands and sobbed. Mama would have helped her. Mama would have picked her up, hugged her, and even sang a little tune to her to make her feel better. But her mother was gone.

“Are you hurt, honey?” a dark voice said. Karla felt a hand on her back. “Come on, let me see.”

A pair of strong arms lifted her up. She looked into a face with a gray-white beard and kind, blue eyes below thick tufts of eyebrows. The man was tall and sturdy. He had wildish white hair. He reminded her of Saint Nicholas. But it was summer and Saint Nicholas only appeared in December.

“Are you here alone?” he asked. “Where’s your mother?”

The question brought a new flood of tears. “I thought it was Mama,” Karla managed to say, her chest heaving with sobs.

“Karla, what happened? Why did you run away?” Aunt Anna came rushing toward her, clutching her purse and a large package. “I thought I’d lost you. Jesus, what happened to your knees?” She bent down, put the package on the concrete and examined Karla’s legs. Brushing a strand of wavy brown hair out of her face, she peered at the man with gray-blue eyes, the color of ice. “What’s going on here?”

“I just happened to walk by when she fell,” he explained. “She said something about looking for her mother. Are you her mother?”

Anna shook her head. “No, I’m her aunt. Her mother . . . died half a year ago.”

“I’m so sorry.” The old man gently touched Karla’s cheek. “But she thought she saw her mother.”

Anna sighed. “She still hasn’t accepted the truth.” She turned to Karla. “Tell me what happened, sweetie?”

Karla told her between sobs that a woman had walked by who looked exactly like her mama.

“But you know that’s not possible, don’t you?” Aunt Anna hugged her. Karla leaned her face against Anna’s chest and poured her sorrow into her sweater. It was soft but didn’t smell like her mama’s. Anna waited for her to calm down. “We have to take care of your knees.”

“There’s a pharmacy right over there. I’m sure they have something to clean the wound and some bandages. May I?” Saint Nicholas gave Anna an inquiring look.

Anna nodded and the man lifted Karla up. His thick hair tickled her cheek. Karla wrinkled her nose. He gave off a faint whiff of smoke, which reminded her of Anna’s woodstove. It felt a little comforting.

At the pharmacy, a friendly lady took care of Karla’s knees. She wiped them clean, trying not to hurt Karla, who flinched and gave an occasional sob. “Sorry, hon, but we don’t want it to get infected.”

While the woman bandaged Karla’s legs, Anna unwrapped the package she had been carrying. She handed Karla one of the pictures and held the other one up for her to see. “Don’t they look beautiful?”

Karla nodded with a weak smile. They did look nice. She barely recognized them again behind the glass and surrounded by a fine wooden frame. One of them showed a woman, sitting on a chair and holding a little girl in her arm. The woman had long reddish-brown hair and the girl’s hair was black. They were sitting in front of a house. The stones in the wall had an irregular shape; they looked a little bit like cobblestones. It had taken Karla a while to make them look right. The other picture showed a tree with large purple and cream-colored blossoms. It was the chestnut tree in front of Karla’s old home. She had painted the pictures with her favorite pastel pens.

“They’re gorgeous,” Saint Nicholas said in his deep voice. “Who painted those?”

“Karla did,” Aunt Anna said.

Saint Nicholas stared at her, then at the pictures, then at Karla. “How old is she?”

“Six,” Karla said, brushing the last tears off her face. Anna handed her a Kleenex.

“And she painted those by herself, without help?” The man squinted as he scanned the pictures. The wrinkles on his forehead and around his eyes deepened. He truly did look like Saint Nicholas.

“Yes,” Anna said.

“This child is very talented. Does she get any instruction?”

“I’m actually looking for a teacher for her. She loves to draw and paint. If it was up to her, she’d do it all day long. And it seems to help her with . . . you know, the loss.”

“Amazing.” Saint Nicholas shook his head and continued to scan the pictures. “Well, I happen to be a painter myself. I also teach a few children.” He looked at Karla and Anna with a serious face. “I’d love to have her as a student.”

“I’ll think about it. That would be great,” Anna said.

“Why don’t you check me out?” The man pulled his wallet from his back pocket, opened it, and took out a small gray card. “Here is my address and phone number and on the back a few references.” He handed Anna the card. “Whatever you decide to do though, you don’t want a talent like this go to waste.”

Anna studied the card. “Very interesting, Mr. Bergman.”

“Call me Jonas,” the man said.

“Anna,” Karla’s aunt said as the two shook hands.

“You’re not Saint Nicholas?” Karla asked, surprised.

Aunt Anna and the man laughed. “No, I’m sorry. You think I look like him?” He brushed through his wavy white hair.

Karla nodded. “But you wouldn’t come in summer, would you?” She looked down at her neatly wrapped knees. The talk of drawing and painting had pulled her out of her deep misery. “Are you going to teach me?”

The man smiled at her. “You talk this over with your aunt, all right?” Then he glanced at his watch. “Oops. I guess I missed my appointment.”

“I’m so sorry,” Anna said. “We caused you all this trouble.”

“Don’t worry. No problem at all.” He bent down and put a hand on Karla’s shoulder. “And, Karla, I know how much it hurts. I lost my dear wife a few years ago. We were together for over twenty years. I still miss her. But I can promise you, things will get better with time.”

Karla took a deep breath and nodded. She had heard the words many times before. “Maja lost her mother, too.”

“Maja is a friend of hers, a girl from Croatia,” Anna explained.

At home, in their house in a small town near Zurich, Aunt Anna fixed lunch. She heated up the leftover bean and vegetable soup and made grilled cheese sandwiches with tomatoes. The smell of food awakened Karla’s appetite. She was quiet and thoughtful but no longer desperate.

“He was a nice man,” she said, folding the colorful paper napkins she had made herself with potato stamps. She put them on the blue-and-white place mats on the oak-wood table in the kitchen.

“Would you like to take drawing and painting lessons from him?” Anna poured the soup into bowls and slid the toasted sandwiches onto the plates.

Karla nodded. “Yeah, that’d be cool.” She smiled and traced her finger along the spots on the tabletop, where the sunlight, filtered by the leaves of the magnolia tree in front of the kitchen window, had sketched a pattern of light and shadows.

“Cool, huh?” Anna smiled and gave the girl a hug.


An Uncommon Family is available for purchase at:

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THE FRUGAL FIND OF THE DAY: The Able Seaman’s Mate, William Cheevers {$0.99}

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Description of The Able Seaman’s Mate:

“The Able Seaman’s Mate” follows the odyssey of a young Irish immigrant through the landscape of America at the turn of the twentieth century. Jimmy Delaney - willful, reflective, determined – is thrust into the hectic drive and conflict of American life, and his journey of discovery absorbs a cast of characters, places, exultation and tragedy and finally leads him into the path of a momentous event that tests him as nothing else could.


“A fascinating immigrant’s tale of the turmoil and restlessness that come from beginning life anew.” – Kirkus Reviews

“Excellent demographic descriptions and character development. A very entertaining read.” –Amazon Reader Review

Unique and palpable characters, fresh image-dense narrative, an exquisitely written, poignant read – 5-star IndieReader Review



The Able Seaman’s Mate currently has an Amazon reader review rating of 4.2 stars from 5 reviews. Read the reviews here.


The Able Seaman’s Mate is available for purchase at:

Amazon Kindle for $0.99

An excerpt from The Able Seaman’s Mate:

This excerpt describes the friendship between the main character, Jimmy Delaney, and his boss, Tommy Monaghan, the dock foreman of a stove factory near the Brooklyn Bridge.  The scene portrays one aspect of life in the Lower East Side of Manhattan at the turn of the twentieth century.

At eighteen, Jimmy Delaney was six feet tall and his build foretold the muscular bulk of the Delaney men. His arms were wrapped around a crate when Tommy Monaghan came out of the warehouse onto the loading dock, which spanned the back end of an alley between the stove factory and the adjacent building. Tommy Monaghan took the clay pipe out of this mouth and quelled his hacking cough with a fist beating against his chest. He launched a wad of phlegm laden with coal dust into the alley. Even on a warm day in June, Tommy Monaghan wore a wool hat pulled down over his ears. Tommy Monaghan took off the hat several times a day and rapped it against the wall and still the muddy black threads were permeated with coal dust. He pointed the clay pipe toward Jimmy Delaney.

“Off with ye, lad,” he said. “It’s dark soon.”

“Not afraid of the dark, Tommy,” said Jimmy Delaney.

“Ye go, lad an’ stay out of the old neighborhood,” said Tommy Monaghan. “Ye cross the Bowery on this side of Bayard. Better, ye take the Park Row streetcar an’ stay on t’other side of the Bowery.”

“You tell me that every day, Tommy,” said Jimmy Delaney.

“Well, there’s hardly any micks left in the old neighborhood, Jimmy,” said Tommy Monaghan. “The chinks is all right, as haythen go, but the wops are batty. Now, ye listen to Tommy, lad.”

“Aye, Tommy, I’ll take the streetcar,” said Jimmy Delaney.

“An’ ye’ll stay on t’other side of the Bowery.”

“Aye, Tommy,” said Jimmy Delaney.

“There’s a good lad,” said Tommy Monaghan.

“I’m after washing and I’ll be on my way,” said Jimmy Delaney.

Washing his face, hands and arms was the last thing Jimmy Delaney did at the end of the day. Warm water was pleasurable and heating the water in the tenement wasted coal. He draped the towel over the nail in the bathroom, went out onto the dock and jumped into the bed of a wagon and onto the cobblestones of Peck Slip.

“I’m going, Tommy,” he called, waving to Tommy Monaghan. “I forgot my gloves in the privy. Will you put them away for me?”

“Aye, lad,” said Tommy Monaghan. “Don’t forget, ye stay out of the old neighborhood.”

“Aye, Tommy,” said Jimmy Delaney.

Jimmy Delaney made his way through the wagons and carts in Peck Slip toward the docks along the East River. Pausing at South Street, he caught the smell of fish from the Fulton Market and realized he had gone the wrong way on Peck Slip. He looked toward the stone tower of the Brooklyn Bridge. Deciding not to turn around, he continued on South Street toward the bridge. He would sometimes walk under the bridge and out to end of Pier 29, as close as he could get to the tower. Tommy Monaghan had told him that the cables holding up the bridge were made of fourteen thousand miles of wire. He would stand at the end of Pier 29 and look at the tower and listen to the trains rumble overhead, fascinated still that such a thing could be built. On this unseasonably muggy day he turned into Dover Street. Remembering his promise to Tommy Monaghan, he crossed Pearl Street next to the anchorage for the bridge cables, continued along New Frankfort Street and emerged into the noisy haste of Park Row from a narrow alley between Pulitzer’s skyscraper and the terminal for the Brooklyn Bridge train. He went into the terminal and looked at the clock set on a pedestal at the base of a ramp with ornate stone banisters. The ramp rose gradually out of the cavernous terminal and merged with the promenade in the center of the bridge. Jimmy Delaney had walked across the bridge many times, fascinated by the new skyscrapers which seemed to rise overnight and ever higher. City Hall was not yet in shadow and Jimmy Delaney knew that he would spend the trolley fare for an egg roll at Wo Kee’s grocery.

Crossing Park Row, Jimmy Delaney walked under the elevated railway, continued along Park Row past Pearl, Baxter and Mulberry and turned into Mott Street at Chatham Square, Tommy Monaghan’s old neighborhood. The air was drenched in the pungent, sweet smell of opium and egg rolls.

Wo Kee accepted two pennies in exchange for an egg roll and a cup of tea. He had lately made subtle allusions to the fan tan parlor in the back; Jimmy Delaney, who was comfortable with the Chinese way, declined by not responding. He took the egg roll and tea outside and sat on a bench across the street from the Transfiguration Church. He smiled, thinking of Tommy Monaghan’s story about the old priest who finally died.

“The priest, him an’ the hierarchy, they was fretting about the Chinamen takin’ over the neighborhood,” said Tommy Monaghan. “Here’s the flock makin’ their way through an army of haythen on Sunday, an’ naturally they’re after gettin’ rid of the chinks.”

“Always there is somebody after getting rid of somebody,” said Jimmy Delaney.

“Well, the church…somehow they buy up the tenements in Mott Street between Park an’ Pell an’ naturally they commence expelling the chinks,” said Tommy Monaghan. “They couldn’t do that acourse with Most Precious Blood up on Baxter. Up there, the ones runnin’ off the micks was wops, an’ all of ‘em was Catholics.”

Tommy Monaghan chuckled to himself, knocked his clay pipe against his leg and went through the ritual of packing and lighting the pipe.

“The chinks, though, they was smart, always was,” he said. “They stayed in the neighborhood, just moved around the corner and set up shop on Park and Pell. Well, by an’ by the micks, they start fightin’ among themselves just like ye’d figure, an’ the chinks, they was right back on Mott Street.”

Jimmy Delaney gulped the last of the tea and left the small cup on the bench. He continued along Mott Street past Fatty Walsh’s old place and turned right into Pell Street. He passed Nigger Mike’s Saloon, which featured singing waiters, and turned into Bowery.

“See, Tommy, I’m south of Bayard,” he said.

The Able Seaman’s Mate is available for purchase at:

Amazon Kindle for $0.99

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