Indie Book Review: “Sophie’s Key,” by Jodi Jensen

When I first thought about reading a Romance novel, I shrugged off the idea as quickly as it manifested itself in my mind. Even my choices in film veer away from the Romance genre save but a few. But, some weeks later, I saw promo announcements / Tweets for the release of “Sophie’s Key” by Jodi Jensen. I have known Jodi Jensen to be a friendly and fun person to commune with over the vast distances of cyberspace. Dutifully, I purchased a Kindle copy and here is my spoiler free review.

Characters: The main character is Sophie, as the title would suggest. Through Sophie we get the classic “fish-out-of-water” character. Through which we have some comical and / or embarrassing moments. Along with Jacob and the child Meri, Jodi offers us a main and two strong secondary characters. Together they comprise a sort of trinity of wholesomeness. Of course, as design would have it, we also have an unholy trinity of antagonists.

Plot: The storyline is wonderfully solid and follows a logical progression with some decent surprises. These surprises create fair conflict and do not feel as if they were ‘parachuted’ into the story. Jodi Jensen methodically planted her conflict seeds without a formulaic feeling. No reader should feel the need to second-guess or discover a path of lesser resistance for Sophie or any other character.

Writing: Incredibly neat, clean text. I did not spot any typos or convoluted sentences. Also, there seems to have been keen observance for preventing other amateur slips, like repeated catchphrases, body language or facial expressions used to the point of nausea. Therefore, let us say that both the writing and editing were done with the proverbial fine-toothed comb.

The dialog is professionally written with a natural feel for flow. I am especially grateful for the lack of “info-dumps.” In “Sophie’s Key”, the characters are doing the talking. For example, Jacob is an observer of people and a man of few words. He is somewhat blunt and gets his point across with brevity, and then he reads reactions. Which of course befits and speaks of his background.


Jodi Jensen Links

Follow Jodi Jenson on Twitter and FaceBook

Visit Jodi’s WordPress Blog

Put “Sophie’s Key” on your Kindle or Nook


Conclusion: After two chapters, one aspect of its appeal became clear. The scant Romance Films I enjoy share elements with Sophie’s Key, first, a magical quality and second, a multi-genre appeal. Think about classic films like “The Bishop’s Wife” or “The Ghost and Mrs. Muir.”

Is “Sophie’s Key” a romance? A western? A crime thriller? Or A magical Tale? Of course, it is a romance first, but Jodi Jensen weaved all these other elements in, like a great chef combining ingredients. Jodi pulled off this neat trick without her final product looking like a random hodgepodge of disparaging elements.

Do yourself a favor, read “Sophie’s Key” and let me, and Jodi Jensen, know your thoughts.

A Beatles Fan Reviews McCartney III

McCartney III is the latest musical effort from former Beatles member Sir Paul McCartney. This one quietly grew and grew upon me and I did not realize it until I caught myself singing “Kiss of Venus” in the frozen food aisle. Of course, I continued singing despite strange glances from other shoppers.

Is this only Paul’s third album since the Beatles broke up in 1970?

Um…No! When Paul McCartney self-titles an album, it denotes a total solo / indie project. He plays all instruments and has no interference from other musicians or producers. Granted there was some vocals from his wife Linda, on McCartney II.

What is the reason for McCartney III?

Another reviewer on YouTube said it best. The last few from Paul had too much interference from top producers trying to make Paul sound timely and like other current top-selling bands. I think it best to let Paul be Paul, i.e., his timeless self, rather than molding him into the latest trends and fads.

My initial perception

Thoughts of winter permeate through the lyrics. It is possible that Paul, now 78, recognizes that he is in the winter of his life. At times, he seems to be reflecting upon the past or imparting his sage like advice to us “younglings” about life, love, and happiness.

Tracks:

Track 1: Long Tailed Winter Bird: This one is mostly instrumental and features some bouncy acoustic Appalachian-style guitar.

Track 2: Find My Way: A classic McCartney top 40 designed happy little ditty. Almost as if Paul is announcing “finding his way” through his golden years, and the reason for this solo project.

Track 3: Pretty Boys: I am not sure about the point of this one. Other reviewers boldly claim they can live without this tune. It is certainly a “listenable” song, but I do not see how it fits in with the rest.

Track 4: Women and Wives: Here we have elder Paul tickling the ivories while dispensing some advice for the young. Be careful about the choices you make.

Track 5: Lavatory Lil: A bluesy stomper for sure which harkens back to the late Beatles era. An odd tune to be included within this collection due to the subject matter. Paul usually writes happy tunes and never goes negative. However, I (and this is completely subjective) get the distinct impression that this one is about wife #2.

Track 6: Deep Deep Feeling: This is a mellow and somewhat haunting song that one could interpret as unrequited love. But it seems to me that Paul is pining for those who have passed. Could it be Linda? John Lennon? George Harrison? Or all three? There are some sultry moments, and a somber riff comes in to round out the basic mood.

Track 7: Slidin’: This one is by far the ‘heaviest’ song on McCartney III. A roughly three-and-a-half-minute song destined for charting. But it was not released as a single. Color me confused. If you have any doubts about Paul McCartney rocking, thus tune will quiet those doubts.

Track 8: The Kiss of Venus: Here is one of those McCartney special acoustic songs that you cannot help but sing along. This one is calling me to pull my guitar out of the closet and play again.

Track 9: Seize the Day: The theme of Winter encroaches again. Relish the days you are living, because soon they will be a memory. That is the message I am getting from Paul lyrically. But of course, those lyrics are sung with a snappy tune.

Track 10: Deep Down: This one is the most contemporary tunes on this album. Here’s where Paul delivers some R&B

Track 11: When Winter Comes: A pastoral acoustic “ditty” that also bears the winter theme again. There is a reprise of the guitar intro to the opening song, “Long Tailed Winter Bird.”

Here we have an album displaying varied musical genres. Heck, it’s just Sir Paul McCartney on a creative journey with his muse. As much as I enjoy these songs, I cannot help but wonder what they would sound like if his fellow Beatles John, George, and Ringo had some input. I know that is an impossible wish, but a die-hard Beatles fan can dream, can’t I?

Let me know if you have given McCartney III a listening session.

Korean Arrival Part II: The Search for Living Space

As I mentioned in a previous post, we were not going to be issued an apartment on base. We spent the next few days apartment hunting. Uh oh, I should have been studying Korean more diligently. I did not see the need to cram. After all, we were supposed to be living on base.

Many people recommended a realtor named “Ray”. He was very experienced and had lived/studied in Massachusetts for a while, therefore his English skills were on the money. He drove us around town, and we settled on a place in Koaroo (코아루) Apartments; a seven-building complex with ample underground parking and some playgrounds for the kiddies. I would say the resident population is about 40% American.

The neighborhood is quite pleasing. Jisan-ro is something of a wide avenue, so one does not feel oppressed by buildings. There are plenty of shops and cafes around as well. However, I still do not feel settled. Our furniture shipment was due to arrive on 12/10/2020 and it is due to finally be delivered 1/4/2021.

Driving on Jisan-Ro

We have luxurious (cough…gag) loaner furniture from the Air Force which will be picked up on 1/5 and then our new sectional arrives on 1/6. We junked our sofa and love seat back in Idaho. The kids and the cats had ruined it to the point that I did not feel comfy even giving them to an enemy. The first week of 2021 is shaping up to be a busy one. But my comfort requires more than furnishings.

My guitars, clothes, books, CD’s, DVDs, and more kitchen gadgets are on this shipment. Then and only then will I feel relaxed and settled.

About two weeks before Christmas, I picked up a sinus infection. And this was a brutal one. I went deaf for about 12 days. If you were wondering why I was not plastering pix and other things all over social media or responding to emails, now you know why.

Furniture Delivery

Our shipment arrived and it still took about two weeks to get things under control. The movers will reassemble the dining room table, but they are not going to take care of your clothes, books, CD’s, DVD’s, and other assorted bric-a-brac. Please remember, under normal circumstances, we could have taken care of everything in a couple of days. But toddlers do not stop being hungry, or cease needing clean clothes just because you have something else to do. I have barely touched upon all the events and pitfalls we experienced, but I think some will get the point.

Anyway, I hope these last two posts serve as something of an explanation as to why I faded from public presence, but also experienced a heavy impact on any writing and editing.

Have you ever had a complicated move or taken a forced hiatus from writing and social media because life got in the way?

Arriving in Korea Part I: Turumi Lodge Is Not Too Roomy

Nine days before departing for South Korea (대한민국), we left our home in Idaho and moved into base lodging. There were too many tasks to complete before the ‘For Sale’ sign was plunged into the front lawn. Painting, small fixes, and a new carpet installed while the movers packed things up for either storage or shipment. Family Lodging in Idaho spoiled me, because I was expecting the same on the other end of the journey.


Sorry that I can’t provide pix of Turumi Lodge. Photography on US Military Bases are forbidden. However, some peeps have made videos of the interior accommodations.


After landing in Korea, we were escorted directly into quarantine within the family section of Turumi Lodge. This building had condemned and was ready for demolition. But when Covid-19 struck, a sudden need for extra housing took precedence. Our living space was two small hotel rooms that had been combined years ago. The adjoining door was removed, and a closet was repurposed as a kitchen. Yes, you read that correctly, my kitchen was a freakin’ closet! The sink and induction burner soaked up fifty percent of the total counter space. I guess some counter space is better than none, right?

A small wooden cabinet stood opposite the kitchen next to the refrigerator, adorned with an automatic drip coffee maker and a four-slot toaster. How gracious and kind of the Air Force to provide such an amenity. However, in modern times, both coffee and toast have a common ingredient, electricity. There was no outlet, so I moved them to the countertop, leaving a space just big enough for a small cutting board.

Two of the chairs were falling apart and there was not adequate closet space to accommodate the luggage load for a family of four (plus two cats). The only amenity that could be looked upon as a positive was the high-speed internet. But alas our cell phones would not work.

Before leaving Idaho, we knew that we required phones with an international sim card. We purchased two new phones with the right cards and had them unlocked. Ugh! They were not fully or correctly unlocked, leaving us without cell service while we were locked up for fourteen days. Certain websites like FaceBook recognize an unfamiliar IP address and will send a temporary password to prove you are the true owner of an account. Unfortunately, that special password is sent via text message.

After quarantine, we were moved across the street to a more proper hotel. However, we were in two separate rooms and our cats were not allowed. Luckily, my wife had scoped this information out before we left Idaho and had a cat sitter ready. On our first day out, we purchased new phones, had our post office box assigned, and obtained our driver’s licenses and ration cards. We had to really move fast, as my wife was only given four days off to settle before reporting to her squadron. Of course, a four day holiday weekend was approaching and many official offices on the base would be closed or understaffed.

And that is when the proverbial hammer dropped on us. We were not going to be assigned housing on the base. Let the apartment hunting begin!

TO BE CONTINUED.

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Rediscovering Star Wars the Old Republic (SWTOR)

I have been a dedicated player of Lord of the Rings Online (LOTRO) since its beginning, but lately my interest has been waning. I’m not sure if it’s the game content or the need for something different. After all, even filet mignon will get boring after the eighth dinner in a row. There was also a brief sojourn back into World of Warcraft (WoW), but I had no desire to continue there either. I could assume fantasy overload. I write fantasy novels, read and review fantasy novels, play fantasy MMORPGs (Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Game), and have watched several fantasy movies. Perhaps the need for a change signaled the gaming muse to poke and prod me into having a second look at Star Wars the Old Republic (SWTOR).BLOGSWTOR

In the Beginning

I acquired my SWTOR subscription several months after the game went live and immediately loved it as much as LOTRO. Of course, being part of a gaming guild that spanned multiple MMORPGs helped. The same friends who played LOTRO and WoW were also becoming quickly addicted to SWTOR. The initial era of the game before its first expansion was a fair and fun time. Then a great change took place. We all eagerly awaited the first expansion, level cap increase, new weapon and armor modifications, and new content. But alas, the changes left a bad taste in my gamer’s mouth. Also, less than two weeks before, I went to see Star Wars: The Force Awakens. My disappointment with the Star Wars franchise was something of a double blow in a relatively short span of time. Therefore, I cancelled my subscription.

A New Hope

Call it a whim, something in the air, fate, destiny, or even kismet. I logged into SWTOR on a high-level toon. My stronghold (house) and everything else, were still in place as if frozen in time when I unsubscribed three years earlier. I had to dig through my mind’s cobwebs to remember the game functions. After some difficulties completing a quest, my fingers remembered what to do, but I still felt somewhat clumsy in game. Therefore, I decided, why not start from the beginning again? I logged into a server where I have no toons and created a Jedi Knight, to relearn the game from the proverbial “ground up.”

Return of My Jedi

Usually, one can tell when an MMORPG is ready to pass away. Simply create a new toon and play in the starting area. If it feels like a ghost town, call the MMORPG undertaker. But this was certainly not the case with SWTOR. Planet Tython, the starting area, was a veritable flurry of activity, with lots of chatter and guilds forming and recruiting. I gleaned from other players that many were just like me, former subscribers with a sudden resurgence of interest. There were four active layers on Tython to handle the number of players. Applause! Most MMORPG players are “Altaholics” and I am no different. I also created a Trooper and a Sith Sorcerer. Yes, Ord Mantell and Korriban were just as freshly populated as Tython.

I must say, I missed SWTOR and had forgotten how visually gorgeous it is, how non-repetitive it is, and how the interesting stories draw you in and hold your attention. Rediscovering SWTOR is akin to going back in time and discovering lost love with a renewed freshness. If you’re a former player or looking for a new MMORPG experience, then get that SWTOR subscription now!

Review: “Her Next Door” by T.R. Robinson

“Her Next Door” by T.R. Robinson is a short story that can be classified as both thriller and drama. Within these pages, Ms. Robinson creates an in-depth main character, Tara, with a backstory that makes the reader concerned for her well-being. Of course, in the scope of a short story, that is a rather difficult task, but Ms. Robinson pulls it off with great success.

HerNextDoor

The quality of the writing is neat and clean. No glaring errors in punctuation, spelling, or gaping plot holes. Also, the copy editing was well done, with no repeated words, amateur body language, or dialog flubs.

The protagonist is affable. Despite her horrific backstory, Tara gives other people a clean slate, unless they do or say something to warrant an apprehension. Here’s where T.R. Robinson’s writing skills shine. At first, we’re not sure if Tara’s mental “red flags” are real or if she’s merely hyper-sensitive on account of her past. You’ll have to read it to find out.

The use of setting for thematic purposes is also well done. Tara’s new home serves as a metaphor for her life. The run-down condition of the house represents her former existence. As the story moves forward, now she’s forging ahead, reconstructing her surroundings as she also reconstructs her life. However, houses exist within a community of other dwellings, and those homes have people, too. Will “Her Next Door” neighbors live up to her suspicions? Or will she open and proceed through “Her Next Door” to a new and better life?

 

I highly recommend this little gem. “Her Next Door” is the first in T.R. Robinson’s series called “Bitches.” The series has progressed from an initial short story into a series of six. If this story is anything to go by, all of them should be great reads. You can readily find all of them on T.R. Robinson’s Amazon Author Page.

T.R. Robinson has a rather in-depth author blog among other social media locations.

Connect with T.R. Robinson on Twitter and FaceBook.

Swiggers by Joey Pinkney

In the brevity of a short story, Swiggers by Joey Pinkney manages to give us some great insight into a subtle aspect of the African-American community. Also, Joey’s Author Notes at the end give us more to ponder as he discusses the inspiration and life experiences that he called upon to create this little gem.

swiggers

Within these pages, we’re given a glimpse into the “theater of reality.” Except, within this particular theater, it is the Greek Chorus which serves as the main character. The theater is a shady park bench near a corner liquor store and the play is the daily habits of the townsfolk. A group of older men meet at the park bench, drink, tell stories, relate jokes, and offer commentary on the people who frequent the store.

Remember, in the play “As You Like It,” Shakespeare said “All the world’s a stage. And all the men and women merely players; they have their exits and their entrances…” However, what can a humble Greek Chorus commenting on the theater of the real do when their little piece of the world stage begins to change? I don’t like to put spoilers in my reviews, so you’ll have to read it to find out.


The jokes are rather funny too. I think my favorite was the one about the Pussy Willow.


About the Writing

PinkneyI did not come across any oddly constructed sentences or glaring errors. With Swiggers, Joey Pinkney has produced a clean product. There are some word repetitions here and there, but not enough to destroy the reading experience. The dialog is quite natural and flows well despite that it is written with something of a U.S. Southern accent.

FaceBook Page  https://www.facebook.com/joeypinkney

Twitter @JoeyPinkney

Blog  https://joeyspen.com/

 

Overall, this was an enjoyable, easy-to-read little story that kept me engrossed all the way to the end.  Highly recommend!

 

 

A Personal Writing Process

I’ve been to many NaNoWriMo write-ins in my day. Naturally, I’ve conversed with many authors and have heard about personal writing habits that differ from others. I don’t mean planning versus pantsing. Sometimes it’s simple, like a naming convention for files, or a color code for highlighting certain passages for editing. Most authors write a 500-page draft and then whittle it down by one-third; I simply can’t operate in such a manner.

The manuscript for M&M: The Tales of Tyrennia Book II now stands at 235 pages. Sounds a bit short, doesn’t it? Well, in a word, No. The original first draft was only 112 pages. My creative writing classes were in screenwriting; therefore, I tend to write a first draft (which I playfully call Version 0.5) that is 90% dialog. It’s a nasty habit, which I do not recommend for any author. This method is a rather personal quirk or “comfort zone.” I prefer having my plot laid out, no holes or characters ignoring the path of least resistance. Also, it helps me to scrutinize my dialog. pencil

Version 0.5 of Book II moved like a rocket-powered roller coaster. Way too fast and somewhat overwhelming for a reader. Most authors love to write a “page-turner,” but there can be a point where a reader needs to come up for air. My current draft certainly leaves them underwater for way too long. But there were other problems.

Book II’s disparate events in separate locations on a collision course created a dizzying story line. Not only was information zipping by too quickly, but such a plot demanded many shifts in point-of-view (POV).

To solve this problem, I wrote out a small synopsis of each chapter’s events and noted the POV shifts. Yes, way too many. But I also noted the need for characters to perform certain actions, and subsequently work on solving glitches in their plans of action.

So far, I’ve fleshed out the first four chapters and have written a new chapter 5. I saw the necessity of other new chapters as well. For instance, the original chapter 5 is now chapter 9. Because of the minimalist nature of my first draft and outline, the plot is still rock solid. *wipes brow*

Do you have any personal writing quirks in your process?

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For Lent: Hot and Spicy Lentil Soup

Whenever dad and I ventured into a Chinese restaurant, he would opt for either wonton or egg drop soup. As a young impressionable lad, I thought that’s all the soup choices that Chinese cuisine had to offer. Until one day when I spotted Hot and Sour soup. I gave it a try and I haven’t looked back. I have a taste for spicy food and it’s rare to find mouth burning flavors in a soup.

lentilsoup

Whenever Lent is approaching, I surf websites and YouTube looking for awesome meatless recipes. The problem is most meatless recipes that are considered “healthy” usually taste like bland cardboard. At first, I reluctantly tried a recipe for Spicy Lentil Soup and was pleasantly pleased. Since, my initial attempt, I have tweaked this one. Also remember this recipe during the year if you have a vegetarian guest.

Ingredients:

1/3 Cup of Extra Virgin Olive Oil

1 Medium onion*

2 Carrots*

2 Stalks of celery*

*The goal is 2 cups of mirepoix (1 Cup of onion, ½ cup of carrot, ½ cup of celery)

1 teaspoon Cumin

1 teaspoon of Curry powder (use ½ t of curry and hot madras curry for a spicier soup)

1/8 teaspoon of Cayenne

¼ teaspoon of Turmeric

1 teaspoon of Salt

Black Pepper to taste

1 Can of crushed tomatoes

4 Cups of Vegetable broth (try chicken broth outside of Lent)

2 Cups of water

½ Package of frozen chopped spinach

1 Cup of Lentils

Step 1: Check lentils for stones. I do this by spreading them on a sheet pan. Then rinse.

Step 2: Heat up the olive oil and start with the carrots. After two mins. Add the onion and celery. Remember to avoid high heat. You’re looking to soften the aromatics, not brown them.

Step 3: Add the spices for a minute to “wake them up.”

Step 4: Add the lentils, broth and water. Simmer until the lentils are tender.

Step 5: Add the tomatoes and spinach and keep simmering.

Step 6: When the tomatoes are cooked, your soup is done. But there’s one more thing to do.

Step 7: Remove 2 cups of bulk with a slotted spoon, blend smooth and replace. Your soup will now have a creamy consistency.

Step 8: Enjoy! Mangia! I prefer a tablespoon of chopped jalapeños on top for some extra kick.

During Lent, there’s still something of a chill in the air, especially in the evening. Whether you feel obligated to remain meatless on Friday’s during Lent, all year long, or simply desire a healthy alternative, get ready to enjoy this easy recipe. Let me know if you plan on rattling some pots and pans with this one.

If you attempt this recipe with an InstantPot…let me know how you did it.

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