Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Ghosts of Christmases Past


A friend recently posted on Facebook, as part of her Christmas message, to “not look back on Christmases past”.  I can, to a degree, appreciate such a sentiment. After all, not everyone’s “ghosts of Christmases past” are pleasant or welcome memories.

We all have ghosts.  Anyone who says they don’t is in a state of denial deeper than an ocean.  If one has a past, then at some point, their future will be inhabited by those ghosts.  And, like a recalcitrant child, putting off dealing with them is not going to bring about a positive change in their behaviour.  Ghosts cannot change… it is not their nature.

My friend’s post brought to mind some of my own ghosts of Christmases past, some of which cannot be dismissed as nothing more than the product of a bout of gastric upset brought on by a bit of undercooked mutton or half digested potato, if you’ll pardon my rather clumsy attempt to paraphrase Mr. Dickens.


“Past is prologue.”

I was four years old when I first heard that phrase.  It is from a Russian proverb and part of a lesson taught me by my grandmother on my mother’s side, Nana Marie, whose namesake I am proud to be.  I can still remember sitting in Mama’s parlour on a damp, chilly winter’s afternoon, surrounded by the smells of lavender, lemon, Nana Marie’s liniment and the warm scent of her carefully prepared tea.  There were many afternoons such as this.

The lesson that particular day was, once again, on the past and the future; how one shapes the other but is not a final determination of the outcome of the latter.  Nana Marie, in her strong, slightly rough voice – as Mama would say, Nana Marie was a bit too fond of her Russian cigarets (forbidden inside Mama’s home, I might add) – expounded on the past and the future with some regularity, as if it were more important than almost anything else, to understand.  And, as I would come to learn, it was.

From a very young age, I learned many important things… from Mama and Papa, and especially, from Nana Marie.  I learned that as resolute as the past was, so it was that the future was equally fragile. 

The past is a portent of one possible future.  How well we understand our actions, and their consequences, in the present… which will be tomorrow’s past… can give us the opportunity to play a far greater role in our future than one who simply accepts that the past has set their future… “le destin est le destin, et ne peut être modifié”.

But, I digress.  This post is supposed to be about Christmases past.


I have many happy memories of Christmases from my childhood, although not all were as such.  My sixth Christmas was one such happy one, when my wish for all things Hello Kitty was granted, after some considerable expenditure of time and effort by Papa.

My tenth Christmas, while tempered with the absence of my father, was not as somber as one might have thought, given the circumstances.  Papa, you see, had left us on the eve of my tenth birthday, leaving behind two broken hearts with only the meager comfort of a small note left, expressing his sorrow at leaving… abandoning… his family.  I think that particular Christmas was made tolerable, in no small measure by my mother’s resolute strength and determination, of course, but also by the fact that we were both still in a stage of denial, believing that any day, despite any evidence to support such a belief, that Papa would walk through the door and our world would once again be whole.

It would be fifteen years before Papa would walk through the door of a room I occupied and two and a half years after the passing of my mother.

In the intervening years, denial finally gave way to acceptance and we both moved on, hearts still bruised but determined that there was a life out there for us that past defeats should not… and would not… diminish.

My eighteenth Christmas, and sophomore year in college, would find me with my second lover, Annabeth Harrington, my Psych professor from freshman year.  Fueled by an almost insatiable lust for one another, we were both still basking in the glow and the memories of a dinner we had attended some months earlier at the White House.  Yes, college life was everything… and more… that I had hoped and dreamed it would be.  .

That year, however, would be the last “joyous” holiday season for a while.


Not long after the beginning of my senior year and only days before my twentieth birthday, my past caught up with me.  To be more precise, a rather hastily ‘dispatched’ boyfriend – “beard” really, but that is a story for another day - from my senior year of high school… whom the years since had turned into a raging psychopath… kidnapped me, and together with his equally psychotic “girlfriend” spent the next six months raping, brutalizing and torturing me to such an extent, it would have made the Marquis de Sade vomit on his bedclothes.

Needless to say, Christmas that year was not celebrated.  Not in the customary manner, at least.  By December of that year, I was having great difficulty keeping track of time and days passing and really could not have told you with any degree of certainty, the month, let alone date or day of the week.  By December of that year, I scarcely knew night from day.  I suspect, though I try not to dwell on the thought; that Brad and Natasha “celebrated” Christmas in a manner befitting two sick, depraved minds.

My twenty-first Christmas, and my first one with my now wife, Christina Anne, was not the festive occasion it might otherwise have been if the preceding fifteen months had been different.  Tina tried… she tried so hard that first year… to bring back some degree of normalcy to my life.  But when one has nightmares even in broad daylight and wakes up in the middle of the night… every night… screaming in such agony as only a soul tortured beyond it limits can…

It was not a good time for either of us and more than once I, and I’m sure Tina must have as well – even her compassion had to have its limits, questioned God’s wisdom in putting Tina in my path on that fateful day in September of 2006.  That was the day I boarded a plane with a bellyful of booze, a pocketful of pills and a one-way ticket to St Louis.  A few weeks prior, in the women’s shelter I had been staying in, I had sat and watched as a young girl let go of that last thread that she had been hanging on to and let the pills take her into oblivion.  Lost in my own pain, I was powerless to stop her.  And, if I am completely honest with myself, I didn’t want to stop her… not really.  I wanted one of us at least, to finally find some peace.  In my despair, I thought I was helping her.

Weeks later, boarding a plane in Boston, I prepared to let go of my last thread as well.  I had helped no one.


They say that time heals all wounds, but that isn’t true… not completely.

It is love that heals. 

Time is a construct of man… an arbitrary measurement of the progression and passing of one’s life from this existence to the next.  But, love…

Love is the ‘life’ that our Creator breathes into our souls.

Love heals. 

Love healed me, for the most part anyway, and brought two souls closer and closer with each passing day and the good memories began to outweigh and out measure the bad.  Christmas would once again become a time to not only celebrate our Savior, but to also celebrate family and friends and the future.

The past could not be forgotten, but it also could not set in stone, the future.  Not if we didn’t want it to.


Christmas 2008 – Candy Canes and Bittersweet Memories

My mother, from whom I had been estranged since shortly before my seventeenth birthday, when she discovered I was a lesbian and disowned me, passed away in March of 2008 after a long battle with breast cancer.  Christmas that year was the first year that I did not hold out, as I had for the last six years, a tiny flicker of hope that she and I would reconcile and put the past behind us and that Mama would at last accept me… accept who and what I was.

Christmas that year was bittersweet. 

Tina’s mother – her parents had come out from back East to join us for the holidays that year – finally and fully accepted me and asked if I wouldn’t call her “Mother Shaw” instead of the formerly and formally imposed appellation of “Mrs. Shaw”

I cried… I cried tears of joy.

And… I cried tears of sorrow.  My future mother-in-law had finally accepted me, but...

My own mother had passed away several months before, having never accepted who I was and now she never would.

Christmas that year was bittersweet.


2010 – A Year of Reconciliations

We all have milestones in our lives… some might say millstones, the weight of some of those events a burden on our shoulders, growing heavier as the years bring us ever closer to the day that we shed these all too fragile mortal coils and transcend to wherever it is our own personal belief system portends.  We all have events in our lives that shape and celebrate our life; events that are not always of our own choosing, but nevertheless an important and integral part of our journey.

March of 2010 brought me back once more to the tall, white Vermont marble marker; the symbol of the final resting place of my mother’s physical form – her soul and spirit, I knew, were now in Heaven and she was free of pain and all of the other burdens our corporeal forms are afflicted with. 

Unlike the previous two years, however; I was not dreading this visit.  While “happy” or “excited” might not be the customary emotions one feels when paying their respects to a loved one lost, I was both.  I had finally – with the help and guidance of a truly amazing friend - reconciled with my mother.  I had at last opened my heart and found something lost a long time ago. 

I had rediscovered an eternal truth about mothers and daughters.  The love of a mother is eternal and neither time nor circumstance can ever change that or take it away.  I had forgotten this a long time ago.  I had grown selfish and buried that truth away.  I had become a martyr to my own fears and uncertainties.  I had come to enjoy too much the role of “poor little Veronica.”

But Regan changed that.  She taught me how to bring myself back.  I reconciled with my mother and to this day, I talk to her up in Heaven… every day, without fail.

I’m sorry… I’m digressing again.  Next thing you know, I will be talking about cupcake recipes… chocolate cupcake recipes.

Where were we… ?


March 25, 2010. 

Tina and Ali have already gone back to the hotel and Julie, the family attorney, and I are preparing to leave as well.  The weather is growing worse, the rain coming down harder.  I am chilled to the bone, but do not want to leave.  Mama and I say our tearful good-byes and I make my way back to the car, where Julie is waiting… when it happens.

A man approaches the car.  He calls my name.  Something shifts in my brain… and time stands still.  The thunder in my ears is not from the weather, but the sound of a million thoughts and images crashing and swirling in my brain… a dervish of emotions that, mercifully, overload my brain and I crash.

The last time I saw or spoke to my father was the evening before the eve of my tenth birthday… 14 years, six months, and 8 days ago.  And, in those 5,303 days, I never… not once… hated my father for what he had to done to my mother and me.  Not once!  I felt a lot of things, a lot of emotions, but hate was never one.

Until now… until that day in the cemetery, on the second anniversary of my mother’s passing, when my father walked back into my life.  On that day…

On that day… I hated my father.  I hated him with a passion!  The heat of my hatred could have turned forests to ash.  The heat of my hatred for the man whom I had once loved more than anything else in this world, besides my mother, could have burnt the sun to a cinder!

That day, I told my father that I hated him and that I would never forgive him for what he had done to Mama and me.  I told him that I never wanted to see or hear from him again… ever!  I told him to get in his car and drive away.  I told him to drive so fucking far away that I never crossed his mind again!


But… hate cannot survive where there is love.  And I did still love my father.  And suddenly the realization hit me… I was going to lose my father again!  I had already lost my mother and now I was going to lose Papa as well!  Again!

I could not let that happen.  I would not let that happen!

And so began the long, painful process toward reconciliation.  A tentative letter sent.  The anger was still there and I wanted… I needed… answers, but more than that, I needed my father.


Fast forward a few months...


Christmas 2010

Tina had been hiding something from me for months.  I told her, more than once, that her little ‘subterfuge’ was futile, because I would find it eventually.   Each time, Tina just smiled and walked away.  I spent weeks… months… searching every square inch… every nook and cranny… of our condo for the Christmas gift she had hidden away.  I even went to her office in the downtown Justice Building and searched.  My efforts were to no avail and by Christmas Eve, I had resigned myself to being completely and totally surprised.

By mid-morning Christmas Day, the stack of brightly-wrapped gifts… save for one each for my inamorata and myself, which would be unwrapped that evening… that had been artistically ensconced under the eight-foot Noble the night before was now transformed into a sea of clothes, books and jewelry on the sofa and the thick, white Barbara Barry area rug was covered with bows, ribbons and wads of wrapping paper.  A cup of freshly-brewed Ethiopian Sidamo sat before me on the coffee table, ignored as I buried my nose in a first edition (UK) of Thoreau’s Walden.

So engrossed in the book was I that the telephone, on the end table beside me, had rung several times before the sound registered.  I reached for the handset, only to have it jerked from my outstretched fingers by Tina.  I looked up.

“It’s probably just work,” Tina stammered, a flush rising on her slender neck.

“You’re not going in?  Today?”  I could hear the disappointment in my voice, mirrored, no doubt, in my eyes as I stared up at her.

“No, no, no… of course not, baby girl.  I promise!”

The sincerity in her voice was unmistakable and mollified, I returned to Thoreau.  So wrapped up in the book was I that I was only dimly aware of the sound of the doorbell several minutes later.  Moments after that…

“Feliz Natal, minha princesinha!”

I looked up… the book fell from my lap… I shrieked!


To this day, Tina swears that my feet never touched the floor.  She says that I literally flew over the coffee table, across the living room and into the arms of my father, without once letting my bare feet touch the floor.  All I remember is that one moment I was sitting on the sofa and the next moment my 5’ 3” body was firmly attached to my father’s chest, my arms tightly wrapped around his neck, the scent of Old Spice and cherry pipe tobacco caressing my nostrils, laughing and crying at the same time and trying to talk through the tears of joy…

“Papa ... Eu te amo ... Eu te amo ... Eu te amo ... Papa ... Papa ... oh, eu te amo tanto!”

It was several minutes before I calmed down enough to detach myself.  When I finally did loosen my grip and Papa lowered me to the floor – Papa stands at 6’ 6” – I looked up and saw that his dark eyes, like mine, were bright with tears.  In that moment I felt such a rush of love for my father that it left me light-headed and I felt faint.

Over the next three days, the only time I let Papa leave my side was when he slept – there was no question of him staying in a hotel - and when he was in the bathroom.  Well, I take that back.  I did watch him shave… just as I did when I was a little girl, except I didn’t stand on the toilet this time.

And twice during Papa’s stay, Tina had to drag me out of the guest bedroom at three in morning, where she found me sitting in the big, wooden rocking chair… watching Papa sleep and offering a silent prayer to God, thanking Him for bringing my father back to me. 


This is one Christmas past that I will always look back upon.  A father and daughter were reunited.  How could I not look back?


And so it is…

I live with these ghosts of Christmases past.  Some are good.  Some are not as welcome as others, but I have found something else out.

They are all necessary.

Past is prologue.


To truly and deeply love, one must remember and accept this…

Just as the Earth accepts that the rain will always follow the sun; so it is that sorrow will always follow joy. 

And when sorrow, like the rain, has had its season… joy, like the sun, will return.

I think it was C.S. Lewis who once said…

“The pain now is part of the happiness then.”

I believe… no, I know this…

The pain then is part of the happiness now.  But…

Love will always conquer pain.

Because it isn’t time alone that heals.  Time without love is only the ticking of a clock on the mantle.  A reminder that something needs done… that something awaits.

Love heals. 
Love grows. 
Love endures.
Love is eternal.


Merry Christmas to all.
I wish you peace and good health. 
I wish you success in all you endeavour.
I wish for your ghosts to not be too restless.

I wish you love.

Veronica Marie Lewis-Shaw
25 December 2013

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Vicki Abelson’s 30 Day Writing Challenge #7 – Secrets – Day 8

Photo Credit © 2012 – Veronica Marie Lewis-Shaw. All Rights Reserved

Day 8 of Vicki's WC7 - Secrets...
Morning pages... letter to Nana ("email" is a four-letter word to Nana)... work on my noir escuro... and about an hour working on some notes for this year's NaNoWriMo.
I was going to reveal another secret today, but as I mentioned earlier... I don't have that many secrets... I have to pace them out.  So today... a few words about secrets and power.
Humans need power... in some form... to some degree - some crave it to the point of bringing harm to others - we all need a little power.  Women especially, because it was denied us for so long.  But now... we know how to get power and we know how to keep it... unlike men, who only seem to piss it away.  But that is a story for another day.  We were talking about secrets and their need for power, weren't we....
Secrets hold power... secrets are power.  A secret will use its power to keep its owner from revealing it... because it knows that once the person reveals the secret... once the secret is brought out into the light of day... and seen for what it really is... the power of that secret is gone.  The secret can no longer hurt the person or hold them down... hold them back... hold them under... hold them to another whose time has come and gone.
Secrets, like their human hosts, need power.  Without power, a secret cannot survive.  Not all secrets are meant to survive... some play their role and then exit stage left.
But some secrets... some secrets will do whatever they must to survive... to keep their power.  They will, if necessary, turn their host into an addict... or worse...
And then, there are other secrets that were never meant to be revealed.
Fight the power.
Veronica Marie Lewis-Shaw
14 September 2013

(Writing under a large mushroom, somewhere in the Pacific Northwest)

Vicki Abelson's 30 Day Writing Challenge #7 - Secrets - Day 6

Photo Credit © 2012 – Veronica Marie Lewis-Shaw. All Rights Reserved

Day 6 of Vicki's WC7 - Secrets...
I've got a secret... see? Right here... *holding out cupped hands and lifting one thumb*
Technically, it's not "fucking for grades" if the professor isn't one of your current instructors, right?  I mean, at the time we were "wrinkling the Wamsuttas", the good (Good? Who are we kidding... she was fucking fantastic!) professor was no longer in a position to influence my grades.
Freshman year... spring term... my psych professor from first term had barely passed me... so it only made sense that, once I was no longer in her class, I should go after her like a greyhound after the rabbit, right?  Hey, this college thing was still new to me... how was I to know something like that was frowned upon?
Okay, okay... I knew... we both knew... exactly what we were doing and the morality of it. I can sit here and try to rationalize it, but I have a feeling you wouldn't let me get away with that.
So, no excuses... I make my confession... and another secret is out.
Veronica Marie Lewis-Shaw
12 September 2013

(Writing under a large mushroom, somewhere in the Pacific Northwest)

Vicki Abelson's 30 Day Writing Challenge #7 - Secrets - Day 2

Photo Credit © 2012 – Veronica Marie Lewis-Shaw. All Rights Reserved
Day 2 of Vicki’s WC7 – Secrets…

There are three kinds of secrets… the ones that we tell only our closest friends… the ones that we tell no one… and the ones that we don’t even know we have.  The first two kinds of secrets are as tangible as an orange in one’s hand.  They have a shape and a weight to them… almost a physicality.  But the third kind of secret is the secret that we possess, but whose shape and weight is invisible to us… this is the secret that has not yet been revealed to us.

Pssst… come here… closer… closer… you want to know a secret?

I’m a lesbian.

I am a lesbian and I always have been one.  From the day I was born… no, not from the day I was born… from the very moment I first had consciousness.  Oh, I didn’t know that I was a lesbian… not for a long time.  That was a secret that I kept even from myself.  Not because I didn’t want to know it, but because I was not aware of it.  This was the third kind of secret… the one we don’t know ourselves that we possess. 

And it isn’t denial… it goes much deeper than that.  Denial must be preceded by awareness. 

Growing up I had secrets and I learned the secrets of others, but the secret that was my own, that no one else knew… I did not either.  I possessed it, but I did not know that I did so… not for a very long time.

What reveals a secret?  Usually it is the need to share.  Sometimes it is a need or a desire for revenge that makes us reveal a secret.  But what about the secret that we don’t know we have?  How is that revealed?

What triggers the revelation of the third kind of secret?  

For me, it wasn’t a ‘what’, but a ‘who’.

It was the summer of 2002… a few weeks before my seventeenth birthday and the beginning of college life.  I and several of my high school friends had gathered for one last get-together before we went our separate ways… to west coast, east coast, southern and northern universities.  Only this day, there was an invited ‘stranger’ among us… Kim’s cousin, Amanda.

And when Amanda offered her hand in greeting… and our fingers touched and our eyes met…

Time stood still… and the secret that I didn't know I had was revealed.

I am a lesbian.

Veronica Marie Lewis-Shaw
8 September 2013
(Writing under a large mushroom, somewhere in the Pacific Northwest)

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Vicki Abelson's 30 Day Writing Challenge #7 - Secrets - Day 1

Photo Credit © 2012 – Veronica Marie Lewis-Shaw. All Rights Reserved

Day 1 of Vicki's WC7 - Secrets...
I've got a secret... well, more than one actually… but don’t we all?
This secret though… this secret is one of the very last things I told Tina about my past and the only reason that I told her is because I had given my solemn promise that there would never be secrets between the two of us.  I didn’t want to tell her...  I didn’t want to reveal that side of me to her.  I didn’t want that secret to be the last straw… the straw that was one straw too many.  The one that would make Tina decide that it was all too much, that I was too damaged.  But a secret can also be a lie and I could not live with that lie between us.  It would have eaten away like a cancer, destroying every good thing that Tina had tried to do for me… for us.  So I told her.
I let someone die.  I held her in my arms and I did nothing.  I stroked her hair and waited for the pills she had taken to do their job.  I let someone die because she was in so much pain and so much torment and she begged me not to stop her.  I let someone die because her pain and her torment were even greater than mine and I knew that…
I don’t remember how many times I looked at my phone… at those three glowing digits on the screen waiting for me to hit Send… then back at her… as her breathing slowed and her face became only a blur through my own tears… until the grip of her hand on mine gradually relaxed and her chest rose one last time… then fell… and she was gone.
I tried to tell myself that if I stopped her… if I hit Send and she didn’t die this time… she would only try again… and again if necessary.  I tried to rationalize that it was better this way because she was at least with a friend… someone who understood her pain… someone who would not judge her.  I told myself that she was now at peace.
Three weeks later I boarded a plane with a belly full of booze and a bottle full of pills… ready to let go of that last thread that I had been hanging on to... giving up the fight… as she had… realizing that I too… had finally found ‘too much’.
Veronica Marie Lewis-Shaw
7 September 2013
(Writing under a large mushroom, somewhere in the Pacific Northwest)

Thursday, August 8, 2013


The Clock Of LifeThe Clock Of Life by Nancy Klann-Moren
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

(Reviewer's note - I am a writer and freelance reviewer. I received no compensation or inducement to review this book. Thank you. vmls)

Nancy Klann-Moren’s The Clock of Life is a rich, wonderful story with a distinctive flavor and narrative, engaging characters, and written with a compassion for some of the darkest days in the history of America.


The Clock of Life is an excellent historical fiction, which takes place in the American South in the last quarter of the 20th century. Reminiscent of To Kill A Mockingbird in many respects, The Clock of Life is a “coming-of-age" story about a young boy growing up in a small town in Mississippi. It is a story of truth and freedom… of injustice and inequality.

Told in ‘first-person’, in a clear, compelling voice, Jason Lee, the son of deceased Vietnam War veteran JL Rainey recounts his growing up in Hadlee, Mississippi during a time of much unrest in America. The Vietnam War and the civil rights movement had a profound and lasting impact on much of the country and Jason Lee's 'world' bears much of the brunt of that… a world where racism and intolerance runs deep. Jason Lee learns a great deal about his father and the kind of man he really was through stories from others. It is from these stories that a yearning grows.

In his befriending of a black schoolmate, Jason Lee - through many trials -grows in both character and spirit, learning and appreciating the meaning and value of friendship, freedom and tolerance for others in a society that often takes freedom for granted and does not fully appreciate the sacrifices of those who went before… those who fought and died to secure and ensure freedom for all… and a society that too often turns a blind eye to tolerance and acceptance, unable or unwilling to stand up to injustice and inequality.

Jason Lee wants to be like his father.

Ghosts of the past and the realities of a society rife with injustice and inequality, Jason Lee faces many challenges – not least among them broken hearts and the loss of a very close friend - and while [growing up] he doesn't always make the right decisions, Jason Lee, like the rest of us - especially those who also grew up in that time - learns and grows from his mistakes. He learns that while the 'right thing' isn't always the easiest thing to do… it is the right thing to do.

Jason Lee is becoming the man his father would have been proud to call son.


The author brings a strong narrative style, a very definitive sense of place and a stunning eye for the idiosyncrasies of rural life in the American South to The Clock of Life. Page after page is rich with a flavor that rings true for anyone growing up in that same period and place. One of the greatest strengths of this story, I feel, is the dialogue, with its finely-balanced dialectal quality, which adds to the overall imagery through-out the story.

There is a realism and depth to the characters in The Clock of Life that is sadly lacking in a lot of the fiction on today's market. Historical fiction especially demands richness in character, place and plot. Nancy achieves all three with such seeming ease that one forgets that this is her very first novel.

A minor scene perhaps, but like countless other 'little' scenes throughout the novel, Jason Lee and Samson's first shared experience with moonshine really struck a chord with this reader; in that relatively short passage is a great deal of truth.

A constant thread through-out The Clock of Life is the civil rights movement and the Vietnam War… both times of bitter conflict in which many lost their moral compass, some never to regain it... and the inequality and injustice those events engendered, and the scars left behind.

The Clock of Life is a powerful and thought-provoking morality play, if I may use that phrase, which will have a lasting impact on the reader. I came away from this story with many of the same feelings I had after the first time I read To Kill A Mockingbird. Nancy has written a humbling and inspiring tale of the courage and the strength of the human spirit, a story that evokes in the reader a broad range of emotions and hopefully, a degree of compassion and understanding for our fellow citizens.

If there is one thing we can take away from this story, it is this….

It is one thing to know the difference between right and wrong; that’s something we all learned in the third grade. It is quite another thing to have the courage and conviction of one’s beliefs and to live one’s life for the betterment of mankind and to have empathy and compassion for the family of man. Freedom isn’t free and justice isn’t blind. We should not live our lives with the presumption that freedom doesn’t have a cost and that justice can be dispensed equally with eyes shut.

Nancy has earned numerous accolades – among them, her debut novel was a finalist in the 2013 Next Generation Indie Book Awards - for The Clock of Life, which should come as no surprise, and her novel has been adopted by the Los Medanos College’s English Department, to be taught in the school’s freshman writing classes.

The Clock of Life is a "must-read" and I recommend it without hesitation. Thank you, Nancy, for a thoroughly engaging story… one that will stay with the reader for a long, long time.

Veronica Marie Lewis-Shaw
6 August 2013
(Writing under a large mushroom, somewhere in the Pacific Northwest)

View all my reviews

Monday, August 5, 2013


One Lost SummerOne Lost Summer by Richard Godwin
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Richard Godwin’s One Lost Summer takes a detour from the author’s trademark noir / psychological thriller / horror stylings and answers with a resounding “Yes!” the question “Can Richard write anything other than horror thrillers?”


A novel steeped in mystery and suspense, with a subtle yet unmistakable eroticism, One Lost Summer takes the reader deep inside the mind of a damaged man… a tortured soul… where we are witness to the ‘shrouded’ dance of the watcher and the watched.

The story begins one hot summer… the mystery, long before that.  And if there is a moral to this story, it is this…

Some things… once lost… were not meant to be found.

Unfortunately, some people find that out too late.


Identity… it is what makes man… it is what breaks man.  If I had to choose one word to describe the theme of Richard Godwin’s latest novel… a blend of noir mystery and psychological thriller… ‘identity’ would be that word.  Some might disagree with that, but… to paraphrase Joe Pesci in Goodfellas (I think)… “It is what it is.”

At first blush, One Lost Summer would appear to be a simple obsédé noir… a middle-aged voyeur drowning in the pool of his own desire, spending his every waking moment, as well as not-inconsiderable amounts of money, watching his neighbor and cataloging her existence on film.

But… with a master story-teller such as Richard Godwin… well, ‘simple’ just doesn’t apply.  This soon becomes apparent as the layers that make up the mystery of filmmaker Rex Allen’s new life are exposed to the often unforgiving glare of the reader.

One Lost Summer is a slow reveal.  That is not to say the story is slow, on the contrary; the pacing of One Lost Summer is ‘pitch-perfect’, to borrow a phrase from the music world.  Page after page, the suspense builds… occasionally ebbing, so as to allow the reader a respite to consider what has transpired so far.

And to ponder on the two traps of man….

Identity… and memory.  One is lost without the other.  

Memory can be a cruel mistress.   She will taunt and tease… scattering words and broken thoughts, like breadcrumbs, on the floor of one’s conscious.  If there are secrets that she is not ready to give up – and there always are - no amount of begging will help.  Memory will reveal the bits and pieces of one’s past in her own fashion… and in her own time.   And… she always wants something in return.  Always.

And this is the ‘crux’ of Rex’s problem.  Memory, or more accurately, the absence of a good portion of his, is what drives Rex… what moves him to uproot from his home outside greater London to the suburbs of Surrey, where hopefully a change of scenery and distance from the noise and static of his former life will bring some peace and where Rex can begin to rebuild what was lost.  If only he had more than a few broken shards from which to start.  


Rex Allen has an obsession.  He sees beauty in the ordinary and ordinary in beauty, and seemingly, has an almost singular compulsion with dominating the spirit of those who cross the path of his obsession.

It starts with a single image… flashing in the recesses of his mind like a relentless strobe… teasing something deeper, something still chained… unable to rise to the surface of Rex’s consciousness, where it can be named and placed in this new life of his… put into perspective.

And from that image, a word… “Coral…”

And from that one word, in what is… for lack of a better word… a Dr. Frankenstein-esque quest, Rex attempts to bring to life something more than just a memory.  And in doing so, he discovers – or, rediscovers – the ‘flexibility’ of his own moral code.  Ironically, he fails to see, or refuses to see, his own reflection in the morality of this new ‘world’ he has found himself in and which he soon grows contemptuous of.

When at last he can begin to enjoy – although, I’m not sure that ‘enjoy’ was ever a part of Rex’s emotional make-up… ‘possess’ might be a better word – the fruits of his labors, something changes.  The stage of Rex’s little deux jeux de caractères is suddenly crowded with the arrival of ‘truth’… stage right.

But, as I mentioned earlier… one should be careful of what they wish for.  La vérité n'est pas toujours mis un libre.


From page one, the narrative of Richard’s latest novel has a mesmeric hold on the reader, pulling them along… with questions rising as images flash past… and just when the reader thinks they have a firm grasp on the reality of the story, there is that Godwin “turn” that makes the reader sit up and go “Oh!”

At times, the tension is almost palpable… like the taste of silver amalgam… and brings an expectation not unlike that conjured in watching the recalcitrant fuse of a firework moving inexorably toward its explosive conclusion.

And at other times, there is an almost dreamlike quality to parts of the narrative that is like - to borrow Richard’s words – “… a key turning in a lock.  Over and over and over…”  And with each page turn… a flash of memory… not unlike that of light glinting off the polished surface of a key turning in a lock, as another bit of the mystery is revealed.


Seductive and suspenseful, One Lost Summer is a dark, richly woven mystery… a riveting tale of deception of self and a frightening look inside the human mind and the lengths and depths one will stir to possess another.  Richard Godwin writes, with disturbing clarity, the psychosis of a man possessed by beauty, to the exclusion of all else.

One Lost Summer is a `must-read'... it "hits all the marks" of a classic and timeless mystery and is well worth a few sleepless nights.

Thank you,

Veronica Marie Lewis-Shaw
(Writing under a large mushroom, somewhere in the Pacific Northwest)
5 August 2013

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Saturday, June 29, 2013


Sleeping in Eden: A NovelSleeping in Eden: A Novel by Nicole Baart
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

(Reviewer’s note – I am an independent writer.  In addition to reviewing books that I myself have purchased, I am also a freelance reviewer for Howard Books, a division of Simon & Schuster.  My reviews are based solely on the merits of the book, and I receive no remuneration from the publisher or author, other than a copy of the book, in exchange for posting a review on my blogs, GoodReads and Amazon.  The following is my review of Nicole Baart’s SLEEPING IN EDEN; purchased on Amazon.  Thank you – vmls)

Sleeping in Eden is told in alternating chapters… present and past drawing nearer with each turn of the page of this story of life and of death… and all the paths between the two.


The discovery of a body just beneath the hard-pack floor of a disused barn - the scene of an apparent suicide Dr. Lucas Hudson has been called out on, to act as coroner on the case, is the beginning of the unraveling of a lie that has chained three families to a past not entirely of their choosing and has now brought a fourth family into a mystery almost a decade old.


Oh what a tangled web we weave.  When Lucas holds back what will later turn out to be a crucial piece of evidence, the ‘good doctor’ takes that first step into the web.  Why did he do it?  Leverage in a failing relationship?  A desperate attempt to plug the leak in his marriage before it sinks completely?  Will what started out for Lucas as a little lie, end up destroying him and what little chance left to his marriage?  Even as Lucas questions his own motives behind this fresh deceit, he is unable to understand his wife Jenna’s continued grieving over a loss years before; a loss Lucas seems unwilling or unable to understand or share.  The river of denial runs deep in some.


Fifteen year-old Meg Painter doesn’t ‘play safe’ like most girls.  She isn’t afraid of scrapes, bruises and torn nails.  She also doesn’t ‘play it safe’ when it comes to boys, as is soon evidenced in how hard she falls for the new kid on the block, Dylan Reid.

Dylan is a bit of a mystery… a troubled boy, some instinctively sense and try to warn Meg about… a mystery with a past, who at times seems oblivious to Meg’s feelings, or perhaps he does but his young heart, already battle-scarred, isn’t ready to go back in to the fray just yet.

So, where does that leave Meg?  Meg finds out that, as the author so eloquently puts it, “… death by devotion is a slow, aching bleed.”

Jess Langbroek, the third side in this teenage love triangle, loves Meg with a intensity almost as fierce as Meg’s own independence.  Jess is the ‘safe choice’… every girl’s parent’s ‘dream’.


Meg is torn.  Meg doesn’t want to play safe.  Meg doesn’t want what it seems everyone else wants for her.  Meg desperately wants to “step out of her perfect, pre-planned life” and make her own choices… live her own life.

The ‘echoes’ of Meg’s choices will one day haunt a man already haunted by ghosts of the past.


And that’s probably a good place to stop.  I don’t want to give too much away.


I love the structure of this story… it really could not have been written any other way.  Nicole has crafted an absorbing and spell-binding tale that fans of mystery and of contemporary fiction alike will ‘devour’, and then ask for more.

Suspenseful, fast-paced, impossible to put down… Nicole Baart’s latest novel, Sleeping in Eden, is all this and more.  Having already proven her gift of finely-crafted prose in previous novels, Sleeping in Eden more than satisfies readers’ expectations from this extremely talented author.  Nicole’s skill in setting a scene and creating mood with ‘pitch-perfect’ pacing and compelling narrative style will have readers talking about Sleeping in Eden for a very long time to come.

Nicole writes with passion and compassion, drawing on her own experiences and understanding of the unique nature of the family of man.  One of the most satisfying things about her novels is the characters she draws… real, vulnerable, redemptive… complicated and unpredictable at times... there is a dimensionality to the people in Nicole’s writing that has become a trademark and one of the reasons she consistently brings out best-seller caliber novels.  They are drawn in such a way that the reader can’t help but connect at some level.  There is a relatability… I think that’s the word I want to use… that pulls the reader into the story.

And un-stereotypical characters… let’s not forget that.  In Lucas Hudson, Nicole has written a truly rich character… a chimera of the two male stereotypes most often identified with.  Normally a safe, ethical and reliable man, a faithful and responsible man… the deepening mystery in the barn brings out in Lucas, the ‘bad boy’… questionable motives and ethics, setting aside his own accountability and becoming tangled up in sins of omission and unwelcome desires he can’t quite seem to vanquish.

Teen angst… unrequited love… a mystery that demands to be solved… coming of age… we’ve all read books before that had at least one of those elements as the main plot.  In Sleeping in Eden, Nicole takes these elements and weaves an indelibly sharp and poignant story of lives crossing time… innocence lost…love lost… and love found… of forgiveness and second chances… of seeing beyond one’s own self… of ‘waking up’.

Beautiful and bittersweet, Sleeping in Eden is at once a mystery… a love story… a cautionary tale of walking through life with eyes half-shut, unaware of the life around us, our impact on others and theirs on us.

It is a reminder that faith, fate, destiny, karma - whatever you want to call it - brings one back to the grace they had once lost and the true path of their journey.


I recommend Sleeping in Eden without reservation.  This may just be Nicole’s best yet; written with verve and authority, and a unique understanding of the human condition.  Beautiful prose, engaging characters and a plot that will keep you engaged to the very end… make Sleeping in Eden a ‘must-read’.

Thank you.

Veronica Marie Lewis-Shaw
29 June 2013
(Writing under a large mushroom, somewhere in the Pacific Northwest)

View all my reviews