Thursday, January 28, 2016

Book Review: Afta-U by Jennifer-Lynn Keniston

About Afta-U:

Michael’s smile broadened. “It seems you’re surprised to see me, Jean. Don’t tell me you thought that they’d leave an eleven-year-old boy locked away forever.”

Twenty-nine years after the tragic death of her childhood best friend, Hope, Jean Cartwright Rhodes returns to her hometown with her husband and daughter after she inherits the house her friend’s family once lived in. Now, years later, she finds herself haunted by a dark truth – and by the specter of Hope herself.

Every time Jean looks through her kitchen window, she sees two stark reminders of her troubled past; the Afta-U sailboat, ironically named after young Hope, and the old oak tree where her eleven-year-old friend met her death at the hands of another child.

Afta-U unfolds as a psychological chess match, a complex web of intrigue, unexpected relationships, lies, and devastating secrets as Jean stuggles with the impact of decisions she made long ago on all the lives around her. When Jean confronts and tries to come to grips with Hope’s killer, she finds herself waging a personal battle between madness and redemption.

Jennifer-Lynn Keniston:
Raised in Hanson, Massachusetts, the author earned a Master of Arts degree in English, from Bridgewater State College in Massachusetts, and a Bachelor of Arts degree in English, with a concentration in writing and a minor in philosophy, from Plymouth State College in New Hampshire. Jennifer-Lynn currently works as a project manager for a company that provides cloud software products for call centers at small, medium, and enterprise companies. In April 2014, she started her own business, Ansel Resume Resolution Services LLC, writing resumes and cover letters. She now lives and writes in Concord, New Hampshire, and enjoys teaching Spinning classes in her free time.


It’s amazing sometimes what the heart and soul can endure, and the characters in the novel Afta-U are definitely a testament to that. When the main character, Jean, moves into her best friend’s childhood home, she wants to feel connected to the innocence of her early years and the good memories of Hope, her best friend who tragically died at the age of eleven. Unfortunately, it doesn’t turn out that way.

As a parent, reading the details of Hope’s death was terrifying, especially seeing how quickly something meant to be a game can spiral out of control. The memory of that event is something Jean buried deep within herself and never truly confronted. But now she’s sharing Hope’s childhood home with the ghost of Hope herself, a solemn figure who doesn’t speak.

Constant reminders of you swirled around me every day. I could hear your laugh in the physical walls of my current house and the land itself, haunting echoes of my childhood memories of you.

The paragraph above is an example of how Jennifer-Lynn Keniston’s lyrical prose draws the reader in from the opening pages, along with the use of symbolism and the complex and often complicated nature of human relationships. The characterization is also excellent—I loved the character of Nick, Jean’s husband, and I loathed the two villans, Damian and Michael.

I think many of us can relate to the feeling of being overwhelmed by a traumatic event in our lives, and how it can make you want give up and stop fighting, even if just for a little while. Afta-U is a heartbreaking tale of the loss of childhood innocence, and how the emotional scars can find a way to resurface no matter how much time has passed. But it’s also a testament to how a person can heal if they can hold on to their faith and have a strong support system to lean on.

As a bonus, the author is also a talented poet, and poems that add depth to the story are interspersed throughout the novel:

Red flames danced
As the white envelope
With black penned ink fell
Trying to silence the voice whose story it was to tell
A lamb’s choice breathes air to the fire below
Shifting from shielded innocence
To the heavy stature of a lioness
Defining a choice and one’s free will
The catcher of lost souls
A saddened sparrow weeps

As colored beach sand and tears freely flow

Learn more about the inspiration behind the book in this interview at WOW! Women on Writing.

Monday, January 25, 2016

Book Review: The Romance Diet by Destiny Allison

I love it when a book helps me discover something about myself that I need to work on. That’s what happened when I picked up The Romance Diet as part of Destiny Allison's blog tour with WOW! Women on Writing. 

Brave, raw, and unflinchingly honest, this book is a weight loss journey, a love story, a heart beating loudly on the page. Every day we battle against something--injustice, our spouses, our weight. Seldom do we acknowledge the real wars we wage. Repressing feelings and silencing our voices, we suffer under the surface, attributing emotional distress and unwanted pounds to the inescapable effects of hormones or age.

But weight gain, anxiety, and marital difficulties aren't always so easy to explain.

In her poignant and touching memoir, Allison doesn't offer recipes, exercise tips, or advice. Instead, she shows us how to stand up, express what we want, and develop empathy for ourselves and the people we love. In doing so, she provides invaluable insight for those seeking to lose weight, save a marriage, or make a significant life change.

Includes a Readers Guide.


The Romance Diet is so much more than I expected. There are many people who could benefit from reading this book—couples who need help communicating with each other, people who are longing to have a more healthy relationship with food and exercise, those who are still dealing with the long-term effects of a traumatic incident in their lives, women who need help asserting their independence . . . the list goes on and on.

The book begins with Destiny’s realization that the injury that caused her to stop working as a metal sculptor also caused her to gain a significant amount of weight, and her husband Steve was along for the ride. Their love of rich, decadent food grows out of control until Destiny decides they need to take the first step towards making a healthy, positive change. Little does she know other things in her life would unravel because of it.

There’s a part of the book where Steve repeatedly tells Destiny that she’s sexy. She grows frustrated and longs to tell him that she’s not just a body—but a smart and capable businesswoman, artist, a writer. Reading her story brought back feelings and resentments that are buried within me as well. I too long to be complimented for my accomplishments by my spouse—and don’t get me wrong—he does do that, but he also says things like “oh they want to hire you because they’ve seen your picture,” or “you can’t expect to make too much money because you haven’t spent time climbing the corporate ladder.” Statements like that burrow deep inside me until they erupt in a resentful tirade because I grow tired of feeling disrespected. After reading The Romance Diet, I’ve started speaking up more and simply telling my husband how I feel when he makes those comments, whether he means any harm by them or not.

I’d like to point out that The Romance Diet is creative non-fiction at its finest. Destiny has a way with words that find you savoring each page and wondering what’s to come next.

Weeds intertwined with lavender stems in my neglected garden. A stinkbug meandered across a flagstone step. Like the aspen leaves on our sole surviving tree, I felt limp and colorless.


Too fat, too thin, just average. Long hair, short hair, high cheekbones, no cheekbones. Pear shaped, card shaped, hourglass. Big breasts, flat chests, the spread of hips. Like most women, I asked "Am I good enough?" a thousand ways each day.  

About the Author:
Destiny Allison was a professional and award-winning sculptor. Her work is collected by individuals, civic entities, and corporations worldwide. When an injury required her to re-envision her life, Allison did what she always does. She applied her explosive creativity and dog-with-a-bone tenacity to new endeavors.

In 2011 she was named Santa Fe Business Woman of the Year. Her community building efforts and innovative business model transformed a bankrupt shopping center into a thriving community and commercial center.

In 2012 she published her first book, Shaping Destiny: A quest for meaning in art and life. The book won best independent non-fiction/memoir in the 2013 Global Book Awards.

Since then, she has published two novels and opened a general store.

Allison believes that one’s life is one’s greatest work of art. Hence, she flows freely between mediums. Unafraid to make mistakes and always passionate, she lives in Santa Fe, NM.

More info at:,
Facebook: Destiny Allison Books
Twitter: sfsculptor

Purchase Link:

Learn more about the inspiration behind this book in this interview at WOW! Women on Writing.

Friday, January 15, 2016

Chicken Soup for (This Writer's) Soul

Everyone needs a go-to comfort food. I have quite a few--homemade macaroni and cheese, chicken and dumplings, pizza, anything chocolate . . . the list goes on and on, really. When you work from home, it's not unusual to look up at 5:30 or 6 p.m. and wonder where in the world the afternoon went. As I rummaged around my pantry last night in search of something somewhat healthy to make for a quick dinner, I had an idea. I would try to make my own version of a childhood favorite dinner--the Campbell's Soup Chicken and Stars. It turned out great, the family cleaned their bowls, and I felt good having served up a delicious and low-cal dinner.

I posted a photo on Facebook and a few of my friends asked for the recipe. Here's what I gave them:

Two or three small chicken breasts
Two tbsp. olive oil
Four cups of water
32-oz. container of chicken broth
Three small carrots, peeled and diced
One clove of garlic
One cup of Simply Balanced Organic Stelline Pasta
Salt and pepper

Instructions: Dice the chicken and saute it with the olive oil and garlic until cooked through. In a separate medium-sized pot, bring the carrots to boil in the four cups of water. Add one cup of the pasta the container of chicken broth. One the carrots are soft and the pasta is cooked, add in the chicken and whatever seasoning you prefer. I like to add about one teaspoon of the 21 Season Salute from Trader Joe's to give it a little extra kick. Makes about six to seven small servings. Serve and enjoy!