Monthly Archives: August 2015

Death on Paradise Creek by Dianne Smithwick-Braden



Death on Paradise Creek is a murder mystery seasoned with heartbreak, adventure, a little romance, and a touch of humor. It is the first in a planned three book series.

cover.jpgThe Paradise Creek Inn is open for business in rural Wilbarger County Texas. Business is slow except for the occasional parties for family or friends, until a prestigious actor becomes stranded on the property. Suddenly Lizzie Fletcher and her family are booking parties and events left and right – a dream come true.

Things quickly change when the hired hand makes a gruesome discovery. Sheriff Wade Adams and his team are called to investigate. While evidence is being analyzed, another body is discovered. Long kept secrets revolving around these discoveries begin to unravel.

Death on Paradise Creek is a 60,929 word, 205 page murder mystery set in Wilbarger County Texas.

Paperbacks are $15.95 and ebooks are $6.99

It is available for purchase at: in paperback and for Kindle
Barnes and in paperback and for Nook
Black Rose Writing in paperback



Chapter 6
Lizzie woke Saturday morning to the smell of coffee brewing. She hadn’t realized how much she missed waking up to that smell. She always had coffee after she got to work. She went downstairs to find Ellen and Lois sitting at the kitchen table.

“Good morning, Mama. Good morning, Granny,” she said as she planted a kiss on each woman’s cheek. “Where’s Daddy?”

“He had to get started moving the cattle to the east pasture. He said he’d be missing a lot of work since we’ll be in town for Jan’s festivities later this week,” Ellen explained.

“Lizzie, sit down; I want to talk to you about something,” Lois said.

“Okay. It sounds like something serious Granny.”

“Well, it is in a way. Is your job in Chicago the kind of job you always dreamed about?”

“No, it isn’t. It’s a work my way up the ladder and pay my dues kind of job.”

“Would you still like to run your own inn?”

“That has always been my dream, but I don’t see it happening anytime soon.”

“Alright then. I have a proposition for you. I’m getting too old to live in that great big house all alone. You’re parents and I have been talking about this, and we want to see what you think. We’ll turn the house over to you. You can renovate it and make it into the inn you’ve always dreamed of owning.”

“But Granny…”

“Now, let me finish,” Granny interrupted.” I’ll move in here with James and Ellen. You’ll manage the inn. I’ll fund the renovations, within reason mind you. Your parents and I will help when you need it. The old place needs fixing up anyway, and I see no reason to fix it up only for one old lady. It will become a family business.” Granny paused for a moment, and then said, “Well what do you think?”

Lizzie didn’t know what to say. She wanted to jump at the chance to design and run her own inn.



Outside of a Southwestern Literature class that I took in college, I haven’t read too many Texas authors who base their novels on our great state. Smithwick-Braden does a fine job of portraying her characters as Texans without going hillbilly. While I initially found it hard to immerse myself in the first few chapters (they’re a flashback to the time of saloons and posses), I felt comfortable as the author hit her stride during the present day story. She has an ear for dialogue, which helps flesh out the characters and make them believable. While I thought that the story may have had too many fantastical things happening at once (I don’t read many mysteries, so maybe this is normal), I was eager to read on to see what happened next. Honestly, I think 3 separate (and interesting!) mystery novels could have come out of this single story, but I could see why so many different plot lines and twists were employed to keep the reader from guessing the truth. Or in my case, guessing the truth but doubting my gut feeling every few chapters. If you read this one, feel free to drop me a comment so we can discuss. I look forward to reading the sequel!


Smithwick-Braden.jpgDianne Smithwick-Braden is a native Texan raised in rural Wilbarger County on the family farm. She is a graduate of Vernon High School and West Texas A & M University. She currently resides in Amarillo, Texas with her husband, Richard. She has been a high school science teacher in Amarillo since August of 1990.

Dianne is an avid reader of fiction but murder mysteries are by far her favorite genre. Death on Paradise Creek is her first novel. She has already begun work on a sequel.



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On Writing by Stephen King

I haven’t posted in a really long time so I’m just going to bring up a book that I’ve been meaning to review forever. So one of my many plans for the future is to write a novel. Or many novels if I can get published in the first place. And while I have some ideas spinning around in my head that might not ever hit the page, I wanted to read something that will help me when I eventually get there. I attended the Denver Publishing Institute back in 2005(?) and learned a lot, but not everything. While “On Writing” isn’t a manual, I appreciate that it’s an honest look into the process and journey of a great author. To be completely honest, I think I’ve only ever ready “Misery,” and that was because my cousin had a dusty, creased paperback on the shelf and I was curious. I think that I was pretty traumatized (from that one book and a few Mary Higgins Clark novels) to the point that I never read those kinds of books again. Sad, I know. But I enjoyed several of the movies, so I think it’s safe to assume the books are even better since they usually are.

The man has a great sense of humor and an even greater wife for being supportive of his endeavors. He goes by the ol’ “write at a set time each day and don’t stop until you hit x amount of pages/words.” Even a horrific accident can’t stop him from finishing something, although he wanted to many times. If you want to write something, pick this up (and Strunk and White, as King is eager to point out several times). If you are curious at all about the struggles that a writer goes through, read this. Or if you are just a Stephen King fan, this is a good one too. Just be warned, this isn’t a quick how-to of any kind. King just gives you a peek into the random string of thoughts that often gave birth to a bestselling novel and movie.

As soon as I have a few days to concentrate, I plan to complete the assignment below from the author. If you do it, tell him I sent you. It’s the least you can do since I typed the whole damn thing up.

Your job is to write five or six pages of unplotted narration concerning this fossil. Put another way, I want you to dig for the bones and see what they look like. I think you may be quite surprised and delighted with the results. Ready? Here we go.

Everyone is familiar with the basic details of the following story; with small variations, it seems to pop up in the Police Beat section of metropolitan daily papers every other week or so. A woman – call her Jane – marries a man who is bright, witty, and pulsing with sexual magnetism. We’ll call the guy Dick; it’s the world’s most Freudian name. Unfortunately, Dick has a dark side. He’s short-tempered, a control freak, perhaps even (you’ll find this out as he speaks and acts) a paranoid. Jane tries mightily to overlook Dick’s faults and make the marriage work (why she tries so hard is something you will also find out; she will come onstage and tell you). They have a child, and for awhile things seem better. Then, when the little girl is three or so, the abuse and the jealous tirades begin again. The abuse is verbal at first, then physical. Dick is convinced that Jane is sleeping with someone, perhaps someone from her job. Is it someone specific? I don’t know and don’t care. Eventually Dick may tell you who he suspects. If he does, we’ll both know, won’t we?

At last poor Jane can’t take it anymore. She divorces the schmuck and gets custody of their daughter, Little Nell. Dick begins to stalk her. Jane responds by getting a restraining order, a document about as useful as a parasol in a hurricane, as many abused women will tell you. Finally, after an incident which you will write in vivid and scary detail – a public beating, perhaps – Richard the Schmuck is arrested and jailed. All of this is back story. How you work it in – and how much of it you work in – is up to you. In any case, it’s not the situation. What follows is the situation.

One day shortly after Dick’s incarceration in the city jail, Jane picks up Little Nell at the daycare center and ferries her to a friend’s house for a birthday part. Jane then takes herself home, looking forward to two or three hours’ unaccustomed peace and quiet. Perhaps, she thinks, I’ll taka a nap. It’s a house she’s going to, even though she’s a young working woman – the situation sort of demands it. How she came by this house and why she has the afternoon off are things the story will tell you and which will look neatly plotted if you come up with good reasons (perhaps the house belongs to her parents; perhaps she’s house-sitting; perhaps another thing entirely).

Something pings at her, just below the level of consciousness, as she lets herself in, something that makes her uneasy. She can’t isolate it and tells herself it’s just nerves, a little fallout from her five years of hell with Mr. Congeniality. What else could it be? Dick is under lock and key, after all.

Before taking her nap, Jane decides to have a cup of herbal tea and watch the news. (Can you use that pot of boiling water on the stove later on? Perhaps, perhaps.) The lead item on Action News at Three is a shocker: that morning, three men escaped from the city jail, killing a guard in the process. Two of the three bad guys were recaptured almost at once, but the third is still at large. None of the prisoners are identified by name (not in this newscast, at least), but Jane, sitting in her empty house (which you will now have plausibly explained), knows beyond a shadow of a doubt that one of them was Dick. She knows because she has finally identified that ping of unease she felt in the foyer. It was the smell, faint and fading, of Vitalis hair-tonic. Dick’s hair-tonic. Jane sits in her chair, her muscles lax with fright, unable to get up. And as she hears Dick’s footfalls begin to descend the stairs, she thinks: Only Dick would make sure he had hair-tonic, even in jail. She must get up, must run, but she can’t move…

It’s a pretty good story, yes? I think so, but not exactly unique. As I’ve already pointed out, ESTRANGED HUBBY BEATS UP (OR MURDERS) EX WIFE makes the paper every other week, sad but true. What I want you to do in this exercise is change the sexes of the antagonist and protagonist before beginning to work out the situation in your narrative – make the ex-wife the stalker, in other words (perhaps it’s a mental institution she’s escaped instead of the city jail), the husband the victim. Narrate this without plotting – let the situation and that one unexpected inversion carry you along. I predict you will succeed swimmingly… if, that is, you are honest about how your characters speak and behave. Honesty in storytelling makes up for a great many stylistic faults, as the work of wooden-prose writers like Theodore Dreiser and Ayn Rand shows, but lying is the great unrepairable fault. Liars prosper, no question about it, but only in the grand sweep of things, never down in the jungles of actual composition, where you must take your objective one bloody word at a time. If you begin to lie about what you know and feel while you’re down there, everything falls down.

When you finish your exercise, drop me a line at and tell me how it worked for you. I can’t promise to vet every reply, but I can promise to read at least some of your adventures with great interest. I’m curious to know what kind of fossil you dig up, and how much of it you are able to retrieve from the ground intact.


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Ready Player One by Ernest Cline

Wade Watts is like any other teenage kid in this messed up world (there’s mass poverty, pollution, hunger, you name it) until the creator of an online simulation, OASIS, passes away and leaves behind a high stakes treasure hunt. Find the Easter egg in OASIS and you will inherit controlling shares of the company and hundreds of billions of dollars. Suddenly, the online community is wide awake as everyone scrutinizes every detail of the creator’s life (and his obsession with the 80’s) in order to find the 3 keys that unlock 3 gates. But years pass and nobody finds a thing. Wade spends those years wisely, becoming an expert on the life of the creator and submersing himself in all things 80’s. When he’s the first person to get through the first gate, the game is back on. Alliances are formed among gamers and corporate scum use their power and money to try to take control.

I’m a little embarrassed that I was late to this party. I had this ARC sitting on my shelf for years and finally cracked it open because I hit a reading slump. I was immediately consumed by the smart and funny writing. After a Rush reference, I thought, What is it with the 80’s and Rush? since one of my all-time favorite movies, Fanboys, talks about Rush a lot too. Turns out, Cline wrote Fanboys. Explains a lot. Haha! Of course, this inspired some Googling on my side and I found out that Spielberg is directing the movie. I think the press release came out a month before I read the book, so I really can’t get over the coincidence (more of that magic I mentioned earlier). Mind you, this book came out in 2013(?).

On a sad note, Robin Williams read and loved this book and wanted to take part in it. I think he would’ve added so much color to this movie.

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A Matter of Days by Amber Kizer

Nadia and her brother Rabbit survive the BluStar epidemic when their Special Ops uncle injects them with an experimental vaccine. Unfortunately, their mother is not administered the vaccine in time, so they are forced to follow their uncle’s instructions on survival without any parental guidance. Using the skills that their soldier father taught them before he died in Afghanistan, the resourceful youngsters set off from their home in Washington in search of their doomsday prepped grandfather and his top secret abandoned mine in West Virginia. Along the way, they come across some of the 5% (in the entire world) that have survived the plague – grannies with shotguns who aren’t very welcoming, an intimidating homeless boy who is definitely more than meets the eye, and those guys who love living in anarchy during a disaster. In the midst of the chaos, they are offered a few chances to stay put and rebuild civilization with likeminded individuals. A chance to make a new family. Should they embrace the good that they find or press on toward the last of their family who might have not survived?

Kizer throws a few curveballs when it comes to whether the kids should trust an individual or group, but some of the people they encounter are straight out bad news, no doubt. It’s scary enough being a young person during a disaster, but the harsh reality of being a girl is addressed a few times. Because this book is geared toward pre-teens and teens, the author glosses over it a little. While she can be descriptive at times and the dialogue is believable, I wish that she hadn’t skipped some great opportunities for backstory. The book begins when the children’s mother passes away. Kizer mentions in passing the preparations that they’ve made while waiting for her to recover or die, but she writes almost nothing about the months of waiting and hiding in their homes while the outside world falls into chaos. I think she missed a big opportunity by doing this.

Don’t get me wrong, I sometimes love that a book I read is just the one book (I hate waiting for sequels to come out). But not when it feels like there could have been more. And while I know that it’s all the rage in YA right now, I think this book could have been split into at least 2 books, maybe 3. I think that the months of hiding could have easily been 1/3 or 1/2 of the first book. And the first book could have ended with their first encounter with a place to possible call home. The second book would have picked up there and shown them moving on. They have another chance to stay put, which is where the second book could have ended. Or, Kizer could have ended book 2 when they make it to the mine in West Virginia. And then I would have loved to hear more about what happens to them afterward. Boom! Book 3. But this was all we got.

Overall, I really enjoyed this book. It could make a pretty good movie but I don’t think it will be one.

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I’m baaaack

When a friend of mine suggested that I start a blog to review books, I remembered that I had this one. Thank goodness for “Forgot your password?” because otherwise I would have had to start from scratch. Not that I had much on this one to begin with. To be fair, one of my first posts was about my inability to keep a blog going. And while I looked at the piddly amount of posts that I put here a few years ago, I felt a little better when I looked at the dates.

February 2013- My son was only 2 months old when I last left this space. This was a few months before a bout of eczema turned into a bad topical steroid addiction and I was optimistically (perhaps naively) trying to volunteer at a special library so that my librarian experience wouldn’t wither away. As if the steroid horror wasn’t enough (I’m talking bloody bedsheets from the incessant scratching and constant oozing of the face), my little angel became a mobile terror and I hadn’t baby proofed the house yet. And during those months of feeling like I hadn’t gotten the mom routine down, I finally noticed that our savings were dwindling and had to figure how to save money so that I could continue to stay at home with my son.

I guess I had a Becky Bloomwood realization at some point that it was more feasible for me to make more money rather than cut the fat. But the night shift at Walgreens didn’t sound so good when the 2 locations near my houses were held up at gunpoint at night. Needless to say, when I was offered employment at either location, I didn’t call them back. Just as I was getting desperate and going through my email archives in search of freelance job postings, I lucked out and found old emails from the company I work for now.

I’ve been with this company for a year and a half-ish now and it’s had its ups and downs. The pay is definitely an up, but the lack of work that happens sometimes (like now) is definitely a down. And the ultimate downer is the rumor I’ve heard that the organization that we format journals for is eagerly awaiting for our contract to be up so that they can drop us like a hot potato. I try to do good work and be a team player, so I’m hoping that if the rumor is true, at least my company will retain me when (finger crossed!) they’ve acquired a new client.

I’ve signed up for an Amazon Turk account in the meanwhile but I have yet to give it a try. $5 an hour if I really hustle is not that attractive.

I lucked out this week by being accepted to participate in a study group of mothers who give up their mobile devices. I have the potential to make $300 just for writing or video blogging my thoughts and answering some prompts every day. So in terms of weekly pay, I’ve made more this week than I normally do, even though I only worked half as much at my usual gig. I’m currently reading “The Last Dragonslayer” by Jasper Fforde which explains that coincidences, luck, etc. is actually small amounts of magic that normal folks are able to perform or experience. As opposed to sorcerers who can definitely point their finger and cause something to levitate or explode.

So that was some magic. My friend telling me about the blogging gig was a little more magic. Fingers crossed that even more magic will come my way and I will actually be accepted to do the book blog gig. Meanwhile, I plan to share a few of the many books I’ve read recently that made an impact on me.

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