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Daring Tales of a Determined Woman: Picking Travel Companions

Travel Companions 1

Heck, it’s been too long since my last blog! I’m supposed to be doing this more often, not less! But I have a great excuse: traveling. Argentinian Patagonia! (Stay tuned for at least one post about that trip, if not more. There’s a lot to tell!) Anyway! After two weeks of being in the constant company of two fellow teachers, one of whom is not at all compatible and the other being very compatible, I’m compelled to write about the subject of picking people to travel with. This is a transaction that is crucial to the optimal health of a trip, but not nearly as easy as we might think. The person you get along with in other parts of life is not necessarily the person you’re going to get along with halfway around the world. Take my word for it, I’ve learned this lesson one too many times. And I still have not remedied it completely, giving the same wrong co-travelers second and third chances, hoping said individuals have “changed,” or just plain liking them and wishing for the best. Well, following this trip, it’s finally clear to me that if it doesn’t work the first time, it isn’t going to work any other time, either.

I’ve been traveling for almost forty years. Seriously for twenty-five of them. Like crazy for the past fifteen. I lucked out for the first several years of my traveling life, my beloved mom being my one and only partner on the road of life. After she took the big journey to a better place in 2004 I started traveling alone, and though it was tough not having her and being by myself so much, I learned to embrace it, and later, to love it. I still prefer it. But after much trial and error, I can say I have a couple of really good friends that I’m comfy with.

Here are some things to consider when picking who you leave town with.

First of all, what are your objectives when you travel? For a while, I was seeing an increasing amount of travelers going to foreign countries to party. This is not my type of person to go anywhere with. If it’s yours that’s fine, but be sure you have the same goal. There’s nothing worse that trying to enjoy a trip while someone else is drunk and slamming doors when you’re trying to sleep. Or, trying to wake the same person up a few hours after the party is over to catch a flight. Discuss what’s on the agenda before you leave, agree to it, and stick with it to the best of your ability. Traveling can easily invite the unpredictable, but some of that can be avoided by figuring out ahead of time what the purpose of your trip is before you set foot on that aircraft or slam the door of that car.

How about the activity level of the trip? Is your travel mate able to keep up with you, or vice versa? If not, can you make separate plans and carry them out comfortably so that everyone is happy? You don’t want someone rushing you through what you want to do to get to what they want to do, and you don’t want to do the same to someone else. Nor should you be slowing each other down. You’re all putting money into this grand scheme and you want to get what you want out of it. Travel with someone close to the same ability level.

Speaking of money, consider how you think about money and how much you actually have when choosing your running mates. If you’re careful and a budget-minded traveler like I am, dealing with someone who is either a spendthrift or has a lot more money than you can be a downer. You may even be inclined to kick out that credit card just to satisfy the status quo and not appear cheap, only to cry later.

Warning: Don’t leave your hometown with anyone who requires you to be a tour guide. “I’m following you” is what you don’t want to hear. Believe me. It may make you feel good that someone trusts your judgement, but it usually means that your “follower” just can’t bear the thought of researching and carrying out plans of their own. Find followers on social media, not on a trip to some faraway land.

Trust is important in any kind of relationship, but becomes even more crucial in a traveling one. Remember, if you’re sharing a room with someone, they’re going to know about pretty much everything you have in your suitcase, including money, jewelry, and items that may not be valuable, but are special to you in other ways. This is another tough lesson I learned when the wrong roommate made off with a present one of my students bought me fifteen years ago. Gone forever. So is that travel companion!

If you’re having trouble finding the right buddies, I suggest traveling alone. It has its perils like anything else, but has a lot of benefits, too, the biggest one being that you can do what you want to do when you want to do it, and you don’t have to worry about anyone else. Which doesn’t mean that your trip isn’t going to get messed up. It just means that you’ll screw up your trip all by yourself instead of someone doing it for you. Personally, I’d rather have myself to blame for a bad trip than resent someone else for it.

Take my word for it. It’s better that way.

Happy trails!

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Daring Tales of a Determined Woman: The Wonder Years

I do a lot of writing, both fiction and nonfiction. And, I plan to do a lot more writing, both fiction and nonfiction. In fact, I have so many writing plans that I recently had to sit down with myself and figure out how and where I’m going to get all this done! Friends have asked me when I’ll write about my life and my travels. My original plan was to do that in a series of short books, but I decided to continue to concentrate on fiction, and tell my personal journey in blog form instead. Perhaps those books will eventually come. But for right now, this post is the beginning of my autobiographical adventure.

Whenever I think of where to begin my story, I think of the line from my favorite movie, The Wizard of Oz, when Dorothy is about to hit the Yellow Brick Road, and asks, “Where do I start?” The answer: “It’s best to start at the very beginning!”

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I have to call my first ten years “The Wonder Years,” because it was the only time in my life that I had two parents alive. A wonder to me, indeed!

I was born in Palmer, Massachusetts, on December 14, 1966. Lyndon Baines Johnson was president, the Vietnam War and accompanying protests were heating up, the miniskirt was climbing the thigh, and five older sisters were waiting at home for the latest addition to the family. My mother always told me I was named for the Barbie Doll. (Yes, my real name is Barbara, and I grew up being called Barbie. One of my sisters called me Babette. Hearing the Beach Boys paying homage to Barbara Ann was not a welcome event for me.) When I was less than a year old, I had pneumonia and, by all accounts, almost didn’t make it through. Mom kept that oxygen tent in her closet for a long time, and I still think of how I got a glimpse of it every now and again. It was a real enigma.

My favorite color was green. Whenever my blue eyes would fall on the color my heart did a flip. Old photos from the Wonder Years show a chubby-faced blond in one of several nifty outfits the color of plants and grass. (My apologies…these shots are buried. But I can offer this one, my first grade school picture. Ain’t I a doll?):

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Most of the memories are from holidays, particularly Easter, out in front of the old homestead, with varying family members present, depending on where everyone was at the time. My oldest sister was away at Long Island University, and the third oldest was more than a bit of a wild child, so they weren’t always around for the holidays. I can’t help but think that these pictures are a bit of a miracle, being that we had hardly any money. The fact that we even had a camera and Easter clothes is a testament to the kind of people my parents were. Mom and Dad always “managed” for their six girls, even if they had to sacrifice something they wanted. Sacrifice– what a novel concept. Though I don’t have children of my own, I believe in parents putting the needs of children first, at least up to a certain age. It’s a dying art, but one that was ingrained in me by how I grew up.

Six girls! Whenever I tell strangers about myself I’ll usually hear, “Your poor father!” Wrong. Dad didn’t have any problems with being surrounded by women. As the last daughter, I had a special relationship with him. He was a World War II vet, and dealt with many issues that, at the time, didn’t have names. Now, we would probably call Dad’s struggles PTSD. As a result, the first three daughters born have different memories of Dad than I do. He was much better by the time I came along.

Mom never had the luxury of being a housewife. She worked third shift taking care of disabled individuals to help Dad pay the bills and feed six kids, one of whom was disabled like the people Mom took care of. We were always at the dinner table together, a tight family unit with a lot of love between us, and a strong example to follow in our beloved parents.

Mom and Dad were well into their 40s when I came along. Schoolmates assumed they were my grandparents, and I frequently got teased about them. I was a bullied kid in other ways in school, too, but this particularly hurt. They were my world, and I couldn’t imagine life without them.

At the age of ten, I would have to learn.

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Daring Tales of a Determined Woman: Second Major Book Review

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Five years ago, I made the decision that I’d move toward a career in writing romance. Armed with an idea to craft a series about 1980s rock and roll groupies living and loving in my old stomping ground of Los Angeles, California, I started visualizing and creating the lives of some memorable characters. After writing for a short time, I realized that it wasn’t going to be a romance after all, so I just went where it took me, and figured out that what I really want to write is women’s fiction. The resulting book was Gunning for Groupie Gold, the second book in my Girls of Glam Rock Series. No, that isn’t a misprint. Second book in the series, first one written. Here’s the back cover story:

The Girls of Glam Rock are back, and this time they’re on a mission to help Dandelion do the last thing requested of her by her guitar god daddy before he died: give up her groupie lifestyle for good and settle down for a life of head banging and bliss with a worthy rocker. Dandelion sets her sights on hair metal front man Sammy Gunn, and with her target acquired, the girls prepare to rock ’n roll. But winning Sammy’s heart will take more than just Dandelion’s determination and her friends’ good intentions. First, she must contend with sexy singer Em’rald, the current object of Sammy’s hard-to-earn affection, and then with her own mother—grand dame groupie Tulip—a Mrs. Robinson in the flesh who drags Dandelion into a confusing competition for Sammy’s attention. Between competing with Em’rald and Tulip, and struggling to win Sammy’s heart, Dandelion finds herself caught in a snare of secrets and lies which, when revealed, promise to ruin her chances with Sammy forever. Not even Dandelion’s success as an MTV video vixen is enough to get her man, and she looks for advice from an unlikely source. Dandelion knows she is gunning for groupie gold with Sammy. But is she singing the wrong song? Or, in spite of all the obstacles, is Sammy the rock ’n roller destined to fill Dandelion’s heart and make her daddy proud? If she can just convince Sammy they’re meant to rock on together forever, it will be a love ballad for the ages.

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Recently, the book was reviewed by Chick Lit Cafe:

Gunning For Groupie Gold by Brenda K Stone is a wild tale of rock n roll through the eyes of the sexy and seductive glam girls and set in the eccentric and fierce era of the 1980s. The story starts out with each quirky and off-beat groupie’s side on who they believe has the prerogative, not to mention the accuracy to tell the chaotic and rash events that had occurred. Who was going to take the all-time world champion title of becoming the best damn groupie there ever was?! And that meant, even if it took beating your own daughter to it!

Unpredictable, hilarious and downright deranged, Stone’s characters each held their own uniqueness that really grabbed my attention and pulled me in. I felt like I had traveled back in time to a crazy scene of sex, drugs and rock n roll with big hair and tight neon clothing. The thrill of being on a stage in front of a crowd, the glimmer and glitz of a life of fame and fortune was felt throughout Gunning For Groupie Gold and each turn of the page. I could hear the fans cheering and screaming in my head. Stone’s perfect descriptions of a fierce mass of heavy metal worshippers, and the legendary tales that came along with it, were highly entertaining.

A fun, drama filled story packed with attitude and charisma, Gunning For Groupie Gold had me holding on to every maniacal scene with its energized and sporadic characters. They are fully developed with unique relatable personalities. This is one of the best books I have read this year. I would definitely recommend this head banging, crazed band life tale of being a groupie and not just any groupie, but the best groupie there ever was and living through it all to tell it.

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Relive the hair metal 80s in my Girls of Glam Rock Series, available in print and digital formats on my BOOKS page.

 

 

Daring Tales of a Determined Woman: Haters

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Haters. We all have them. But the word takes on a totally different meaning when you start getting what you want out of life.

I grew up with five older sisters, so it was only natural I’d hear a lot of critiquing. After all, they didn’t want me to make the same mistakes they did. I look back on some of the things my siblings said to me, and think that their bits of wisdom, however insulting they could be, were quite innocent compared to the pearls of nastiness I’ve encountered from others since then.

I blogged about the meaning of happiness not so long ago. Today, I’m going to connect haters with the pursuit of personal happiness, an endeavor that not everyone wins at. When many of those individuals see someone else conquering the same game they’re failing at, the fangs come out.  After much thought and many observations, I’m convinced that this is not my imagination. Because there’s a glaring line between the people who hate on me and the people who think I’m great. On one side of the line are those that either have not found happiness or don’t know where to look for it, and on the other side are those who’ve achieved a level of satisfaction in life. Is this true one hundred percent of the time? No. I know plenty of unhappy people who can still treat others kindly. And I’ve been kicked in the shins by happy people who can’t allow anyone else to be happy. But the the more humans I meet, and the more I see the quality of lives they have, and compare how they treat me based on that quality, the more I’m convinced that I’m onto something big here.

Make no mistake–I don’t expect everyone to like me. And when they don’t, I’m not exactly losing sleep over it. Nor do I like everyone. Hardly! But I’ll say this: in order for me to strongly dislike someone, they have to do some pretty bad crap to me. And even then, I tend to stick with the belief that everyone deserves to be happy. Though it can be pretty tough. Does that make me a doormat? Absolutely not. No one who knows me well would say that I am. And I’m also not one of those people who believes that everyone is born good. I’m in the middle of the road on that one, and feel that a person can go either way, based on his or her experiences in life. Those points out of the way, haters are motivators for me, too, but I can’t help but wonder why someone would dislike another person for being content.

Plenty of individuals have what I want. I’d love to sell as many books as James Patterson. I’d love to travel the world and make money at it like some of the successful bloggers I follow on Instagram. I’d love to have a solid relationship in my life like a (very) few (lucky) couples I know. But instead of hating on them for having something I don’t have, I use them as inspiration instead. They give me something to work toward.

Haters rain on the parades of people who try to find a bit of sun in everything.

Less than a year ago I extended the olive branch to someone I was having a ridiculous battle with, who was going through something that no one should have to go through. It was time. I sucked it up. It felt good, and I thought we were cool. But I recently found out that he has resorted to the same nonsense behind my back that got us into the original conflict. Clearly, he didn’t learn much from his personal tragedy. The situation leaves me flailing. Love your enemies…or not? For me, the verdict is still out on that one.

As a general rule, here are a few reasons you should not hate on someone, a few of which I have already mentioned: because they have what you want. Because they’re happier than you are. Because they can do things you can’t or wouldn’t do. Because they have a different skin color or are of a different gender. Because they don’t agree with everything you do and/or say. Because you can’t manipulate them.  Because you feel crappy about yourself and have to take it out on someone who has healthy self-esteem. Because you have an intense need to bring someone down. Because you have nothing better to do in life but worry about what others are doing. Because you think that happiness can be bought.

If there’s one trait I see in people who hate, it’s boredom. In this day and age, if you’re bored, I’m sorry, but something is terribly wrong. Boredom leads to bad things. When you have nothing going on in your life, you start nosing into the lives of others who have full and interesting lives. And then, the resentment begins.

I’m always weary of people who spend too much time commenting on every aspect of my life. The way I figure it, if that individual spent as much time picking apart his or her life as they do nit picking mine, maybe they’d find the solution to why they hate on other people?

This about sums it up:

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Nobody hates you when your life sucks. Take my word for it. I’ve been on both sides of the equation. The view from the happy side is lined with haters. The happier you are, the more they appear. But having an existence that you’ve worked hard for and that you’re proud of will always be the better alternative. Chin up!

Daring Tales of a Determined Woman: Winter Road Trip

First of all, Happy New Year!

Don’t you love it? All the “newness” in the air, resolutions already forgotten, the days getting a little bit longer, opportunity for change. On the other hand, some things will never change, like me and my love for road trips!

When traveling in the United States, it isn’t all that often that I visit places I’ve never been to. But the southeastern corner of Arizona is one of those places. Or, more accurately, was. Think Tombstone and Bisbee, Chiricahua National Monument, and both sides of Saguaro National Park. I’ll confess to driving through at least one of the Saguaros long ago, but this time I got some pretty fantastic hiking in. In my quest to trek in all sixty of the National Parks in America, (probably more by the time I complete them all!) Saguaro was number twenty-eight. Closing in on halfway. Woot!

While many gather ’round the Christmas tree in familiar surroundings, I’m usually at least a couple thousand miles from home, more if possible, and if I can be in a foreign country, even better. For me, the name of the game is ESCAPE CHRISTMAS, and southern Arizona worked beautifully.

I wasn’t sure how good it would be to go to Tombstone when everything was closed for the holiday, but it turned out to be quite magical, when the fact that the town is a money pit and tourist trap is taken into consideration. Being there with just a few other souls wandering the empty, dusty streets with no particular place to go and all the time in the world to get there, gave me the sense that I was experiencing the desert hamlet as it used to be on a quiet day in its heyday.

Tombstone

The Boot Hill Graveyard, the OK Corral, Tombstone Courthouse, and Wyatt Earp House were all locked up tight– and all require a fee to get in. No fake gunfights were echoing through the air on Christmas. Instead, I could hear the wind blow, like the moaning of ghosts of old Tombstone. I donned my Santa hat and took me-style snapshots in the harsh Arizona sun, the stiff breeze threatening to pull the red felt cap off my head, and requiring a light jacket. No, this is not one-season Arizona territory, but I still ended up with a sunburn on my nose worthy of Rudolph.

While Tombstone is flat, Bisbee, about twenty-five miles down SR 80, is one of those attractive, artist-infested hill towns, like Jerome and Chloride to the north, that Arizona is so talented at creating. Another near-deserted venue, Bisbee reeked slightly of snobbery.

Bisbee

It’s still worth a walk around to see some interesting graffiti and restored buildings, but tread carefully: the roads and the sidewalks seem to be one in some places, or at least it’s not entirely clear which is which. A handful of times I found myself in the middle of streets with motorists approaching, and they weren’t all that pleased to have to stop for me. Bisbee is as hilly as it looks, so if you’re looking for an easy walk this isn’t it. And if you want a good shot of it from above, about the only place to get it is from SR 80 on the way in or out of town.

A mile out of Bisbee is the enormous Queen Mine, also closed on Christmas, though tours are available the rest of the year. The defunct copper mine, closed since 1975, is impressive enough to resemble a miniature Grand Canyon. A viewing area offers an overlook, but is surrounded by a fence. It’s also windy as all get-out, so good luck getting pictures with a cell phone or small camera, or if you have long hair and don’t want it in the shot! SR 80 continues south into Douglas, the last town before the border with Mexico.

That was my first day in southern Arizona.

I planned on hiking at Chiricahua National Monument the next day, but the weather was so cold and windy with occasional piercing raindrops, that I had to rearrange my plan. Staying in the pleasant Quality Inn in Benson, which offers a free hot breakfast, I decided to google “Things to Do in Benson, Arizona,” and came up with the moving idea to visit a local donkey rescue. Forever Home Donkey Rescue is owned and operated by a delightful couple named John and Tish. Located ten miles from Benson proper on a road so far out of the loop that huge, staring cows share the lanes with motorized vehicles, the rescue has twenty-six adorable and friendly donkeys at this writing. John was so kind as to give me a full tour, even providing vittles to hand-feed the cuties. Later, I was invited into John and Tish’s beautiful Sante Fe style home. I left feeling like I was part of the family. Interested in visiting? Call first so they know you’re coming.

Donkey Rescue

I made it to Chiricahua National Monument the following day. I’m not a fan of winter, but ended up hiking in the finest of snowy conditions that can be imagined: fifty degrees, with a a few fresh inches on the ground, sparkling trees dripping with ice melting in the warm sun, startling blue sky, incredible scenery.

Chiricahua

This shot was taken on the Heart of Rocks Loop. I set out to do the Big Loop, but because of a trail closure due to the snow, had to modify my hike. I was hardly disappointed. I had to use the Lower Rhyolite Trail, which would have added three miles to an already 9.5 mile hike, but this trail was so satisfying, I had to let that plan go and just enjoy what was in front of me. Best decision I made the whole trip. Pressure off to finish a twelve miler in the snow on one of the shortest days of the year, I took pictures to my heart’s content. The way I look at it, now I have a reason to go back to this remote and unspoiled park. Gotta hike the whole loop next time! Side note: Chiricahua has no fee, is open 24/7/365, and other than the visitors center (and bathrooms) being closed for the government shutdown, it was business as usual here.

The last big event of my road trip was Saguaro National Park, named for the often immense cactus that dominate the landscapes. This was the one that I had concerns about due to the government shutdown, but the park was open. Like Chiricahua, you had to be creative about finding a bathroom. But any hiker knows how to do that pretty easily.

Saguaro has two units: Saguaro East and West, on either side of Tucson, Arizona. I much preferred the West Unit, though the weather may have had something to do with that. The East Unit is at a higher elevation, and at least for me, the desert vegetation was much denser and more interesting. But the West Unit begins north of the stunning Tucson Mountain Park, and the Hugh Norris Trail is here. Don’t miss this one. It’s not on the list of suggested hikes on the park website, so I almost did. All told, it’s a long trail, but to get from the trail head to the ridge from the short Bajada Loop Drive is only about two and a half miles round trip. If you’re anything like me and seek out the best lunchtime view you can find to make your Facebook friends envious, this one is definitely for you. Miles and miles of cactus, mountains, and sky. Trifecta! Sigh.

Saguaro

A warning: very little parking is available for any of the trails in the park. But if you figured out how to pee, you’ll figure out how to park, too.

From here it was back to Phoenix to fly home.

Really nice way to spend winter vacation from school.

Really nice to be done with Christmas for yet another year.

 

Daring Tales of a Determined Woman: Losing Fur Babies

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It’s been a pretty rough morning for me. I’ve lost another fur baby, one that has been making my days brighter for ten years. Gert, my little black bunny friend, has crossed the Rainbow Bridge to see Goody, her life mate. Imagine the flopping of two lop-eared lovers when they see each other again!

On my most recent trip, (the subject of my next blog,) I noticed how many people travel with animals now. Never have I seen more fur babies in an airport. Something tells me that with the world the way it is these days, and not getting any better, humans have to rely more on living, breathing things that don’t judge them, expect very little, and give so much more than they receive. Sitting here in my empty home without the gentle tap, tap, tap of little feet above my head, reminding me that Gert’s there waiting for me, I can certainly relate. She’s been gone less than twelve hours and I’m already lonely.

Gert first came into my life in 2009, after a particularly cruddy breakup. She was the better choice for me. I already had Goody, her sweetheart, but having them both around was truly double the love. Ahh, the stuff that bunnies can get up to! I’ve read that two rabbits can be very hard to pair. I’ve done it twice without a hitch. Goody had already had one girl love. Gert was her second. As for my relationship gone bad, I’ve hardly thought about him since, and never heard from him again. But Gert stuck with me through thick and thin. As a matter of fact, she waited for me to get home from more and longer trips than any bun I’ve ever owned. Not that she was pleased about that, but she managed to win the heart of her babysitter even while her beautiful heart waited patiently for her traveling mommy to walk through the door again.

I’ve owned buns for a good deal of my life, and all of them have been with me for at least seven years. Only one has outlived Gert. I was really hoping that she would set the record, but I knew she was getting weaker. Nevertheless, she was a fighter. Gert went partially blind after an eye infection about a year ago. One day while I was at work she took a tumble, broke some teeth, and stopped eating and pooping. However, a trip to my amazing vet had her back to health in a few weeks. Gert had a bit of a renaissance after that, getting plump and seeming like a new bunny again, in spite of her nine years. But there’s only so long that an old body can feel new again. In the end, the decision between diminishing quality of life and just not wanting to deal with loss is a tough one. Gert made the choice on her own, stretching out in a comfy box bed I made for her, and was gone within an hour.

I’ve been bawling all morning. Nothing lights up Facebook like the news of the passing of a beloved pet. Been taking comfort in the kindness of people I’ve never met before. The kindness of strangers. This isn’t any easier than losing a human being that you love. The silence is just as deafening. The sense of loss is equally as strong. The knowledge that my whole routine has to change now, again, is debilitating. And the questions, of whether I made this important little fur ball’s life as best at it could be, swirl. I can only pray that the answer is “yes.”

I feel warm and fuzzy about commemorating Gert’s life here. It’s the least I can do for a little black bundle of bunny joy who offered so much and asked for nothing more than fresh carrots and spinach and a good head scratch.

I love you, my little old lady. Under my feet and forever in my heart.

See you on the other side.

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Happy New Year, Happy New Release

Two Sides to Every Story Kindle Cover

Happy New Year!

I had to move it up once due to family commitments. But release day for my sixth book is finally here!

Two Sides to Every Story is my first novella, and the third book in my Women Like Us Series. The series was born out of writing (and selling) short stories about every day women with every day woes. Women like my two main characters:

Meet Carla and Molly.

Carla’s marriage and family are devastated when her husband Bob blindsides her with the demand for a divorce. Molly is the “other woman,” so in love with Bob that she’s ready to take him and his four children in, regardless of the consequences. Carla and Molly are living the same story. Or is it different?

Every story has two sides. And sometimes, those two sides become one, in the most interesting of ways. Just ask Carla and Molly, women with grace under fire and courage when they need it most.

Women like us.

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Two Sides to Every Story, as well as my other five books, is available on the BOOKS page of my website, in both digital and print forms.

Wishing everyone an amazing 2019, and happy reading!