Monday, September 20, 2021

Book Spotlight: Finding Feral (A Spacious Reclaiming of Life) by Andrea Pardue

 

Finding Feral

A Spacious Reclaiming of Life

By Andrea Pardue

Genre: Memoir


Book Description

After the death of my mother, I started to take stock of my life.  I was in midlife and it had been a hard, traumatic road.  This is my story of finding hope and myself in the tiny green of a sprout, the soaring austere of an eagle, color dripping from a paintbrush, and the possibility of a loving Creator.  This is a journey into my willfulness to embrace life at its essence and feel very much on purpose in this world.


"I love the emotion you have when you speak.  You have such a melodious way of communicating.  It is flowing, calming, and infused with warmth." - Amber Murphy


"I love feeling the desire you have to live in immense ways.  You inspire me." - Julianna Ehlert


About the Author 

Andrea Pardue is a simple soul who has meekly braved each step of her life’s joys and hardships. She discovered the expressive arts as therapy in her darkest moment, studied her guts and soul out to find her way to a liberating, feral freedom to participate in life again. This is her first book.  She lives with her husband and three boys in Texas. A piece of her heart remains on Whidbey Island.  She leads small groups in expressive arts and loves to hear the soul stories of others. You can contact her at andreapardue44@gmail.com.


Follow the author:

Website: https://www.strongwhisperer.com

Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/Finding-Feral-Andrea-Pardue/dp/173721590X 

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/finding_feral




Thursday, September 16, 2021

Book Spotlight: Charm Wars by Dan Lutts

Charm Wars

By Dan Lutts

Genre: Young Adult--Fantasy, Dystopian


About the Book


Welcome to Caldon, a land of mages and magic, where the noblesse possess massive political and magical power and destroy anyone who threatens the noblesse way of life—especially the commoners.


Rill Larkin, the son of a commoner blacksmith, has high ambitions. To be a mage, join the exalted ranks of the ruling noblesse, and establish his own noblesse family. Defying both the system and his family, Rill becomes the apprentice of Deuth Estati, a powerful archmage. But appearances deceive. As training progresses, Rill learns of decades-long secrets and manipulations that threaten his dream. And Deuth might not be as benevolent as Rill thought.


Alyse Dejune despises magic, even if she does belong to one of the oldest and most powerful noblesse families in Caldon. The deceits and treacheries of noblesse life and the loveless marriage alliances among the noblesse families disgust her. Her family however has high expectations: that she fulfill her role as a noblesse girl by marrying Troy Estati, an arrogant, selfish noblesse boy she does not love. And Alyse harbors a secret—the potential to become one of the most powerful mages in generations and wield forbidden magic—that, if revealed, could mean her death.


In this deadly game of ever-shifting alliances, where the state wages perpetual war against an ancient enemy, Rill and Alyse are thrown together in a land where magic is failing. And as greedy noblesse families raid surrounding family compounds for powerful charms, Rill and Alyse are left standing at a terrible crossroads.



About the Author 



Dan Lutts, the author of Charm Wars, was brought up in Quincy, Massachusetts, and began addictively reading Batman, Superman, and Wonder Woman comic books at an early age, much to his mother's distress. In junior high school, he switched to reading science fiction novels. While in high school and college, he wrote science fiction short stories.


Dan taught history and archaeology in high school for ten years. After being laid off because of budget cuts, he used his love of writing to retrain and became a software technical editor and writer. He worked for several computer companies, taught technical writing at the college level, and worked as a freelance writer. Now, combining his love of history and writing, he works at a World War II museum doing research and writing.


Dan loves to read and has varied tastes, including Young Adult, historical fiction, mysteries, 18th-century sea epics, and history. He especially enjoys Young Adult fiction and decided to try his hand at it. Charm Wars, Dan’s first novel, is the result.


Dan lives in rural Maine with his wife, Lisa. When he’s not working or writing, Dan can be found reading, making and shooting medieval arrows with his longbow, or playing with his two dogs and two cats—all rescue animals.


Book Links


Goodreads: https://bit.ly/GoodreadsCharmWars


Amazon: https://bit.ly/CharmWarsKindle


https://twitter.com/DanLuttsAuthor 


https://www.facebook.com/DanLuttsAuthor


Excerpt from Charm Wars


Chapter 1

Cougar’s Lair


“If a charm seeker did open this tomb, why did she take the charm from that one Old Mage but not his staff? And why did she leave all the other charms and staffs behind? I wonder—” 


“How fortunate for me she did,” a voice said behind them. “And how unfortunate for you.” 


Rill and Jedd whirled around. 


Just inside the entrance stood a skinny, middle-aged man of medium height. His gray tunic and tan pants were dirty and patched and his boots old and scuffed. Oily, unkempt hair framed his pockmarked face. In his right hand, he held a staff. The light from Rill's and Jedd’s torches danced shadows across his face, making his malevolent grin appear even more evil. 


A blacksmith’s vise clamped Rill’s chest making it hard for him to breathe. A rohan! A backwatcher or protector—either a mage or a bladeswoman or bladesman—who had been expelled by a noblesse matriarch for breaking her oath to serve and protect the matriarch’s family. An outcast from society no other noblesse First or Lesser Family would touch. A woman or man who was lower even than the criminals, dagger women, and prostitutes living in Caldon’s most dangerous neighborhood, The Slums. 


Rill’s gaze fastened on the rohan’s left hand that clutched something beneath his grimy tunic. 


A charm. 


“Actus,” the rohan mage said, his sinister smile showing he’d deliberately spoken the word loud enough for Rill and Jedd to hear. 


Rill eyed the staff, his stomach paining him. The rohan had activated his charm. All he had to do now was point the staff at a target and cast a spell. Rill’s gaze slid to Jedd, who appeared as rigid as a marble statue. 


With exaggerated slowness, the rohan aimed the staff at the gap between Rill and Jedd, then deliberately moved it from one to the other. His lips drew up into a cruel smile, making Rill feel like a mouse being toyed with by a cat. 


Rill choked on a lump of regret. Why didn’t I listen to Jedd and leave the coffins alone? We could of been partway home by now. I could of been a mage. But now I never will be.


Slowly and deliberately, the rohan inhaled a mouthful of air and said, “Luco!” 


Rill’s frightened breath blended with Jedd’s when the crystal burst into life, and white mage light flooded the tomb. 


The rohan laughed as if he’d just watched a first-rate comedy routine as he stepped several paces forward. “Scared of a little light, boys?” 


Rill’s gaze jumped to Jedd. His cousin was glowering at the man, his hands balled into fists. 


The rohan smirked at Jedd. 


Slowly, keeping his eyes on the rohan, Rill moved his hand toward his sword’s brown leather grip. 


The rohan must have had invisible eyes in the side of his head. With a chuckle, he casually pointed the staff at Rill. “Foolish boy. I can kill you before your sword’s half out of its scabbard.” 


Rill let his hand drop to his side. 


“Tsk-tsk,” the rohan said, drawing closer. “Naughty boys charm seeking. That’s a death offense. Unless you’re mages, of course. Are you mages, naughty boys?” 


“You know we ain’t,” Rill said through clenched teeth. 


The rohan stepped forward a few more paces until only a staff’s length separated them. “When I came across your well-fed and groomed horses a while ago, I thought that maybe their owners came from good families. Families with money. So I went looking for you. My goodness, you weren’t hard to find. Not with all that racket you made in here with the cougar. Boys with horses and swords. And purses hanging from their belts.” His gaze riveted itself to Rill. “And with such interesting things inside.” 


Rill’s heart froze into a lump of ice as he forced himself to return the rohan’s stare. He saw me take the charm. 


The rohan flashed them both an evil smile. “So I said to myself, ‘Self, I bet those naughty little boys are carrying some nice shiny gildas in their purses. Or maybe even a goldie.’ You got any?” 


“Why don’t you come closer and find out?” Rill said. He’d tried to sound cocky, but his voice broke halfway through the question. 


The rohan grinned, obviously enjoying himself. He pointed the staff at Rill. “Naughty boy. I hope you don’t melt.” 


Terror ripped through Rill like a barbed arrowhead. 


He had only moments to live. 




 

Monday, September 13, 2021

Book Spotlight: The Seekers’ Garden by Isa Pearl Ritchie

 

The Seekers’ Garden By Isa Pearl Ritchie Genre: Women’s Fiction Book Description If you stand still for long enough, the past catches up with you…

Leaving behind the fragments of her old life, Marcia Reed-Wilton crosses the world to return to her dilapidated childhood home and dig up the weeds of the past.

Next door, Mrs Everglade struggles to maintain her independence in spite of her increasing frailty. Sixteen-year-old Lea escapes into her poetry to cope with depression until meeting Alex, a much more potent distraction.

Meanwhile, Iris leaves her career on a whim to embark on an adventure of an entirely different kind, moving to a sleepy seaside town to write a book.

On the other side of the world in opposite seasons, Zane, vocalist for a popular band is haunted by cryptic dreams that lead him home.

A few twists of fate and a buried secret leave these individuals deeply and unexpectedly connected.

The Seekers' Garden is a lush and captivating exploration of loss, growth and spirituality, revealing the way connections form in unlikely places. About the Author

Isa Pearl Ritchie is a New Zealand writer with a PhD in social science. She writes novels for adults and for young people. Her novel Fishing for Māui was named one of the best books of 2018 in The Listener Magazine and was a finalist in the NZ Booklovers awards2019. She has also written articles for The Spinoff, Pantograph Punch and Organic NZ. Isa lives in Wellington. Website: http://www.isaritchie.com Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/isapearlritchie Twitter: https://twitter.com/isapearlritchie Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/isapearlritchie Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B09B1DV5SG Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/58724256-the-seekers-garden EXCERPT: If you stand still for long enough, the past catches up with you. The phrase came back to Marcia Reed-Wilton as inevitable as the sun rising. She took one final look around her home. Her eyes came to rest on the wall clock, its antiqued second hand obscuring the view of the first as it struck VII. She listened to its grandfather in the hall chime seven times as she assessed the things that were left in the room, relics from the past twenty years of her life: her mahogany furniture and beautiful hand-sculpted pottery in bright turquoise, olive, tamarillo, butternut, all of these familiar, comforting things.

William’s possessions were still scattered deceptively here and there: car magazines on the coffee table, overcoat hung next to the door. She was afraid to touch them. Anyone looking at the scene would assume it was a home in which a man and a woman lived. How wrong they’d be; he hadn’t lived here for months, and she hadn’t felt alive since his death.

She said goodbye to the Impressionist paintings she loved and that he had gently mocked although he had surreptitiously relegated his grandmother's flowery watercolours to the guest room and hung her bolder tastes on the proudest walls in the main living spaces. She focused her attention down at the suitcase at her feet, packed with bare essentials, tools and trinkets small enough to carry halfway around the world. Something stirred in the back of her mind.

Marcia had dyed her long, dark hair with bright red henna, leaving the grey streaks a striking garnet. She brushed it away from her tear-stained face, walked towards the cherry-wood hallway table, pulled open the lowest drawer, and extracted a small wooden box. She opened the lid, revealing beautifully painted cards. She cut the deck and stared for a moment at the picture: a young, vibrant being playing a pipe and walking merrily off a cliff over a ravine, a dog following happily behind. The card was numbered 0, the Fool.

An obviousness dawned on her, painted lavishly over the calm façade she had been wearing these past months. At some point, fear becomes irrelevant. You have no choice but to trust the universe and take the leap: surrender. It was something she had been telling herself for years, but at that moment, it was real. She looked back down at the printed card in her hand. This is the first step in a journey. She spilt the cards out on the floor and selected the twenty-two major arcana. Then she quickly put them in order, back in the box, and into her bag as she heard the horn of her taxi sound outside. She hurried out into the thick London summer night, all sentimentality forgotten.

Marcia clutched her boarding pass tightly as she walked through the terminal. She distracted herself by gazing at the horizon out of the wall-to-wall airport windows where she was confronted by a ghost. Every time she recognised his jacket, his cologne, his hair cut, she was faced with the impossible reality of William’s presence. For the first few months, she had seen him everywhere, as if her mind was reaching out for the familiar, trying to fill the space that he used to occupy, which was now a bottomless pit, a black hole that destroyed and consumed everything around it until she felt it was all she was. The figure stood at the airport window, silhouetted in a posture that was as familiar to her as breathing. Something irrational stirred in the back of her consciousness, hope that was buttery and light, but as he moved, the glitch in her mind vanished, and she was empty again. How long will it take…? She wondered, before all the pieces of me realise he’s gone forever?

She felt her nervousness building as she boarded the plane, flanked by blank-faced flight attendants. As she took her seat, the anxiety was unbearable. What about her herbs? What about the mail? She comforted herself in the knowledge that she had good friends who she could call upon, understanding friends who knew the importance of her leaving even if they could not understand her motive. They thought she was running away from her grief, and indeed, this did feel a bit like running away, but where she was going, she had no friends or comfort, nothing. She was not escaping the past but following her intuition, and, holding tightly to the last shred of sanity she had left, she was going to face her past head-on.





Monday, August 23, 2021

COVER REVEAL: Preying on the Church

 

Preying on the Church

By Kimberley B. Jones

Genre: Fiction

 

About the Book

Preying On The Church, is an inspiring novel about an African American middle-age woman Margie, who is well-known in her community through her job as a Realtor, serving as a representative on the Rockford Town Council, and giving her portion of life at Rockford Baptist Church.

A tragic accident happens that no one could ever believe. After a church shooting, Margie loses faith as her life is shattered into pieces losing someone close to her that causes her to journey through the five stages of grief.

It takes her to the lowest possible point of survival: isolating herself from friends and family, losing faith, drinking alcohol, almost getting arrested, and losing her job to realize she is on a path of destruction.

 

About the Author


Kimberley is a professional early childhood educator and entrepreneur. She was born in the small town of Saint George, South Carolina, on September 12, 1982. Graduated from Woodland High School in 2000, Benedict College in 2004 with B.S., Child & Family Development, and from Ashford University in 2013 with a Masters in Early Childhood Education.

After receiving her education and being a military spouse, she held several jobs as a preschool teacher and a preschool director, but she wanted her education to be used by writing children’s books. She wrote her first book in college for her children’s literature course. She has self-published several children's books on Amazon.

Currently, she is branching off into writing fiction YA, NA, and A novels on issues in society. She loves writing and would not change it for nothing in this world She is now published by Rhetoric Askew. Kimberley is the author of Our Friendship Matters and Preying On The Church.

https://kimberleybjones.com

Monday, August 16, 2021

COVER REVEAL: Finding Feral by Andrea Pardue

Finding Feral

A Spacious Reclaiming of Life

By Andrea Pardue

Genre: Memoir


Finding Feral will be released on August 20, 2021!


Book Description


After the death of my mother, I started to take stock of my life.  I was in midlife and it had been a hard, traumatic road.  This is my story of finding hope and myself in the tiny green of a sprout, the soaring austere of an eagle, color dripping from a paintbrush, and the possibility of a loving Creator.  This is a journey into my willfulness to embrace life at its essence and feel very much on purpose in this world.



"I love the emotion you have when you speak.  You have such a melodious way of communicating.  It is flowing, calming, and infused with warmth." - Amber Murphy


"I love feeling the desire you have to live in immense ways.  You inspire me." - Julianna Ehlert



About the Author



Andrea Pardue is a simple soul who has meekly braved each step of her life’s joys and hardships. She discovered the expressive arts as therapy in her darkest moment, studied her guts and soul out to find her way to a liberating, feral freedom to participate in life again. This is her first book.  She lives with her husband and three boys in Texas. A piece of her heart remains on Whidbey Island.  She leads small groups in expressive arts and loves to hear the soul stories of others. You can contact her at andreapardue44@gmail.com.


Follow the author for updates on her upcoming release:


Website: https://www.strongwhisperer.com

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/finding_feral


Monday, May 31, 2021

Book Spotlight: Darkness Hides by JC Gatlin

 

Darkness Hides

JC Gatlin

Genre: Mystery, Suspense



Twelve months after a violent injury ended her career with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission, Kate Parks discovers a corpse washed ashore in Tampa Bay. Then another. And another. What’s worse: the bodies all seem to have one thing in common: a connection to the tragedy that took her young nephew’s life.

Now, as the Florida west coast braces for an approaching hurricane, Kate launches an off-the book investigation into the mystery. And in a brewing storm of rage, guilt, and childhood secrets, someone watches. Someone stalks. Something hides in the darkness.


About the Author

JC Gatlin is an award-winning author with Millford House Press, the mystery-suspense imprint for Sunbury Press. His 2019 mystery H_NGM_N: Murder is the Word won “Gold – Top Mystery or Crime Fiction of 2019” at the Florida Royal Palm Literary Awards. Prior to that, he wrote three Indie mystery-suspense novels set in Florida, including 21 Dares, which went to Number One on Amazon’s Top Mystery Suspense and Top Young Adult charts. His newest book, Darkness Hides, was published in April 2021. JC lives in Tampa, Florida and is a member of the Florida Writer’s Association and a board member of the Florida Writer’s Foundation.


Amazon: Amazon.com/JC-Gatlin/

Facebook: Facebook.com/AuthorJcGatlin

GoodReads: Goodreads.com/JC_Gatlin

LinkedIn: Linkedin/in/JCGatlin

YouTube: Youtube.com/channel/jcgatlin

Instagram: Instagram.com/JCGatlinAuthor



Excerpt:


Kate found a battery-operated Coleman lantern discarded on the kitchen floor and flipped it on. It lit up the room, and she carried it upstairs, where Elise sat alone in Noah’s bedroom.

“I want to be alone,” Elise said, sitting in the rocker.

Kate didn’t respond, listening to the rain and wind pummel the house. The walls creaked so eerily in the gale-force winds that she wondered if they could collapse around them. Stuffed animals above the bed trembled. Her pet squirrel, Doc, raised up on her shoulder, swishing his bushy tail. The lantern cast a pale glow around the bedroom. With the windows boarded up, any area outside the lantern light was lost in thick, inky blackness. Though she couldn’t see the lightning, she could hear the angry thunder compete with the rain beating the roof.

The bookcase rattled, keeping her on edge. She glanced at Elise, huddled in the rocking chair. Her sister wrapped the afghan tighter over her shoulders and locked her arms around her knees.

The walls trembled with another thunderclap, shaking the bookcase, and knocked the worn copy of Where the Darkness Hides to the floor. Kate jumped at the loud thump. Doc jumped too and leaped to the floor to investigate. She raised the lantern and looked around the room. Many of the stuffed animals had fallen onto the small bed. A model airplane dangled from the ceiling, swaying violently from the turbulence. A toy box sat positioned under the window.

Letting out a breath, she shut her eyes and focused on the rain thumping the roof. It intensified, then quieted. The sound was hypnotic, and she didn’t even hear Doogie enter the bedroom. He shined a flashlight in her direction and paused in the doorway.

“Sebastian made landfall”—his voice rose above another loud boom of thunder—“south of Sarasota.”

Kate couldn’t see him behind the blinding light in his hands, and when he lowered the flashlight, it still took a moment for her eyes to adjust. She sensed him stepping beside her. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw Doc dash across the floor toward him.

“We’ve just got to make it through the night.” He walked over to the rocking chair and put a hand on Elise’s shoulder.

Doc followed, cautiously investigating the cuff of his right pant leg.

“It’s about to get worse,” Kate said.

A corner of Elise’s mouth turned upward, but her smile was without humor. She turned to Doogie. “Why didn’t you sell her to gypsies or leave her in the woods somewhere?”

The wind howled at the window, and a sudden gust ripped the plywood from the casing. The glass shattered. Wind and rain blew into the room.

Elise screamed. The rocker overturned, spilling her to the floor. Kate and Doogie rushed to the bed, flipped the mattress off it, and forced it to the open window. They fought the incoming wind. The force bent the mattress, folded it like a sheet of paper, and pushed them back. Doogie shoved the mattress against the window and held it there. He yelled at Kate to move the bookcase. She got to one side of it and scooted it across the carpet to the front of the mattress.

The mattress shuddered in front of the broken window. The wind squealed and screamed like a dying thing. Kate and Doogie were silent for a couple of minutes, staring at each other.

“It’s not going to hold,” Kate yelled to him over the wind.

“We need to go downstairs.” He pointed toward the bedroom door. “It’s not safe in here.”





Friday, May 7, 2021

Book Spotlight: Rabbit in the Moon By Heather Diamond

Rabbit in the Moon

By Heather Diamond

Genre: Memoir

 

Brief description:

         Blame it on Hawaii’s rainbows, sparkling beaches, fruity cocktails, and sensuous breezes. For Heather Diamond, there for a summer course on China, a sea change began when romance bloomed with Fred, an ethnomusicologist from Hong Kong.

         Returning to her teaching job in Texas, Heather wonders if the whirlwind affair was a moment of madness. She is, after all, forty-five years old, married, a mother and grandmother.

         Rabbit in the Moon  follows Heather and Fred’s relationship as well as Heather’s challenges with multiple mid-life reinventions. When Fred goes on sabbatical, Heather finds herself on the Hong Kong island of Cheung Chau with his large, boisterous family. For an independent, reserved American, adjusting to his extended family isn’t easy.

         Life on Cheung Chau is overwhelming but also wondrous. Heather chronicles family celebrations, ancestor rituals, and a rich cycle of festivals like the Hungry Ghosts Festival, Chinese New Year, and the Bun Festival. Her descriptions of daily life and traditions are exquisite, seamlessly combining the insights of an ethnographer with the fascination of a curious newcomer who gradually transitions to part of the family.

         Moving between Hawaii, Hong Kong, and the continental US, Rabbit in the Moon is an honest, finely crafted meditation on intercultural marriage, the importance of family, and finding the courage to follow your dreams.

 

Author Bio

Heather Diamond is an American writer in Hong Kong. She has a Ph.D. in American Studies from the University of Hawaii and has worked as a bookseller, university lecturer, and museum curator. She is the author of

American Aloha: Cultural Tourism and the Negotiation of Tradition. Her essays have appeared in Memoir Magazine, Sky Island Journal, (Her)oics: Women’s Lived Experiences of the Pandemic, Rappahannock Review, Waterwheel Review, Hong Kong Review, and New South Journal.

 

Links:

Website landing page: https://heatherdiamondwiter.com/rabbit-in-the-moon/

 

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/57164283-rabbit-in-the-moon

 

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/HeatherDiamondWriter

 

Twitter: http://twitter.com/heatheradiamond

 

Barnes & Noble https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/rabbit-in-the-moon-heather-diamond/1139095555;jsessionid=1EBDCB36C00AA0EDBED04F31F2CED634.prodny_store01-atgap15?ean=9781788692342

 

Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/Rabbit-Moon-Heather-Diamond-ebook/dp/B08VNSB71D/ref=tmm_kin_swatch_0?_encoding=UTF8&qid=&sr=

 

Indiebound: https://www.indiebound.org/book/9781788692342

 

Brief Excerpt:

                  Our gourmet eating tour includes visiting a series of tourist centers devoted to Chinese specialty foods. Our stops include a pork floss factory, a tea farm, and an eel farm where I refuse to get out of the bus. I’ll eat eels cooked and on rice, but I have no desire to discover how they’re raised, skinned, and smoked. In the bus, Amah passes around a package of sweet, dried, and shredded pork she bought to share along with all the snacks she purchased as gifts for friends. Americans give chocolates; Chinese give pork floss. I have to admit that it’s good. I gave up eating vegetarian somewhere between the last trip and this one, partly because of my desire to be a good traveler who can fit easily into a new culture and partly because I tired of being told that there was only a little pork or chicken in Chinese dishes “for flavor.” On the last trip, my special vegetarian soup was garnished with a chicken foot, which Fred quickly snatched from my bowl. Being too much trouble is an issue I’m working on.

         Because there are so many of us, meals require two large round tables. I have always had a weak stomach when it comes to cleanliness in restaurants. My father liked to tease me about going to his favorite hamburger joint, Mel’s Diner, where I once found a crispy fly in my French fries. This trip poses challenges that go beyond my issues with Chinese table etiquette.

         In a Teochew restaurant in Shantou, we’re squeezed into a tiny upstairs room that holds only four tables. We’re seated on stools like the ones at Number 10, and I’m sitting near the wall when I spot a good-sized cockroach lazily ascending. Not wanting to make a scene, I nudge Fred and tip my head toward the roach. Fred calls the waitress and points. She pulls the wet towel out of her apron pocket, smacks it against the wall and the roach, and tucks the rag back into her apron. She then calmly goes back to taking orders from the next table. I tamp down my gag reflex just in time to see a winking chicken head arriving on the next platter.

         I have never seen a naked, boiled chicken head, and I do not understand how anyone could think it attractive as a culinary garnish. Yet there it sits, propped up in the middle of its own chopped, steamed, and sauced flesh, one eye closed and its comb flopping left. Fred turns to me with an exaggerated wink, his fingers crooked over his head like the chicken’s comb. Stifling a giggle, I nearly choke on my tea. Mimi sees him and says she heard that if you go out with your boss and the chicken head points to you, you’ll know you’re about to be fired. This strikes me as hilarious, and as Fred plops steamed chicken into my rice bowl, I’m shaking with the effort to contain my laughter.

         Back in our hotel room, I put a shower cap on my head and prance around singing a made-up chicken head song in my beginner Mandarin to the tune of “Fish Heads,” by Dr. Demento: “Ji tou, Ji tou, heng pang ji tou.” We roll on the bed, whooping and wiping our eyes. Humor, it occurs to me, might be my secret weapon for surviving Lau family travel. I already adore this man for making me laugh, for the way he laughs with his entire body — shoulders shaking, head thrown back, snorting and gasping for air. For his playfulness, his silliness, his willingness to be the epicenter of a joke by laughing at his own mistakes and foibles. The first man in my life who makes me laugh out loud and thinks my jokes are as good as his own. Serious people like me are pressure cookers with stuck safety valves. Left to ourselves, we can ferment or implode. Levity lifts the lid, lets out the steam, and connects us to the world.