Tuesday, September 15, 2015

A book review now, what's next?

This was my assignment in my professional writing class last week. Let me know what you think. I love feedback.

Take the Monkeys and Run

Reviewed by Tammy Stathelson

Take the Monkeys and Run – A Barbara Marr Murder Mystery, a 2010 Amazon Kindle Bestseller and semi-finalist in the Amazon 2009 Breakthrough Novel Contest, is the first book by Karen Cantwell in an ongoing series about a small town Virginia housewife who has a penchant for finding trouble or rather trouble finding her.

Barbara Marr, or Barb as she is affectionately called by friends, normally spends her time at PTA meetings, but lately has stumbled onto a mystery that is set to rock her quiet, nothing-ever-happens-here community.  Barb leads the average life of a forty-five year-old mother with three daughters. Her husband, Howard, who recently announced he needed time to think things over and then walked out on his family continues to maintain a presence throughout the story. Barb is often aggravated and intimidated by her overbearing mother who shows up without invitation or announcement. Her closest friends, constant companions, and partners in mystery solving are her neighbors, Peggy and Roz. The only thing out of the ordinary and probably the most interesting thing that has happened in Rustic Woods, Virginia is the monkeys that seem to be multiplying swinging from the trees in Barbara Marr’s front yard.

The book begins by immediately thrusting readers into the action by opening with Barb wandering around in the dark with her faithful cat, Indiana Jones, investigating a loud truck, which has pulled up in the middle of the night at a house next door that has been vacant for 29 years. She is chased back to her warm, safe home by men yelling and a half-animal, half-human type scream. The next day when the monkeys appear she decides maybe the “House of Many Bones”, as she calls it because she believes any house that has stayed vacant that long must have many skeletons hidden inside, needs to be checked out.

Excitement ensues on a larger scale after Barb looks through the basement window of the “House of Many Bones” where she sees a light shining during the loud exchange between men and monkeys to find a lifeless, decomposing head. From that point on, the plot twists and turns magnificently, leaving page turning cliffhangers and questions at the end of each chapter.

This hybrid comedy-mystery is told as a hilariously pure flight of fancy that could only happen in a housewife’s imagination. Cantwell creates a fictitious world that is colorfully furnished in the everyday while taking readers on a romp with outlandish mafia style bad guys – with a conscious no less, movie star handsome hunks, and a delightful entourage of equally clueless and hilarious friends.

Take the Monkeys and Run is loaded with references to movies including, Woody Allen’s Take the Money and Run, old television programs as well as those getting older actors. While these references cause the book to be dated, in the future that could add to its charm. It is very appealing to those getting close to being called middle-aged readers who spend their days in the real world and are looking for a witty and welcome escape.

Karen Cantwell’s Barbara Marr Murder Mystery Series is bound to be a delight for readers who enjoy reading for pleasure and simply for the fun of it!

Take the Monkeys and Run can be purchased at these online retailers:
Amazon – Barnes and Noble – Kobo – iTunes/iBooks – Google Play – Audible Audiobooks

Take the Monkeys and Run
Karen Cantwell
Copyright 2010
Fourth Kindle Edition: 2014

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Creative Non-fiction: Medieval Sword Fighting 101 - Only the ages have been changed to protect the innocent!

Bored with life I enrolled in a Medieval Sword Fighting Class offered by Jacksonville State Community College on Tuesday and Thursday nights for three weeks. I am a 45-year-old housewife and this was not my ordinary activity, but I was in a rut and I needed to break out!

It was late fall and as anybody who has been in the south this time of year knows it is hard for a cold front to penetrate that Mason-Dixon Line and knock the heat out of Alabama before December, but this year was different. Maybe Alabama was bored too because it was stepping out of character just like me. It was cold, bitterly cold in our tender foot minds, when I drove the dark and curvy road to the campus.

The information flyer had said the class met in the gym so I followed signs directing me there, but once inside there were no more signs and that gym was overflowing with people of all shapes and sizes, all younger than me. I had never been in a gym this large before. There were stairs leading to an upper level. What does a gym need with an upstairs? This question would soon be answered.

I asked a young man in a hurry if he knew where the medieval sword fighting class was taking place. He looked confused, but luckily for me another young man overheard and with a big smile said, “Follow me Ma’am!”

Turned out Joey who had found me wandering around was teaching this class for the first time. I could not believe he was the teacher, he looked about 14-years-old. He had a friendly smile and a firm handshake which took me by surprise, not the firmness but the handshake.

He led me upstairs, showed me the locker rooms as we passed by, and into a long, narrow room which turned out to be a batting cage. I had never seen a batting cage in a gym. Joey chatted excitedly during our short tour telling me how happy he was that I had shown up. He told me nobody else was there yet, but he was expecting fifteen others for the class.

Joey, who turned out to be called left-handed Joey because there was another Joey helping teach the class known as right-handed Joey, introduced me to Star who looked like the original Goth Girl. She had on tight black pants, a blousy, black top, and black boots that came up to her knees. She had a black star drawn around her right eye which I was never sure whether it was drawn on with marker or a real tattoo. She was a very pretty, young girl who was there “just because”. It was obvious she liked all the young men teaching the class.

The atmosphere turned to one of a carnival when Left handed Joey held up his hands, calling for attention, and said, “Ladies and Gentlemen”. It would not have surprised me if he had said, “I call your attention to the center ring”, but instead he asked us to please take a seat on the floor.

The same old, gray, smelly mats like the ones we had used for tumbling in high school gym class were where he signaled for us to sit. This scent combined with Star’s perfume and the overall sweaty gym atmosphere turned my stomach or maybe it was the case of nerves that had suddenly come to my attention when I noticed that everyone here was at least twenty years younger than me.

Joey, left or right-handed I can’t remember, told us that we would start by putting on a metal helmet and allowing one of the teachers to hit us in the head with a wooden sword. He said this was absolutely necessary before we could begin fighting.

As I put the helmet on my head it struck me that maybe I should have picked a different activity to get out of my rut. I didn’t have time to think this way for long because as soon as that helmet was in place “Bam!” My head was vibrating like Daffy Duck’s when Bugs Bunny hit him in the head with symbols at the orchestra.

“Good Lord!”

Everyone laughed. They all took their turn and then class ended. Joey thanked us all for coming and encouraged me to come back on Thursday night. I knew why he was singling me out it was because I was the oldest. I went home and struggled for two days about whether or not to go back, but in the end I decided to play this out until the end and so I returned.

I was surprised to find that I was one of only three people to come back. All four of us were the older ones in the class, but I was the oldest. I would have felt bad for Joey, but we had all paid our money up front, so it didn’t matter if the kids couldn’t hang with the older generation, the class went on without them. 

The one and only battle that I fought, I won. I didn’t get hit in the head again. The next time I feel a rut coming on, I think I’ll fight the urge and go bake some cookies.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Somewhere in Valley, Alabama

 This must be an old church house.  Not really sure because there are no markings or signs other than "Historical Society" beside the door on the right.  It's certainly an interesting building, old and weathered as it is. 

The graveyard in the back was equally enthralling as the newest grave I saw was marked 1932 as the date of death.  Doesn't mean there aren't any newer graves only means I didn't see them.
There were so many baby graves, some without any markings at all other than a cover stone, no names or dates.

 We found the Shank family.  They had three baby boys.  None lived longer than a year.  That must have been a hard life.  Interesting thing about these graves is that they all had new markers, but these boys had been dead since the 1870s.  Wonder who put up the new markers?

Little George and Charlie, the third babe was born and died the same day and wasn't named.

Some of the graves were in pretty bad shape like this one on the left.  There was a hole at the foot of this grave.  When I was a little girl I remember being told a story about a grave that was sinking in like this.  I think the story may have been meant to frighten me because the child who was playing in the cemetery was swallowed up in that hole!  I always avoided the broken graves.

Monday, August 4, 2014

I feel a wandering coming on!

I spent a few afternoons here when I was growing up. 
It's a very peaceful place full of precious memories.

Wandering down old and forgotten roads one day, we ran across this one lane bridge.  I didn't even know we still had bridges this narrow.  Of course, we were in the middle of nowhere.  Very few people live down these roads.

Don't think we even met one car that day.  I stopped and backed up to take this picture.  I remember once I passed my turn on an old, lonely road so I simply stopped, backed up and proceeded to turn.  Steve had been reading the Bible.  His head jerked up and he said, "What are you doing?  You can't just back up in the middle of a road!"  I just laughed.  "Shh! Don't tell anybody."

We found this outhouse at a church while wondering.  It came as a great surprise to me.  I have never seen an outhouse anywhere other than at a Primitive Baptist Church.

This is a very interesting picture of a door in the side of a building.  Originally the point from which we took the picture was part of this same building.  This is located next to "Johnny's New York Style Pizza" in West Point, Georgia.  (Okay so we cross the Georgia line sometimes.  Hey, it happens!)

Thursday, July 24, 2014

 The Doll House grave in Lanett, Alabama
This place has always intrigued me.  The grave itself is the bed with all the dolls on it.  I didn't realize this while we were taking pictures of the little house yesterday.  I looked through the window, but somehow it escaped me that the bed was the actual grave.  I was told that this little girl had asked for a dollhouse for Christmas, but she died before Christmas 1933.  Her daddy built this one for her over her grave.  From the plot itself, it seems that little Nadine was an only child.  My guess is that cousins who never even knew her continue to take care of her grave. 

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Haunted Spring Villa!

Haunted Spring Villa!

Spring Villa from the apparitions point of view!  Love this shot from the woods.  It is haunting and so very appropriate considering the stories of Spring Villa.

Penn Yonge was the only private owner of Spring Villa.  As this is such a prime piece of property, it seems strange to me that the Yonge family were the only private owners.  I can imagine (and imagine is what I do best) that this piece of property is haunted by the past.  It is important here to note the date of Mr. William Penn Yonge's death as 1878.  Kind of makes it an impossible story that he was killed by an angry slave as the War between the States had been over for 13 years.  Articles in the Columbus (Georgia) News Paper report that he passed away after an extended illness due to natural causes.  Takes away all the fun of the Legend though.

However, it is easy to believe that the Curse of Spring Villa was probably placed by Creek Indians who ceded the land in 1832 before heading out on the Trail of Tears.  Surrounding lands at Spring Villa were a burial ground and the natural spring was considered a place of health and healing.  I can just imagine the hurt and anger the Indians felt about their forced relocation.  I bet there were more than a few curses left for future inhabitants.

Ah, the fabled staircase.  This is where the story gets interesting.  When I was a kid my mother told me about the Legend of Spring Villa and this is how it goes:  Right here on this staircase Mr. Yonge was attacked in the dark and his head was chopped off by an angry slave.  It is said that if you step on the thirteenth step you will get violently ill and possibly faint.

In July 1990 my family held a reunion here and some of us spent the night.  We had fun haunting the house ourselves and running up and down this staircase.  We dared each other to step on the famous thirteenth step.  I don't remember if anyone of us actually stepped there or if we just skipped it every time.  I'm pretty sure I skipped it!

There is an alcove right past the bend in the staircase pictured here.  It is large enough for a man to stand in. I've stood there and I had plenty of room.  This is where the disgruntled slave was said to hide.  Mr. Yonge came in after dark and no one was home.  For some reason, probably because he was said to be like Ebenezer Scrooge stingy, he didn't even waste a candle to light his way up to his bedchamber and therefore it was easier for the slave to jump out and make quick work of chopping off his head with an ax.

As I stated above, Mr. Yonge died of natural causes after an extended illness.  The Yonge's had three sons. One died in infancy and another died one year after the death of his father.  Mary Godwin Yonge and their one remaining son left Opelika shortly thereafter.

From my research, Mr. Yonge was a fortunate man who although he was a 49er and went to California in search of gold, did not return with a fortune but instead an education about minerals.  He established the Chewacla Mining Company and built Spring Villa.  He chose this location for it's abundant natural spring.  It is beautiful to this day even though it has been marred by, believe it or not, mining which devastated the land to the point that there is a sign posted at the beginning of the road to Spring Villa which reads:  WARNING! Unpredictable catastrophic sink holes.  Tourists are routed around this sign and come in from behind Spring Villa.  There is no longer a natural spring and the pool is hauntingly empty as well!

This place sparks my imagination so and every spark hides a mystery that I want solve!

Friday, May 23, 2014

Mount Cheaha

Bald Rock at Mount Cheaha, Alabama.
May 22, 2014
Beautiful day with my children.  We read that "Cheaha" was a Creek Indian word for "high place".  It is the highest point in the State of Alabama.

"Sweet home Alabama where skies are so blue"

Steve brought me to Mount Cheaha in June 1990.  It was really the only "true" date we had.  He didn't have any money because he had been paid with a check and didn't get to the bank before it closed, but being the man that he was he didn't tell me.  I didn't understand why we didn't stop somewhere and eat.  He bought me a bag of chips and a drink at the country store at the entrance to the park.  We rode past the lake and there were people in peddle boats and I said I sure did like riding them.  He said, "I hate them" very seriously so I said, "Okay, I don't want to ride them anyway."  Untrue, I did want to ride them, but if he didn't I wasn't going to push.  It was after we were married that he told me he didn't have any cash that day and was afraid he wouldn't make it home with the little bit of gas he had in his car.  We laughed about it then and every other trip to Cheaha we ever took!