Tuesday, December 15, 2020

Historical Fiction Review: 'River Aria' by Joan Schweighardt

From the pen of talented historical novelist Joan Schweighardt comes another well-crafted, meticulously researched story about family, community, immigration, oppression, the environment, and having to face the consequences of one’s actions.

It’s 1928 and the Great Depression is looming around the corner when two impoverish but talented mixed-raced—Amerindian and European—Brazilian immigrant cousins travel to NYC to find a better life and fulfill their dreams. Estela, a singer of arias and a product of the Teatro Amazonas during the time of the rubber boom, has a beautiful voice and dreams of becoming a famous opera singer; Jojo is a fisherman and a gifted artist. As a start, Estela is offered a seamstress position at the Metropolitan Opera House while Jojo is offered a scholarship at an art school. Will they achieve their dreams against all obstacles? If yes, at what price?

River Aria is the third installment in this author’s series and is focused on the next generation of the family featured in the first book. There is so much I enjoyed about this novel! The worlds of art and music in 1920s NYC come together engrossingly. The multifaceted, original characters—you don’t often read stories about indigenous people from Brazil—and their struggles to find purpose and meaning in a complex, ruthless city that is a character all on its own, kept me riveted. Parentage and identity are big themes with both Estela and Jojo as they struggle with their origins and how it affects their lives. Having read other books by Schweighardt, I’ve become familiar with her literary prose. She always strives for depth, and she pays great attention to detail.

The author visited the rainforest, as well as Manaus, the Amazon, and Rio Negro as part of her research, and considering the authentic feel of the plot and characters, I’m not surprised. In spite of this, however, the writing doesn’t get too heavy-handed, which is sometimes a problem in this type of book. I particularly recommend River Aria to historical fiction fans who have a special interest in the rubber boom that took place in Brazil in the early 1900s and how it affected the fishing villages and the indigenous people living there.

Find out more at www.joanschweighardt.com

Wednesday, December 9, 2020

Christian Nonfiction Book Spotlight: The Color of Together by Milton Brasher-Cunningham


A book written with honesty and empathy about things common to us all…


By Milton Brasher-Cunningham

Title: The Color of Together: Mixed Metaphors of Connectedness
Author: Milton Brasher Cunningham
Publisher: Light Messages Publishing
Pages: 160
Genre: Christian Nonfiction

The Color of Together begins with the primary colors of life–grief, grace, and gratitude–and enlarges the palette to talk about the work of art that is our life together in these days. The idea for the book began with understanding that grief is not something we get over or work through, but something we learn to move around in–something that colors our lives. Grace is the other given. Gratitude is the response to both that offers the possibility of both healing and hope.

“Locating ourselves in the adventure of life requires reliable tools for exploration. Milton Brasher-Cunningham gives us finely-tuned metaphorical gyroscopes to navigate our way with God, others and even ourselves. The Color of Together will help us find our place again and again along the way.”  ~ Rev. Dr. George A. Mason, President, Faith Commons, Dallas, Texas.

“In his beautiful new book, Milton Brasher-Cunningham shares arresting thoughts on grief, grace, and gratitude. He claims that we are all shaped by our sorrows and generously tells his own stories of loss. All the while, he leads us toward hope. The Color of Together is both poetic and instructive, relatable and deeply philosophical. It awakened my heart to read this book; I hope it will do the same for you.” –Jennifer Grant, author of A Little Blue Bottle

Amazon → https://amzn.to/30Urxsj

 Barnes & Noble → https://bit.ly/3jZ8OD6

Chapter 1

Sometime after we moved to Boston, Ginger, my wife, signed me up for a watercolor class at the Boston Center for Adult Education. Our first task was to make a color wheel. We set the three primary colors—red, blue, and yellow—equidistant from each other around a circle we had drawn on the paper, and then began mixing them to show the shades it took to move from one to the other. The purples, greens, and oranges that filled in the circle illustrated the relationships between the primaries, which stood in such contrast to one another on their own. Wherever we started on the wheel, there was a connection, a way to get to the other colors.

Color is more than pigment. It is figment as well. For us to see color requires an act of imagination and an understanding of relationship.

One Christmas after the watercolors, Ginger enrolled me in an iconography class at Andover Newton Theological School. I spent over a year learning the spiritual practice from a wonderful man named Christopher Gosey. Before we ever picked up a brush, we learned the vocabulary connected to what we were doing. We were not going to paint the icons, Chris said, we were going to write them.

As one who has learned to play with words more easily than with paint, the verb choice caught me. Good writing is descriptive and evocative. The challenge is to show, not tell; to reveal. Good writing tells a story, takes us on a journey, connects us to something larger.

The “cartoons”—the outlines of the figures we would write—had been passed down for centuries, much like basic plot structures in literature, or the elements of grammar and style.

The point of our work was to be faithful to those who had gone before and to what they had handed down, rather than to try and be original. Our offering was to trace the lines others had made and then color them with pigments we had mixed not so we could worship the icon, but so we could open a “window to heaven” to create a “thin place” for connection to God.

The phrase thin place entered our vocabulary through the earthy spirituality of Celtic Christianity. It describes the places where the border between what is seen and what is unseen becomes permeable. Liminal. Thin. Translucent. Transcendent.

It is a sacred space of disquietude; a turbulent silence where things are still and vibrant in the same moment.

As I sat in the sun-drenched room of the aging building, listening to recordings of Russian church bells, and learning how to write my brush across the blank parchment-covered block etched with the image of Mary, I came to understand more of what Jesus meant when he said, “Lose your life to find it.”

Our paint was almost translucent, by design. We mixed our colors by adding natural pigments to acrylic medium. In ancient days, the pigments were blended with egg yolks. The practice of iconography is more about prayer than painting; the necessary repetition was meditative and focusing. As we laid down the colors, we moved from heavier shades to lighter ones, choreography that held intentional theological significance. The first strokes of the lighter colors on the deep background didn’t seem to have much effect, yet, over time, and with intentional repetition, the colors took hold. The deeper tones became the background—the foundation—for the illuminating presence.

Without the contrast, the light would have had little significance. The base substances from which the pigments came were earthy and natural. The black was made from ashes. Some of the browns were made of dirt or powdered stone. At every level, the experience rubbed heaven and earth against each other like sticks to start a fire.

The work of icon writing is deliberate. To get a color to show up on the icon meant going over each line twenty to forty times. The spiritual practice was to turn the repetition into ritual—a sort of physical prayer. The move from heavier tones to lighter ones felt counterintuitive until I began to see the colors dawn on the icon. We traced images that had been handed down across centuries, much like we repeat rituals in worship. Everything about it was fraught with a sense of connectedness, a new way of seeing who we were in the context of who had come before and who would follow. The whole enterprise was steeped in metaphor.

In his letter to the Ephesian church, Paul wrote, “We are God’s work of art, created in Christ Jesus for the good works which God has already designated to make up our way of life.”

In a sermon on that verse, Ginger said, “We are dust, which becomes pigment in God’s artwork.” The pigments we used to write icons were made from earthy substances, just as we are.

The Greek word translated as work of art is poiema, which even my spell check knows is the root word of poem. Paul said, “We are God’s work of art.” Not works. Work. Not I. We. Together we become the artwork, handmade pigments illuminated by God’s presence, as it has been from the dawn of creation.

Riding the color metaphor train took me to the field of the philosophy of color, which is as esoteric as it sounds, and perhaps, not a journey everyone wants to make. But I took a trip, nonetheless, as I wondered about grief as a primary color.

Philosophers look at the way humans see color, or whether we actually see color at all. One of the ways of seeing is called color adverbialism, which is to say, we do not see red, as much as we see red-ly. What that means is there is a relationship between the object, the perceiver, and the context—another relational trinity.

The philosopher articulating the theory was not being intentionally metaphorical when she said, “Color vision is as a way of seeing things—flowers, tables, ladybirds—not, in the first instance, a way of seeing the colors.” What I heard her say was the colors we see have to be connected to something or someone for them to be significant.

In 2020, our sense of what it means to be together has been heavily shaded by the COVID-19 pandemic. We have lived in quarantine, without the ability to gather, to hug those we love, to share a meal, to go to a baseball game, or to share a pew at church. I have watched people gather on the Guilford Green
in groups of four or five, separating their lawn chairs to an appropriate distance just to be together. As Zoom has begun to feel like a necessary appliance in our lives, we have found ways to change backgrounds so we are surrounded by palm trees and superheroes in our little square on the screen. We are colored by our losses in ways our world has not known so pervasively for over a century.

Life, however, is a litany of losses in any age: failures, injuries, disappointments, betrayals, missed moments, things done and left undone, deaths, falls, illnesses, fears, lowered expectations. Life is also a compendium of blessings, of things for which we can be thankful: families, ball games, good food, starry nights, first kisses and last ones, friends, sunshine, spring rains, puppies, and pie. And life is an abundance of grace, of those things we stumble into, that find us, that surprise us and ambush us with the reminder of a relentless love that will not let us go. All three are true all the time.

Though we often feel them singularly because of our limitations, one is not there without the others. They are the primary colors we see in the context of relationships, with something or someone, in any moment. When we see grief-ly, grateful-ly, and grace-ly, we can see the color of together.

Milton Brasher-Cunningham was born in Texas, grew up in Africa, and has spent the last thirty years in New England and North Carolina. He is an ordained minister in the United Church of Christ, and has worked as a high school English teacher, a professional chef, a trainer for Apple, and is now an editor. He is the author of three books, Keeping the Feast: Metaphors for the MealThis Must Be the Place: Reflections on Home, and his latest, The Color of Together.

He loves the Boston Red Sox, his mini schnauzers, handmade music, and feeding people. He lives in Guilford, Connecticut, with Ginger, his wife, and their three Schnauzers. He writes regularly at donteatalone.com.

Thursday, December 3, 2020

Q&A on Book Covers with Elysia Strife Author of The Kiss That Saved Christmas #TheKissThatSavedChristmas #bookcovers @elysialstrife

An optimist and opportunist, Strife is a self-made author, cover designer, and editor. Best known as Elysia Strife, who writes primarily sweet holiday romance, she most loves writing dystopian science fiction fantasy novels under the pseudonym variation E. L. Strife. She is an upcoming author of young adult fantasy as Elysia Lumen and looks forward to diving deeper into the world of magic.

Strife has toured castles, haunted houses, frozen caves, lava tubes, and concentration camps. She’s a hopeless empath who needs the quiescence of hiking in the Cascades, camping, and snowboarding to recharge. She also enjoys reading on rainy and snowy mornings with a fire going, even if it’s just the fake one in her RV. She craves learning new things, like how to work on her 1981 Corvette, her jeep, and the four-wheeler that just won’t budge.

Strife lives with an amazing man who can build anything he puts his mind to and a rescued dog that steals socks and chases the vacuum. Together, they travel the country—from the golden plains of North Dakota to the warm ocean of the southern Texas coast and back to the green valleys and vineyards of Oregon. Anywhere is home as long as they’re together.

If you’d like to know when Strife’s next books will be out, and to ensure you hear about her giveaways, visit her website: elstrife.com and subscribe via the links on her homepage.



Website: http://www.elstrife.com

Twitter: https://twitter.com/ElysiaLStrife

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



Tell us about your book! What is it about and what inspired you to write it?

The Kiss that Saved Christmas is about a young widow who’s struggling to hang on to the home her husband built for them by using it as a venue. The trouble is, she trusted the last few assistants too easily, and she can’t get enough business to pay for the timber home much longer.

Claire, the venue host and owner, in desperate need of help to save the last standing memory of her husband, reluctantly hires a man to perform maintenance and assist with events.

Zach is more than she expects.

Zach Carver does everything from clearing snow from roads, sawing down trees, caring for cattle, fixing engines, to running from a less than perfect past. He’s out of work and willing to do anything for a second chance. Claire gives him what he needs, but she doesn’t realize how much she, herself, needs him.

I wrote this book after encountering several people with stories of hiding pain because they feared judgment and loss of what mattered most to them. I was moved by what they had endured and felt compelled to write The Kiss that Saved Christmas.

Tell us about your publishing process. What was it like? Did you go indie or the traditional way?

I’m an indie author all the way! I do everything from outlining and writing to editing, proofreading, cover design, and formatting. The only thing I can’t do myself is critique it. I had some wonderful help from Katrina Ariel and Nina Castle. Getting fellow authors’ feedback is critical. I am so grateful for their help! 

How did you choose the title for your book? Did it come to you right away, before you started writing it, or did it come later?

This is actually a funny story. At least, I think it is. I always have some concept of what the title will include but never really refine it until I’ve got the major developmental edits done, because then I know how it will end… for certain.

I presented an idea to my husband, who’s also a creative type, and he said, “Mmm, how about The Kiss that Saved Christmas? That sounds more like a Hallmark movie.”

I laughed, because it was totally true. I told him I was going to give him credit, to which he argued of course. But credit is due.

Tell us about the cover design process. Did you have a basic idea of what your book cover would be like?

I usually have some concept of my cover early on, before I even fully outline the book. The reason is that the cover to me is a symbol of what’s inside. If there’s a dog on the cover, there better darn well be a dog in the story! Maybe that’s just me. But I believe it’s important to have accurate packaging for products, so I usually have a cover “rough” that’s used in early promotion, then refine it as the book gets closer to publication until I find the sweet spot in layout, color scheme, text, etc.

Who is your cover designer and how did you find him/her?

I do all my own covers as I have a degree in Interior Design. It might be in housing and not graphic design, but we spent a fair amount of time learning graphics programs, presentation, and art theory. Are my covers awesome? I can’t say. But I’m happy with them and feel they accurately represent the content of my books. And that’s crucial to me.

How was your experience working with the designer?

She’s a bit of a stickler for symmetry, which sometimes doesn’t feel necessary. I occasionally wish she’d take an abstract route, come up with something new and off the wall. But she’s stuck in her ways.

At least it always smells like Christmas in her house! That makes our design sessions much more enjoyable! :-D

What has been the readers’ response to your cover?

I’ve had a few comments on the cover for The Kiss that Saved Christmas, and all have been pleasant. (To my relief!)

What tips would you give to authors who are looking for a cover designer?

(I say this from a designer’s end…) Definitely find someone who is willing to offer you several designs to choose from if you can. It’s important that they’re comfortable with changing certain details like hair color, scene setting, font type to fit your story and genre. If you’ve got a blazing red head on your cover but there isn’t one in the book some readers might get annoyed. (This is the first thing my husband does when I ask him to take a look at a cover. “Is this in there? Is that?”) Don’t just have your friend do your book cover unless their well-practiced art fits your genre.

Check out their portfolios and select a few images that are close to what you envision for your book. If you’ve got a mood board or a collage of pictures, sometimes that can help them too. Good communication is everything. And give them plenty of time to get the work done. You can’t push an artist because you have a deadline.

Also, don’t pay 100% upfront unless they’re really well-known artists. Paying half ahead and half at the end is more common.

Anything else you’d like to say about your book?

There is always more to the story that we can readily see. We never truly know how much anyone is burdened unless we get to know them. This is the journey Claire and Zach take together, discovering each other’s strengths and weaknesses as they find one another.

I hope this book inspires just one person to be more understanding and accepting of others, to show love where there isn’t any. We never know what wonderful things would sparkle in the dark until we shed light on them.

I pray everyone finds a bit of Claire’s hope and Zach’s unwavering love in their lives this holiday season. My best wishes to you.

Thank you for having me.



Book Info:

Claire’s husband passed away two years ago this Christmas, leaving her alone and in charge of a beautiful and overwhelming cabin venue in the Montana mountains. She’s low on cash, the truck won’t start, and fewer people are calling in event requests.

Every past assistant has been problematic and disappointing. With one final wedding scheduled for the year, Claire is desperate to make a good impression and needs the property in top shape. Only one candidate remains: Zach.

Zach is prior service, down on his luck, and shamed by the town for the actions of his youth. Even after a decade of service, he can’t escape the gossip.
Claire has no option but to entrust him with the future of Briar Ridge—her future. She just wished he didn’t have to remind her so much of her late husband. Yet Zach is different, bringing with his burdens an unexpectedly sweet side.
Zach is full of surprises.

She doesn’t want to fall for him.

He can’t help but fall for her.

A sweet holiday romance with a few curses and some violence.


“A beautiful, gentle story with believable characters that have heart, feelings & Christian values.” – Danica McMahon (Goodreads Review) 5 Stars



Monday, November 30, 2020

Book Blast! HELLALYLE AND HILDEBRAND by Tagai Tarutin

Tagai Tarutin
Silverwood Books
Medieval Romance

Hellalyle and Hildebrand, were drawn into a relationship engineered by those same unseen forces who had selected her bodyguard; their purpose, to thwart the devil, incarnate in Prinz Paulus, in its attempts to kill the princess.

A downs-syndrome girl of mysterious origins, named Ethla, emerges out of the wildwood. She is taken care of by Princess Hellalyle. and plays a crucial part in the narrative.

The king, while away, learns of the developing relationship between his daughter and the leader of her bodyguard, and feels betrayed by the English knight, and so dispatches his champions – his seven sons, and Paulus – to arrest, and execute Hildebrand, and confine Hellalyle until the king`s return.

The eleven, remaining protectors of the princess, leave the kingdom, believing their contract has been nullified by Thorstiens edict, leaving Hildebrand alone to face Hellalyle`s brothers and step-brother. The Englishman takes the fight to his adversaries, and slaughters all the unfortunate siblings of the princess, except Paulus, who after surrendering to Hildebrand, turns about and treacherously kills him, and then brutally, incarcerates his step-sister.

As these occurrences were unfolding, in another part of the continent, one of her bodyguards, the Teutonic knight, Karl von Altenburg, now living in a monastic order, experiences a vision, informing him of Hellalyle`s plight, and sets out to for Castle Preben.

Meanwhile, in her prison, Hellalyle gives birth to Hildebrand`s son, now sole heir, whom she names Hagen. On a fateful day, Ethla, at the princess’s urging, flees into the wilderness, taking to safety, the infant crown prince, to save him from Prinz Paulus, who, feeling outwitted mortally wounds the princess in revenge.

“A beautiful love story of a medieval knight and a noble princess written by Tagai Tarutin. The book allows us to go back in history and hear more about the exploits of the legendary Hildebrand and his beloved Hellalyle. The book is full of picturesque scenes of the events in Medieval Europe and it gives us the opportunity to immerse in the spirit of those times. It will be a good read for those interested in history, literature and romance…” – Alexandra Suyazova, Teaching Fellow of English, Saint Petersburg, Russia

“A fabulous story that could be easily transformed into a screen version, about a truly romantic relationship beyond any prejudice, driven by pure intentions at the times when the chivalry and nobleness made the difference in survival of a human life.” – Anatoly Leonidovich Rasputin, graduate in English from the University of Linguistics, Nizhny Novgorod, Russia.

Amazon → https://amzn.to/3mcbyi3

B&N → https://bit.ly/2TgAJnj


In the great hall, Hellalyle, on hearing the news that her brothers were coming to arrest Hildebrand, pleaded with him to leave. “Hildebrand, you must leave – my father has dispatched my brothers to seize you. Our relationship has set in motion a fait accompli, and now your life is in great danger.”

However, Hildebrand, staring into the fire, was in no mood to listen to her pleading, saying, “Whatever the other knights decide to do, I cannot in all consciousness allow myself to abandon you to an uncertain fate, as I feel responsible for this dire situation.”

Hellalyle, in desperation, pleaded, “Will you, please, be sensible! You cannot defeat eight armed men! Remember, these are my brothers, and at the end of the fight you will lie dead, and so will most of my brethren, and for what end? My family destroyed, and

Prince Hildebrand ignominiously buried in a foreign field, which will be a tragedy for the English nation, and it will not end there, as I feel further calamity awaits those remaining at this fortress.”

“Fate must run its course!” exclaimed the defiant knight, raising his voice. “If you think I will deliver you into the hands of Paulus, you gravely underestimate me. No greater evil walks the land, and he will surely die on the blade of my sword! As for my remains lying beneath the woodland floor, that holds no fear for me, as you have introduced this knight to the beauty of nature, and honour awaits if wild creatures should walk across my grave!”

The soldier’s expose of his inner self prompted Hellalyle to gently grasp his forearm, in a gesture of empathy to his plight, with a pained expression etched on her face. The other bodyguards met to decide on what action to take considering the king’s command, knowing that they must not obstruct. All – save one – agreed that they should depart, convinced their contract with the monarch was severed by these unfortunate events. Von Altenburg, at first, declined to abandon his friend. He was fearful for the safety of the princess, but he eventually conceded, opting to join his comrades in arms.

News of their impending departure reached Hellalyle, who decided to visit them. In a fractured voice, she addressed the company.

“Honoured knights, whom I might almost regard as my brothers and such gallant men, warriors of the Christian church…my heart is about to break. I stand here now imploring you to persuade Hildebrand to leave at once with his fraternal fighters, for if he were to stay, I fear that some tragedy may befall him and my family.”

Her impassioned speech prompted the knight von Streitz to say, “He appears to be deaf to our pleading, Your Highness! What more can we do to sway him?”

Hellalyle, almost in despair, raised her hands to her face and burst into tears. All eleven knights, embarrassed, kept their eyes fixed on the ground before stealing past her prostrate figure, anxious to avoid an uncomfortable situation.

As they rode from the castle, von Altenburg lingered to pay one last visit to Hellalyle and Hildebrand. Entering a chamber, he observed them by the window, Hildebrand pacing up and down, stabbing the floor with his sword, in apparent frustration, the princess standing in sombre contemplation of the densely wooded prospect below. They were all alone as she had sent her staff to the safety of the kitchens. As they turned to face him, von Altenburg became struck by their dramatically altered demeanour. The once-resolute Prince of England now despondent and downcast; and Hellalyle, her face once so radiant now shut down, her eyes that brightly sparkled now eclipsed. She appeared almost lifeless.


‘Hellalyle and Hildebrand’ is Tagai Tarutin’s first completed novel.

There are two others of a completely different genre, that lie unfinished, awaiting inspiration.

He has worked most of his life in sales but has always had an interest in Arts and Humanities. Things that are beautiful and appealing play an essential part in his imagination.

Besides travelling in West Europe, he has journeyed to the far South Atlantic, and European Russia, anxious to see parts of the world that are for many mystical destinations on a historical map.

You can visit his website at www.hellalyleandhildebrand.com.


Thursday, November 26, 2020

Book Cover Review: Last Girls Alive

 I don't know why I never thought about doing this before, but eeks I'm about to enter the world of book covers critique. Let me point out that I don't think there are book cover critique experts out there; everyone sees things differently, but I thought I would give it a go with this first one - LAST GIRLS ALIVE by Jennifer Chase.

Oh...drool! For one thing, I love turquoise. It has to be my absolutely favorite color, but let me tell you why I love this cover. The leaf stem over top the book title yet not covering it up. I don't know why more book cover designers don't use this technique; maybe they do but it really adds dimension. The locket I'm figuring it has to have symbolism. Oh crimey I bet it has to do with the last girls alive wherever that might be? 

Let me tell you, too - the author Jennifer Chase is no stranger to writing thrillers and mystery novels. Last Girls Alive is the fourth book in the Detective Katie Scott series. The other three in the series include Little Girls Sleeping, Her Last Whisper and Flowers On Her Grave.

She also has another series - The Emily Stone series which include Compulsion, Dead Game, Dark Mind, Dead Burn, Dark Pursuit and Dead Cold.

But, wait there's more. Silent Partner and Body of the Crime. And more which you can check out on Jennifer Chase's Amazon Page. Very prolific author. 

This cover is definitely a 5 out of 5 stars. 

Monday, November 23, 2020

Self-Help Book Spotlight: The Alcohol Con: How To Outsmart It by Michaela Weaver


In this ground-breaking book, The Alcohol Con is exposed, and unraveled with insight and humour...


By Michaela Weaver

Author: Michaela Weaver
Publisher: Parker Press Publishing
Pages: 148
Genre: Self-Help

Is drinking having a negative effect on your life? You are not alone!

Millions of strong-minded, capable people find themselves falling victim to the biggest con trick of our time – alcohol!

It lures us with false promises of fun and social acceptability. Instead we find ourselves caught in a cycle of drinking, hangovers, morning regret, and guilt.

Despite being successful in other areas of life, it seems difficult to change our drinking habits. In the face of alcohol it’s easy blame ourselves, and believe we are unable to exercise self-control.

In this ground-breaking book, The Alcohol Con is exposed, and unraveled with insight and humour. Drawing on her own experience, and with a background in science and professional coaching, Michaela Weaver paves the way for you to outsmart the alcohol con, break free and move forward to a bright new sober future.

Amazon → https://amzn.to/3f16YRG



Thirty years after joining the merry-go-round of drinking alcohol, my thumping head, nauseous stomach, and I, finally saw it for what it was: the biggest con trick on the planet. At that point I metaphorically got off the ride, left the fairground, and walked off into a beautiful sunny day. I’m still walking around in that beautiful sunny world, where it’s calm and peaceful, and the war of wants, and shouldn’t haves, and hungover regrets has stopped raging in my head.

I don’t head for the fridge as soon as I get home from work anymore, and don’t curse when I find only a half a bottle left there from the night before. I don’t worry about going out with friends and needing to remember to stop drinking after four drinks, only to have four drinks and forget to remember. I don’t ever wake up at 3am with a dry throat, and racing heart with a feeling of dread as I try to remember what I said and did the night before. I don’t have to deal with my guilt, or feeling stupid because I decided not to have a drink last night, but come wine o’clock my body went into autopilot as my brain decided to change its mind, and I did the very thing I promised myself that I wouldn’t do.

I don’t do any of that any more because I outsmarted the con artist that had held my confidence and trust for all those years. I outsmarted alcohol, and you can too. Alcohol has no control over me, as I now realise it once did. I am in complete control of every drop of alcohol that passes my lips. I consume exactly the amount of alcohol that I want to drink, which is exactly none. 

You can get smart about alcohol, and you can get control over it. But before you can outsmart anything, you need to understand it. In the game of psychological warfare, knowledge is ammunition, and knowledge is power.

But wait a minute.

Surely, if there’s a problem with alcohol, then it’s the people who drink too much of it that have a problem. After all, isn’t the term ‘alcohol abuse’ aimed at the uncontrolled drinker and not the drink itself. 

We all know that it’s alcoholics on park benches drinking meths from bottles in paper bags who have a problem. We know it’s them who need to go to weekly AA meetings and sit in a circle proclaiming their acquiescence to a lifelong disease and affliction that they battle in misery to control because they were born with some dodgy genes. 

We know that we’re different and our kind of drinking belongs in a different world. Ours is a world of grown-up laughs, sophisticated choices, and wine o’clock normality.

We’ve all grown up knowing that drinking alcohol is the golden ticket to adulthood and more alluring than a first kiss. We spent the early years of drinking, proving we could drink like fishes, building up tolerance, and working hard for the badge of being a proper grown up alcohol drinker. 

We learned that drinking is the multi-tasking doer of all things: it relaxes, relieves boredom, gives a whoop of joy, helps get over an argument, deals with our stress, fills our hours, brings us our friends, make social occasions fabulous, helps us throw off our clothes in the bedroom, makes us happy, makes us interesting, and the life and soul of the party.

We know all these things. Or we think we do. So why on earth would we need to outsmart it, when it does so much for us, our family, our friends, and everyone we know?

Because if it really did all those things, and there were no consequences, then it would be awesome, it really would. The problem is, as we all know, that if anything seems too good to be true, then it usually is. And alcohol is no exception. Yet virtually every drinker genuinely believes in a long list of benefits that alcohol brings them. 

Since birth, we’ve been conditioned by society, media, and the people we know and love, to believe that drinking alcohol is not only normal, but expected. It is the only drug on the planet that you have to justify not taking. Because alcohol is a drug, although the fact is not widely advertised: you don’t see advertisements saying, ‘Drink Sauvignon Blanc this Christmas, it’s a highly addictive and poisonous drug.’

In terms of addictive power, alcohol sits beside heroin, cocaine and nicotine. It is second to heroin in the addictive stakes, scoring 2.2/3 where heroin scores 2.5/3. 

In a UK study by David Nutt of Imperial College London in 2010, alcohol was found to be the most harmful drug on the planet based on 16 criteria relating to harm to the individual and harm to others. In the study, alcohol scored 72/100 compared to the second most dangerous drug, heroin, scoring 55/100, and crack cocaine which scored 54/100. Alcohol is not only harmful to us physically, it harms us psychologically, and it harms our families. Alcohol hurts the people we love.

Alcohol may be harmful, but we all know that in small doses it’s good for us. We’ve been told that it’s good for our heart to have a glass of red wine each day. Sadly, as medical knowledge expands, this is another bubble in the alcohol con to burst. The good stuff in red wine is resveratrol, which you can find in strawberries, grapes and blueberries to name a few sources, and these don’t come with increased risk of cancer to the neck, head, breast, colon, oesophagus or liver. 

A study published in The Lancet in 2018 concluded that the level of alcohol consumption per week that minimises health loss is zero. Put another way, this means that for us mere mortals, the safe amount of alcohol to consume is none. The study used 650 data sources, and over 590 studies in reaching its conclusion. Alcohol consumption has now been linked to 60 acute and chronic diseases, and just one glass of wine per day has been linked to a 15% increased risk of breast cancer.

We may know that something is bad for us, but our minds have an amazing ability to convince us that inconvenient facts which stand in the way of us doing what we want to do don’t apply to us. The mild inconvenience of the negatives pale into insignificance compared to the enormous benefits that we’re convinced that we’re getting. 

And then one day something changes. Some crisis occurs that affects us personally, and we decide that we have to do something different. 

Right now, you probably believe that alcohol is an important part of your life. But you’ll also know that supping those glasses of wine or beer each night, or partying hard at the weekend, is causing a problem. Alcohol may be affecting your health, your work, or your relationship, or maybe all three. 

You may be realising that the hangovers are feeling worse, or that you feel tired all day until a drink in the evening miraculously wakes you up. 

Waking up full of remorse and anxiety, with a thumping head, and a questionable or even nonexistent recollection of last night’s events is far from fun, relaxing or stress-free. In fact, it’s diametrically opposite. And vowing never to do it again only to pour a glass of red wine at dinner isn’t good for long term self-esteem, either, as you find yourself in a constant cycle of internal mental battles, over which reaching for a glass always wins. 

The result is that the real you, the conscious-minded part of you that doesn’t want to drink, fails. Always. And I know, because I always failed too. If I’d had a particularly boozy Saturday night with friends and felt hellish the next day, I’d be proud of myself that I didn’t have a glass of wine that evening. The fact that I was still feeling queasy from the night before didn’t enter my head as being the reason for my evening of abstinence.

When I decided to stop drinking for a while, like on a hungover 1st of January having decided to do a dry month, I’d start off feeling amazingly positive and determined. All my resolve and positive vision of self, drinking green tea every evening, was primed and ready for action. I would spring open the fridge and give the bottle of wine a ‘Ya boo,’ scoff before putting it firmly in the back of the cupboard, with a ‘See you in February,’ smile.

I’d go to the pub and loudly order a diet coke, telling the bar tender that I was doing Dry January. I might as well have stood on the bar, grabbed a microphone, and shouted to the room, ‘Look at me with my diet coke everyone! Look at me controlling alcohol. I’m not drinking Chardonnay or Merlot here today my friends, so I DON’T HAVE AN ALCOHOL PROBLEM.’ Thou doth protest too much.

By around the 20th of January I was usually bored with Dry January and poured myself a large chilled glass of white wine to celebrate my abstinence. A week later and I had my nose back in the fridge at wine o’clock, waking up on Saturday morning with a remorseful hangover.

For someone who is fundamentally a smart person, none of that made me feel very smart. And that’s the problem, drink makes a fool of everyone, even the most successful and well educated of us. 

What you’re about to find out is that the whole package that is wrapped up in the glass in your hand is the result of a very clever and long drawn out confidence trick. It’s a confidence trick that has drawn you in, like it did me, and millions of others, and one that you have completely trusted. 

All con tricks work because the con artist gains your trust, implicitly. You believe in them, who they say they are, and the benefits that you believe they can bring you. 

The psychological brainwashing of addiction happens in the subconscious mind, and this is the part of your mind that says, ‘Oh go on then,’ when your conscious mind is sitting there with its arms crossed and a large banner with the words, ‘I’m not going to drink today’ emblazoned in bold lettering. This explains why we feel stupid when we’ve gone to such lengths, just to cave in five minutes later.

If you knew for a fact that you had been a victim of a con trick that had trapped you, would you want to get out?

Alcohol is the basis of a confidence trick of pandemic proportions, with millions of people across the world being caught out and being caught in the trap. Alcohol is embedded in every crevice of our society and for many it’s a trusted friend. It has won the confidence of people like you and me who genuinely believe (as I used to) that it adds value to their lives, and that life without it would be deficient. Alcohol is also the cause of inordinate suffering and misery for millions of people who find they can’t live with it and can’t live without it.

Alcohol is the con trick that is fooling the world. Intelligent, successful, strong-minded people are amongst the most common group to fall for the con and give their trust to alcohol. It’s only when you try to get out that the rope tightens, and you realise that you’re trapped. With minds yo-yoing between wanting a drink, and trying to stop having one, or just having less, most drinkers mistakenly blame themselves for being weak, and unable to control alcohol. People don’t realise that they are victims of a con.

Unless you’ve read a library of books on addiction, drugs and alcohol lately, then there’s a ton of stuff about alcohol that you are completely unaware of, just like I was. And you’re a bright person. You’re smart. I am too. I’ve got degrees, I’ve written books, run businesses and I’ve raised kids, but I was drawn in by the alcohol con, just like the millions of smart, intelligent, successful people who are still in the trap.

When people try to get out, the con trick keeps them trapped by adding layer upon layer of false confidences and beliefs. 

People think they can’t live without alcohol, and life would be dull. A few years ago, the very idea of going to a party and not being able to drink would make me feel deprived, even before I got there. 

Recently a friend came to stay, and twice before she arrived, I went to my local shops to get some last-minute supplies. Both times I had ‘buy wine’ on my mental list, because my friend is a drinker. Both times I completely forgot the wine. I ended up texting my partner to ask him to pick up some on the way home from work. A few years ago, I would have gone to the shop to pick up some milk and would have come through the door with two bottles of wine, and completely forgotten the milk.

I’m now free, and it feels great.

People talk about ‘giving up’ alcohol as though there’s something to lose, and I appreciate that right now that’s what you believe. It’s the reason that people are so fearful of facing the problems that alcohol is causing. It’s like the abusive partner who beats someone up only to hug them better. We all know that person is manipulative and can’t be trusted. The alcohol con is cleverer though, because whereas an abusive lover may shower someone with tangible gifts and benefits, there are literally no benefits to taking alcohol, and you’ll get smart to that later in the book.

I use the word ‘take’ in relation to alcohol interchangeably with the word ‘drink’, because drinkers drink to take the drug which is alcohol. Heroin is mostly injected, or smoked, and nicotine is smoked, or vaped. I know that you won’t like to think of it that way: taking alcohol, but that is what it is. If it makes you recoil, or feel aggrieved, that’s okay. You’ll find out later that’s just your subconscious mind, and it’s your subconscious mind that is the real victim of the confidence trick.

Alcohol, and everything that it embodies, is the con artist who has lied and continues to lie to you. Alcohol is the Pied Piper of Hamlyn who plays happy music full of promises of joy. And just like the piper it lures the followers, reeling them in, slowly, subtly, until the point when it’s got them, and it’s too late. It’s not too late for you though, and if you are prepared to get smart with alcohol then you’ll be in full control very soon. 

Alcohol traps educated, capable, strong-minded people. The only abuser in the alcohol equation is the alcohol itself. It is not us who abuse alcohol, it is alcohol that abuses us. 

Alcohol is the loan shark who lends you $20, then demands $30 in repayment, who lends you the $30 to then demand a repayment of $40. It is the loan shark who gives with one hand and takes with both, taking you ever further in debt while you try to get back to being where you were before you started. 

It’s time to delve into the confidence and trust that we have put in alcohol and to unravel the greatest confidence trick of our time.

As a TEDx speaker, author, masters qualified coach, science graduate and professional woman, you would think that with all that I’d know better than to find myself addicted to alcohol and stuck in a ‘wine o’clock, weekend binge’ drinking cycle.

But I have since learned how and why we become addicted to alcohol, and how to change that.

I now help women to learn about alcohol, revolutionize their relationships with alcohol and skip, run and jump into a thriving life without alcohol dragging them down.

You’re not weak, incapable or out of control, but maybe like millions of others you were lured in and fell for a highly addictive and insidious drug.