One More Review: Gustus Dei

Gustus Dei by Monica Byrne. Copyright 2015 && 2016.


This short story was published in two literary journals over the past year and is now available as a free download in various formats here. I ran across it on Twitter last night. Since I’m not sure how long it’ll be available, I decided to post this now instead of with next month’s reviews.

The story’s time and location aren’t clear, but because of the lack of modern conveniences and the mention of native Americans, I’m assuming it’s in North America during the 18th or 19th century. A novice nun in a convent grapples with the idea that everything is corrupt and the necessity of being pure at all times. Parts of the story, including the ending, are surreal.

Although my family’s not Catholic, I’ve always been interested in the religion. I was in awe of my friend next door who went to a parochial school and called her teacher Sister. When as a teen-ager, I took an interest in attending a Catholic college in Kansas, miles away from my home in Wyoming, my father said, “Oh, you want to be a nun. Well, if you enter a convent, you’ll have to give up Dr. Pepper.”

I did not want to be a nun, but that didn’t stop me from being interested in them. The turn of events in this story fascinated me, and I wish I knew the significance of the title. I’m assuming it’s Latin but couldn’t find a definition. To learn more about Monica Byrne and her work, click here.


Abbie J. Taylor 010Author Abbie Johnson Taylor

Front Book Cover - We Shall OvercomeWe Shall Overcome

Cover: How to Build a Better Mousetrap by Abbie Johnson TaylorHow to Build a Better Mousetrap: Recollections and Reflections of a Family Caregiver

That’s Life: New and Selected Poems

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January 2016 Book Reviews

Pioneer Girl: The Annotated Autobiography by Laura Ingalls Wilder. Edited by Pamela Smith Hill. Copyright 2014 by Little House Heritage Trust.


This is the basis for the author’s Little House series. She talks about her life from her earliest childhood memories in Kansas in 1869 to her wedding in 1885. She details her family’s many journeys from Kansas to Wisconsin where they previously lived, to Minnesota, to Iowa, then back to Minnesota, and finally to Dakota Territory. She relates many anecdotes and talks about the myriad of characters her family encountered in various locations, many of whom I remember from the Little House series, although some names were changed, and some stories varied.

She also discusses the hardships her family endured including grasshoppers in Minnesota and the blizzard of 1880 in Dakota Territory, the basis for The Long Winter, Wilder’s sixth book in the series. She also explains how her older sister Mary became blind right before the family moved from Minnesota to Dakota Territory. There were other incidents not mentioned in any of the Little House books.

According to Pamela Smith Hill, the editor, the original manuscript was not broken into sections as it is now. Each part details life in each location where the family lived with several sections devoted to their life in Dakota Territory. Scattered throughout the book are footnotes with additional information about a person, place, or thing. There are also strike-throughs and other indications of editing. At the beginning of the book, the editor explains her process, and at the end are appendices and bibliographies of books, magazine articles, and Web sites.

Although I enjoyed reading Laura Ingalls Wilder’s story from her first person point of view, I found the footnotes and editorial insertions distracting. They interrupted the flow of the story and should have been included in a separate appendix. Maybe someday, I’ll write my own autobiography the way Laura Ingalls Wilder did. I’m sure that a hundred years from now, people will be interested in how we live today, just as we are curious about how Laura Ingalls Wilder lived over a century ago.


On the Way Home by Laura Ingalls Wilder. Copyright 1962 by Roger Lee McBride.


This short book contains diary entries the author made in 1894 while she and her husband Almanzo and daughter Rose, who was seven years old at the time, were traveling from Desmet, South Dakota, to Mansfield, Missouri. They started their journey by covered wagon in mid-July and arrived in Mansfield at the end of August. The chapters preceding and following the diary entries are told from Rose’s point of view. She describes life before the family left South Dakota and after they arrived and were settled in Missouri. At the end, there is some biographical information about Laura and Rose.

I found the diary entries bland. They mainly consisted of a run-down of what happened when with little dialog or expression of emotion. How would it feel to leave your mother and father and friends whom you may never see again and move far away to a place where you’ve never been? Of course Laura and her parents and sisters did a lot of traveling, never staying in one place longer than a few years until they settled in Dakota Territory, so she was probably used to it. Still, I would like to have known her thoughts.

Rose’s chapters were more interesting. She doesn’t appear to have been given much credit for her part in the book. I was left wanting to know more.


The State We’re in by Ann Beattie. Copyright 2015.


From the author of Chilly Scenes of Winter, a book I read years ago in college, comes a collection of short stories set in the state of Maine, hence the title. These tales aren’t so much about the state as about the people. Three of them are about a teen-aged girl from Massachusetts sent to live with her uncle and aunt in Maine while her mother recovers from surgery. Other tales are about different people such as two writers who meet for lunch to discuss Truman Capote and a couple from Maine who vacation in Nevada and have an opportunity to watch a movie being made. Some stories have endings that are up in the air while others have more definite conclusions. Click here to learn more about Ann Beattie and her work.

This book gave me an idea for my own short story collection centered on a similar theme. I’ve written several tales that take place in Wyoming, my home state, and others that I can adapt so they appear to take place here. Once I get my memoir put to bed, so to speak, I’ll work on this.


Abbie J. Taylor 010Author Abbie Johnson Taylor

Front Book Cover - We Shall OvercomeWe Shall Overcome

Cover: How to Build a Better Mousetrap by Abbie Johnson TaylorHow to Build a Better Mousetrap: Recollections and Reflections of a Family Caregiver

That’s Life: New and Selected Poems

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Summer (A Poem)

Several years ago, my friend Christine and I were taking a poetry class at the local senior center. One hot afternoon, our instructor asked us to sit outside for about ten minutes and listen to sounds around us, then write a poem about what we heard. Below is what I wrote. Click this link to hear me read it. I hope it warms your heart on a wintry day.




In the heat of the afternoon, saws whine.

Equipment clatters, rattles.

Cars enter the parking lot.

A plane flies overhead.

A tepid breeze kisses the back of my neck,

brings little relief from the relentless sun.

I stare at my reflection in the window, see nothing.

The cool interior beckons.


Christine’s poem inspired by this exercise was recently published in Helen: A Literary Magazine and nominated for a Pushcart prize. Although she didn’t win, it’s still an honor to be nominated. I inspired this poem, and you can read it here.

Now, it’s your turn. Take about ten minutes and listen to sounds around you: the hum of your computer or furnace, a dog barking outside, your neighbor shoveling newly fallen snow from his walk while his car idles in the driveway. Then write about what you hear. It doesn’t have to be a poem. Please feel free to share your results in the comments field.


Abbie J. Taylor 010Author Abbie Johnson Taylor

Front Book Cover - We Shall OvercomeWe Shall Overcome

Cover: How to Build a Better Mousetrap by Abbie Johnson TaylorHow to Build a Better Mousetrap: Recollections and Reflections of a Family Caregiver

That’s Life: New and Selected Poems

Order from Amazon

Hangover: A Source of Inspiration

Now that the holiday season has passed, some people’s thoughts turn to the effects of drinking too much on New Year’s Eve. Did you know that a hangover isn’t necessarily related to consuming a lot of booze? According to, a hangover can also be defined as “any aftermath of or lingering effect from a distressing experience.”

For six years, I cared for my late husband who was totally blind and partially paralyzed by two strokes. People who have never been family caregivers don’t understand the trauma involved in such a role. Bill could do little for himself. I had to dress him, take him to the bathroom, and even help with his computer from time to time. With children, you know they’ll eventually grow up and become independent, but when your spouse is no longer able to do for himself, your family caregiving obligations will only stop when he dies.

It has been three years since Bill’s passing. Because he could do little for himself, I couldn’t be away from home for more than a couple of hours at the most. Even now, on occasion, when I leave the house and am not home in a couple of hours, I become anxious and have to tell myself that Bill is in a better place where he can go to the bathroom, change the channel on the satellite radio, and find another book to read, all on his own. He’s not waiting for me to come home and empty the urinal or get him out of bed so he can sit outside and listen to the Colorado Rockies being creamed by almost every team in the league.

I occasionally have trouble getting to sleep at night. I nod off and am jerked awake by a feeling of anxiety or restlessness. I tell myself that Bill is not calling me to get up and empty the urinal, that I can go to sleep and not be interrupted. I eventually do and usually sleep through the night.

I have developed sciatica in my right hip, probably as a result of lifting Bill from the bed to the wheelchair to the recliner to the commode, etc. It occasionally flares up after I’ve been exercising and becomes more prevalent during cold and humid conditions. Adville and ice packs are my best friends.

This type of hangover is not something that a Bloody Mary will cure. It will probably stay with me for the rest of my life. The good news is that it’s not as bad as a hangover you get from excessive imbibing.


The above was inspired by an activity we did recently during a Range Writers meeting. Now, it’s your turn. I’m pasting below definitions of “hangover” from various sources. See if any of them apply to you, and feel free to share your insight in the comment field.


–   the disagreeable physical aftereffects of drunkenness, such as a headache or stomach disorder, usually felt several hours after cessation of drinking. (Americanism 1890-1895)

  • –  something remaining behind from a former period or state of affairs
  • –  any aftermath of or lingering effect from a distressing experience (
  • –  continuing or remaining in effect, as a hang-over fire
  • –  something that remains from what is past, as a surviving trait or custom
  • –  The effect of a period of dissipation after the exhilaration has worn off. (Slang U.S.)

from the Big Fat Dictionary at the library


Abbie J. Taylor 010Author Abbie Johnson Taylor

Front Book Cover - We Shall OvercomeWe Shall Overcome

Cover: How to Build a Better Mousetrap by Abbie Johnson TaylorHow to Build a Better Mousetrap: Recollections and Reflections of a Family Caregiver

That’s Life: New and Selected Poems

Order from Amazon

After the Wedding Pawn (Fiction)

Author’s Note: I was inspired to post the following after reading Alice Massa’s story on Wordwalk last week. Alice and I are both involved with the same writers’ organization, Behind Our Eyes, and a few years ago when I was President, I gave the group several writing prompts having to do with weddings. You can click this link to hear me read my story.




At the end of a long day of work, I used the tip of my cane to feel each step in front of me, as I climbed aboard the bus. When I put my token in the slot, the driver said, “Hi Frank, someone’s already in your usual seat, but the one next to it is empty. Don’t worry. I’ll still see you, and I won’t forget to tell you when I get to the corner of Mills and Watson.”

“Thanks Ed,” I said. After eight years of working at J. B. Lansing and riding the same bus back and forth every day, why was my usual seat now taken? I was too tired and frustrated to care. As I turned to walk to the next seat, the voice of the man in my seat stopped me cold. “Hey bro.”

Oh great, I thought. Wasn’t it bad enough that my new boss couldn’t work with my blindness, despite the fact that for the past eight years, I was proactive in improving the company’s computer system and that I was dedicated, with an excellent employment record? Now, here was my brother, back to make my life miserable again. “I’ll move over so you can sit here,” he said, and I heard his body shift from one seat to the next.

At least he had some manners this time, I thought, as I took the vacant seat, folded my cane, and grasped the pole in front of me, as the bus lurched forward. I turned my head in his direction and sniffed. What, no booze? I sniffed again. “I’m dry as a bone,” said Jess. “Have been for about as long as you’ve been working at JBL.”

“How did you know I was working at JBL?”

“Mom told me. She always wanted us to make up.”

“Yeah, even though she sacrificed her ring so I’d have one to give to Jackie at our wedding after you got drunk and pawned ours at the last minute. It was bad enough I couldn’t afford to buy her a good ring, but then you had to steal it.”

“I don’t remember doing that, but yes. She and Dad always respected your wishes. You didn’t want to have anything more to do with me so they didn’t have you over when I was there, and you didn’t want them to even mention my name so they didn’t.”

“But she told you all about me? Did she tell you that after you pawned Jackie’s ring, there almost wasn’t a wedding? Jackie told me for months beforehand that she didn’t trust you as best man, that I should ask my good buddy Jerry to stand up with me instead. I wanted to give you one more chance, and you blew it. When I got to the altar, Jackie almost didn’t say I do. I had to get down on my knees, literally, and promise her I would always listen to her and never trust you again.”

“That’s why when you and Jackie came to the rehab center for Family Day, in front of all those people, after Mom and Dad said they forgave me for the third time, you said you wouldn’t have anything more to do with me until I paid you back the two hundred and fifty dollars the wedding ring cost. You said I shouldn’t bother darkening your door unless I came up with the money.”

“So you decided to take my seat on the bus instead?”

“I didn’t know it was your seat. Mom just told me which bus you ride to and from work.”

“So your last time through rehab actually worked? You haven’t had a drink in eight years?”

“After you said you didn’t want to have anything more to do with me until I paid you back for the ring, I knew I had to make it up to you, that I had to give you and Jackie a reason to trust me, for good this time.”

“So what did you do when you got out of rehab?”

“You know I’ve always been the athletic type, and you’ve always been the brains of the family. I should have listened to Mom and Dad when they told me there was more to life than football.”

“But you didn’t, did you?”

“Even before I turned nineteen, I had to drink to forget I wasn’t college football material. The fact that you were always ahead of me and passing just about everything with flying colors despite being blind didn’t help.”

“So what did you do after your third stint in rehab?”

“I figured if I couldn’t play football professionally, I could teach it. With Mom and Dad’s blessing and some financial support, I went back to college and this time, I majored in physical education. You’re looking at the P.E. teacher and football coach at our old school, Waverly High.”

I turned my head in his direction, not believing what I was hearing. “You mean that?”

“Yep, it wasn’t easy, but I’m proud to be where I am today.”

“Way to go, dude,” I said, thumping him on the back.

“Mom told me your son Chad is seven and playing soccer, and your daughter Amber is five and starting ballet. I hope to still be at Waverly High when Chad gets there. I’ll teach him a few things about football and about life.”

All I could say was “Wow.” I pinched myself and shook my head to be sure I wasn’t dreaming. “Oh, by the way, I almost forgot something,” said Jess. “Give me your hand for a second.”

To my surprise, I found him counting bills into it. “A hundred, two hundred, twenty, forty, and fifty, there you go.”

“What the…”

“You said you wouldn’t have anything more to do with me until I paid you back what I owe you for the wedding ring so here it is. Your little brother’s not a loser anymore.”

Dazed, I folded each bill separately before placing it in my wallet. “Hey Frank, here’s your corner,” the driver called, as the bus jerked to a stop.

“Come on, bro,” said Jess, grabbing my arm and pulling me to my feet. “Let’s go buy Jackie a new ring.”

I pulled my arm free and took his. “Oh sorry buddy,” said Jess. “I forgot. It’s been a long time.”

I didn’t know what to think, as he led me off the bus and down the street to a nearby jewelry store. As we stood at the display case, waiting for assistance, Jess said, “Oh wow, look at that ring. It looks just like the one you were going to give Jackie.”

“How would you know? You said you don’t remember the ring.”

“I don’t remember pawning it, but I sure remember what it looked like, almost like Mom’s ring which you gave Jackie instead. It’s too bad Jackie isn’t blind. If she were, she probably wouldn’t have known the difference.”

“You know, Jess, I may not be athletic, but I do know how to throw a punch, and if I didn’t have a wife and kids to support, I’d risk doing some jail time just to hear your body hit the floor.”

“Hey Frank, I’m sorry, really I am. I didn’t mean that. Jackie’s a good woman. You’re lucky to have her. Maybe someday, I’ll find one just like her.”

“May I help you?” said a woman’s voice.

“Yes, we’d like to see that ring there,” said Jess. My brother wants to buy it for his wife. He’s blind so he needs to feel it.”

I hated the idea that Jess and others thought they needed to speak for me because of my impairment but let it go for now. “Oh this ring would be perfect for your wife,” said the clerk, placing it in my outstretched palm. “It has a gold band and one gold stone in the center. If it doesn’t fit her, we can always re-size it.”

I was amazed when I felt the ring. “You’re right, little brother. It’s just like the other one,” I said, fighting back tears. “How much is it?”

“We have it on special for two twenty-five,” answered the clerk.

“Wow, bro, you still have twenty-five dollars to spend,” said Jess, as I paid her.

“How come Jackie doesn’t drive you to and from work?” he asked, as we walked the few blocks to my house.

“She’s got a lot to do as it is, getting the kids to and from school, soccer practice, and ballet class. Next year when Amber starts first grade and is in school all day, she’s thinking about going back to work, at least part time, if the newspaper will hire her again.”

As we strolled up the front walk, Jess said, “It looks like Mom and Dad are here. Dad’s Plymouth is parked in the driveway.”

My talking watch announced it was six o’clock. “That’s funny. I don’t remember inviting them to dinner.”

“Surprise!” I was startled by the voices that greeted us, as we walked in the front door. I shook my head.

“Happy birthday, bro!” said Jess, thumping me on the back.

It was my birthday. With all the stress I’d been having at work and Jess showing up all of a sudden, I’d forgotten about it. “Did you know about this, little brother?”

Jess only laughed.

“Who’s that with you, Daddy?” said Amber, as she approached us.

I was still holding Jess’s arm, and I felt him bend down and tousle the little girl’s hair. “Hey cutie, I’m your uncle Jess.”

“What’s he doing here?” said Jackie.

I reached into my pocket and took out the ring in its box. “Honey, I have something for you.”

“It’s your birthday, and you’re giving me a present,” said Jackie, as she took the box. I heard her open it and the rattle of tissue paper. “Oh my God, it’s my wedding ring. Where did you find it? Oh honey, happy birthday. I love you.” A moment later, I was in her arms.


Abbie J. Taylor 010Author Abbie Johnson Taylor

Front Book Cover - We Shall OvercomeWe Shall Overcome

Cover: How to Build a Better Mousetrap by Abbie Johnson TaylorHow to Build a Better Mousetrap: Recollections and Reflections of a Family Caregiver

That’s Life: New and Selected Poems

Order from Amazon

Order That’s Life from Finishing Line Press.

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