Monday, December 26, 2011

What They Read in Cleveland

I'm kind of obsessed with Cleveland.  I grew up there but moved away almost 40 years ago.  The novel I'm working on is set in Cleveland and last summer I went back for the first time to do some research.  Ever since then Cleveland has popped up in the most unusual places.  When Richard and I traveled to Alaska, we met a couple from Cleveland who told me the story of Balto, the mush dog who led the diptheria vaccine into Nome in the 1920's.  Balto lived at the Cleveland Zoo after his fame dwindled.  Stuffed, he's still in a museum there. 

I met a woman at a writing conference who after 30 years was still sad her husband's job moved them to Florida and she had to leave her beloved Chagrin Falls behind.  The Chagrin Falls are lovely, a very miniature version of Niagara Falls in book.  The sound of rushing water never ceases to calm me.

And when Anthony Bourdain had a show on about Cleveland, I clutched the TV remote so no one could change the channel on me.  I never met a Clevelander who raved about Skyline Chili until I watched this show.  Skyline Chili is a Cincinnati thing.  He went to places I'd never heard of before except for the Free Stamp.  The Free Stamp is a giant rubber stamp that sits in a park downtown.  Why, I don't really know but it's Cleveland all the way.

My sister lives in Cleveland and brought me an article from the Plain Dealer listing the best books of the year.  I read alot of books but there was only one on the list I'd even heard of.  The one I knew was Rules of Civility.  A good book but not what I'd call a best book.  So now I'm even more fascinated about what goes on in Cleveland.  Their taste in reading appears to be much different than what I like even though I spent a good portion of my life there.  Now I've got 20 more books to add to my reading list.  So much to read.  So little time.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

The Island Walkers by John Bemrose

The Island Walkers by John Bemrose

This is one of those 'dining room' books.  You know, the books my husband used to decorate the dining room.  I've decided to make my way around the dining room.  At least then I can cross at one room off my list of books. 

Several years ago I took a business trip to Toronto and ended up in a Chapters bookstore.  It was filled with books written by Canadian authors, books I'd never seen or heard of before.  I snatched up about ten books as if a famine was imminent and if I didn't have these very books, I'd starve.  The Island Walkers was published in 2004 so obviously I'm not starving.

Alf Walker is a hard working man who is a fixer at the local knitting mill in the 1960's.  The union tries to recruit him to help get into the factory ranks.  He's hesitant, remembering the bad blood the union left years earlier.  This novel is his story and the story of his wife and their failing marriage, his children and their confusion with life.  He struggles to help them be a family but he really doesn't know how.  And he doesn't know what went wrong.

The Island Walkers is a gripping and often sad story of how we are shaped by the world around us.  Bemrose is a fabulous crafter of words and emotions.  This is not a story to be taken lightly.  And once you're drawn in, there you'll stay. 

The beautiful, hardbound edition of The Island Walkers is now happily back in the dining room ready to greet my dinner guests.  Wonderful to read and wonderful to look at.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Death, Taxes and a French Manicure by Diane Kelly

Death, Taxes and a French Manicure by Diane Kelly

I came across this title on a website for Erma Bombeck's Writer's Conference, www.humorwriters.org.  I hang out on this website and faithfully enter Erma's writing contest every other year even though I've never won. Or even placed. Diane Kelly is a featured author so I thought I give this a try.

Tara Holloway is a smart and feisty IRS special agent who gave up her cushy job at a CPA firm for the thrill and action of finding crooks who cheat on their taxes.  She's a terrific shot so carrying a gun comes easily to her and she's not afraid to use it.  She does however spend alot of time at the nail salon.  And every takedown involves not only handcuffing the criminal but checking the status of her manicure.  In one scene she goes out to dinner with her boyfriend and stops at the nail salon on the way home.  Maybe in Dallas they have 24 hour nail salons but I've never seen one. 

This book is a fast, cute light read.  But I tired of Tara as a character.  I've known plenty of strong and determined women in my life, but Tara was only that.  She had no other softer qualities.  And she believed her boyfriend was completely innocent without so much as a blink of an eye.  Death, Taxes and a French Manicure is funny, and has lots of good writing.  I tired of so much exaggeration. That doesn't mean however, I don't love going up against the IRS or a good French manicure. Tax season is just around the corner.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame

The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame

I have very fond memories as a child of my mother reading this book aloud to me.  We sat by the fireplace in the family room of a house we lived in in Minneapolis.  I was four or five years old. 

As an adult, I'd forgotten much of the story but the title alone stirred warm feelings in my heart. I love the slow and kind Mole and adventurous Water Rat.  And who couldn't be endeared to the wild Mr. Toad?  The others knew him to be a loose cannon, setting a bad example for the animal world.  Even the best intentions of friends had difficulty reining in the Toad.

But the part of the tale, I'd lost touch with behind the reason I loved to ride Mr. Toad's Wild Ride at Disney World.  Mole, Rat and Badger had tried their best to keep Toad in line. Crazy Toady, raced off in a stolen motor car, was arrested for reckless driving, and escaped from jail hitching a ride on a train.  The low tech Disney ride in a jalopy captured the essence of Mr. Toad and his trip back to Toad Hall complete with jerks and jolts and escape just in the nick of time from an oncoming locomotive. Even as a fugitive, Mr. Toad's friends stood by him and eventually led him to a life of good manners and composure. The Disney ride didn't have as much success and was closed in 1998.  My sense is that without a ride at the Magic Kingdom, a generation has never heard of this wonderful tale.

We can learn alot from the Mole, Rat, Badger and Toad.  The Wind in the Willows is still an exciting and heartwarming story of the power of friendship and all that is good in the world.  I still love it and long to hear it all again, read to me by the fireplace.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Love The One You're With

I know I'm a little late for a Thanksgiving post since it's December 2nd and we're already knee deep into the Christmas shopping season, but what I learned last week will be carried with me throughout the coming year. 

Richard and I spent Thanksgiving in California with his brother.  We spent time laughing and reminiscing with friends and family of all ages. On Thanksgiving Day twelve of us crowded around the dining room table, held hands and said grace.  Earlier in the day my sister-in-law instructed us to trace our hands on a piece of paper making our own personal hand turkey.  And don't forget that red fatty thing hanging under its chin!  We colored our turkeys and then wrote on it what we were thankful for.  At dinner the hand turkeys were passed around and each person read a reflection on the day other than their own. We laughed, sometimes we reacted with emotion at the insightful wisdom of the hand turkey. 

Even Ollie, the little white dog who gives a whole new meaning to the term, 'lap dog' had his own paw turkey.  He hopped up on a lap as the festivities began and rested awhile.  A few minutes later he moved on to the next lap. By the time dessert came, he had visited all twelve of us.  He was simply grateful for a warm lap to sit in and a few rubs on his belly. 

I looked around at the company, some I'd never met before, a few I hadn't seen in years. Included were two beautiful little girls who added a sparkle to everything. Gratitude comes in all shapes and sizes and so did ours.  We feasted on turkey and stuffing and pumpkin pie, a true celebration of all that is good in our world.  Love abounded that day.  It was a day filled with blessings that will keep me warm and cozy for years to come. 

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Candy Freak by Steve Almond

Candy Freak by Steve Almond

I never knew how much I loved chocolate until I read this book.  It is hysterically funny and I craved a candy bar, any kind of candy bar the entire time I was reading it.  Last week I took it with me to the hairdresser to amuse me while I had my grey covered.  On the counter was a huge jar of leftover Halloween candy. My mouth watered and it was all I could do to restrain myself not to ravage the container of its chocolate and wildly stuff it into my mouth.  All at once. 

Steve Almond swears he has eaten candy everyday of his life.  He describes the taste of different chocolate like you would a fine wine, with a fruity bouquet and a smoky finish.  I learned so much about the inner workings of a candy factory, the sifters and enrobers all described as things of beauty. I have no doubt now that these fine metal machines, truly are exquisite.

The tales of candy bars of days gone by made me remember a tour of Sweetie's in Cleveland.  I went there with my sister and her three grandchildren.  While the kids swarmed the Jelly Bellies and Gummy Bears, I spent my time in the nostalgic candy aisle.  I loaded up with Turkish Taffy, Bit O'Honey and Chuckles.  I spent some time agonizing over the Charleston Chew but opted against it.  I'd recently spent a pretty penny on dental work.  

Almond hooked me however, from the very beginning when he said his mother tricked him when he sneaked a slab of bittersweet baking chocolate out of the kitchen cupboard.  I remember a similar incident of my own.  He wondered about the purple wafer in the roll of Necco.  I never liked it either.  And if I ever find out where Mr. Almond has stashed his Kit Kat Darks...  I'm raiding the place.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

The Silence of Trees by Valya Dudycz Lupescu

I have no recollection how I came to purchase this book for my Kindle.  My guess is it was on special at Amazon one day while I was browsing.  Based on the charges to my credit card this month, that is the most likely scenario.  You see, the Kindle has made buying a book even easier than shopping in the bookstore. One click and I instantly have something new to read.  I still have a backlog of unread novels, the difference is they are conveniently stored in the confines of my reading device and no longer consume shelf space or kill any trees.

I'm glad I took a chance on an unfamiliar book by an unknown author.  The Silence of Tree is a wonderful story that spans the life of Nadya.  As a teenage girl in the Ukraine, Nadya longs to know her future from a gypsy fortune teller.  She sneaks out of bed in the middle of the night and heads deep into the forest.  When she returns home she finds the house on fire and her family missing. From this point forward, Nadya's life follows the gypsy's prediction for her.

Fast forwarding fifty years, Nadya's story of war and loss is told through flashbacks as she tries to come to grips with the secrets she's kept all this time.  She's tried to instill the ways and customs of the Ukraine in her children.  It's difficult for her to accept their modern, American lives.  She's visited often by spirits from her past.

Nadya was always looking for a message but what struck me was the message I found for myself.  She met a soldier in a grove of linden trees near the DP camp she spent time in during the war.  And she spoke of the word for faith in Ukrainian, vira.  I've written a novel about a linden tree while living here in Viera, a town named after the Slovak word for faith.  I think it's probably time to dust that manuscript off and turn it into something special.

The Silence of Trees may be on sale in the Kindle store but it's worth every penny and more to read the heartfelt and emotional story of the ability of love to heal us all.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Look Homeward, Angel by Thomas Wolfe

Lately, I've found that I enjoy reading the classics.  My step mother, June, told me that Thomas Wolfe is her cousin.  She has some very old editions of his works on her bookshelf.  June was born and raised in Pennsylvania Dutch  country. Thomas Wolfe's wing of the family had ended up in North Carolina.  Until my journey into the world of writing started, I didn't read much classic literature.  I dismissed it as being too heavy and burdensome.  Now that I read with a writer's eye, I'm glad I finally took the time for Thomas Wolfe.
  
One of the things that is talked about often in my writing seminars is to go deep, linger, dwell.  A reader wants to create in their mind, using only the words on the page, the scenes and characters, get to know them, and love them or hate them.  There are no characters in Look Homeward, Angel that are very likeable.  Eugene Gant is the youngest child of an alcoholic stonecarver and a selfish and miserly mother.  The family is divided when his mother, Eliza buys a boarding house to run, leaves the family home and takes Eugene with her.  The other children move back and forth between their father's unpredictable ways and their mother's drive to build her real estate holdings.

As I read this novel, I became deeply involved in their lives.  Every rich detail of the town they lived in, the clothes they wore, the food they ate, drew me closer.  I was one of them.  The book had a readers guide in the back.  One of the discussion questions was whether a reader felt that Thomas Wolfe's style was brilliantly experimental or undisciplined and unstructured.  Sometimes I thought it was undisciplined.  I found myself skipping over some words that I considered unnecessary.  But then I would stop and think.  What was meaningless to me in the 21st century, was a way of life during the times of the early 20th century.

Look Homeward, Angel is not a book for the modern palate.  If you're looking for a fast, tension filled read this novel is not for you.  If you want to submerse yourself into the life of another era, and become a part of the story then Look Homeward, Angel is worth the time.  I say Thomas Wolfe is a writer who's brilliant.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

What's Behind the Story These Days?

I reviewed my recent blog postings and I noticed that there was far more 'story' than 'behind the story' lately.  That means I'm reading alot of books and that makes me happy.  But I must be doing other things, but what?  I had to think.

I've been sick, really sick with a bad chest cold and some kind of nasty virus according to the doctor.  My daily bike ride with Richard had been crossed off the agenda.  When I couldn't stand being cooped up in the house any longer I decided to take my bike out for a short spin.  Only to find out the tire was flat. Back  in the garage Richard handed me the pressure gauge.

"Check the pressure," he said.
I bent down, unscrewed the cap on the tire and pressed the gauge in.  The end popped out.
"What's the pressure?  C'mon hurry up.  What's the pressure?"  That's Richard always in a hurry.
I studied the gauge and then turned it over to look at the other side.  And then the other side just to be sure.
"It's in Chinese. I have no idea what the pressure is." On four all sides of the white stick were red Chinese characters.  No numbers only characters I couldn't read.  I handed him back the gauge and went back inside to bed.
"No wonder the tire store gave you that for free."  Richard is big on getting free stuff.

A few days later, Richard decided he needed a new phone.  His Motorola Razzor was on it's last legs.  The guy at the phone store said Richard was seven years overdue for an upgrade.  He's never known anyone to keep a phone that long.  Richard, not being very computer savvy, picked out the most basic of phones for $29.95.
 The clerk handed me the manual to read while he transferred the phone numbers.
"Hey, look Richard.  I can set your phone to remind you when to take your pills."
"I don't take any pills," he answered.
"I know.  But you're an old fart.  I'd probably have to download an app for $3.99 to get a pill reminder on my I phone."
Sometimes less is more.

Yesterday we went to the Art in Sand at the Space Coast Stadium.  After our stomachs were full with  baseball style junk food, we headed to the field to view the sand.  It's pretty amazing what can be sculpted in sand.  We were impressed to say the least.  Until I spotted a mound covered with a tarp.

"Richard.  The pitcher's mound.  Let's check it out."
We raced each other to the top of a major league pitcher's mound and pretended to throw a pitch.  Home plate is very far away.  Then we strolled out to center field.  A baseball field is a huge place and those outfielders have a large territory to cover. Walking the field left us even more in awe of our favorite pastime.
 
"Let's go home and watch the game."  Even though our beloved Tampa Bays Rays were out of the running the playoff games captivated us.  And then it hit me.

That's what I'd been doing.  Laying on the sofa, nursing my cough, watching legends being born in October.  Ahhh I love baseball.  
 

Blood Rights by Kristen Painter

Initially I thought I could hide behind my usual excuse, "I don't normally read vampire stories" in this book review.  Until I realized I'd read a few vampire stories over the past few months. Maybe I'm bordering on being an expert and didn't know it.  I don't think so.  Uhmm.  Maybe. Vampire novels however, throw me back to my days rushing home from school in time to watch Dark Shadows.  That was in the days before DVR's so if I missed it I was out of luck.  Something really important had to happen before I missed Dark Shadows.  Blood Rights contained some images that threw my photographic memory back to some episodes I clearly remember about a detached hand and a ring. (I don't want to give away anything more!)

Anyway, enough about me.  Blood Rights is an action packed mystery, thriller, romance with blood and fangs at the heart of it all.  Chrysabelle and Mal become unlikely allies in the hunt for a murderer.  As a comarre, a person who is bred for pure blood rights which are purchased by vampire nobility, Chrysabelle lives a life full of secrets.  In order to save herself and her aunt, the secrets must be peeled away like the skin of an onion.  It makes for a fast paced story full of unexpected twists and turns.

Kristen Painter is a talented writer expert at crafting a dark and dangerous world filled with captivating characters and creatures.  Blood Rights is a page turner even for a vampire novice, uh lover, like me.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Rules of Civility by Amor Towles

The first chapter of this novel had me at 'Hello'.  A woman and her husband viewing a display of photographs taken in the New York City subway twenty some years ago.  They recognize an old friend.  He looks sharp, crisp, well off as they remember him.  Further down the wall they see him again.  He seems to have fallen from grace.

The story that unfolds is Katey Kontent's version of the downfall of Tinker Grey.  And I loved most of this story.  The author is gifted in setting the scenes and bringing the characters to life.  It just seemed to drag on too long to get to the end.  The majority of this book is lively and entertaining.  I felt let down by the time I reached the end.  I understand that life doesn't wrap up and get tied up in a neat little bow.  But Rules of Civility left me unsatisfied in the end.

Pictures of You by Caroline Leavitt

This is one of those books that frustrates a fledgling writer like me.  I can't remember how I came across this title or why I downloaded it to my Kindle, but I'm sure it looked interesting to me. 

The story started out fine, two marriages about to collapse and a little boy caught in the middle.  A car accident that leaves a mother dead is the catalyst to the rest of the story.  And I enjoyed the story... for awhile.  The writing deteriorated into something just this side of a wet dishrag.  The characters followed suit, becoming dull and uninteresting.  And if the author used the expression 'cupped his face' one more time I might have stopped reading.  She used the same description over and over again that it detracted from her ability to tell a story. 

And then one simple bit of research that the author didn't bother to do, set me over the edge.  Charlie goes to Pittsburgh to find the man his dead wife was having an affair with.  The man tells his side of the story and that his own wife is a nurse at McGee Women's Hospital.  Most readers wouldn't even give the name of a hospital a second glance.  I, however, was born in Pittsburgh at Magee Women's Hospital.  As soon as I read it, I knew something wasn't right. 

As a writer myself, I work hard at giving  readers what makes them happy.  This author seemed to shove out words without a thought and still got published.  Arrggghhhhh!!!!

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

The Cruelest Miles by Gay Salisbury and Laney Salisbury

I just returned from Alaska.  When I travel, I am always amazed by the things I learn in far off places.  Everything in Alaska is big and vast and full of the nicest people you'd ever want to meet.  And the official state sport is dog mushing.  While on a tour bus, I won a stamped postcard of Alaska for knowing that little tidbit. 

The Cruelest Miles is the story of how diptheria antitoxin was dog sledded across Alaska to save the city of Nome from an epidemic in 1925.  The disease broke out in winter, when the temperature dipped to minus 60 below, the bays were frozen over and a new winter storm brewed almost every day.  Children were dying and the people of Alaska did what they knew they could do best to save them.

This story was written with great care.  It's full of emotion and suspense, heartache and love and at the center of it all, the dogs.  Sled dogs love to run.  And run they will, without regard to their cargo.  They knew they had a job to do and they did it in the worst conditions possible. 

I wish the authors had spent a little more time on a piece of the story near and dear to my heart.  The mushers fought over the celebrity of the dogs and who deserved the most recognition.  While no one was paying any attention Balto and several other dogs ended up in a carnival show.  The good people of Cleveland raised money to save the dogs and generously cared for them in their zoo.  I was raised in Cleveland and had never known the story of Balto, who is displayed in their Natural History Museum to this day.  I find it funny how our paths in life circle around. 

If you are interested in a piece of history, The Cruelest Miles is a well written, suspenseful, story of the will of man and his faithful dogs.  

Friday, September 2, 2011

I'm Over All That by Shirley MacLaine

One day I turned on an Oprah rerun and Shirley MacLaine was on discussing her new book.  I rarely watched Oprah, so it's even more unusual that I watched a rerun.  Being a very spiritual person, Shirley's story caught my ear.

I don't agree with her politics of which there are many references in this book, but I do agree that we are here on earth living in a physical body, one life of many our soul will experience.  Death is not to be feared, our soul will move on.  She wrote of her love of travel because each trip was a journey home to somewhere she had been before.  That really struck me.  I too love to travel and I can tell many stories of being in a place having on overwhelming sense of familiarity. 

I'm Over All That is a fun and interesting book with a point of view that doesn't come along every day.  And it should.  The world would be full of love and peace if it did.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

The Stranger and the Statesman by Nina Burleigh

I vividly remember a shopping spree I had several years ago in Reagan National Airport in Washington, DC.  Richard and I had made our first trip to our nation's capital and had fallen in love with the place.  So much so that we weren't disturbed when we had to stay an extra day because South Florida had been clobbered by Hurricane Jeanne.  The hotel of course wanted to get rid of us, so we arrived early at the airport, checked in and went shopping. 

Since I'm always looking at the books, I thought The Stranger and the Statesman would be the perfect souvenier. This is the story of how the Smithsonian Institute came to be.  It a story that I bet most American's have no knowledge of yet we flock to the variety of Smithsonian Museums in droves.  The museums do exactly as their benefactor intended, for the increase and diffusion of Knowledge among men.  James Smithson never set foot in America and his motives for leaving his estate to the US is sketchy at best. 

Most of us also wouldn't know that once this fortune arrived, the Congress allowed it to be squandered away before John Quincy Adams stepped in to save it. 

Sometimes reading the story got bogged down in the details of English royalty and France during its Revolution but what I learned from this book astounded me.  It has grounded me back to knowing how fortunate we are to live in America and what a truly wonderful country this is.  The Stranger and The Statesman is not a quick or easy read, but it is a history lesson you won't soon forget.


Monday, August 22, 2011

One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez

My copy of this book has a sticker on the back that says 'Oprah Book Club #3'.  It's been sitting around for a very long time I fear.  As I plow through my list of unread books, I'm getting to the really thick books that I probably bought because everyone else was reading them at the time, but they really scare me. 

Macondo is an imaginary town in an imaginary place where people live.  Yes, of course people live in a town but what I mean is they live life.  They get married, have children, visit prostitutes, go to war, start businesses.  The list of life goes on.  In Macondo the gypsies charge the villagers to see ice for the very first time.  A lost child brings the insomnia plague, another visitor brings the banana plague.  Once it rained for four years straight and then the sun shone for ten years. They go through life living and dying and rolling with the punches.

One Hundred Years of Solitude is one of those classics that everyone should read.  I found the story amusing and entertaining.  I had difficulty however, keeping track of all the characters.  The men and their many sons, had the same names.  The women too repeated their names.  Only Ursula, the matriarch of the town refused to allow anyone to name their child after her.  Someone did manage to slip in Ursula as a middle name for a child when they thought Ursula was on her last legs.  

This is a story worth reading.  It's funny and sad and crazy and twisted.  But be aware that it's not an easy read.  But then again, it's about life.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Turn Off the Television

There was nothing on television tonight. Our beloved Tampa Bay Rays had a well deserved night off.  So You Think You Can Dance had its grand finale last week and I've never really cared for The Office.  I watched 5 minutes of it with Will Farrell and I liked it even less.  Channel surfing was our only option.

Richard landed on a TLC show called Tattoo School.  Neither of us cares for tattoos.  We don't understand why someone would want to do that to their body in the first place.  But that doesn't stop our fascination with Kat D and LA Ink.

Did you know that in Tattoo School the students learn to tattoo on a banana?  It has a smooth skin.  After they tattooed the banana, the class moved immediately onto the real thing.  A live person.  One guy threw up at the thought.  Time to change the channel.

The movie, Conan The Barbarian, appeared on the screen.  The movie was made in 1982 so it looked really old and grainy even on a big screen TV.  Words began to pop up at the bottom of the screen.

Story Line: James Earl Jones is also known for playing another character who wore a black helmet.
Movie Line: They wanted to shoot the movie in Yugoslavia but decided it was too dangerous.  The movie was shot in Spain.
Story Line: Arnold S. hung the sword Conan used on the wall of his office while governor of California.
Movie Line: There was a coup in Spain while the movie was being filmed there.

This went on and on, one trivial fact after another.  And I hate reading subtitles.  It's too distracting. Richard asked me whose head was just cut off and I had no idea.  I was too busy reading.

Back to Tattoo School.  The amateurs had graduated to the real thing.  The guy with the queasy stomach was now drenched in sweat while poking the ink filled needle into his unsuspecting victim.  I moved on to watching people try to buy and sell million dollar properties in New York City.

By this time Richard was sound asleep on the sofa.  I turned off the TV and took Ginger for a walk.  If this is what it takes to entertain the American public, then I'm really going to be in trouble when baseball season ends in October.  There's a long stretch in between baseball season and the start of American Idol.  I've been thinking of furthering my education.  Do you think I can get a scholarship to Tattoo School? On second thought,that won't work.  I'm allergic to bananas.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

The Society of S by Susan Hubbard

If you've read enough of my book reviews you'll know.  I don't read vampire stories.  I just don't.  Vampires are not my thing. 

In May I attended the Creative Writing Institute at Florida Institute of Technology and I took a class from Susan Hubbard.  She was positively amazing as a professor and as a person.  I learned so much from her in a very short period of time.  The entire class had fun together.  It was an awesome experience.

I downloaded The Society of S onto my Kindle. The thought that keeps coming to my mind to describe this book is, "It had me at hello!"

Ariella lived a sheltered life, home schooled by a reclusive father.  He has sheltered her for a reason known only to him as an adult vampire. As she begins to develop as a teenager and is given a taste of the outside world, she begins to question her unusual life. Her mother disappeared when she was born and her father finally reveals his story to her.  After the death of her only friend, Kathleen, Ari sets off to search for her mother.   On the road she discovers her taste for blood and struggles to come to terms with the morals she's been taught by her father and her physical desires as a vampire.

I loved this book.  Susan is a wonderful storyteller using beautiful, descriptive prose.  The characters are rich and real.  A good portion of this book is set in Florida and I swear I saw a Green Cross truck make a delivery down the street just the other day.  The lesson learned here is to keep an open mind and read a variety of genres.  You just might find a treasure like The Society of S.   

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Sit! Ginger! Sit!

For all of you who have read my story 'Treat, Pray, Love' in Chicken Soup for the Soul: My Dog's Life, will know how much I love my cute, little Boykin Spaniel, Ginger.  And you will know how disobedient and strong willed she is.  I refer to her however, as my sweet little girl. 

Yesterday Richard took her for her morning walk.  They stopped to chit chat with another neighbor and his dog that were out roaming in a golf cart.  The dogs sniffed around in usual doggie fashion.  That means butt first. 

The other dog got a little rambunctious and its owner stepped in to discipline his charge.  Unbeknownst to Richard, the dog's name was also Ginger.

"Sit, Ginger. Sit," he commanded.  The dog ran off.

My sweet, little Ginger's butt plopped onto the ground.  She sat patiently while the other Ginger got a scolding.

Maybe I didn't waste my money on obedience school after all. 

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Cookie and Me by Mary Jane Ryals

A few weeks ago in the mail, we got a magazine called Florida Forum.  I have no idea how we got on the mailing list but I'm not complaining.  It contains articles about award winning Florida authors.  I devoured the magazine and of course wanted to read all of the books.  I've lived in Florida for thirty years and love the wonder, beauty and history of this state. 

Now that I'm addicted to my Kindle, I searched for all the books listed in the Kindle store.  Cookie and Me was the only one I could find with Kindle version.  So I downloaded it.  Cookie and Me is the story of Rayann, a white girl who befriends, Cookie, a black girl in Tallahassee in the 1960's.  The two become best of friends doing all the things adolescent girls do, paint their nails, experiment with make up and talk about boys.  The racially charged south in the sixties dictates how the pair must act even though they choose to ignore it most of the time. 

Cookie and Me is full of rich and lovable characters.  It is also full of characters you can't help but hate.  If you've read some of my book reviews, you'll know that tapping into my emotions is what endears a book to my heart.  I thought the story dragged along in certain parts but overall worth reading.  Well written and emotionally charged.  It's a wonderful depiction of life of the times in the south, in Florida.  I'm rating it 4 out of 5.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Shanghai Girls by Lisa See

I happen to be a huge fan of Lisa See.  Her writing is powerful.  I love to read about China and Chinese culture.  Typically I'm not a serial reader, rarely reading more than one book by an author.  There are a couple like John Steinbeck and JK Rowling, (yes, I read all the Harry Potter novels) that I can't get enough of.  Lisa See is also on that list.

Shanghai Girls is the story of sisters, Pearl and May.  When the Japanese invade mainland China, their lives as beautiful girls change forever and in ways they never could have imagined.  They make choices in order to survive.  They struggle to be modern American women yet they can never give up their old fashioned Chinese ways.

Actually my favorite Lisa See novel is Peony in Love.  It is set in a very different time and place.  Shanghai Girls is a twentieth century story of Chinese people desperately trying to assimilate into an America that fears them.  This is a compelling story of sisters, family, love, and prejudice. I couldn't put it down.    I was a little disappointed in the ending.  It didn't give me enough closure even though  I knew there was a sequel called Dreams of Joy waiting for me.  Now that I've finished Shanghai Girls I downloaded Dreams of Joy to my Kindle.  I'm a Lisa See fan after all.

Monday, July 4, 2011

The Jungle by Upton Sinclair

There's a reason classic literary novels become classics.  They were written with great care and emotion when things like cell phones and the Internet and our desire for instant gratification didn't exist.  The novel was entertainment, submersing the reader into a different world.  The Jungle does all that and more. 

Jurgis and Ona came to America where the streets were paved with gold.  They worked and worked hard yet every time they took one step ahead the rug seemed to be pulled out from under them.  They were the victims of Packingtown, the meat packing plants of Chicago at the beginning of the 20th century.  I had no prior knowledge of this time and place, however Mr. Sinclair's descriptions made me feel the cold of Chicago in the winter, the smell of the cow blood coating the floor and the agonizing pain of each cut or blister that gave Jurgis's place to a more able bodied man. 

The one scene that struck me hard was when Jurgis was shipped off to jail.  He walked into his cell on Christmas Day, away from his family.  His pain and heartache gripped me at that moment. If you love a book that grabs your emotions never letting them go, give The Jungle a try.  Keep in mind it wasn't written for a modern reader.  Let the words show you the way through a brilliantly told story.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

1001 Uses For Duct Tape

I live 40 miles east of Orlando, Florida.  Our world these days revolves around the trial of a mother accused of murdering her daughter.  There is nothing else to watch on television but the trial.  I have to admit it's quite fascinating learning about bugs and flies and varieties of duct tape.  But I long for simpler TV like guessing the showcase on The Price is Right. 

In a week I'm going to Cleveland to visit my sister.  She's been planning with great care my every waking moment while I'm in Ohio. When I received the following email from her my mind only thought of one thing.

"Dear Linny, Too bad you will miss the duct tape festival but the gnomes are in the garden."

I replied back, "If you're talking about the Anthony trial, I'm hoping it will go to the jury before I leave."

Her reply back, " I found your response quite odd.  I wanted to go to a fashion show of things made from duct tape but it ends before you get here."

I laughed.  That explains it.  On the list of 1001 uses for a roll of duct tape, murder is at the top of the list but number 2 is make a dress to wear out to the club afterwards.  The other 999 uses hardly matter after that.  In Cleveland they make fashionable clothes from duct tape, in Florida, we've become more hardened.  And in most places they use it to fix a leaky duct. I think that' s why they call it duct tape. 
  

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Sisters of the Sari by Brenda L. Baker

Kiria is a middle aged, savvy business woman who wants to do something more meaningful with her life.  She takes a trip to southern India, and in a time of need in an unfamiliar country she becomes the recipient of unexpected kindness of a poor Indian woman, Santoshi.  Forming a tenuous bond, Kiria sets out to change Santoshi's circumstances.  Santoshi is not aware that her circumstances are in need of a change.

Ms. Baker did a wonderful job of depicting the clash of cultures.  A western woman who expects life to be clean, cool and orderly struggles to come to terms with the poverty and plight of women that they accepted as normal.  Kiria has a few skeletons in her own closet that when added to the mix help to propel her and Santoshi into new views of life. 

Sisters of the Sari is a wonderful modern story full of rich and interesting characters.  The well detailed clash of cultures make this book a page turner that you won't be able to put down. 

Sunday, June 12, 2011

My Dilemma

I'm loving my Kindle.  I'm loving it so much that  remember all those unread books I have yet to read? Now it's really going to be hard to get through them because I don't even want to read a bound book anymore. 

My Kindle is everything Amazon said it would be.  The screen really does look like ink on the printed page.  It weighs about the same as a book so my mind is tricked into thinking I'm holding a book.  But I can set the font to a size that's easy on my eyes.  Can't do that with a printed book.  I hate it when a book is set with narrow margins and tiny print.  It's too hard to read when there are too many words on the page.  Now I can read the way I like it. 

Since I no longer want to read the real book, I've been searching for Kindle versions of those still on my list.  Some of the books on my shelf are so old there is no Kindle version available.  Or maybe it's because they weren't that great to begin with, no one bothered to bring them into the 21st century.  I'm torn between paying for the Kindle version and giving away the print version for some others.  Being on a budget I probably should suck it up and read what I already own.  But what I have found is that some of the classics like David Copperfield by Dickens and The Jungle by Sinclair Upton have free Kindle versions available.  I quickly downloaded them leaving the hardbound family heirlooms preserved on the shelf.

Here is my dilemma.  Will I be able to make it through my list without rebuying a second Kindle version?  Or will I be able to read from the printed page those that don't exist as an electronic version?  Those titles may not be the most interesting or desirable in the first place.  That's probably the reason I never read them.  Or am I going to become a literary genius by reading all the free classics that are now at my fingertips?

All three of these options sound like a challenge.  And I'm always up for that.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Jesus CEO by Laurie Beth Jones

Jesus CEO is a leadership guide for the business world.  This book is a collection of principles that can be used a day at a time.  I happen to like to read an inspirational story each night before I go to bed.  I thought this would be perfect.

But I have to admit I just didn't get it.  Maybe because I'm finished trying to make my way in the business world.  Or maybe because the business world has no room for me any longer.  My search for a job has left me discouraged and frustrated.  After two and a half years I no longer see any hope for a career other than my writing.  Writing makes me extremely happy but it requires a totally different mindset than a 9 to 5 job with a steady paycheck. 

Jesus CEO is chock full of great inspiration, guidance and hope.  At this place in my life I couldn't make it click for me.  This book came to me from my sister, Martha.  Tucked inside were some daily calendar pages put there by her late husband, Tom all dated January 26th.  I have to admit I didn't understand the meaning of the saying on any of the pages or what the date might have meant to him.  So I've tucked them away until I do.  That's the same thing I'll do with Jesus CEO, tuck it away until I figure it out.  And I will. 

Monday, May 30, 2011

Three Cups of Tea by Greg Mortenson and David Oliver Relin

Greg Mortenson has been in the news lately and not in a good way.  I took Three Cups of Tea off the shelf  to see what all the hub bub was about.

The story was admirable.  The son of missionaries raised in Africa follows his passion for climbing and attempts to summit K2.  He fails in his attempt and finds his way into the local culture as he recovers.  Makes perfect sense, a man raised to give selflessly to others is called to do that in a poor, remote part of the world.

I found the book itself difficult to read.  Small print, with lots of words crammed onto each page.  I'm not the type to dismiss a book because of the way it looks.  I started to read.  My mind jostled through each paragraph to the next.  Mortenson had a co-author and this book really feels if it's being told through his eyes.  Three Cups of Tea is written in third person.  I'm not a snob but for a memoir third person doesn't allow the reader to engage deeply in the story.  I didn't like being on the outside looking in.

It doesn't happen very often, but I gave up.  The story didn't seem real to me, more like a work of fiction.  What I read in the news claims that maybe alot of it isn't.  Do I believe that Mr. Mortenson did a wonderful thing building schools? Yes.    Was the book worth reading?  Probably.  It just wasn't my cup of tea.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Cutting For Stone by Abraham Verghese

Wow!  Cutting for Stone took me on a ride that I never expected.  Twin boys born to a nun who died in childbirth, deserted by their father and raised by loving doctors, Hema and Ghosh.  The novel is filled with rich characters who come to life within its pages.  Shiva and Marion, twins, mirror images of one another both follow different paths in life. 

Sometimes I thought this story dragged on.  The medical terminology and descriptions were often cumbersome for me.  One thing was clear however, the author was precise in his descriptions of surgical procedures along with the history and culture of Ethiopia.  But the brother's walk through a life of love, loss and betrayal was something I couldn't stop reading, something special. 

I am torn however on how to rate this book.  The blood and trauma lingered on too long.  That Marion met everyone he'd known back home in Addis Ababa while studying in the United States seemed a bit contrived.  And that he had an evil streak shown by the things he did after breaking into his estranged father's apartment was out of character. But I cried as the story ended.  The sign of a well written story of real characters is that it can bring the reader's emotions to the surface.  Cutting for Stone did that brilliantly.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Writers are the Nicest People

I spent the past few days attending the Creative Writing Institute at Florida Institute of Technology in Melbourne.  I find being on a college campus invigorating, add to that interesting instructors and speakers, throw other writers into the mix and I was over the moon.

The first class I took focused on memoir writing.  I have a couple segments of my life in mind for that.  Being surrounded by other writers of all walks and stages of life, we freely told our personal stories.  And each one was different and fascinating.  My own life seems ordinary in comparison, yet they all assured me that my story was relevant and intriguing. 

My second class dealt with character development.  Many of the memoir students were also in this class.  We talked and read aloud, critiqued each others work no matter how rough.  I received great feedback, best that I've heard in a long time.  I made friends.  Wonderful friends. I learned so much about the craft of writing that I'm sure mine is moving up a few levels.  But I made friends.  Friends that I miss today now that class has ended, energy I long to feel again.

My heart opened up to these fellow writers, their stories, their pain, their joy.  Blessings overwhelmed me knowing I'm meant to be a writer.  Knowing and surrounding myself other wonderful writers boosts me up to accomplish my dreams.  I am one lucky girl, woman, wife, friend, writer.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

The Price of Being Well Read

I've bypassed the steps toward my goal and gone straight to the prize.  I now own a Kindle.  I was supposed to read all those books on my shelf before treating myself to the electronic device, but I got itchy to have one.  Technology of the 21st century seemed to be slipping through my fingers.  If I want to stay on the cutting edge of the publishing world, I needed to have it.  Now!

I'm reading my first book on Kindle and I love it.  I can set the size of the font to what is pleasing to my eyes.  The screen really does look like ink printed on a page.  And the little scale at the bottom tells me the percentage I've read.  I happen to love this feature.  When I read a paper book the first thing I do is look at the number of pages, determine the halfway point and track my progress through the story.  I know.  I'm weird.  The Kindle does all that for me. 

Yesterday I watched Oprah and James Frey of 'A Million Little Pieces' fame.  I got out the Kindle and searched for his books so I could download them.  The USA Today has a wonderful book section and if anything looks interesting, the heck with the bookstore.  I download it.  A friend of mine has her first book coming out in June.  Guess what?  I preordered it on the Kindle.  'Sisters of the Sari' will magically appear on its release date.

Instead of all my books getting dusty on the shelf, I can carry them with me wherever I go.  Amazon makes it easy.  I have no idea how much I'm spending.  I download, they automatically charge the fee to my credit card.  And e-books aren't really much cheaper than the print version, just lighter. 

Never realizing how books bombarded me from so many places before, I don't even need to go to the bookstore anymore.  It used to be my favorite hang out spot. Now I will be even more well read than ever with so many books at my fingertips. I may be spending more on books but with gas at $4 a gallon I might really be saving.  Or at least that's what I'd like to believe.   

Monday, May 9, 2011

An Anniversary of Sorts

I'm not big on celebrating birthdays or anniversaries.  They come around every year like clockwork and the older I get the less exciting they become.  Richard and I got married on  Valentine's Day so we'd have one less date to remember. The stores get all decked out for Valentine's day to remind us it's coming up.  One trip to the grocery store and we're prepared by buying a card and a box of candy hearts.  Plus the date falls in between Christmas and our summer birthdays so our schedule doesn't get cramped or rushed. For twenty four years we've celebrated our wedding anniversary with no muss, no fuss.  Just the way we like it.

This is the month of May.  I have no idea what day in May but last year sometime in May, I stopped drinking.  Cold turkey.  After months of praying, God said 'You're ready' and took away my desire to reach for a glass of wine every night before dinner.  He took away my need to keep drinking until it was time for bed.  I tossed back a bottle of wine every night.  I was sick and tired of being sick and tired until the day my prayers were answered.

Little did I know how rough the road ahead of me would be.  I remember so clearly the months of headaches and nausea and general malaise that came next.  I stopped the alcohol, changed my diet to help with my vertigo and migraine headaches and lost 30 pounds.  I struggled with my weight for years convincing myself I could diet and drink loads of empty calories each day.  The minute I stopped, the pounds literally fell off.

Oh, there are still days I'd like to sit on the patio enjoying the cool spring breeze with a glass of wine, but I don't.  With each passing day, that desire became less and less.  Now I only joke about it when I've had a bad day at work.  There are a couple bad habits, I've yet to overcome, like lounging in front of the television every night when I could be reading or writing or otherwise being more productive.  At least I'm not damaging my mind and body in a destructive manner.  So I can take my time breaking that one.

For one full year I've been alcohol free.  That also means free to live a happy, productive, loving life.  Free from the chain that was holding me back.  Free to be me again.  Happy anniversary!

Sunday, May 8, 2011

The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz

Oscar Wao was a book that went missing from my collection after we moved two years ago.  About six months ago the book was found, miraculously in a box in the corner of a closet. I didn't realize until I pulled it off the shelf that it had won the Pulitzer Prize.  I imagined that the story was worth waiting for.

I was prepared for all the Spanish.  My sister had warned me after she'd heard Junot Diaz speak in Cleveland.  I've taken some Spanish classes over the years when I lived in South Florida where English often takes a back seat.  I can't speak Spanish but I can figure out most of it on the written page. Or so I thought.

After reading the first ten pages I was ready to quit.  The story is loaded with Spanish slang.  I had difficulty following.  And the footnotes!  Sometimes half the page was a footnote written in tiny print.  I didn't know if I should read it or not.  Mostly I didn't.  I kept going though since I'm always afraid I'm going to miss some brilliance that will make me a better writer.   In this case I'm ecstatic that tenacious streak inside kept me reading.

Oscar Wao is a nerdy, bookworm, sci-fi crazed, fat Dominican who is desperate to get laid.  He's being raised alongside his sister by a wild and crazy single mother.  The family is followed by the curse, the fuku and have been for generations.  There were so many good things about Oscar and his family, I found it impossible not to fall in love with all of them.  Pain and misery followed them everywhere, yet they never gave in to the fuku.

The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao is one wild ride that is well worth the trip.  No wonder it won the Pulitzer Prize.  The book is all I  imagined and well worth the wait. It's brilliant. 

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

The Magic of Writing by Linda J Falkner

As I've been telling you, my office has moved from the dining room to a bedroom.  As part of that process more forgotten books have emerged in the shuffle.  I'm finding out I have quite the library of reference books about writing.  I've been working at writing for longer than I think, much to my surprise.  I'm better at it than I give myself credit for since each book I uncover serves to revive and polish skills I already know.

The Magic of Writing is short, sweet and to the point.  It's well organized from start to finish with great writing examples for each topic.  The author says to post office hours on my door, the hours I'm devoting to working on my writing.  I think I will.  What I struggle with the most is discipline.  I wonder if I do post hours if it will keep Ginger from coming in while I'm working and begging for biscuits. 

There was no guidance on that in this book, but many other helpful tips.  I'm going to keep The Magic of Writing close at hand.  It's a great little reference book for all of us wannabe writers. 

Monday, May 2, 2011

Reading While Eating

Richard's been busy rearranging the house.  When we initially moved here two years ago we put my office in the dining room.  We were convinced we would need all the guest rooms for actual guests.  I started complaining that I wanted to close the room off for more privacy and all those expected guests never materialized.

I'm happy.  My office is now in the back bedroom.  I can shut the door and write in peace with few distractions.  Richard is happy.  He's busy decorating the dining room to make it perfect.  The room changes daily so I'm reserving my comments until it's finished.  But there was one thing he did that I couldn't remain silent about.  There are books in the dining room.

"We don't read in the dining room.  We eat in the dining room," I said.

"But I love decorating with books.  They look so grand and stately," he debated.

"I also have an issue with your choice of books." I couldn't keep what was really bugging me in any longer.

Richard randomly pulled books off the bookshelf in the office. Unlike me who groups certain books together and makes sure they are always perfectly straight, he has no personal connection to them.  It's rare he will even read a book, opting for magazines instead.  A book requires extended amounts of concentration.  He's hyper.  Short is best. He picked these books strictly for color and size and their visual appeal.

In the dining room, on the sideboard, he'd placed A Certain Slant of Light which is a young adult, paranormal story next to Secrets which is hard core erotica written by a woman I heard speak at a romance writers meeting.  I couldn't get past those two sitting side by side so don't even ask me what title came next.  It had to be something equally as odd.

One thing I know for sure is that we don't hold seances or have sex in the dining room.  Therefore we also do not read while we're eating.  That makes perfectly logical sense to me.   Now I just have to convince Richard of the same thing.

Saturday, April 30, 2011

My Kindle is Coming!!

I broke down and ordered it.  The Kindle.  The list of unread books is still long.  Somedays I feel I'm plowing through the list in record speed.  Then I look at it and the titles on the unread side never seems to get lesser in number.

So now the wait begins.  I ordered the new cheaper Kindle with ads.  I wanted to save a little money and I don't really care about the ads.  But that didn't really work out for me.  Why?  Because I broke down and ordered a leather case with a light which cost far more money than what I saved on the Kindle.  The case came today and it's gorgeous.  I ordered it in green since green is my favorite color.  I've stared at it's beauty, caressed the soft leather and carefully stored it in its box so the cover will be perfect when the Kindle finally arrives.  The anticipation is killing me.

Now that I'm not working and have more free time, I've been itching to visit the bookstore.  But I can't.  The last thing I need is more printed books when, if I can just find an ounce of patience, I'll soon be able to download the e-version and carry it with me wherever I go.  I'm dreaming of setting the font size so I can read without glasses, turning the page with a press of my thumb and never again need a bookmark.  I'm really afraid I'll love the Kindle so much, I'll download all the unread titles I already have in paper versions thus buying them twice.  Staying out of the store makes me feel like I'm somehow in control of my book buying addiction.

Originally the Kindle itself was set to arrive around May 9th. But today I got an email saying it may be here by May 3rd.  Amazon could sense how anxious I am for their device.  They must know by the number of my book reviews how bad my addiction is.  They wanted in on a sure and steady revenue stream sooner rather than later.  I'll be watching the mailbox. And trying to cross a few more books off my list before it arrives.



Tuesday, April 26, 2011

The River of Doubt by Candice Millard

When looking for the next victim from my list of unread books, I decided to look for something that had been there awhile.  The River of Doubt by Candice Millard was published in 2005.  I figured 6 years was plenty long enough and it deserved my attention. 

Being that the book is a biography of Theodore Roosevelt, I had serious doubts I could make it all the way through.  I was wrong.  The River of Doubt is a captivating view into a trip the former President and his son took down an uncharted river through the center of the Amazon jungle in 1913.  Adventurers at heart, even the Roosevelts had no idea what they were getting themselves into.

Starting with the bungled preparations that overloaded the party with unnecessary luggage, through underwear eating termites, to lost canoes and starvation, the story mesmerized me.  The author's research was first rate.  Her descriptions of the jungle and all its inhabitants, plant and animal, made me feel as if I was there scratching my bug bites.  I learned so much about a piece of history I'd never heard of before. 

I know I have eclectic reading habits and The River of Doubt fits right in.  I can still see myself selecting it from the shelf at Costco.  I have no idea what would have drawn me to it, but whatever it was I'm truly grateful.  I loved it and I learned so much!  The River of Doubt gets 5 out 5.

My Annual Firing

I've fallen behind in my blog posts lately.  Maybe you've been wondering what I've been up to.  Tax season ended last Monday.  I spent Tuesday and Wednesday packing up the office and cleaning it up for its summer rest.  Lord knows it needs it.  And I've spent the past few days trying to get my energy back.

I'm currently unemployed again and exhausted.  My annual firing seems to suck the life out of me even though I know it's coming. I know the exactly time and date, one day after the close of tax season.  This year that fell on April 18th.  And for the next two years it will also be extended past the usual April 15th. And yet I always feel unprepared for what is about to happen. 

There is something about working that gives a person purpose in life.  I feel a sense of accomplishment when I prepare a tax return and the client leaves smiling.  I feel needed when I can answer a tax question for one of the tax preparers working under me.  And I want to go home and throw back a few glasses of wine when those same employees start to quibble over who's supposed to make the coffee or empty the trash.  Ahhh.  Working and earning a living is so fulfilling!

And now I have time to indulge my passion, writing, and my mind is completely and utterly blank. I seemed so full of ideas while I was working and without enough time to set pen to paper.  Now I've settled into my home office, and turned on my favorite Chinese classical music. Now I wait.  Inspiration will come to me.  I know it will.  I've got nothing but time on my side.  

Friday, April 15, 2011

I Think I Love You by Stephanie Bonds

For the past few months I've been struggling to find my writing voice.  I like to write in a humorous, lighthearted style but lately that hasn't been working for me.  I'd been working on a more serious manuscript and when it was critiqued by my writing mentor she said it was way too depressing and made a very long list of the reasons why.  She was right so I scrapped that story altogether.

My friend, Judy gave me I Think I Love You to help me search for my elusive voice.  And you may think, "Gee.  She's been plowing through the reading material lately."  I kept I Think I Love You at the tax office for those slow and quiet nights while I waited for an anxious taxpayer to come in and file a return.  It's a quick read but a couple days ago I brought it home knowing that as the tax deadline looms there would be no time for leisurely enjoyment.

Regina, Justine and Mica are unlikely sisters different from each other in every way.  Regina, the studious book editor, Justine, the wild executive at a cosmetics company who never thinks twice about sleeping with a married man and Mica with the flowing locks of hair who stars as the Tara Hair girl.  As a decades old murder unravels they all end up together in their parent's home.  And the fighting and bickering begins.

I Think I Love You has a good story line, interesting characters but not enough depth to keep me engaged.  There wasn't enough spark, for me anyway, between Regina and her love interest, Mitchell. The fact that their father's alibi was that he'd secretly checked himself into rehab seemed odd.  And I figured out that Uncle Lawrence was guilty from the get go.  Not much to keep me going.  As usual when I'm reading with an eye toward writing, I can't stop in the middle of the story just in case I might miss exactly what I'm looking for,

I'll rate this novel 2 out of 5.  Thanks to Judy for lending the book.  It helped me to understand that I need to return to what I love, humor.  I've known that all along, I needed a nudge to realize it.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Velva Jean Learns to Drive by Jennifer Niven

Velva Jean lives at the top of a mountain in North Carolina during the depression of the 1930's.  She's desperate to be saved by Jesus yet when it happens she's never sure of her faith.  She's fast friends with her brother, Johnny Clay and together they try to find their way into adulthood.  As the Blue Ridge Parkway was being built, life changed for everyone who called the mountains home.

Velva Jean loves to sing and has the voice of an angel.  Without the guidance of her mother, she rushes into a marriage while still a teenager. She loves Harley but he changes in ways Velva Jean is afraid of.  But it's truly Velva Jean who is changing, growing up in a new world.

I loved this book.  The author has perfectly crafted the story.  There were parts I thought moved a little too slowly but on second thought life moved slowly Appalachia. Every time a chapter disappointed me, I thought for awhile and then decided that was exactly how life is.  We are all on a path out of our own control.  Ms. Niven captured the essence of life in the depth of each character.  She also plotted the story perfectly through to the climax and joyous life changing end.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Secrets of the Lost Mode of Prayer by Gregg Braden

I thought it was time that all of my readers got to see my spiritual side.  God is my very good friend and I tell Him that I love Him every morning before starting my day.  My faith has brought me through many dark days and I'm forever grateful for my many blessings.

What's really kind of funny about this book is its history with me.  It was given to me by my dear friend, April.  When I opened it up, out fell a prescription for Percoset written by the dentist about 3 years ago after having a root canal.  Why I would have stuck a prescription in this book or any book for that matter, is a mystery.

And then I started reading.  It is about how to develop a deeper and more meaningful prayer life.  The author uses examples from ancient traditions.  The one driving theme however, is that we need to feel our pain and work though 'a dark night of the soul' in order to face our deepest fears.  Facing my dependence on alcohol was one of those very dark nights that seemed to last for years.  That this book came from April also made me face the pain of losing her friendship over something stupid.  And for that prescription.  I guess I worked through that physical pain without the help of drugs.  Pain takes on many different faces in our lives.

If you're looking for spiritual guidance on how to take your prayer life to a different level, Secrets of the Lost Mode of Prayer will give you plenty to think about.  God's waiting to talk to you.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

The Street of A Thousand Blossoms by Gail Tsukiyama

I remember distinctly being attracted to the brilliant red cover sprinkled with pink cherry blossoms, while in the book store several years ago.  Like many others, on the shelf it sat.  With the tragic earthquake and tsunami in Japan, I thought it was time to read this one.

The Street of A Thousand Blossoms is filled with tragedy from the start.  Kenji and Hiroshi are orphans who are being raised by their grandparents.  Then World War II happens impacting their lives, setting them on an unexpected path.  After each sadness, they appear to move forward only to have misfortune follow them again and again.

Recently I asked one of my writing mentors to give me a critique on a story I was working on.  Her first words were that it was too depressing.  Depressing doesn't lure in the reader.  Then she listed all the reasons it was too depressing and trust me, the list was long.  Her advice taught me a great lesson about writing.  I wish someone had given Ms. Tsukiyama a list.  Maybe we would have had more happiness in this novel.

This novel gave great insight into the Japanese culture.  For that I'll give it credit.  The story however, was so depressing it was often a struggle to keep reading.  Add to that what I thought was poor editing and I was even more disappointed.  The outside of the book is beautiful.  The inside was too sad to be enjoyable.  I rate this book 2 out of 5 stars.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

My Name In Lights

I almost missed it.  My name appeared in the Sunday Life section of the local paper, Florida Today.  In fact Richard had read the paper, turning the pile of creased, crumpled newsprint over to me to enjoy with my breakfast.  He never said a word because he had missed it.

The headline of the article said, Roxanne St. Claire Set to release 2 Titles.  I happen to know Rocki from Space Coast Authors of Romance so of course I started reading the article.  Looking over at the cover pictures I noticed a cover of a middle grade novel I recognized.  I'd met the author at a book fair yesterday and had talked to her for a while.  So I kept on reading the write ups.

And then I stopped.  There is was, tucked down in the crease of the paper, Linda C. Wright of Viera...  I know her!!  Me and Ginger our name in lights for our new release, 'Treat, Pray, Love', in Chicken Soup For the Soul: My Dog's Life which will be release on April 12.  You can pre-order your copy on Amazon today.  I'd sent the information to the paper a couple months ago, never dreaming they'd use it.  But one thing I've learned as an author, you have to market yourself and your work every way possible.

What a thrill!  I'll never tire of seeing my name in print.  There I am, among successful authors who I know and admire.  I'm on my way.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield

Stories about twins fascinate me.  Especially stories about twins and ghosts.  There is something very mystical and magical about one soul split into two identical bodies.  Vida Winter, a famous but now old and aging storyteller decides it's time to share the secrets of her life.  She calls on Margaret Lea who carries a secret of her own.

Vida sets the ground rules that all stories have beginnings, middles and ends and there will be no deviating from that.  Margaret, with an investigative mind, tries to put some pieces in place before the famous author is ready to reveal them.  Along the way the pair form an incredible, loving bond.

The Thirteenth Tale is a lovely, mysterious page turner.  The story and its characters are enticing.  In fact on my last trip to the bookstore, they had six copies of The Thirteenth Tale on the shelf.  So other people must think so too.  I rate it a 5 out of 5 and I think I'm keeping it.  I've always wanted to write my own story about twins.  I'll need some tips and The Thirteenth Tale will offer many.    

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Check out Smashwords.com

Great news!

One Clown Short is now available on Smashwords in a format for downloading to your favorite e-reader.  Use my coupon code FT44M for a 25% discount good through April 15, 2011.

Check out lots of great electronic titles at Smashwords.com

Happy Reading!

Thursday, March 3, 2011

I'm A Stranger Here Myself by Bill Bryson

I distinctly remember buying this book at Costco.  At the old house, Costco was less than a mile down the road and I visited often.  The book selection was wonderful and I can thank Costco for many of the books that are waiting patiently on the shelf for me to open them and read a few of their words.  In fact this book has been on the shelf for so long that the pages have started to yellow.  I thought it was time to see what it was all about.

I'm A Stranger Here Myself is a collection of columns that Bill Bryson wrote for a British publication.  He was born and raised in Iowa, moved to England for some reason he never reveals to us and married and had children.  After 20 years abroad he and his family moved back to a small town in New England.  And what he finds in America upon his return is laugh out loud funny.  From the post office to the airport to what is on television, his satirical view pokes fun at them all.  I got the sense that his British wife and children adjusted to their new lives much more rapidly.  I think he's kind of a geek.

We're quirky we Americans even though we may not think so.  This book puts our life of plenty in perspective that's for sure.  I'm A Stranger Here Myself is a light and laughable view of every day occurrences in America.  The book was a little long but other than that I rate it a 3 1/2 out of 5.  It was a wonderful diversion from the literary works I usually long for.

And as for Costco, there isn't one around here.  I miss the treasure hunt but I don't eat as many hot dogs.  In my new neighborhood there are plenty of opportunities for me to shop for books.  Even though I didn't move across the pond, there are new adventures worth poking fun at no matter where life takes you.

Monday, February 28, 2011

A Cure for Us All

I watched Charlie Sheen on the Today Show this morning.  The guy's got issues.  And a big ego that's keeping him from being in touch with reality.

He claims he's cured but he's still going to have a glass of champagne because that's what we celebrate with.  Really?  And all the Alcoholics Anonymous bashing.  It is really necessary?

I gave up alcohol with out the help of AA but that's not possible for everyone.  Richard's been sober for 11 years also without the help of AA.  But that doesn't mean we both didn't have to do a tremendous amount of soul searching.  The conversations with God are frequent and without a deep trust and faith in Him, I wouldn't have lasted even this long.  I don't keep track of the day I stopped or have a birthday or collect coins like someone in AA but I do know this.  The thought that I'd like a glass of wine pops into my head almost daily and I've been totally and completely sober for almost ten months.

So Charlie Sheen, don't brag that you're cured.  And don't bad mouth AA.  It's a fine, wonderful organization that helps millions of people find peace, love and harmony in their lives.  You may not believe it can work for you, but there is one think I know for a fact.  Sobriety is a long and winding road no matter how a person chooses to deal with it.  Different paths work for different people.  And I thank God every day He set me on the one that was meant to work for me.

Charlie Sheen, you have a lot of work left to do.  First off stop using your celebrity to spout off just because you can.  And don't for one minute think you can dabble in drugs and alcohol while calling yourself cured.   If you don't want to go to AA, then don't. But don't label it as useless when it clearly brings peace to so many.

I hope you find what works for you, I truly do.  Drugs and alcohol are a crutch that keep us from living life to our full potential.  What's in front of you may be even more amazing that what's behind you.  But I'll bet you haven't yet found the path that works for you.  Keep looking. And start praying.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

The Falls by Joyce Carol Oates

I'm a big fan of the actual Falls, Niagara that is.  I grew up practically in The Falls backyard yet never made the trip to see them until a couple years ago.  It's a place that's engraved in my psyche.  A friend of mine knowing how much I love The Falls sent me some pictures from 1911 when The Falls were completely frozen over and people went to walk on them. Pretty fascinating stuff. I guess no one worried about slipping on the ice, breaking a leg and suing back then.   And in case you didn't know, there's always a rainbow at The Falls.

I loved this book.  Joyce Carol Oates certainly does know what she's doing.  The prose is brilliant, the characters superb.  Her ability to build tension is probably the finest I've ever read.  The Burnaby family however were all such tortured souls.  They lived and were legends in and around The Falls.  That's all I want to say about the plot.  It's well worth reading to find out what I mean.

I love reading the literary stories.  I love all the words, descriptions, dialogue.  I love getting lost in the characters lives.  The only thing that really bugged me about this book was that the questions that burned in my mind were never clearly answered.  And then I thought about them a little more.  No question any of us face in life is resolved clearly and specifically.  Ever. Other things simply happen that move us forward to where we're supposed to be.

The Falls is rated 4 out of 5 stars, well worth the time whether you're a Niagara Falls fan or not.  

Monday, February 14, 2011

Happy Valentine's Day!

Today is Valentine's Day.  It also marks 24 years of wedded bliss for me and Richard. Amazing!

St. Valentine is a real saint whose feast day is celebrated on February 14th.  But no one really knows too much about him.  He did restore someone's sight but in the end he made some one really mad and was beheaded.

Kind of like love and certainly like marriage.  Falling in love makes our sight all rosy and glowing.  The other person can do no wrong, fulfills our every desire and each time we see that person again, it's like the first time.  And then life gets in the way.  A headache, PMS, losing a job, a fender bender in the car might make you feel like chopping his or her head off.  Now I understand why St. Valentine is the saint of love.

I know that through 24 years we've both experienced all of those emotions and then some.  We've taken the ups with the downs, screamed, yelled, bit our tongues and loved each other throughout the roller coaster ride called marriage.  We no longer need to send flowers or candy or cards.  We simply love that the entire world is decorated in shades of red and pink just for us on our special day.

And even though we don't need to buy each other gifts, Richard likes to sneak one in anyway.  What did he buy me this year?  This morning on my desk I found a 5 inch tall beautifully carved, red marble heart.  It's gorgeous.  It's a bookend. And I often think he doesn't understand my love affair with books.  He does.

I love you, honey!!  Happy Anniversary!

Thursday, February 10, 2011

My Inspiration

Yesterday I read a column in the USA Today by Craig Wilson.  His pieces appear each week and I love his tales of life.  On this day he thanked his high school English teacher for inspiring him to become a writer.

So I started to think.  Who or what had inspired me to write?  Hmmm.  I'd never really thought about it.  Writing simply came to me during my mid-life crisis.  I was turning 50 and started to realize I wanted something more out of life than the 9 to 5 grind up the corporate ladder.  Sure that job afforded me a beautiful home, a new car  and wonderful vacations around the world.  Deep inside I wasn't satisfied and out of the blue I turned to writing.

But did this really happen out of the blue?  An idea for a book has been stuck in my head since I was very young.  The story is of two childhood friends who go off to college and end up on very different paths.  It's titled, Red Rover, after the childhood schoolyard game where one team calls a person from the other and they attempt to run over and break through the hands of the opposing team so they can steal a player and return home.  One friend being very athletic is highly desired in this activity, the other being a klutz, is not. I haven't written a single word of this book yet I know quite well how it all plays out.  And I've known it for years.

I thought a little harder because now I'm curious as to where my inspiration truly came from.  And now I think I've got it.  I grew up in a time without email or texting or cellphones.  I was taught to write letters to relatives thanking them for Christmas gifts.  Once my parents took a trip to Europe and I wrote them letters on thin parchment paper that folded itself up into it's own envelope for mailing.  When I spent my summers away from my best friend, we corresponded daily.  Receiving and reading a letter filled my heart with joy.  Writing a response I thoughtfully created, satisfied my soul.

The one comment I remember however was from my grandmother.  After receiving what must have been a particularly newsy and appreciative thank you note from me, she wrote back, "Linda, you write a beautiful letter."

My inspiration.  Thanks Grandma!

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

The Thousand Autumns of Jacob De Zoet by David Mitchell

Several months ago, The Thousand Autumns of Jacob De Zoet received glowing reviews in the USA Today.  The story seemed intriguing in an Asian setting, I had to have it.  I ordered it from Amazon and sneaked it on to the shelf were it sat until now.

Talk about a hook!  The first chapter shocked me.  I had to keep reading after that.  Every night before I go to bed, I read.  Every night I looked forward to reading the next few chapters.  That elevated level of anticipation doesn't happen to me very often.

The author is a master of language. This is the story of Dutch merchants living and trading on a small island in Japan in 1799.  The dialect was perfectly written and that is not a simple task.  Dutch people are trying to speak Japanese while the Japanese are translating for the Dutch.  Then throw in a British captain and his sailors all while writing for a person reading in English.

I felt I was in the place and time period, not only because of the dialogue but because the prose is amazing.  The author's word choice was spectacular and transported me into each scene.  I breathed the air, smelled the sea, and felt each character's pain.

The Thousand Autumns of Jacob De Zoet is a beautifully written, powerful story of strategy and intrigue.  I'm rating it a 4 out of 5 because I loved it but I was disappointed in the ending.  That happens sometimes even in the stories we adore.    

Friday, January 21, 2011

Mystery Solved

Two years ago, in January when the whole world seemed to be on the brink of disaster, Richard and I leaped over the falls to start our new wondrous life.  We packed up all our belongings and moved to our new home 150 miles north where we knew no one.  Based on our life prior to this time, it looked like a very impulsive action on our part.  We're planners, leaving nothing to chance if we can help it.  Yet here we were all alone in a strange new town.

We've faced many rough spots in two years, owning 2 homes when the sale of our old house fell through at the last minute, not being able to find a good job before finally realizing that $10 an hour is a pretty decent job in this new economy and battling the alcohol that made the unknown seemingly bearable.  All these challenges have been resolved so that I'm now in a place of peace, love and harmony.

But there was one little thing that's been gnawing at me.  When I inventoried my unread books, two were missing.  For two years I've been searching for them finally deciding that when I left Richard alone for a week to unpack after our move, he'd thrown them out with the trash.  Every time I went to the bookstore I looked for these titles trying to resist the urge to purchase them again.  I highlighted them in orange on my book log so I'd never forget them.  I knew they had to be here somewhere but had given up hope.

Richard has been doing the spring cleaning.  Today he was cleaning out the closets, tossing out all the stuff we don't need.  I took Ginger for a walk since she's afraid of the vacuum.  It's always quite an ordeal when the vacuum is running.  On our return a pile of junk greeted my on my desk.  And there they were.  The books I couldn't forget about.  The Falls by Joyce Carol Oates and The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz. I screamed with delight.  

I have less than 100 pages left to read in my current selection and then I'll start these two.  This is their time, I'm certain of it.  They've magically reappeared for a reason.  I've leaped over the falls into a new wondrous life to learn something new about myself through my books.

Friday, January 7, 2011

The Chronicles of Narnia by C. S. Lewis

I thought I'd start out the new year with a classic.  I remember reading The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe as a youngster but had no knowledge of the other six chronicles.  Until the movies started coming out.  My how times are changing.  Old stories, new medium.

All 766 pages of this book seemed daunting at first until I realized that there were seven stories of roughly 100 pages each.  The introduction stated that the stories were in order of how C. S. Lewis meant for them to be read.  Interestingly enough that is not the same order in which they were written.  After reading them in order I realized the talent of Mr. lewis in creating this wonderful land of Narnia.  The transitions between tales were smooth and seamless.

I loved Aslan and wanted to be able to rub my face in his soft, thick mane like the children did.  Each child had a distinct personality that was so easily woven into the stories.  They came to know Narnia in such believable ways, by walking through the back of the wardrobe, holding onto a magic ring or admiring a painting of a sailing ship.  I want to go to Narnia but I know that I'm too old.  Darn!

I do have to say that reading all seven chronicles at once did get a little boring.  I have to admit that I only skimmed The Silver Chair, chronicle number six.  But since each story is rather short, I might suggest reading one or two, then reading something else in between before coming back to the stories of Peter, Edmund, Lucy, Susan, Diggory and Eustace.  They'll be fresh.

I love the classics and The Chronicles of Narnia didn't disappoint.  I rate it a 5 out of 5.

The Wonder of All Things by Jason Mott

The Wonder of All Things by Jason Mott When things go terribly wrong at the local air show, Ava miraculously heals the mortal wounds of h...