We’re still here. But what a tumultuous ride it’s been. Really, really far from normal. My hope, though, with the advent of the Covid19 Vaccine and a new administration, cooler heads and at least some greater sense of normality will soon prevail. I’m hanging in there and refusing to give in to doubt. I hope you are too.
Meantime, I’m writing – almost halfway into my next novel. I keep pressing forward, hoping the characters will show me their stories. One protagonist took a recent turn I found most surprising – and slightly unsettling. Meanwhile the other still copes with being a small-town girl in the big city – so much so that her drama hasn’t yet fully materialized. And how they’ll get together? The book may not turn out to be a mystery, but so far the story is plenty mysterious to me. And therein lies the fun. So I tell myself.
The big solace in these winter months? Reading, reading, reading. I turn to my drug of choice – for solace, for lessons in empathy, for the connection reading forges between people, for the sheer joy of losing myself in someone else’s story, to learn. Here are some of the books I’ve read lately.
I expected this one to be a lark of a story, and I wasn’t wrong. It’s Scotland, there’s a family of girls and a boy with a single father, there’s a lake, and a dog. Why wouldn’t it be fun? It was. Kind of. At the start it seemed like a Young Adult novel. Okay, I was a young adult once. I don’t object to revisiting that age (in a virtual sense. I wouldn’t like actually reliving it.) But the kids get older and older and the two who are obviously meant to be together keep throwing barriers of their own making in the way. It made me a tad weary. I wanted them to figure it out already! By the time they did, I wasn’t having so much fun.
Put ‘bookshop’ in any title and I’ll likely read the book, won’t you? And have you noticed that bookshops are almost always in buildings that are falling down around the owners’ ears? This one was, in a kind of metaphor for Natalie who just lost both her mother and the man who wanted to propose – and with whom she’d planned to break up – in the same plane crash. And the metaphor continues with Natalie’s grandfather Andrew whose mind is giving in to dementia. Add in love triangle complications – Trevor the oh-so successful author whose event could kick start the failing shop and Peach the hunky handyman – and a firm belief that there’s a treasure hidden somewhere in the building? It was worth reading to see what that bookish treasure might be. And to be sure that Natalie ended up with the right guy!
I’m a Marisa de los Santos fan. Loved, loved, loved Love Walked In, I’ll Be Your Blue Sky, and all her books in between. This one? I liked it. Maybe even liked it a lot. But it never quite grabbed me like her other stories. There were grand characters and challenging situations, but neither the first nor the ultimate turning point felt quite compelling to me. Nor did the ending quite convince me. Next time she writes a book? Oh yeah. I’ll read it. When you love, love, love most of an author’s work, would you give up on her for a book you liked a lot? Not me. Look up her other work, and I’ll bet you’ll read her again and again too.
Okay, so there’s not much mystery why I chose this book. Another bookshop? Sure. I’m in. This one is quirkier, darker, and less expected than Susan Wiggs’ bookshop. For one thing, it’s told in a series of emails, online reviews, and journal entries in which Fawn Birchill becomes increasingly unhinged – often with humorous results, but sometimes, it’s downright sad. There’s much to admire in this novel – including wine-induced typos – and yet, more and more often, I found myself deeply impatient with Fawn. Perhaps the ‘alternate reality’ she created for herself was too reminiscent of recent events at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave for me to continue seeing the humor in her self-deception.
Two misfits find each other. One’s popular in high school, while the other is too dweeb-y to acknowledge, and then the tables flip in college. But somehow a relationship – something deep and real – emerges between them and lasts through break-ups and relationships with other people. I wonder if I’ve become too impatient, but like with some of the stories above, I wanted the author and her characters to get on with it already. There was a lot of angst – some of it for good reason – but a lack of clarity regarding how these characters healed enough to move forward. If, in fact, they ever do. Perhaps most telling, I’ve had to look this book up in order to remember these characters. If I’d been truly invested, I doubt that would have been necessary.
And for Christmas, my honey got me three of the four books I asked for – the fourth being not yet published. My mistake. Two by Nora Roberts were, as I expected, pure escape. I can count on Nora for many characters I’d like to know and a few I hope never to meet. And for letting me visit a place I might never get to see. In Hideaway that place was Big Sur, a ranch with an ocean view and a Hollywood family compound. Both sounded rather idyllic, places I’d not mind hiding away in – though I didn’t actually see the main character as hiding.
In The Awakening, Nora took me to a ‘gayborhood’ in Philadelphia that sounded pretty fun and then to the west of Ireland in both a real and mystical world. This one’s the first of what will surely be a trilogy, so I’m glad I own it and will be able to refresh myself on the story again when the next one hits the shelves. So far, I’m not as captured as I was in her last paranormal trilogy, but I have confidence, she’ll pull out more stops in Book II. And to be fair, the Blood and Bone trilogy had an eerie pandemic prescience. I wouldn’t want to tempt fate again, but it might be hard, even for Nora, to top that saga.
Since reading The Widow’s War, I wanted to keep reading Sally Gunning’s Satucket Trilogy – even though, despite what you might think, I’m not usually a reader of series. But Gunning effectively draws a new cast of characters to join the widow of the first book. We find out how old friends are doing (and what!) but the focus is on the new. Gunning opens a window on challenges women faced in the late eighteenth century. They made me celebrate my birth many generations hence! In Bound we meet Alice whose father indentures her at a tender age, is impregnated by the husband of her mistress, and is treated again and again as if she’s worth nothing at all. Oy. And the sad thing is that the story is entirely believable. I’ll read Gunning’s books again – including the third in her Satucket series. But I might rest a while first.
This was hailed as ‘Agatha Christie-like’ and though it’s not my typical genre, I found it a fun read. A luxury chalet in the French Alps? Sign me up. Except that the guests are fairly obnoxious. So when they start to die off and an avalanche cuts them all off from the rest of the world? I was entertained rather than dismayed. Who’ll be the next to die? And who’s the murderer? Even when we get an inkling, there’s plenty of suspense before our lone survivor walks away. You won’t put this down because you’ll want to know what happens next. But I wouldn’t schedule a weekend ski trip after you get done.
What’s not to like about Louisa Clark? Except perhaps for the circumstances she finds herself in – again. This time she’s working – again – for barely likable rich folks whose sense of reality seems in direct opposition to their vast fortunes. These New York rich folks’ tragedies seem self-induced and pale in comparison to Will’s in ME BEFORE YOU. But we see the joys and perils of a long-distance relationship with hunky Sam back in the UK. The anticipation before a reunion and… yeah, the let down. And there’s more! A potential new love interest, an unlikely friendship, a betrayal (or two), and a whole new set of career opportunities… Fun, start to finish!
I won’t say much about this one yet since it’s my pick for our book club read in April (when it would be my turn to host but will be on Zoom instead. No need to clean the house!) I will say that Backman is a genius with simile and metaphor. Such wonderful turns of phrases – some that made me think, some that made me smile, and more than a few that made me laugh out loud. I gave this book to my guy for Christmas with the ulterior motive of wanting to read it myself. He had the first go, and stayed a tad lukewarm for the first few (quite short) chapters. I was charmed by the second paragraph. I’ll look forward to reading this again before my book club meets in April. I’ll bet I find even more to enjoy the second time!
And finally, in addition to reading and writing, I fill my days climbing that steep learning curve of book marketing. One step up, two slides down. Amazon and Bookbub ads, free promos, contacting book bloggers. Trying to see what works, what doesn’t. Launching a book in a pandemic means few personal presentations, but two come up next month. February 8, I’ll talk about Home Place – the novel and the actual place – at Wood Library’s ‘Books Sandwiched In’ event. Necessarily via Zoom. And my wonderful book club will discuss my (gulp) book at our February meeting. Few occasions raise my anxiety more than hearing what the readers I respect the most think of my work, even when I know they’ll be kind and still like me even if they don’t like my book. Still. I’m glad I can fortify myself with liquid courage that evening and not have to navigate further than my keyboard and the stairs to my bedroom. Hold good thoughts for me!
And if you’ve not yet read Home Place, find it here. It’s always free on Kindle Unlimited, sometimes free when I do a promo, and only $2.99 in e-book format. I will say that the cover is beautiful thanks to Nancy Lane’s artistry and offers vast tactile pleasure in the paperback format, so if you like the pleasure of holding a real book, it can be yours for a mere $16.95