Salutations, December 2021

Look at me! Only a few days into December and here I am. Already! What a good kid I am!

Whoops. Does that sound too self-congratulatory? And? After lagging so terribly earlier this fall, I am rather impressed with myself for even thinking about this newsletter so early this month. Sometimes it does the soul good to grab onto any reason to feel proud.

One more reason? I think I made a breakthrough on my novel-in-progress this week. As I’ve previously reported, I’ve been writing and writing – over four-hundred pages so far – with no clear end in sight. Glimmers, yes. A clear path? No. That path forward is overgrown. But the glimmers are brighter now. I think I know what happens and I think I know when it needs to happen to make the story work. I even have a sense about some of the darlings I’ll need to kill to let the story move. Maybe by next month, I’ll be able to report even more progress – before my life gets swallowed by a semester ending and another starting on its heels. Hope on, hope ever!

Meanwhile, I’m beyond pleased with recent reviews of Home Place and Come Back. I wish Amazon offered the chance to personally bless each reviewer. Or maybe send them flowers. I’d ship off daisies and daffodils to Bookzilla who said, ‘…Incredibly descriptive and emotional writing that draws the reader into each scene…’ And doesn’t Char R. deserve premium chocolate kisses for, ‘This was one of those page-turners that turn into an obsession to finish. The story just flowed on so smoothly.’ I love you Char R. and Bookzilla! I do, I do, I do! And bless you to the moon and back!

What to do about the holidays? It’s on my mind and yours too, I hope. I love the idea of friends and family gathering in what seems like our old-time traditions. And…I’m not so sure. Do we hunker down now to avoid Omicron? Or do we grab the gusto while we can? I’m reminding myself to make decisions about today, remembering that science takes time. Surely every day will bring more information. I can decide more when I know more. But gosh, I do like to plan! So I’ll focus on my safe plans – make my home beautiful, bask in memories tied to all those special ornaments on my tree, keep moving, keep hoping. Deal. With whatever requires dealing with.

And Read. Winter is not my favorite season, but it is a great time to hibernate with books!

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When last I wrote Salutations, I was speed-re-reading Kristan Higgins hours in advance of my book club meeting. I made it. Just. I enjoyed it and felt it more deeply on my second read. Okay, maybe not enjoyed. It’s a story about devastating loss, after all. But oh my, Higgins gets grieving. Over and over again, I nodded my head, my own seasons of grief present on her pages. As one of my book club friends said, ‘It’s an amazing writer who can make us feel so much – even if what we feel is so, so sad.’ Do you want to subject yourself to all that sad when your own life might be too much? Maybe not. But after you come through the tunnel, when you’ve regained your strength, this is a tale to remind you that loss can also bring growth.

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I liked Denfeld’s The Butterfly Girl a lot, though I found the references to her previous novel, The Child Finder a little distracting – because I didn’t remember clearly. I kept wondering…is it a sequel? Or a stand-alone? It’s a compelling story about kids living on the streets – a population that Denfeld seems to know well. That the girl Denfeld’s Naomi wants to save will be captured in the same web as the sister Naomi barely remembers felt a tad too contrived to me. But I held my breath regardless in hopes that twelve-year-old Celia would finally get a soft landing in a world that had treated her far too harshly. And I’m grateful that there are people who work to rescue kids like her, to offer hope instead of despair.

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The setting was the star of this story and rightfully so. How do you top a gorgeous Tuscan winery? The characters and story were less compelling – a little too one-dimensional and predictable for my taste. I never heard of an actual person inheriting a vast fortune from a father she never knew. Have you? More plausible – and I thought more entertaining – was the back story of the mother’s great love and the reasons she stepped outside her marriage to experience that love. How many women – and men – married in the 1950s and earlier because it was what was expected of them? How many forged truly happy partnerships? I could believe that Fiona’s mother had not – if it stretched my belief that her biological father would entirely cut out his other children from his will.

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I didn’t expect what I got in Marcia Butler’s story set in Oslo, Maine. When I downloaded it, I saw something about a moose, something that led me to believe there’d be humor. Um…not so much. Butler paints a pretty dark picture of life in and near this tiny dot on the map. A polluting, and dying tannery. A man with a side poaching business. His pill-popping wife. Their violin-virtuoso son who doesn’t fit in because he reads. The musician neighbors from away. The grandmother with advancing cancer trying to care for a grown man too simple to get by on his own. Oh. And a moose – who was quite possibly the most appealing character. But somehow, everything comes out well in the end? Hmm. It was an interesting tale. But I don’t think it will make my top ten.

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Back to Three Pines where the food is always incredible, the characters familiar and well-loved, the scenery pristine, and someone gets murdered. Every time. Not to fear. Inspector Armand Gamache and his trusty side-kicks are there too. I was glad Armand got to sleep in his own bed this time! As usual, Penny’s plot is a tad convoluted, dealing as it does with a vast and (Please God) implausible conspiracy and red herrings up the wazoo. But would I be willing to miss another Inspector Gamache tale? I would not!

Penny’s covers are often lovely, but isn’t this one particularly gorgeous?

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Full disclosure. I am a card-carrying fan of Joshilyn Jackson. (Does she have a fan club? Do they have membership cards? Don’t know. I made that part up.) When this one came up on sale, I was surprised to find one I hadn’t read. Joy! Rapture! Lighter than other Jackson tales, Between, Georgia was delightful. Colorful characters, great love, deep-seated fears, an intriguing family dynamic. Fun! And this teeny-tiny southern town halfway between Athens and Atlanta, Georgia, the kind of place Where the high drama of drunks colliding with Baptists seems likely. I thoroughly enjoyed my weekend with Joshilyn.

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I didn’t get around to reading this in time for my other book club, but on their recommendation, why not get it from my library? Korelitz presents an intriguing moral dilemma – one of particular interest to writers. A huge slump after early success, a student’s amazing plot – and boop, this kid who shared his work with no one except our hero up and dies. Before he writes his book. Does our hero co-opt the plot and run with it? He does. And lives in fear of discovery. It’s a great premise, but the novel fell short for me because try as I might, I couldn’t find a lot to like in our hero. How he wallowed – even after he attained great fame. I’ll give the author credit for a whopping finish though and a twist worthy of the name.

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Hmmm… I’m still thinking hmmm… about this Elizabeth Strout book about a mother and daughter relationship I finished last week. Amy’s a shy, likable teenager, susceptible like all teens to influences beyond her mother’s knowledge or understanding. Isabelle is a tightly wrapped single mom whose myriad fears make it easier to live mostly in her head. What hurt caused Isabelle’s fearful outlook? Is Amy the mature and dutiful daughter her mother believes her to be or a kid on the brink of following her mother’s risky patterns? Did I like this book? I’m on the fence. Did I miss something? Maybe I’ll find more to like as my book club discusses it this week. What I’m not on the fence about is the weather – which fills a lot of pages in this book. Are those few nice days in spring and fall worth the brutal winter and torturously hot summer portrayed as life in Maine? I’m thinking no.

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I’m still reading Tiny Habits by BJ Fogg – slowly. So I’ll review that in January – after pondering what new habits I want to build into my life and if I’m willing to banish enjoyable but not particularly productive habits. But here’s a preview of one thing I love, love, love. Celebrate! After every tiny success, pat yourself on the back, raise a fist to the air, give yourself a hug in celebration! Every time. Because that ‘shine’ as Fogg calls it will spur you to keep going – just so you can celebrate again. So sure. Celebrate! Can you think of a better time to start?

Many blessings for peace, plenty, and especially for robust health to you and yours in this most wonderful time of year! Please stay well and help all you encounter to do the same. We do know what works, so take every measure to stay well! You’re too valuable to your friends, family, and me to put yourself at risk. And when you take those measures, remember to CELEBRATE your healthy habits!

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