Salutations, May 2022

‘It’s May, it’s May, the lusty month of May!’ The darling month! May! Have I mentioned before how much I LOVE spring? I bet I have. And why not? Every day, even when the weather is fickle, some new beauty shows itself. I’m especially loving my new border of daffies and tulips, my first in many years. We’ve so many hungry deer around, I gave up on tulips – until someone suggested planting them among the daffies that deer don’t like. Ooh! Now sunshine and spice border my small veggie bed and hopefully, even as the bright blossoms fade, the daffies will keep the deer from chomping on my soon-to-be planted lettuce. Fingers crossed!

More good news – I’m making good inroads on my first set of revisions of my novel-in-progress. It’ll take more than one revision round, I’m sure to cut roughly 30,000 words and still make the story work. But I can report progress! Ten down, twenty thousand to go! It’s too soon to predict a publication date, but for now, I love spending time with my two protagonists. I like them! I think you will too.

Still more good news – my house is clean. Well. Cleaner than it has been in a long time. There’s nothing like knowing company’s coming to get me to wield that dust-rag! The company was my book club, the Really Readers, and while they’re among the kindest and least judgmental people I’ve ever known, most of them also live in houses at least ten years younger than mine. And are far better housekeepers. Which admittedly, is not an incredible feat. I frankly detest the process. I’d so rather curl up with a book.

Which is, of course, something I do a lot. Here’s what I’ve been reading since last we Salutated. (I know. It’s not a word. But it was fun to write anyhow.)

Based on her book Chemistry, I expected Wang’s latest to be quirky. It was. And enlightening. I learned a lot about the challenges faced by a child of immigrant parents. Joan’s parents returned to China. She stayed. The only place she doesn’t feel ‘other’ is in her career as an ICU doc. There she excels and forms a semblance of friendships, something she’s not capable of elsewhere – even with her own family. I liked Joan – more than I liked following her meandering path during mandatory bereavement leave. I was intrigued how she followed the rising cases in Wuhan, felt the enormity of Covid looming, and then was underwhelmed by the lack of drama as the pandemic arrived at her hospital. So. Interesting. Enlightening. Quirky. And just a little disappointing.

I chose The Lincoln Highway for when I hosted my book club last month (Ergo the cleaner house!) – because I needed to TALK ABOUT IT. Ergo, I had to read it again. Which I did not at all mind because it’s a wonderful book! My first time through was in e-format though, so when I got the physical book in my hands, I worried. Would my friends be mad I made them read so many pages? They were not. The book was a hit. Further, we had a tremendous discussion about it. Who liked Dutchess, who saw him as evil? Did Emmet mean to…at the end? Hmmm… Often our best discussions are when we don’t like a book, but this time, we all liked it AND the discussion was rich. By the way, if you need another way to think about the ending, you might look back to page 350ish. After we met, I searched and found a connection that began to make it all click into place for me.

After so much hard thinking, time for a bit of pure escapism… Bring on Kristan Higgins. This one was about two sisters, one living the life she always hoped for and one wishing she had that life. Except of course, nothing is ever quite so good as it might appear. Their individual turmoils spill over onto their relationship with each other and their respective partner/potentials. And all comes right in the end, just like this reader hoped all along. When Higgins spoke to our FLARE (Finger Lakes Authors and Readers Experience) last summer, she talked about hope and how writing happy endings helps readers believe in hope. She delivered again.

So, once again, I looked for escapism and found something more. Friedland’s novel begins like many chick-lits. One girl, two guys – one present, one past, both hunky and adorable. How to choose. I was just sitting back to enjoy the ride when…(sound of screeching brakes!!!) Hold the phone. One of them has… I won’t spoil it for you. Just know that the (insert spoiler here) changes everything – especially how it’s not really such a chick-lit story anymore. It was a surprise, and a good one. With some of the elements that make good chick-lit work – appealing characters, a great setting, enough money to enjoy NYC, but not so much that the characters ‘suffer’ the angst of vast wealth. I liked it a lot. Congrats to Friedland for bringing something new to what seemed like a standard rom-com.

Barbara Probst moderates the Women Writers, Women’s Books Facebook group I joined. I like the articles she shares and the connection the group builds among women who write. So when she published her first book, I read and liked it. And when this one came out, I bought it and saved it to read sometime soon – which turned out to be in April. Sad to say – because I like to support other authors – I didn’t love it. From the beginning, the main character was so all about herself, so desperate for it to ‘finally’ be her turn that I found her hard to like. I found it hard to care about her finding her birth family or about her dupuytren’s contracture which admittedly would suck when you aspire to be a concert pianist. So I didn’t find her likable and I couldn’t respect her choices. And when she finally grew a pair, was that a little too…easy? Probst has done well with this, has even won an award or two. Maybe it works for some. Just not me so much.

Again, I turned to reliable escapism for a bathtub read even though I thought Mary Kay Andrews strayed from what she does best in the book of hers I read most recently. She delivered this time. An island where residents can only drive golf carts, idyllic beaches, a lifestyle of the rich and famous but with undeniable southern charm… That’s the Mary Kay Andrews I enjoy. In this one, our leading lady bumbles to discover who killed her husband, but as he bilked her out of millions, she’s at least as focused on finding out where the money went. While she placates her domineering mother, spoiled daddy’s-girl daughter, talks her best friend into breaking and entering, and canoodles with the guy she might have chosen over her mother’s objections. In short, classic Mary Kay Andrews. And lots of fun.

When Annabel’s father dies, she reluctantly agrees to her mother’s request to travel together to visit Stella’s family – a family she hasn’t seen since coming to the States years before. Oh. And Stella has learned that the man she loved before meeting Annabel’s father might be returning to Derry for a Marine Corps reunion. Wait. Her mother was in love before? Is she not grieving her husband as Annabel grieves her father? It’s a trip of discovery for both women, a chance to face the consequences or past decisions and look for new ways to be in the world. Was it the best read of my life? No. But it was an enjoyable tale of changing times in an interesting part of the world.

My friend Mike Coyle attended a workshop led by Hannah Tinti and spoke of her before he died. I’d like to argue her book’s merits with him. I admired Tinti’s writing and the story of the one-handed orphan boy who’s adopted by the mysterious and loose-moraled stranger. But oh my, the violence! It never seems to stop! One hair-raising episode bleeds into the next so that one wonders how anyone survived in early nineteenth-century New England. Illegal autopsies, a murdering giant, a roof-dwelling dwarf, an evil factory owner and his hat-wearing minions, a dentist who fashions dentures from the teeth of the dead… Oh there’s more. Mike? Really? Okay. Excellent writing. I’d like to see it applied to something a tad more…gentle.

After violence…give me a lighthearted rom-com! Kate O’Keefe filled the bill with this one. With a history of disastrous dates, Sophie and her friends make a pact. Anyone wanting to date them must first face the friends’ interrogation panel which ought to weed out the oh-nos. Operative word? Ought to. It’s no surprise that it doesn’t, or that Sophie’s head is turned by the one guy she believes is un-datable. Not until she carves out a career that might possibly reassure her older siblings that she can make up her own mind, do things look brighter for Sophie. But would it be as much fun if she didn’t face down the horrible before she finds love and job success? This is a classic rom-com. And fun!

I am a huge fan of Elizabeth Berg’s novels. Her characters’ lives always seem so very real. There’s a homey feel to her stories that make me feel like I moved in with her families. I was very tired the night I started this one and didn’t get far. Nor did I the next time I picked it up. It was Friday and I guess the week wore me out. The next morning, I picked it up again. And didn’t stop till I finished it that afternoon. Couldn’t stop. Would the boys come home from WWII? Which boys? Which of the three sister’s boyfriends? And? Wait! I read the epilogue again. What? Who? Oh my. Really? How did that happen? I’ll be wondering a long time. I recommend you read it too. We can wonder together.

Whew! I read a lot last month – between cleaning, gardening, teaching, writing, etc. I call that a really good month! And now, May… the lovely, lusty, darling month, when I plant my veggie garden and tulips give way to pink dogwood, peonies, and clematis… By next month will I be on round two of novel revisions? Yes! Will I have read more amazing books? I have no doubt. May your May be as rich!

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