Was October gorgeous where you live? It sure was in my neck of the woods. Brilliant color, lots of warm sunny days, the last gasps of my garden – gorgeous! And now November which historically has never been a favorite for me. I associate November with darkness, you see, and think of it as a drab gray time. But these last few bright days might shift my perspective, they’ve been so bright. And I will certainly savor that lovely blue sky!
Much of my non-desk time has been focused on preparing for our community’s largest art festival The Christkindl Market next weekend. Over 100 vendors under a huge tent for three days on the lawn of historic Granger Homestead – and Pat and I will be there with our Butterfly Junction wearable arts. I’ve never, ever before focused on holiday wearables so early! I’m more than a little opposed to rushing the holiday madness till after Thanksgiving, so these are the first pics I’ve posted of my newest creations. There will be more ahead!
Remember how a college class was set to beta-read my novel-in-progress Look Up? I got their feedback late last week, and oh baby, was it interesting! These college kids are so way cooler than I! They actually caught me in a sexist gaffe or two. Me! I was stunned until I realized why I made those slips. I was so focused on solving another problem, the gaffes slid by me. But what made me happiest was that both genders in this twenty-something group found my gaffes disturbing. Both! I felt like dancing on a table! How far these young people have come from my own fairly liberated generation where guys still pushed too far and young women gave in too often. No more? Hot diggety-dog! And you can bet I’ll fix those gaffes! In fact, I’m up to my elbows working on revisions that use their feedback. It’s one reason I’m a tad tardy with this month’s Salutations. I committed to not lifting my nose from the manuscript until I got through page 100. (I spent several days on just one page!) I crossed that mark yesterday, so here I am. Onward I’ll go through the next couple hundred pages, and then ship it off to my editor. I’m excited, and it will be a better book because of their input.
And hear ye, hear ye! I’m still far from cracking the Amazon ad process, but I’m pleased to announce that last month I actually earned a few dollars more than I spent. For the first time. Progress!
This was our book club read in October. It’s not typical for us to read a murder mystery, and even less typical as you may know by now for me to enjoy reading about murder. And yet, this one is written so cleverly. An important hint – shared by a fellow book club member – pay attention to the font changes! I’m glad she told me before I began or I might have been lost. Those font changes indicate a shift in this story within a story. One story is about an Australian author’s groupie/pen pal who provides local Boston info to make her novel more authentic – interspersed with the author’s actual murder mystery novel. We sometimes see the groupie’s feedback emerge in the main story, and we see his increasing indignation when it’s not. So we’re trying to decipher who done it while we wonder what’s up with the groupie. For a writer, the back and forth was intriguing, and I found it clever how Gentill used the groupie to address the pandemic and George Floyd-related unrest while not addressing either in the actual murder mystery. I can tell you, it’s a dilemma for a novelist these days. If we include the pandemic, that becomes so encompassing, any other story element takes a back seat. But if we don’t, will the story feel real and contemporary? I admire how Gentill solved this problem. However, the book was not a universal hit among our club. It’s not long or terribly deep, but it’s also not an easy read because there’s a lot to keep track of. Still, I enjoyed it more than I expected.
As I read McVeigh’s Susan, I began to feel like a poor Austen fan. I’ve not read Austen’s Lady Susan, (Bad Sally!) so I spent a lot of McVeigh’s novel wondering why she opted to focus on a character who ultimately became a supporting rather than lead player. That said, McVeigh made a creditable effort to write in a Jane-esque fashion which I found fun. There was the classic poor relation girl thrown on her relatives including the toady Mr. Collins and long-suffering Charlotte. Susan is painted as a lively young actress, capable of fooling even the formidable Lady Catherine de Bourgh into believing she’s meekly happy in the grand lady’s company. But she’s also a schemer who plays up to foolish neighbor Mr. Johnson, a widower who more than readily agrees to sponsor the young people in putting on a play. There’s much angst about reputations and marriageability which Austen would likely endorse. But in the end, it’s not really Susan’s story at all but her cousin Alicia who falls for the younger Mr. Henry Johnson and he for her, though of course it doesn’t always appear so. Henry’s father needs him to marry money which Alicia does not have. McVeigh’s a mere shadow next to Austen, certainly. But she doesn’t pretend otherwise, and if you don’t maintain lofty expectations, you might enjoy Susan. Other Austen wanna-be writers have done worse. Did you read Death Comes to Pemberly? Dreadful. In my own not-so-humble opinion, this was better.
Family life ain’t what it’s cracked up to be even when it looks good. Even from the inside, Leland Littlefield thinks his family is fine. Okay, maybe his marriage isn’t as satisfying as it once was, and he misses his kids’ former belief that he hung the moon. Those kids are a mess themselves. One struggles with her marriage and infertility, one has PTSD from his service in Afghanistan, and the youngest is socially awkward with a vengeance and doesn’t trust his piano virtuosity. Nothing else goes right for the kid. Why should this? It takes the crisis of a sudden death and Leland’s own unexplained health issues to bring the kids rallying around and Leland’s own long-suppressed desires to the forefront. A lot of this book felt disjointed to me, probably because it four or five stories that never melded well – kind of like the family members themselves. There were excellent parts of the story, rich with depth and insight – enough that the promise of more seemed close. But for me, that promise mostly got drowned in uninteresting details. I didn’t hate this book. But nor can I say that I liked it a lot either.
The title and cover of Patel’s book had me expecting a chick-lit tale, and I was pleasantly surprised to find more. The premise of unexpected inheritance nearly turned me away. Overdone and so completely unrealistic, I thought. But here, the inheritance is an apartment in a building owned and overseen by a collection of middle-aged Indian ‘aunties’ who themselves inherited the property from ancestors who came to Boston to study at MIT so they’d be prepared to rebuild post-colonized India. Facing prejudice, they pooled resources and banded together to purchase the building in Back-Bay Boston. The five apartments have been handed down generation to generation along with a host of rules and expectations which feel totally alien to Meena. Yes, she could be Indian, but she doesn’t know since she grew up with devoted adoptive parents until they died when she was sixteen. She’s been a vagabond ever since. What does she need with an apartment when traveling is her life and livelihood? For that matter, what does she need with an Indian heritage? She sure doesn’t want to conform to the aunties’ dictates when one of them – she’s not sure which – must be her biological mother who left her in a foster home when her adoptive parents died. And yes, there’s a handsome guy and his sweet dog in the apartment across the hall. But this is more than romance. It’s a story of finding family, forgiveness, and a uniquely appealing communal life. I like a good chick-lit story, and I liked this even more. Because it was more.
This one surprised me too. I chose it for the cover – the kind of cover that Amazon often associates my books with. But as I’ve noted in previous posts, I’m not always thrilled with what Amazon considers as ‘comps’ for my books. I’ve come to expect a so-so romance. This wasn’t that. Instead, Nellie Brooks put her focus on friendship between women in their late forties and early fifties. Maisie is the star of this first book in a series, (Have I mentioned that I’m not overfond of series either?) and she returns to her idyllic seaside home after ten years of searching for her missing son. Being with or even in contact with her three closest friends was too painful, and she wouldn’t have come back now except for yet another last-ditch attempt to find the boy who disappeared so long ago. Meanwhile, Cate, Ellie, and Sam have lived their own lives but rally yet again around their long-lost friend. There is a handsome newcomer to town. He’s also lost a child so one anticipates Maisie’s future romance. One also anticipates that Ellie, Cate, and Sam will each have a starring role in upcoming books in the series, sorting out their various less-than-perfect marriages and careers. But while I was pleasantly surprised at the depth of this first book of the series, and did enjoy it, I’m not immediately compelled to read the stories that will inevitably come next.
Now, this was a book with no pretenses. It is what it looks to be. Straight up chick-lit. But in my opinion, it’s high-quality top-shelf chick-lit. Yes, there’s romance, yes there’s another idyllic small town near the water and yes, an adorably misbehaving dog. But Lucy Score created protagonists and their assorted friends and family that I’d be glad to adopt as my own. They are multi-dimensional enough to feel real. Maggie has carved out a successful house renovation career, but her current sentimental choice could blast her goals. As could her own messy backstory with it’s jagged unhealted wounds. Silas, the sexy landscaper is the hometown boy with all the connections including a multiracial blended family of origin (in Idaho!) and a crew of laid-off employees from the town’s now closed cabinet plant. There’s humor – family, dog, a town historian/curmudgeon – a mystery, and a big payoff in both romantic and professional fashion. And a very fun writing style that reminded me of books by Kristan Higgins and Katherine Center. In fact, I liked it so much, I’ve already borrowed another Lucy Score book from my library. Stay tuned next month for my report. In the meantime, if you like a rompy with heft, you can’t go far wrong with Maggie Moves On. Top-shelf chick-lit.
When my friend Terry raved about Bonnie Garmus’ novel, I did not immediately run to find it. Terry often recommends great books, but she’s also a retired middle school science teacher. Chemistry? I have a vivid memory of crying during a chem test because there was not a single answer I knew. So no, I was not immediately enthused. But Terry kept raving, and other members of my book club rallied around the choice, selecting it for our December book. And wouldn’t you know, it was available on Libby. Okay, fine. I read the darned book. And loved it. The story isn’t so much about science as it is about a scientist. A woman scientist. A really gorgeous, exceedingly capable woman scientist. In 1960. Science is not ready for Elizabeth Zott. Or at least her male colleagues aren’t, and when they set her adrift, the only work she can find to support herself and her young daughter is on a television cooking show – because cooking is chemistry. While Elizabeth is fairly humorless, the machinations the male TV producers go through trying to control her are laugh-out-loud funny. Because Elizabeth will not be controlled. Nope. And she won’t let the women in her audience settle for less than they can be either. Imagine! A strong woman who encourages other women to find their strength even if they have to prepare dubious mushrooms for their domineering hubbies. I should have listened to Terry sooner. I won’t make that mistake again.
Here’s a debut novel from an author in FLARE (Finger Lakes Authors and Readers Experience). Since Paul also attends and has read some compelling stories at my writers group, and I like to support my fellow local authors, I bought his book at a recent FLARE event. Paul has crafted some complicated characters – an aging artist father, his two fairly damaged children, a granddaughter who recognizes her grandfather’s talent, and a supporting cast who might be quirky and/or wholesome, depending. The novel sits pretty squarely in the inspirational genre which is not a favorite of mine, so I wanted to see the granddaughter try being less dependent on God’s direction for her life and more reliant on her own agency. And there were other spiritual themes of forgiveness and transformation that seemed rather contrived to me but might ring truer for a more religious reader. I give Paul high marks for character development. Albert and Sophie – granddad and granddaughter – were most compelling to me. Albert was a curmudgeonly old cuss, more focused on his painting than any other human relationship. And Sophie, determined to set her own path instead of taking the easier route her parents supported, came off as exceptionally compassionate to this difficult old man, and ultimately the catalyst that supported the family’s healing. I’ll look forward to watching Paul’s future work.
Last up is this important young adult novel with lessons for older adults like me too. But as this is our book club choice which we’ll discuss later this week, I’ll hold off on discussing it here. Suffice it to say, I felt enlightened, saddened, and then ultimately hopeful. Stay tuned next month. I’ll say more then
The Theater, The Theater
I’ve been lucky to see two terrific productions in the last month. The first was Somewhere at Geva Theater Center. Set in 1960ish, when West Side Story was hot on Broadway, Somewhere tells the story of a Puerto Rican family soon to be evicted from their apartment in the very neighborhood where West Side Story was set. Whole blocks there were razed to make space to build Lincoln Center – and families were relocated to housing projects in Harlem and the Bronx. Seeing the impact on one family helps explain a lot – how poverty became so much more concentrated and life became a lot more difficult for thousands of families. All for gentrification. It was a thought-provoking bit of theater – with wonderful dancing!
And then my other friend Terry came to me last week saying she had a problem, she hoped I could help her solve. A neighbor gave her two tickets to Hamilton. Could I go with her? Excuse me? Hamilton? Gave? You mean like – free? Well, yes. I’d be glad to help her solve that problem. It was, as I knew it would be, a remarkable experience. I’d hurried to sign up for Disney+ when they broadcast the Broadway version of Hamilton. But I could only get it on my iPad and the small screen did not begin to capture the pow of seeing it live. Nor, I must say, did reading Ron Chernow’s book. (Well. Skimming. The book was so dense, so heavy, I can’t say I read every word. Or even every page.) It was pow to the max. That Miranda could transform Chernow’s text to what I saw on stage – my jaw drops. And the talent – on a roadshow – astounding. The voices, the staging and movement, the characterizations of these founders we thought we knew – beyond remarkable. A true highlight of my fall. And a blessing. As is my friend Terry and the problem with which she wanted my help. Could I be a luckier woman? Hard to imagine.
I’ll be putting finishing touches on Christkindl Market preparations the rest of this week. Among product and pricing prep, I need to dig out my turtlenecks and sweaters. Yes, we’re in a tent, and yes, there are heaters, but our temps are slated to dip over the weekend. I remember just how frigid that tent can feel – and we’re further from the heater this year. So much for my no-socks-since -last-April record! Socks will be worn. Perhaps multiple pairs. Do come and see us if you’re in our area. We’ll be in the first tent with lots of lovely baubles to set off your festive wear in the coming season and beyond. Here are a few more previews.
I know. I’m not ready to enter the festive season either. But our Butterfly Junction booth will tell a different story this weekend!
And then, next week? Back to Look Up revisions!
Please stay well!