Salutations January-February, 2023

Yes, I know. I’ve been absent. And late. I mean, really late. I only got our Christmas tree down last week. And yes, there were needles everywhere. But did we get our money’s worth from that tree? Yes, we did. And the lights helped us past winter’s darkness. So wasn’t it a good idea to keep those lights burning as long as we could? I thought so. (And I’ll admit, the drudgery of putting everything away is an annual procrastinator’s challenge!)

Lest you think procrastination is all I do, allow me to brag a bit. One thing I never put off is going to my YMCA. I’m religious about attending our Full-Throttle water aerobics class with Cheryl Anne Brewer who I am convinced is the best fitness instructor on the planet. She works our tail off three times a week. And because I was swimming and recording laps for years before I joined Full-Throttle, I stay after class to swim most days. My goal in lap swimming was always to join the 100-mile club, completing 100 miles every year. (I remember one year I lost track and ended up only doing 99. I was so bummed!) And then my goal was to do one more mile than I did the year before. Just one more. Or when the Y posed the challenge of swimming to all the Hawaiian Islands, a total of 155 miles, I did that too. Then Covid hit, the Y shut down a few months, and when they did re-open, they needed us to leave right after class. But in 2022, I went Full-Throttle and added enough lap swimming to add up to 153.14 miles in the pool. Not my best ever, but not, I think, too shabby either. And I cracked the two-thousand mark for my lifetime recorded pool miles. Why do I do it? Not for the fish on the bulletin board – though that’s fun too. No, I do it because I can – and I want to keep being able to go this distance. I did a total between the class and laps after of a mile and a quarter today, and I’ll keep doing that every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday I can, banking miles against when the Y shuts down this year just long enough to transition to our new building in October. Will I do go as far as 154.14 in 2023? I’ll sure try! Because I can.

Writing News

Here’s my other – and legitimate – reason for putting Salutations on my back burner. Revisions and rewrites on Look Up have been keeping my eyes in a crossed position. Argh. So much focus and discipline is required to keep my nose grinding. Not easy! Especially for a compulsive editor. And this last round of revisions brought on more re-writing than I remember doing at this point in my previous novels. But then, I had more early feedback for Look Up – from strangers rather than friends – than with Come Back or Home Place. So. I wrapped up two and and a half months of revisions/rewrites last week. Now to read it, start to finish. Which will likely result in yet more revisions – though I deeply hope not more re-writes. We’ll see. The upshot is that Look Up‘s publication date will likely be delayed a month or few beyond when I originally hoped. Surprised? I’m not. And I’m hoping you’ll find it worth the wait. It surely will be a stronger tale because of the extra time I spent on it.

I had a lovely time discussing Home Place and my other books with members of the Centerfield Homemakers, a group formed in 1947 and who generously provides cookies to any number of places in our community. I sampled several and can attest to their tastiness! They asked great questions and supported one another in the goal of going home to take photos of their houses – an outcome of my novel that always makes me proud!

Wearable Art News

Pat and I are planning on five shows between May and November this year, so I’ve been boosting my felted inventory. Writing is my weekday task, felting is my weekend play. Assuming my plan holds, I should have a dozen or so new scarf beauties to start out our show season. And will likely scramble to make new versions of top-sellers between shows. So far, I’ve focused on spring and summer flowers – probably because I need those bursts of colorful hope to get me through our typical winter gray. Think sunflowers, daffies, tulips, grape hiacynths, purple coneflowers and more!

And now, Reading News

This one was a library sale hardcover I could take to the tub – and a bit of research for my fourth novel (which I cannot let too far into my brain till number three hits the shelves!) I’ve read Delinsky before and frankly did not have terribly high expectations with this one. I was pleasantly surprised. I found the female protagonist overly neurotic on the subject of her mother’s family, and it took some time to sort out the numerous players and how they fit into the story. But that very complexity of relationships and the setting on the New England seacoast drew me in. (I suspect I might not like the wine from this vineyard, but when did I ever complain about a seacoast?) An aging owner – never given the credit she deserved – a son and daughter who don’t want to run the vineyard even if they inherit it, a hunky vineyardist, and a woman hungry for family against the dropback of tending and nurturing grapes – it made for a good tub book. And maybe I’ll give Delinsky another try – especially if I see another of her books at our annual library sale.

My guy and I always exchange at least one book at Christmas, and after a few tiny hints, he chose I Kingsolver’s latest for my gift. It’s not an easy story – but then one doesn’t expect easy from Kingsolver. But I think it’s an important story with an all too real-life flavor of desperation whose flavor feels all too based on reality. My version of the book comes with an explanation of how she came to write this story about a redheaded boy born in the poverty of the Appalachian mountains that explores the ravages of the opioid epidemic as well as the gifts and perils of the region most of us might regard as hillbilly country. She places a lot of blame on Big Pharma with enough to go around for coal companies, politics, and people who’ve systematically arranged for that part of our country to remain poor. Her characters – even those who manage to do well – feel the burden of the downtrodden image many have of them and their neighbors. She made her case with me – far more effectively than JD Vance did with his Hillbilly Elegy. The naturalist in Kingsolver along with her extreme empathy gave me a kinder and more positive view of the area and its people than Vance. Demon Copperhead is a kid who deserved more than the hard-scrabble existence and addiction he’s pushed into. It’s a hard book, but not without hope – especially when readers absorb Kingsolver’s lessons in humanity.

For quirky characters, it’s hard to beat Camille Pagan. And it’s the strength of those quirks that carried this book because there wasn’t really a lot to the story. Annie is mad at the world – her former employer who fudged lab results and fired her before she could lodge sexual harrassment charges, her hoarder mother, her fiance who’s ditched wedding plans for an offline sojourn in Paris, her one long-time friend who once tried to entice Annie into some pyramid enterprise, her father for leaving years ago, and the list could go on. It’s people, Annie decides. People cause problems. Don’t engange with people, she decides. It’s the only way to fix her own problems. Except she gets sucked in – to a surprising friendship with the mysterious new next-door neighbor and the private investigator who’s surveilling her. Meanwhile, back comes the fiance. Oh. Were you trying to contact me? Drop everything. Come to Paris. Let’s play. And not talk about the dullness of our relationship that sent me away in the first place. So, does it all add up to a story? It did – eventually – for me. Entertaining predicaments push Annie to grow and give up her war on people. And to learn from friendship – mostly not to settle for less than fairness in her career or sparkle in her love life.

I’ve relied more on Libby and Kindle e-books since the Pandemic began, and I got out of the habit of actually visiting my library. So when I was there for a meeting in January and found this third book in Nora Roberts’ latest trilogy, I got a burst of library joy I didn’t know I’d missed. I’d have bought this book eventually, but to find it mine and free for two weeks? Hurrah! Of course, with Nora, I know what to expect. Good vs. evil is at stake, our heroine has to make – as the title suggests – a choice and/or a big sacrifice, and there will be pow-pow sex with the hunky and brooding hero. With lots of endearing friend and family characters rooting for them both. That will be the story in a nutshell – in almost any of Nora’s fantasy trilogies. With the bonus of magikal creatures. On the whole, I liked this set of faeries, elves, , and dragons better than vampires. But if Nora’s next story includes a vampire, I’m still there. Because despite the sameness of the plot, she always makes it fun. My candy-reading. High-quality dark chocolate candy with a spicy dry red wine. Fun.

This one jumped off the library shelf when I walked by. Are you kidding? A bookshop? I love bookshops – and stories about bookshops! It didn’t hurt that this bookshop had such an interesting name. But not surprisingly, this bookshop – although beloved in the community – is struggling. Particularly since the owner recently died and left the shop to her niece who knows a lot about contract law and nothing about running a bookshop. Each for their own reason, the two employees rely on the shop to make them whole – and don’t trust their new owner. Will the niece sell their crutch out from under them? And even if she doesn’t turn out to be the Scrooge they fear, will she be able to save the shop from bankruptcy? We learn a lot about the characters in this story – the three living women plus the one who’s dead and the shop itself which also serves as a character. I found the whole thing charming. The women are all quite different personalities – all quite likable in their own ways. And how can they go wrong when the backdrops for all their stories are the books that populate the shop’s shelves? I liked this book a lot – enough to look up the author’s other works. They seem less appealing to me – unless I can get them from my library for free. I’m guessing I might be able to do just that.

I loved Jamie Ford’s debut novel Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet so I looked forward to reading this one – which again I found at the library. Sad to say, if I’d read this one first, I doubt I’d have bothered with his first. The premise was interesting and timely, that trauma can be inherited from previous generations. Here those traumas stemmed from the first Chinese woman (girl) to enter the United States who was treated like a trained seal, paraded as an oddity to the American public, and essentially owned and abused by the hucksters who put her on stage. Subsequent generations had their own traumas, but the trauma of any age – and there are a bunch of ages – becomes more complicated by what went before. The story gets more complicated too – unnecessisarily so in my opinion as it jumps back and forth from 1834 to 2045 with multiple points in between. Had Ford stuck to history – even in the near future – without the surreal mystery man who pops in and out of different times to ‘find’ one of the many daughters, it might have worked better for me. Or if he’d focused on the climactic disasters of 2045 and how Dorothy or her forebears might have prevented them, that might have worked. But that Dorothy’s experimental treatments allow her to correct her forebears’ misfortunes while ignoring the planet’s – when he made so much of those disasters – no. Way too pat and ultimately too inconsequential to address the depth of inter-generational traumas.

I was looking for something light when I chose this book. It was. Light and insubstantial. Once again we’re treated to severe female insecurity – despite vast reputed talent – living in a shadow of her own making. When her superstar country music husband dies, her grief gets stalled by resentment. She didn’t succeed on her own because she took a back seat and all the songs she wrote. The resentment keeps her stalled when the incredibly tall, incredibly handsome, incredibly sexy younger emerging artist steps into the picture. Can she write songs for someone other than her husband? Could this younger guy possibly be interested in a woman nine years older? Please. He’s certainly interested in sex – and the two of them get it on like rabbits. If you ever wondered what gratuitous sex was, here’s a prime example. We’re told this guy is sexy – no, incredibly sexy – on practically every third page. But Boyle doesn’t stop there. She feels compelled to prove his sexiness – in detail. Over and over and over again. The songwriting elements could be interesting. Emerging from insecurity can be interesting. Sex can be interesting. But when it’s done to death? Hardly anything – even sex – stays interesting forever. This is the first in the series. More sex to come, I have no doubt. Thanks, but I won’t bother.

Here’s another I’m sorry I bothered with. I liked the rather surprising depth in It Ends With Us, but I think Hoover’s instincts were on target when she said she didn’t want to write a sequel. I wish she’d followed those instincts. As a fluffy romance, I suppose this might suffice, and Hoover claims her readers begged for a sequel to give Atlas and Lily a happy ending. But shouldn’t a happy ending require a little work between the two protagonists in question? Not here. Any work that’s done is all about Ryle, the abusive ex. Atlas and Lily never even argue – so I’ve got no more confidence in this happy-ever-after than I did when Lily and Ryle eloped. This was an opportunity to explore the depth of what it takes to heal, but Hoover skimmed the surface with both Lily and Atlas. Atlas says – it felt like a dozen times – that Lily saved him when they were teens – leaving us to assume he had nothing to do with it. We’re also left to assume Lily is some kind of paragon of positive mental health – with a magic wand. Except, hello, she married Ryle? Who is still the father of her child. Come on, Hoover. Even as Atlas confronts his neglectful mother, gosh, that was easy. And would he really react so mildly to the man who abused the woman he loves? Too easy, Hoover. Way too easy. And don’t even get me started on the marriage vows Atlas wrote. Really? No, dear readers. Don’t waste your time on this one.

Now here was a story I liked, mostly for the peek into the life of film director Billy Wilder. Wouldn’t any fan of Some Like It Hot like such a peek? Coe has us look not at Wilder’s heyday but at his waning career as he makes a little-known and poorly-reviewed film in Greece. For which he needs a Greek interpreter. The set-up that puts Calista in Wilder’s path felt over-involved and long to me. But the making of the film, and Wilder’s reliance on his writer intrigued. Those two asserted that ‘they’re not making pictures the way the used to.’ Which meant Wilder couldn’t get his projects green-lighted at the studios. But did the smart-with-heart era of motion pictures taper off in the 1970s? Coe’s got me wondering. And curious to know more about Wilder’s films and Tinseltown choices. Coe’s tale is a novel. I have no idea how much he relied on facts in his writing. And don’t much care. He drew me into this make-believe world about the make-believe world created in films.

Here was another I liked a lot – as I’ve come to expect from Catherine Ryan Hyde. And Colleen Hoover should learn from her since Faith has just left her emotionally abusive husband and fears potential menace to come. Hyde paints a picture of fear that lives under the surface of a daily life, but doesn’t smack you upside the head with it every other minute. Hyde gives us clues to Faith’s fears that let us surmise so that during the one scene with the husband present, we can see how much Faith has grown beyond her fears. The story also features fourteen-year-old Sarah who’s asked to face her mother’s death and the very likely scenario that her father killed her, not to mention her father selling off the horse Sarah’s had since she was eight. We feel Sarah’s loss for her highly skilled but overly sensitive dressage horse (Midnight) more directly than the loss of her parents as the girl and Faith follow the dressage circuit. Though the two just met, a deep bond forms between them so that Faith gets her first taste of mothering – and is surprisingly good at it. The upshot is that I cared about all three – Faith, Sarah, and Midnight – and was fully invested in both their separate and united stories. This was a good read – so good that I devoured the book in just two sittings – and happily ignored any number of tasks to do so.

And that’s it for now, dear reader. Some great, some fun, some dreadful. My wish for you is Happy Reading. And the sweetest, juiciest Valentine’s Day! You might enjoy Darcy’s Valentine, a short story about two of my favorite characters from Home Place. Darcy’s Valentine.

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