Are you as impatient for spring as I am? Then here’s a gift for you! I adore these brave harbingers of warmer days to come – even more as I gaze upon white flakes falling from the sky outside my office window. Alas. Still, I look to these early blooms as tangible reasons for hope – another of many small intervals of joy that brighten our lives.
Writing News – Making Stuff Up
Look Up has been sent to my editor! Brooke is off playing with Mickey and Donald in Orlando this week. Meanwhile, my artist friend Betsy plans to show me cover options tomorrow! So we’re getting closer to book in hand! Stay tuned for a cover reveal – and a book launch date! I promise you’ll be the first to know!
So now I turn back to the novel I began pre-pandemic and put on hold till I could do my research more safely. By the time our Finger Lakes wineries opened up again, I was deep into Look Up. Could I dabble into winery research and maintain a forward-moving focus on Look Up? No, I could not. Well, not much anyway. This week, I dipped back into this as-yet-untitled story to reacquaint myself with its characters and all the questions I need to ask about their wine-growing business. As with scrambled eggs, I feel a need to crack many a bottle before I can write a convincing vintner story. Care to join me on a research trip?
Speaking of trips, here’s one that excites me. I’m going home! My childhood home, that is – the setting of my novel Home Place. I’ll stay with my dear friend I’ve known since we were two and who lives half a mile up the road from the house my great-grands built and where I spent my first fourteen years. And yes, I will knock on the door and ask for a tour! I may even have a meal at the clubhouse of the golf course that used to be our family’s farm and will certainly visit the LaSalle County Historical Museum to see artifacts from my Crosiar ancestors that settled my old hometown. But the highlight of the trip will undoubtedly be meeting up with grade-school friends. Rumors are we may even have a slumber party!
Wearable Art News – Making Stuff
Now that I’m no longer teaching, I look at making stuff up as my weekday job. For the first few months of this year, my weekend job has been making wool and silk Nuno-felted scarves and polymer clay beads for upcoming Arts Festivals. So far, we’re booked to sell our head-turners at the Rochester Lilac Festival, Keuka Arts Festival, Naples Grape Festival. We’re hoping to be accepted at the Corn Hill Arts Festival, and expect to return to the Christkindl Christmas Market. Last year’s Christkindl depleted my inventory a lot (and I thank all who visited our booth!) Ergo my weekend job – building that inventory back up. Wouldn’t you like to sport this pretty little daffodil on your lapel? Come see us in Rochester May 13-14 for this and a lot more!
I have friends who loved this book so I was prepared to as well. I’m sad to say, I didn’t. There’s much to like, especially about a young black man whose grandmother unearths an old violin played by her former-slave grandfather. Young Ray conquers bias to develop into a virtuoso violinist who needs better than his ancestor’s beat-up instrument. But when that violin is restored, OMG, it’s actually a Stradavarius worth six mil! The family story is that great-great-great-granddaddy was given the violin by his master – but the master’s white descendants now claim it’s theirs. And then the Strad goes missing. That’s when the story went south for me. The thief was blatantly obvious to me early on, so the rest of what was intended to be suspense felt like useless filler. I appreciated the more meaty and worthy story of a talented Black man trying to make it in the white-white world of classical music. I saw merit in the generational trauma of slavery enacted by the contest of ownership between descendants of slave and master. I was far less impressed by the crime and suspense elements of the story and found some writing rather stilted. But as this was Slocumb’s debut novel, I look forward to what he might do next.
My guy likes the crime novels of Craig Johnson and William Kent Krueger, so when I looked up those authors on literature-map.com, Erdrich looked like an author he might also like. After reading it myself, I apologized to him. Erdrich is similar to his faves only in that she deals with life in a Native American community – and that this is one of a series. She does open a window into res-life, and the picture she paints is complicated. We were both grateful she included a family tree in the book’s front matter, but even that was complicated and hard to read – lots of characters with tangled and blurred relationships. Further complicating things for this reader was that this is a novel in stories, and it’s difficult to see the stories as anything but disjointed until late in the book. We might meet a character early on, and then never see them again only to find other characters referring to them so much later, we can’t clearly remember who they were. Or why we should care. The stories shift in time too which adds what I saw as an unnecessary complication to an intergenerational tale with so many different characters. Still, all that said, I liked many of the individual stories and admired Erdrich’s writing. And eventually, the stories did weave together so I could see a pattern formed within an interconnected community. But I confess, this book felt like a lot of work.
This one was work too – of a much different type. I found it both enlightening and enjoyable. There’s young love, tragedy, mystery, and a mother’s agonizing journey while her son is put on trial for murder. The story is told in two voices – the mother and the teen trans-girl who dies – and in two directions – forward and backward. Both tales are gripping. Lily’s tale – voiced mostly by Jennifer Finney Boylan – taught me a lot about how it must feel to not fit in the body one’s born with, the importance of gender-affirming care to delay puberty, and how skillful surgery can deliver all the fireworks a girl could want. Olivia, mother to Lily’s boyfriend Asher and a beekeeper speaks of her journey into and out of an abusive marriage. With that background in her own life, Olivia wonders if Asher might have inherited his father’s violent nature and doubts his innocence. Bee metaphors abound and add richness to the tale. My only complaint occurs in the ending. I found it a weak attempt to make nice in the aftermath of a young girl’s death. I felt a need for some Old Testament consequences a whole lot tougher than being instantly forgiven for saying ‘sorry.’
It’s not unusual for me to want an easy read to follow a Picoult novel. I found in Felty’s sweet story about neighbors who chose to be family. The tale had rather more fluff and Godliness than I generally prefer – and sweet bordered on saccharine in places. It also wandered to include characters that weren’t integral to the story. Still, I liked Mazie and how she was built to care for others. She might have wallowed in the loneliness of old age, grieving for her dead husband and young son. Instead, she calmed sick children’s fears and offered kitchen comforts to everyone she knew. I wouldn’t have enjoyed her meddlesome matchmaking if it were aimed at me, but it was amusing to see it applied toward her reclusive young neighbor Brian. And I liked seeing him awake from self-involvement to become Mazie’s primary caregiver. What I don’t think likely is that Mazie’s prize roses will thrive long in Brian’s yard after Mazie dies. But hey. It’s fiction so anything’s possible.
I suspect readers considerably younger than I might appreciate Costello’s story more than I. Probably those twenty-somethings who beta-read my novel Look Up would love it. They might see themselves in the college student protagonists who live off campus and have no money worries. To me, they seemed more confident and sure of their looks and likability than I saw in my fellow dorm-mates back in my day. Their ‘what will people think of me’ issues also seem more focused on family than peers. Valerie’s still healing from unresolved grief over losing her parents as a teen – to the extent that she avoids her best friend’s family who think of Valerie as their own. Brody has an opposite problem – an overbearing father who has his future all planned out – despite the obvious truth that Brody sucks at all the things his father wants for him. She’s a nerd, he’s a jock. She’s buttoned up, he goes with the flow. She’s terrified of loving, he’s all in. My overall view of the story? No hardship to read, no great insights or memorable moments either. And does everything work out in the end. Oh yeah. A tad too predictably to send me back to this author another time.
This one started off strong and I had hopes. We know a tornado has hit town, and then we go back to what happens in the day before everything changes. We know there are bodies. What we don’t know is which of the characters we follow will be the people who die. Will it be the disgraced ball player, his soon-to-be-married granddaughter, the Iraqi War vet, or the town sleaze-meister? Or any of the half-dozen other characters who are occasionally treated as leads. Good premise, right? It would have been. If the author didn’t get lazy. Or if he hadn’t listened to the voices saying clamoring for a vapid – oops, I should say happy – ending. My advice? Don’t bother. It’s not worth your time. In fact, had I recognized the author’s name or remembered character names from an earlier book he wrote – which I did not till the last few pages (Does that tell you something?) – I wouldn’t have downloaded this one. The only reason I’ll remember his name now? So I won’t mistakenly pick up another of his stories some time by mistake.
Chief Inspector Gamache is back – for the eighteenth time. Do we know to suspect a heinous crime in the idyllic village of Three Pines? Sure we do. Will the usual cast of oddball villagers be present? Absolutely. And would we have it any other way? Nope. In fact, the best part of this saga, for me, has always been that collection of misfits that populate this most charming of small towns. So the best part of this eighteenth volume is that little time is spent in Montreal or trekking through the other wildness of Quebec province. Most of the action is right there in Gabri and Olivier’s Bistro, Myrna’s Bookstore, Clara’s studio, the Gamache’s home, and the Village Green under the watchful Three Pines. Penny does opt to resurrect rather than invent this tale’s bad guy, but since she brings back Beauvoir and tattooed and pierced Detective Amelia Choquet too, who can find fault? Or if you can, I’d remind you that Penny’s stories are for fun. Are they great literature? Probably not. But fun? Assuredly so.
Coming in April
- Look Up cover reveal and launch date
- Art show schedule update
- Reviews of hot new titles I’ve ordered from my library
- And more welcome signs of spring!
In the meantime, here’s more brave croci for you to enjoy. And please remember to add your own reviews for books on Goodreads and Amazon. Believe me. Authors LOVE hearing from readers! Please tell us – truthfully – what you liked or didn’t about our books.