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Archive for the ‘Good Reads’ Category

I’m excited to share with you the cover art for my forthcoming picture book, Where Do Butterflies Go at Night? This beautiful artwork by illustrator Stella Mongodi will certainly be the inspiration for readers of all ages to dive right into the rest of the book. As I begin to receive two page spreads as Stella moves along, I am not only in awe of how gorgeous this book will be (is becoming!), but also that my dream of being a published author is actually becoming a reality.

I am so grateful to my publisher, Ethicool Books, for bringing my story to light, and am so excited to promote it, learn new ways of doing so, and in working with people – Teigan at Ethicool and Stella – who genuinely care so much about a perfectly beautiful finished book.

To all my dear fellow bloggers that I usually visit, please be patient — I’ll get there. Life is calling me in many ways, but my blogging buddies are always in my heart!

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Yes, two different subjects. Remember that very young praying mantis I had shared a few posts ago? She was hanging out on my kitchen window screen, looking just adorable, as all babies do. Well, I went out my kitchen/back porch door the other day, and who do you think was there waiting for me? That little mantis all grown up. Can I be sure it’s the same one? Possibly not, but she’s the right color and in the same area as the youngster.

Mantises are very brave creatures. They don’t run when giants approach. I spoke to her very softly, and came down on my knees to take her photo, making no fast moves. As you can see, she remained very calm, and did not assume her praying, pre-attack position. She cocked her head this way and that as I spoke to her, having no need to defend herself. They are such fascinating insects, so alien looking, and immensely powerful in their ability to catch their prey. They can take on small birds and frogs, but are generally most beneficial in the garden where they eat pests. (I say “she”, by the way, because females are longer than males, and she is the greater length.)

And in other news, book news, here are two excellent reads:

The Forgotten Garden by Kate Morton – With an exquisite use of the language, Kate Morton tells a tale that spans multiple generations over a century, from the early 1900’s to 2005. It is at once a mystery of family origins, but carefully weaves in loss, duplicity, family dysfunction, even a murder, and a real sense of place in Brisbane, Australia, and London and Cornwall in the UK. It begins with the question as to why a 4-year-old child has been abandoned and sits alone on a wharf in Brisbane with a small, white suitcase. There is not a chapter doesn’t end in a real page turner and new revelation. It is not the shortest book I’ve read, but once you begin, you’ll be so invested, you won’t even notice. It’s a great piece of historical fiction. And fairy tales … did I mention there is an Authoress who writes fairy tales?

Truly, Madly, Guilty by Liane Moriarty (You may know her from Big, Little Lies) is also a mystery, but takes place in current day. It is a character study of sorts of three families whose lives intertwine over just a few days, beginning with the lead up to “The Day of the Barbecue”. Moriarty keeps you on the edge of your seat as you plunge forward wondering what this tragedy could possibly be, and I assure you, it’s one you will never expect.

The balance of the book brings you deeper into the minds of those involved, until you find a quietly stated but chilling conclusion at the end. An excellent read.

What I found interesting on a personal note is that I chose both books on the recommendations of two friends, each of whom has a good idea of my reading tastes. And each book is by an Australian author, and takes place in Australia, the home of Ethicool, the publisher of my forthcoming book. No coincidences, I say.

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There were many things that got stalled or pushed to the back in the last year. For many of us, reading was not one of them. In fact, a good book was often a saving grace.

I thought to share with you some of the best fiction I read, often historical, starting back from the end of 2019. These books came from several sources – the library; some I purchased online; books purchased at past annual county library book sales; and my own collection.

Here is the best of what I read from late 2019 to present:

Whistling Past the Graveyard – Susan Crandall. This is certainly one of the best books I’ve read in a long time. Told in first person by a sassy, red-headed nine year old, Starla Claudelle, it takes place in 1963 Mississippi at the height of segregation. Being raised by her overly strict grandmother while her father works out on the oil rigs, Starla wants nothing more than to find her mother in Nashville, whom she believes left to become famous and then reunite her family. Upset by a turn of events, Starla decides to run away to Nashville on her own. She is offered a ride by an older black woman, traveling with a white infant, unaware of the dangerous implications of this situation. Whistling Past the Graveyard is a story with deeply felt characters set against the backdrop of the Deep South at a time in history that Starla only begins to understand for what it is, as well as what family can really mean.

One page in, and I was totally hooked.

Shutter Island and Mystic River – Dennis Lehane. If you want two stories you can’t put down … Shutter Island was a book sale pick, and in it I discovered a writer with an excellent capacity for writing tense, fast moving prose with twists and turns at every corner. This story takes place in 1954 when a detective and his partner come to Shutter Island, home for the criminally insane, to investigate a patient’s disappearance, and where we soon discover nothing is as it seems. Later in the year, I read Mystic River, a psychological thriller about three boys growing up as friends, approached one day by a man in a car. One boy gets in; the others do not. And something – never fully articulated – terrible happens. Fast forward to adulthood, and this plays out in a harrowing series of events. (p.s. the movie is also excellent.)

Lehane is a terrific writer who keeps you on the edge of your seat, no matter the subject of the book. There is no doubt that I will pick up another of his novels in the future.

The Alice Network – Kate Quinn. Historical fiction taking place in the times of both World War I and World War II, The Alice Network is based on the true story of a group of women spies of the same name who, at tremendous risk, infiltrated the Germans to save lives in the most daring and heroic of ways. This is Goodreads’ initial description of the book, and as apt as I could write, “In an enthralling new historical novel from national bestselling author Kate Quinn, two women—a female spy recruited to the real-life Alice Network in France during World War I and an unconventional American socialite searching for her cousin in 1947—are brought together in a mesmerizing story of courage and redemption.” Please read the full review and you’ll know why this was a book I could not put down. It’s truly exceptional.

Had I not borrowed it from the library, it would be sitting in my bookcase of books that I would read again some day.

Forever – Pete Hamill. This is a masterful book — on the one hand, a magnificent love letter to New York City and all it’s history; on the other, the story of a young man in 1700’s Ireland, Cormac O’Connor, whose parents were killed by a wealthy lord. Added to the mix, we have some magic of the old religion, which allowed Cormac to live forever if he never left the island of Manhattan and successfully avenged his parents’ deaths. This is not a casual, lightly read book, but one that spans centuries as we follow Cormac’s life from childhood to an America at the moment of its birth. From the slaves in the ship’s hold that he saves and befriends through the politics, greed, and buried secrets of New York right through to 9/11, this is a story of great knowledge and depth. Pete Hamill has written Forever with such compassion. It was a long read, but I was sorry when it ended.

The Giver of Stars – Jojo Moyes. More engrossing historical fiction set in the Depression era in Kentucky. A small group of women who, for different reasons, join together, following the exhortation of Eleanor Roosevelt and her traveling library campaign to bring books to people who had no access to them, but who wanted to read or learn to read. Alice Wright, disillusioned in her new marriage to a distant husband and dealing with a controlling father-in-law, joins with Margery, founder of the group. Margery is strong, outspoken, and independent, and is soon joined by three other women, forming The Pack Horse Library of Kentucky (the real name of the library). The women repeatedly faced danger traversing the rugged landscape by mule and horseback, sometimes from the people who lived there, as well as from men in their lives who would control them. Their loyalty and friendship, finding true love, and always following their mission of bringing books to people in remote areas makes for a rich and rewarding read. An unforgettable story.

Nemesis and the Swan – Lindsay Bandy. This is mature and sophisticated YA, taking place in the French Revolution. Helene d’Aubign, an aristocrat of 19 years old, writes from her cell in a Paris prison. Her diary alternates with her story of being influenced as a young girl by her governess to become a revolutionary and to seek true love at a time when girls were only allowed arranged marriages. Forced to flee Paris as violence breaks out, Helene searches to find the answers to an intricate family mystery involving love and murder, somehow tied together by two unique, painted pins of eyes surrounded by gilt and pearls. She longs to return to her home and the jeweler’s apprentice she’s fallen in love with. When, in disguise, she finally does return to Paris, she finds everything she knows is changed or destroyed. But to make matters far worse, she is being sought – and is soon arrested – by those who suspect her true identity, which will sentence her to the guillotine.

With a richly articulated backdrop of the French Revolution, and the characters enmeshed in a family mystery, you couldn’t help but hope for Helene’s survival and an ending that seemed impossible.

The Mermaid Chair – Sue Monk Kidd. If you have read The Secret Life of Bees, you know Kidd writes with a truly exquisite use of the English language. The Mermaid Chair brings to life the setting of Egret Island off South Carolina where Jessie Sullivan has gone to tend to her mother, now suspected of severe mental instability after severing her finger. But the story is Jessie’s – she is returning to her childhood home of marshes and sea salt, egrets and a monastery where resides the Mermaid Chair. It is a story of love and disillusionment in her marriage, love and awakening with a monk questioning his own commitment, but most importantly, the search for her own self, lost over the years. Interlaced with the loyalty of longtime friends, a mystery surrounding her beloved father’s death, and the idyllic quality of Egret Island, Jessie’s story is stirring and engrossing. This is my own book which I’ve read in the past, and couldn’t wait to return to each evening.

Other notable books – I can’t review them all, but I can mention some other books that stand out from the many I’ve read in the past year+.

The Long Way, A Great Reckoning, Glass Houses, – all by Louise Penny. This is the first series of novels I have ever read as an adult, and I love them. I began at the beginning, and am working my way through the series, always drawn in by Penny’s style, wonderful characters and mysteries, all set in her beloved Canada.

Twigs in My HairCynthia Reyes, friend and fellow blogger here on WordPress

Good Hope Road – Lisa Wingate

The Last Letter from Your Lover – Jojo Moyes

Flower Net and The Interior – Lisa See

With the hope that I’ve inspired a future selection or two, I wish you Happy Reading!

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The last nine/ten months have been incredibly challenging in all parts of the world as we confront an insidious danger, a new virus. Here at home, we can heap on top of the pandemic an election the likes of which we have never seen, and wish we had not. On a personal level, I have lived for one year now with my house for sale, never sure if I will be able to stay in my home, and top it with the cherry of a very intense, seasonal workload. This is just my variation of the theme; so many of you and those you know, and so many more we’ll never meet are struggling with your own form of stress. It’s been an increasingly easy time to feel adrift from our moorings and to be lost in the most immediate problem in front of us.

While shopping on a website for other than books, of course I decided to dip into that section. You know, just looking. What I found was the book I needed, which you see here. Because that is what has happened to me … in the stress, distraction, and exhaustion, one of the things to go was the time put aside for my spiritual self. This book was published in August 2020 and references the onset of the pandemic and the ramping up of the presidential election, so it’s very current. Even having read a small way into the book, I am feeling calmer and reassured of moving into a better direction. So there is that.

On other fronts, because it’s been a while since I’ve posted, I thought to share a few photos, and what’s been happening in this small part of the world.

Produce from the local farm in October – the last of the gorgeous Jersey tomatoes, new potatoes, and a mix of Gala and my very favorite Macoun apples.

It was Halloween. Trees were beginning to shed their leaves, just enough to scuff through for trick or treaters or whoever wanted to enjoy a walk through the neighborhood. This little vignette of fall brought a smile to see the little pumpkins on the fence posts, the mums, and in a time we need to believe in our country, our flag.

While searching for something else, I came across this photo of Claude. Although he is no longer with us, this just reminded me of how calm and Buddah-like he could be at times, in contrast to his being a total goofball the next. He is still very much missed.

Another photo I stumbled upon …  a clearing sky after a winter rain from a second story window, raindrops sparkling the screen. How lucky are we to have so many beautiful skies and sunsets in this part of my state.

In November I attended an online children’s book conference held by Rutgers University. Normally, the conference is several hundred dollars and limited in attendance due to space and the personal nature of the event, but with COVID, it was presented online with Zoom to hundreds of attendees for a pittance. Our keynote speaker, Sayantani Das Gupta writes a New York Times bestselling series of a brave girl named Kiranmala. Sayantani was quite inspiring. One of the quotes she offered in her talk was the above by Toni Morrison, both relevant and a reminder of the heroic writer in all of us.

I also took a screen shot of this quote by Ursula LeGuin because it just hit home. Made me remember that I am no small talent, nor are you. Sometimes we need to be reminded and luckily, someone comes along to tap us on the shoulder from time to time. This was a good tap for me … consider yourself tapped now, too.

As the days get shorter, the nights longer, we look more to light. I frequently have a candle burning, but this gathering of wolves is one of my very favorite pieces, the light so beautifully illuminating their faces. It’s only made of stone, but for me, it brings some deep-stirred memory of woods and the quiet footfalls of our lupine brothers and sisters.

And here we are today. I cleared my porch of fall decor in preparation of other lights of the season. I carried the two small pumpkins that sat at my door to the end of the block, over the grass and tracks, and tossed them onto the plateau of dried grasses below. It won’t take long for some of the local wildlife to discover them and enjoy a small feast.

Perhaps this meandering through photos has reminded me that even when we’re in tough times, there is still always much to be thankful for. For every obstacle or challenge, there is another way to look at it, a way to learn something we need to know. These, indeed, are gifts and my heart is lightened.

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This will not be a long post – just a share of the fabulous finds I collected at the county library’s huge annual book sale.

For a half hour’s drive and $24.00, I picked up the amazing selections you see here, hardbound and paperback. I do go with a list, and am happy to find anything on it, but don’t expect my top picks, especially from 2018. But I did bring home some selections from favorite authors – Lisa See, Alice Hoffman, Jodi Picoult, Barbara Kingsolver, E. Annie Proulx, and more. I also picked up a number of middle grade/YA novels including Jacqueline Woodson, Jerry Spinelli – and amazingly, the exact book by Linda Sue Park, A Long Walk to Water, that will help me in a drawing project for a client!

There are also authors I am not yet familiar with but had been hoping to find, and some I don’t know at all. There are a couple psychological thrillers, some historical fiction, science fiction, and mysteries – enough to keep me happily reading for quite some time.

In addition, I found something special for one of my doctors who is a huge reader; a hardbound replacement for a paperback version of a wonderful novel whose type is so small, it hurts my eyes —   a book I will read again; and a small volume in brand new condition that might be a little surprise for someone.

As I drove down the lovely backroads to the book sale, I couldn’t help but think that a good book and a warm and fuzzy friend to curl up with can get us through a lot of stuff in life – both good times and bad. And $24.00 isn’t much to pay to have one of those pleasures at my fingertips.

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Are you familiar with Little Free Library? I learned about them about 5 years or so ago, and thought it was just the most amazing idea. The concept is to have a little “house” or box of some sort which provides for the free exchange of books of any kind – sometimes these are located in areas where it’s hard for readers to get to a library; sometimes it’s a convenience for neighbors. It always promotes social exchange wherever they appear. (Pictured here, a LFL in Traverse City, Michigan.)

LFL (Little Free Library) is a non-profit organization founded in 2009 byTodd Bol of Hudson, Wisconsin whose aim was to inspire a love of reading, build community, and spark creativity by fostering neighborhood book exchanges around the world. And that he did! Since it’s beginnings, the LFL has grown to 80,000 little libraries around the world in a total of 90 countries, (as of 2019), all providing access to our most treasured possessions, books. (Second photo in Mount Martha, Victoria, Australia.)

Bol started out with a simple idea – and built a model of a one room schoolhouse, filled it with books, and put it on a post in his front yard. The idea really caught on, so he built some more and gave them away to neighbors and friends for free. While discussing potential social enterprises with UW-Madison’s Rick Brooks, who had seen Bol’s DIY project, the pair saw potential to expand and advance the common good. They were inspired by a number of things, among them the homegrown “take a book, leave a book” concept found in coffee shops and other public places. They were also inspired by the philanthropist Andrew Carnegie, who had set a goal around the turn of the century to fund the creation of 2,508 free public libraries across the English-speaking world.

With Carnegie in mind, Brooks and Bol set their own goal of surpassing 2,508 Little Free Libraries by the end of 2013, and exceeded it a year and a half before their target date.

The above LFL is located in Sandy Springs, Georgia.

What’s even more exciting is that this concept inspired people everywhere to apply to be stewards of a LFL where they lived, and who then designed and built this vastly creative array of structures to house the neighborhood book exchanges. (There’s a whole gallery of LFLs on their website to check out.) Perhaps one of the most truly amazing is a jaw-dropping LFL that was built by a librarian inside a dead cottonwood tree in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho – you must take a look at this!

Please visit the Little Free Library website – it’s exhaustive and illuminating and inspiring, and hey … maybe you’ll start thinking about creating and hosting a LFL in your neighborhood! One of the best concepts ever … free access to books.

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On to the books … Atonement by Ian McEwan. I wasn’t sure exactly what to expect from this, but knew it was a story whose initial chapters take place in London at the beginning of World War II and carries through the war, and then to the end of the century. It’s of a romance between the older sister in a very wealthy family, Cecilia, and the son of their housemaid, Robbie, their gardener. He’s a very bright young man, for whose education Cecelia’s father has been paying, with plans for Robbie going to medical school. But the story begins with the youngest sibling and third major character, Briony, a thirteen year old, who spends a great deal of her time writing. She is a very intellectual child, sheltered, and rather controlling. Early on in the story, she sees a flirtation between Cecilia and Robbie which she does not understand. When she witnesses another interaction in the library, she makes an assumption that will change the lives of these three characters forever. Her misinterpretation of what she saw and an incorrect confirmation of Robbie’s involvement in a separate incident results in his being sent to prison, and later, war. The story follows how the lives of these three were affected by Briony’s decision. It is a story about war, of love, and innocence. I did like the book – Robbie’s time in the war in northern France was remarkably and painfully well told – but the beginning was a bit difficult to get through, especially as Briony is not your most likable character. The writing was not in a style I usually read; the author was likened on the book jacket to Jane Austen. I did still enjoy it, and there is a wonderful twist at the very end.

After finishing the book, I watched the movie, which won a Golden Globe and was Oscar nominated for best picture, among others. My feeling about the movie is that I would not have really understood a lot of what was going on had I not read the book. And as is so often the case with books made to movies, there were so, so many critical, meaningful, and heart-wrenching details missing. I’d stick with the book.

Going from soup to nuts, I then turned to something completely different – a fast-paced psychological thriller, The Woman in the Window by A.J. Finn. I read this in three days – it was hard to put down, as in you look at the clock and it’s 2 in the morning. It has been compared to two other books, Gone Girl and The Girl on the Train. The comparison is made in that the main characters are all unreliable narrators, but this book soon differentiates itself in many ways. Anna Fox, our MC, lives a secluded life; you soon find she’s an agoraphobic as a result of an unknown, horrible tragedy that occurred in her life. She’s on multiple medications, and against doctor’s orders, also drinks. She also spends a great deal of time watching her neighbors. Early on in the story, she witnesses a murder, she’s sure of it. But did she? Let me say this – The Woman in the Window reads like a house on fire, and Finn is an outstanding writer in more than one way. He (yes, it’s a `he’) spoon feeds you pieces of information, layering the suspense and all but turns the pages for you. Just when you think you know what’s going on, he throws in a major twist. Moreover, he has an exquisite use of language, not something you might expect in a thriller. I highly recommend this book. You’ll be at the (very satisfying) end in no time. Promise.

 

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Ahhhh …. two of my favorite subjects. Something delicious to eat and something delicious to read. First, the cookies. As mentioned in an earlier post, my friend Laurie had her book launch at our little local Indie bookstore, The Book Garden. What I had not mentioned, was that Laurie and I had a cookie baking marathon the weekend before, whipping up sugar cookies for both this launch and her launch in NYC a few days earlier.

The sugar cookie recipe is a very basic and really good one – simple ingredients with predictably delicious results. As Hedy was an inventor, we made what are now Laurie’s signature gear cookies, but as Hedy was also a star, we made star-shaped cookies. To catch the glamour that was Hedy, I’d suggested using edible glitter, so Laurie and I made a trip out to a specialty baking shop where they must have had 100 possible color choices. We picked the gold and a light aqua. You can see the results – they came out really pretty. I’ve never worked with edible glitter in baking before, so this was quite fun.

Because I generally have a pretty full schedule, I tend not to bake much these days. When I do, I bake only from scratch, and I’ve gotten this idea in my head that it will take forever. I believe that’s called a distortion. After having those yummy from-scratch sugar cookies, I really wanted more homemade, so I searched my many saved recipes and found one for chocolate chip cookies with about 10 variations. Perfect!

I went shopping and bought the ingredients to make an oatmeal chocolate chip cookie with dark chocolate and dried cranberries. Yum, right? I got all my ingredients together and prepped my baking sheets. (Whatever did we do before parchment paper?) I was in such a good mood, and much to my surprise, it didn’t take that long at all! Another idea I can banish from my head!

And did they taste good? Absolutely fabulous (if I say so myself.) In fact I had to freeze half to insure that I would not eat them too fast! Stay tuned for Part II of Cookies and Books, the book reviews – Atonement and The Woman in the Window.

 

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The saying is true … so many books, so little time, but in this case, I’m referring to books published by friends and which all deserve a shout-out. However, one dilemma is who do I write about in what order, so no one feels slighted. The other dilemma is simply finding time when I’m struggling to find time to keep up with blogging at all. Now I know that each of these people will assure me that whenever – and IF ever – I get to writing about their book, they are fine with it. But I really do want to bring some good books to your attention.

That said, I’m introducing you to a wonderful picture book for older children, written by a very dear friend of mine who just happens to be having her book launch in a couple weeks. Hedy Lamarr’s Double Life is written by Laurie Wallmark, and the third she’s published about her passion, and I quote, “dead women in STEM.” What I like so much about this book is that it brings to light a side of a famous figure, Hedy Lamarr, who was known as an actress, but almost completely unknown as an inventor.

Long before some inventions were even a twinkling in anyone’s mind, Hedy had come up with ideas for the 3-color traffic light, a reflective dog collar, a way for people to safely get in and out of the tub, and more. But those were not developed, for Hedy’s real dedication was to inventing the technology known as frequency hopping, a major scientific breakthrough at the time. The modern day application of this technology is what keeps our devices, computers or cell phones, safe from hacking, but Hedy originally designed it as a way to preserve the security of communications during World War II.

So well-written by Laurie and charmingly illustrated by Katy Wu, Hedy Lamarr’s Double Life is enlightening to us all, but also a great inspiration for girls. Hedy’s a great role model who, while she had a full life in one field as an actress, had a strong passion in another and  made wonderful achievements in science. Read more at Laurie’s website, or just come to her book launch Sunday afternoon, Feb. 10th, 2-4 p.m., at The Book Garden in Frenchtown.

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My last few posts have featured different aspects of my businesses because, truly, that is where my energies have been flowing. However, I have been reading books constantly all the same (you just haven’t heard about them yet.) I started this post Thursday in the afternoon and it had been snowing (!) for nearly 3 hours, the white sky starting to turn that dusky cloud grey. It was a great time to divert myself from the work on my desk and dwell on words … beautifully written, elegantly connected, come-hither words.

Where to start? Books and movies, or in this case, books and television. It seems fairly well-established among anyone I speak to that movies/television rarely live up to the quality of the books they’re based on, and are often disappointing. Two programs I have watched recently – one series on DVD and another of three episodes on Masterpiece Theater/PBS – were outstanding, easily the best things I’ve watched on TV all year and I highly recommend them – Big Little Lies and The Miniaturist. Each inspired me to read the books.

I must say, I was not as drawn in by Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty as I’d hoped to be. Reese Witherspoon and Nicole Kidman optioned the series and made it into something riveting, but as to the book? For me, not so much. I decided to try another of Moriarity’s books, The Husband’s Secret, and it was significantly better.

But ah, The Miniaturist … absolutely fantastic. The story by Jessie Burton is written in the present tense from Petronella Oortman’s POV and takes place in Amsterdam in the late 1700’s. She is a young bride from another part of Holland. She has a respected family name but no money, and is married by a wealthy merchant, Johannes Brandt. While often absent, he buys her a cabinet as a wedding gift to help keep her occupied, a large and expensive dollhouse built and designed to look exactly like the house Petronella is now living in. The Miniaturist is a story about relationships, secrets, about the forbidden, prejudice, and very much, mystery. Although Nella orders miniatures to be made for her dollhouse, the miniaturist sends more, unrequested, that start to reveal a life unexpected in which the young bride finds herself inexorably tangled. Seeing the series on TV first was actually a great advantage – the settings, dress, morals, and attitudes of the Dutch at that time in history added much to the reading.  Take a peek at Petronella’s world; it will not give away the story. And then get the book. You won’t be disappointed.

Another book that I could not put down is Before We Were Yours by Lisa Wingate. This novel is also historical fiction; one part of the story takes place in Memphis, TN in 1939, the other in present day South Carolina where a young lawyer begins to research her grandmother’s buried and seemingly disturbing past. We are taken to a shantyboat on the river where the oldest child, Rill, and her four younger siblings are kidnapped and brought to the Tennessee Children’s Home Society orphanage. They soon discover they will not be reunited with their parents as promised, but will be adopted to wealthy people willing to pay handsomely for children to adopt. The stolen youngsters at the orphanage are often starved, abused, and neglected at the hands of the cruel director and her lecherous brother; a large number of children disappeared entirely. In part what makes this book so riveting is that it is based on the very real adoption operations of Georgia Tann, a notorious felon who kidnapped and sold children for decades. Excellent in every way.

While on the topic of books not to be missed, I read Snow in August by Pete Hamill. Hamill is famously known for being the publisher of major newspapers in NYC, plus a journalist and novelist. The story takes place in Brooklyn  in 1947, a tale about friendship, faith, and trust, about an 11 year-old Irish Catholic boy, Michael Devlin, and a refugee from Prague, Rabbi Hirsch. Struggling through a snowstorm to serve mass a few blocks away, Michael, though fearful, gives in to the Rabbi’s repeated calls for help and enters the synagogue. It is the sabbath, and the rabbi needs the lights turned on. It is the beginning of a remarkable friendship, set against a backdrop of ignorance of and prejudice against the Jewish people in a community of Irish, Italian and Polish Catholics. A violent act is committed against a Jewish candy store owner by the leader of a local group of thugs; Michael was in the shop as a witness, and so the story unfolds. The prose is exquisite and the story moves along quickly. Snow in August is immensely compelling.

In my journey with excellent mystery writer Louise Penny, I read the seventh book in her Chief Inspector Gamache series – A Trick of the Light. While of course there is a murder to be solved, Penny writes each novel with a new frame of reference, this time the highly competitive art scene in Montreal. The cast of characters, always perfectly drawn, and the home of the story’s activities, Three Pines, are the setting for this novel. Louise Penny has made me a fan of her superb writing and for engaging me in reading a mystery series, something I never thought I would do.

I just finished another murder mystery I spotted on the shelf in my local library, The Day of the Dead by Nicci French, actually a collaboration between a husband and wife team. The book seemed interesting and a good read while I waited for another book through inter-library loan. I was surprised to find how really good it was. Fast moving, tight writing, great plot – I could not believe how quickly I devoured this book! It may not be my usual fare, but I enjoyed every moment of this story about a renowned psychologist, Frieda Klein, whose life had been entangled with a serial killer, Dean Reeves, for a decade. She has suddenly dropped off the map and at the same time, seemingly unrelated murders  are appearing at various locations around London. These are later revealed to be at pre-determined intervals and at locations which would have meaning for Freida, clearly to draw her in and be his final victim. In the mix, and another main character, is Lola, a college student to whom it was suggested that she study Frieda Klein for her major college paper. This is apparently the last/latest in a series about Freida Klein, but worked effortlessly as a standalone.

I am now beginning  to read Raven Stole the Moon by Garth Stein. I already read The Art of the Racing in the Rain, now one of my top 5 favorite books of all time, and another excellent novel of his, Sudden Light. I would probably read anything this man writes. Quite simply, he is a brilliant and gifted writer.

Hope I’ve inspired you if you’re looking for a good read. The weather is becoming that kind of chilly that has us curling up with a good book, and if you’re lucky, in front of a warm fire.

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As a graphic designer, I work on a wide variety of projects – ads, booklet, flyers, magazines, fund-raising pieces, websites, etc – which I love, because it keeps me interested and challenged. I have been expanding my involvement in children’s books, helping authors get self-published through my design work. Up to this point, I have focused exclusively on picture books … until now.

Approached by a children’s writer I know to do a chapter book, I hesitated. I do love working on picture books, and wondered if maybe I should stay with what I know best. Well, I took the challenge and the result is the first chapter book I designed, The Last Rhino, by Deb Stevenson. Deb, illustrator Morgan Spicer, and I couldn’t be happier with the final product.

If interested in reading more on my initial journey with chapter books, please visit my graphics blog. To learn more about The Last Rhino, just click on the image above, or watch Deb’s outstanding trailer.

 

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The first thing to happen is your brain starts to slowly disintegrate on the way home. Once in the door, you need to tend to anything that needs tending to because your body is following close behind and is not going to be in an upright position too much longer. From stress? Nope – from the incredible rush of attending a two-day conference for writers and illustrators of children’s books. It’s exhausting alright, but in a good way.

Each June my New Jersey chapter of the SCBWI (Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators) holds its big event. There are workshops, round tables, one-on-one critiques, a juried art show, portfolio display, keynote speeches, and more. This year, in choosing my workshops I focused entirely on writing in picture books. Other years, I have mixed things up and taken workshops in middle grade and young adult writing, picture book illustration, marketing/social media, and more. There were some truly fabulous speakers this year who inspired me and will keep me thinking long after the conference.

A highlight of the NJ event for many attendees is the availability of having one-on-one critiques, something not offered at all SCBWI (or other writing) conferences, and I picked very well this year. The picture book I submitted seemed a very good fit for Charlesbridge Publishing, and my mentor was outstanding – knowledgeable, insightful, and beyond helpful. Did I mention thorough? Yes, very thorough. A good editor or agent really knows how to show you where you need improvement without destroying your soul, acknowledge all the things that are right with your manuscript, and point out directions that will help you make your story perfect. And that I got.

The big challenge after a conference like this, for me, anyway, is to keep the momentum and all that excitement going because Monday morning rolls around pretty quickly and I am back at my desk writing and designing for everyone else, i.e., my clients. However, one of the first things I did Monday was to hit the library. I was picking up an adult novel I’d requested on inter-library loan, Before We Were Yours, and also a number of picture books that had been recommended by my mentor and other workshop leaders along the way. I also requested a few more from our main library. (As I did not take any photos of the event, I have included a handful of those books here.) I plan to read them over the next couple days for both enjoyment and to understand what makes them really good picture books. There is always much to learn.

Over the next few days I will revisit the MS I submitted and all my mentor’s notes and look to see how I can make my story shine yet brighter. For all the praise she gave me for this picture book, and there was plenty, it wasn’t enough – at least not yet – to be the one Charlesbridge wants to publish. Not yet.

 

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