I chose 1981 music as my theme this year. My newest novel The Summer of Princess Diana is set in the summer of 1981, and oh! the music! Let’s take a look back at a pivotal time in the music industry.
I can’t ignore the song that was #1 for the year, even if I’m not crazy about it. Kim Carnes sounds like she’s smoked a carton of cigarettes before she recorded it. What I didn’t know was that the song was actually written in 1974 by Jackie DeShannon (“What the World Needs Now is Love” and “Put a Little Love in Your Heart”). DeShannon recorded it, but who remembers that? No, it was a huge hit for Kim Carnes, who was a songwriter and session background singer for years, until Kenny Rogers commissioned her in 1980 to co-write songs for his new album. She recorded a few other songs, including a duet with Rogers (“Don’t Fall in Love with a Dreamer”). Actually, Kim Carnes has had a pretty impressive career, and you can read about it here https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kim_Carnes
Here’s the video:
I am going to give a mention to the song I would have included, if it weren’t for the fact that “Bette Davis Eyes” couldn’t be ignored.
I chose 1981 music as my theme this year. My newest novel The Summer of Princess Diana is set in the summer of 1981, and oh! the music! Let’s take a look back at a pivotal time in the music industry.
Why not begin with my favorite Beatle? Here is George Harrison’s May 1981 release, a tribute to his fellow Beatle John Lennon, who had been murdered in December 1980 outside his apartment. What I love about this song, besides the lyrics, is that Ringo Starr plays drums and Paul and Linda McCartney fill in background vocals.
I’m shouting all about love While they treated you like a dog When you were the one who had made it so clear All those years ago
I’m talking all about how to give They don’t act with much honesty But you point the way to the truth when you say All you need is love
Living with good and bad I always looked up to you Now we’re left cold and sad By someone the devil’s best friend Someone who offended all
We’re living in a bad dream They’ve forgotten all about mankind And you were the one they backed up to the wall All those years ago You were the one who imagined it all All those years ago
All those years ago All those years ago
Deep in the darkest night I send out a prayer to you Now in the world of light Where the spirit free of lies And all else that we despised
They’ve forgotten all about God He’s the only reason we exist Yet you were the one that they said was so weird All those years ago You said it all though not many had ears All those years ago You had control of our smiles and our tears All those years ago
In author Belle A. DeCosta’s debut novel, we meet thirtysomething advertising executive Caroline McMerritt, whose place among the ambitious, driven Manhattan ad execs is threatened by her own self-destructive behavior. Forced into a leave of absence by her employer, Caroline heads to Maine, to a family cabin on a lake, where she reluctantly adapts to her new surroundings. There she discovers an old journal left behind by her now-deceased mother, and that journal provides much of Caroline’s self-healing. DeCosta deftly transitions between entries from the past and Caroline’s present-day musings.
Add in some well-developed characters and a potential love interest and we’ve got ourselves a story! Truthfully, this is a very well written tale of redemption and second chances. DeCosta uses language in a beautiful way, painting with words, and this reader rooted for the protagonist.
There are some blips that I, as an editor, can’t help but see (you ‘pedal’ a bike – to ‘peddle’ a bike is to sell one on a street corner, and the misuse of lie/lay and farther/further could be fixed by a good copy edit), but otherwise this is a most enjoyable read. I look forward to reading more of DeCosta’s work.
Look at this pretty book cover! It does make one want to tear into it, and tear into it I did this past week. A Dream Worth Keeping is the first novel by author Debbie Kaiman Tillinghast, whose first release was a memoir, The Ferry Home. In this novel, she explores the quintessential themes of love, loss, and forgiveness – of others and of oneself.
Martha Coutu is a pastry chef and chocolatier on the heels of a divorce that has left her with overwhelming self-doubt and skepticism toward men. When George Henderson enters her life unexpectedly, she battles the strong attraction she feels for him with her own memories of the abusive husband she has just recently jettisoned. Their initial meeting goes so well, however, that George asks for more time with Martha, but Martha (great name, by the way!) flees. I mean, she really flees – she packs up her car and drives from Baltimore to Florida, a drive that would run about 15 hours. Once in Florida, she stays with her culinary school chum Annie, who runs a B&B, and befriends Darcy, a local chocolatier with whom she forms a deep bond.
Martha has some major self-acceptance work ahead of her. While she clings to the past as if it’s a buoy, it actually serves to drag her down and keep her from a chance at real happiness. At times, she has a hard time recognizing the man who is actually a snake and a harder time acknowledging the good guy. But I don’t want to give away too much of the story. Martha’s journey is such a major part of the plot that you root for her throughout her roller-coaster ride of emotions. Set in Pensacola, Baltimore, and the coast of Maine, this book is propelled by realistic dialogue that moves the plot (as good dialogue should), gorgeous scenery descriptions, appropriate backstory, and mouth-watering depictions of pastries and chocolates.
There are minor punctuation errors (“Let me drive Maggie” is not the same as “Let me drive, Maggie”), but they don’t detract from the overall story, which is well-constructed, with one odd pop-up of a nearly-forgotten character at the end of the story, but the author quickly dispenses with him and moves forward. A Dream Worth Keeping is well worth reading, and I recommend it for anyone who enjoys baking, traveling, and a well-written romance.
Young American Diana Driscoll is looking forward to attending the London wedding of Prince Charles and Diana Spencer, courtesy of her wealthy Father. However, while on a stopover in Switzerland, she receives a phone-call that dramatically changes her plans, and not just for the Summer.
The Summer of Princess Diana opens with a short prologue set in 1976 before moving to 1981. This brief mid-Seventies opener sets the tone of the novel. It’s light, charming, and incredibly readable, while giving a sense of something a little deeper beneath the surface.
Diana is understandably spoiled and indulged, but Ms. Reynolds manages to make her likeable and interesting. Diana is aware of her lucky position in life, and the superficiality she exhibits during the early stages of the book never becomes too irritating.
Following the life-changing conversation with her mother, Ms. Reynolds is careful to realistically develop Diana’s awareness of her impecunious situation without the prose losing its frothy, slightly fun edge and jaunty pace. This skillfully maintains the narrative’s engaging style while subtly drawing out Diana’s hidden depths.
Indeed, Ms. Reynolds has an intrinsic knack for knowing when to leave well alone to let the reader exercise their imagination, or simply sail through with the story. Unpleasant issues are not exactly glossed over, but dealt with in a manner that does not ask too many questions, either of the perpetrators or the reader.
This approach might be viewed as slightly one-dimensional and it could possibly be argued that elements of The Summer of Princess Diana could have been explored with more insight. Nonetheless, this simplistic approach is refreshingly easy to read, cleverly thought-out, and deceptively well-structured.
There is an abundance of fine, descriptive detail throughout the novel which brings the characters and settings vividly to life. In particular, the Swiss countryside is beautifully captured and the seamless blending of the French language with its English counterpart adds complete ease and authenticity to the story.
Once Diana begins to live and work as an au pair with the Brusadin Family, the novel really flies while still keeping the airy, feminine touch to the writing and the sporadic brushstrokes of gently whimsical humor.
The dynamic between the Brusadins and Diana is delicately examined, yet the reader can keenly feel the vulnerabilities, tensions, and subtle power struggles that exist between them all in the Swiss farmhouse. Intrigue, apprehension, and poignancy simmer through this area of the narrative, which combined with the brisk pace, make the majority of The Summer of Princess Diana hard to put down.
Kenny, the Brusadin’s son, evolves from a prototypical, tantrum-throwing toddler to a somewhat pitiful little figure surrounded by foreboding elements. The motif of Diana’s brothers running in front of a car during the prologue, and Kenny doing similar, lends a continuity and possibly premonitory link between his life and hers.
From Diana’s first meeting with Monsieur Brusadin, he exudes mildly predatory behavior. However, it is with his friend, Luigi, that a particularly nasty incident with Diana occurs. This is given more emotional depth than other troubling moments in the novel, highlighting its impact and Diana’s subsequent maturity and growth.
Madame Brusadin’s portrayal is a masterclass in understated poignancy. Through the smallest of expressions and merest of mannerisms, she conveys a wealth of unspoken regret and disillusionment while still clinging to an ill-fated optimism.
The Summer of Princess Diana is a captivating read that navigates some dark issues with sensitivity and a lightness of touch. Reynolds has written an original and absorbing story with a sweetly satisfying ending and a protagonist who, despite her faults, never fails to appeal.
This Editorial Review was written by the Book Review Directory staff. To receive a similarly honest, professional review for one of your own books, click here.
Darkness at Dachau is the most recent book from Paul F. Caranci, published this past October by Stillwater River Publications. It chronicles the story of Fr. Jean Bernard, a Catholic priest from Luxembourg who headed the international Catholic film bureau in Brussels, and was imprisoned in the Nazi concentration camp at Dachau from May 1941 until his release in August 1942.
Caranci is a meticulous researcher who provides supplemental information on the beginnings of Hitler’s rise, including the end of World War I and how Germany, and Germans, in humiliating defeat would seek revenge. He details Hitler’s poverty in childhood to his rejection from the Academy of Fine Arts in Vienna to his affiliating himself with anti-Semitism.
The reader will learn that Dachau was the first Nazi concentration camp, opened in 1933, and that it was “home” to several thousand members of the Catholic clergy. In the case of Fr. Bernard, he was arrested and imprisoned for speaking out against the Nazis.
Fr. Bernard was unexpectedly released from the camp for nine days in February 1942. Released because his mother had passed away, Fr. Bernard was offered a ‘deal’ – that other priests might also be released if they would all publicly support the Nazis. Bernard refused and was returned to Dachau. Eventually, his brother’s intervention helped secure his permanent release in August 1942. Fr. Bernard eventually held senior-level positions in the Catholic Church in Luxembourg, and died in 1994 at the age of 87.
It’s important for me to note that there are many instances of extremely graphic abuse and torture detailed in the book. Some readers will find these descriptions too difficult to read and should be aware. Most of us know about the atrocities committed against innocent people in the Nazi camps. There are also very graphic and gruesome photos that Caranci includes, most of which come from the Holocaust Museum archives.
While this book is about Fr. Jean Bernard and his incarceration at Dachau, the last part of the book focuses more on other aspects of Catholicism (historical and modern-day), including “anti-Christian SCOTUS [Supreme Court of the United States] rulings,” church closures by church hierarchy in the time of Covid-19, the debate over offering communion to pro-choice elected officials, Roman crucifixions and stonings in the year 62 A.D., the torture of St. Luke in graphic detail, and Christians celebrating Mass in the catacombs. Caranci is a wealth of knowledge, that is obvious, and I believe he wanted to tie in various aspects of history, including the way priests at Dachau were restricted from saying Mass (“risking hunger, torture, medical experimentation and mass executions”) to the early Christians celebrating Mass in the catacombs in secret, but these instances pinball all over the place and seem not to belong within the scope of a book about a priest imprisoned in a Nazi concentration camp. Still, there is much to be learned from Darkness at Dachau, especially for anyone interested in the history of World War II.
Paul F. Caranci is the author of twelve books. He has been a student of history for many years. He is an incorporating member of the Association of Rhode Island Authors (ARIA) and a member of the board of the RI Publication Society.
One of the things I want to do, starting in 2022, is feature more local books. Some of you know that we have a treasure of talented writers here in Rhode Island. Many of these authors are either self-published or published through small presses, which can limit one’s exposure. It doesn’t mean the books are any less. Maybe I should repeat that. It still infuriates me when I think back on the one traditionally-published author who told a friend (self-published) that she couldn’t be that good if she was self-published. Grrrr.
Anyway……beginning Tuesday, January 4, 2022, and going forward on Tuesdays throughout the year, this blog will feature a book from a local author. Yes, I still need to carve out enough time to write my next novel (it’s still mostly in my head at this point, but I know the beginning, middle, and end, so that’s something….right?!), and write and schedule my annual Blogging from A to Z posts in April, but I’m retired, and it’s winter, so bring it, I say.
Writers love reviews! Even the not-so-great reviews. I’m okay with them now, although the first time I read a one-star review for my first novel (“I couldn’t finish this drivel”), I cried. No more! Bad reviews, if accompanied by constructive criticism, can actually help one become better. Most of the time, however, bad reviews don’t say much other than “I couldn’t finish this drivel.” So move on. Keep writing, keep learning. If I truly hate a book (rare), or if it was obviously not edited or proofed (not as rare), I’ll keep my negative thoughts to myself. You will not see less than a three-star rating here, because I know what it takes to put a book out there. And it’s important to be kind.
And, I still believe each of us has a story to tell. So in between writing my 11th novel and chairing the next anthology for the Association of Rhode Island Authors and getting my April A to Z posts prepared, I will be reading and writing about what might very well be your next great discovery to read. Stay tuned and follow this blog!
It’s the holidays – joyous and celebratory for many, difficult for others. I will quote a lyric by the magnificent Stephen Sondheim, who passed last month:
Sometimes people leave you halfway through the wood. Others may deceive you. You decide what’s good. You decide alone. But no one is alone.
Reprinted from an article in the Providence College alumni magazine, May 18, 2021.
The family tradition that is Providence College has been manifested over the decades in many and various ways. Generations of Friars have attended PC. (In my case: my dad John M. Reynolds ‘40, my cousin Kathy ’73, my sisters Ann ’78 and Mary Beth ’84, and me ’80. My husband James ‘79 – even though we didn’t know each other then, and his father Ray, also ‘79.) it’s a family tradition! Many of my classmates have sent their children to PC. For those of us who were students in the late 1970s, there is one event that has, and always will, define us.
To write about the Aquinas Hall dormitory fire of December 13, 1977, a tragedy that ultimately claimed the lives of 10 young women, prompts sharp and difficult memories. Memories of youth and innocence, of traveling back through time to golden days full of promise and hope. And in one night, much of our innocence and sense of invincibility was lost.
In 1977, there were no cell phones, no internet, no texts or Skype or Zoom. There was no Netflix or Hulu, no TSA at the airports, no ATMs, no AIDS. The Berlin Wall still stood, and Jimmy Carter was the president. There was great (and not-so-great) music, and if you were dining in Raymond Cafeteria, you might have heard Donna Summer singing about leaving a cake out in the rain at “MacArthur Park” over the intercom system. We wore clogs and Fair Isle sweaters, and we sported Dorothy Hamill haircuts.
For many young women in the mid-1970s, going away to college was an important part of the rite-of-passage experience. A different state perhaps, a new dormitory adventure, and roommates! For some of us, the entire experience was unfamiliar. And daunting. But that’s how bonds begin. Everyone is starting out and going through the same unfamiliar rituals, to varying degrees. Few of us had cars, so our entertainment consisted of basketball or hockey games at Alumni Hall or Schneider Arena, tipping a few pitchers at the Rat, the occasional concert or lecture at ’64 Hall, or just hanging out in each other’s dorm rooms or in Mural Lounge, where the hot ham and cheese grinder was $1 and an ice cream cone was just a quarter.
There were three dorms for girls (which is what we were in those days): Meagher, McVinney, and Aquinas. Each dorm had its own personality, and all three buildings faced what is known as the Quad — a quadrangle of green space flanked by the three women’s dorms, plus McDermott Hall for boys. There were girls who met each other as roommates freshman year and stayed friends forever. And there were attachments forged through tragedy.
I’ve written about that December day, listing all 10 of the young women, even though I only knew two of them well enough to greet by name. But because we’re so connected, because we’re family, all of us, our Friar community is linked by the tragic Aquinas fire.
When people die young, at the very beginning of their adult lives, one can’t help but imagine what they would have become, how their lives might have turned out. The 10 girls who died in the fire that snowy night will remain youthful in our memories.
Every year in December we stop to remember, because we can’t ever forget. When I return to the Providence College campus, I pause to look up at the fourth-floor windows of Aquinas and offer a prayer for the girls who perished, and for their family members. But I also pray for the girls who survived. One of those survivors told me that for many years, she tried to figure out why she was saved, what was her purpose. Was it her marriage? The birth of her child? She said it took decades to realize she was saved for many reasons, and she tries, even now, to understand. It’s a question that is beyond comprehension, she said. So she focuses on what matters in her life: kindness, expressing to loved ones how much they mean, letting go of anger, cherishing friends.
All these years later and the memories can be as sharp as yesterday. That’s the thing about memory, even as we grow older. Now in our 60s, we often joke about forgetting the most meaningless things, yet none of us can forget the fire. I can remember a conversation with Katie, or the last time I saw Debbie.
Life is filled with moments — some so happy you’ll swear you must be dreaming, and some so tragic you wonder, for years, why they occurred. But if I can learn a lesson from my friend Kim, it is to find joy in small moments, to express kindness, and forgiveness, whenever possible, and to give thanks to the tightly knit community that is Providence College.
Martha Reynolds McVeigh ’80 ended an accomplished career as a fraud investigator and in the past 10 years has written ten novels. Her novel, Villa del Sol, was awarded the 2018 Book Prize in Literary Fiction by the Independent Publishers of New England.