What I Read this Summer


For the past eight years, my summers have been spent mostly editing and rewriting a novel. Not so much this year – the pandemic and everything else has me stymied, and the new novel I’d started in January has languished. Oh, it’ll get done, eventually. So I read more than I usually do, which is also a good thing. Here’s what I read this summer:

The Last Week of May by Roisin Meaney (2007). One of my favorite writers, Roisin Meaney will remind you of the late Maeve Binchy. Great character-driven stories set mostly in Ireland, The Last Week of May centers around May O’Callaghan and her neighbors in the village of Kilpatrick.

The Daughters of Erietown by Connie Schultz (2020). Pulitzer Prize-winning writer Connie Schultz wrote a novel, although it seems to be based in large part on her own family and life. Like another journalist-turned-novelist, Anna Quindlen, Schultz’s writing style is crisp and uncluttered. Loved it.

Life Happens: And Other Unavoidable Truths by Connie Schultz (2006). This book is a compilation of Schultz’s commentaries and columns. Fourteen years after its initial publication, many of the topics are even more timely today – single motherhood, race relations, voting (or not voting).

The Summer Country by Lauren Willig (2019). My husband gave me this book for Christmas, but I didn’t get around to it until the summer (see first paragraph above). It’s an epic tale about generations on the island of Barbados in the 1800s. Lots of characters, and it’s a good idea to make notes about the relationships as you read (the author couldn’t include a family tree because it would spoil the story). The writing is exquisite.

One Summer by Roisin Meaney (2012). I’m making my way through Meaney’s books, a couple at a time. This one is about a young woman named Nell, who moves from Dublin to the island of Roone, off the west coast of Ireland (loosely based on the island of Valentia, off the Kerry coast). Again, a delightful and quirky mix of characters make for a most enjoyable read.

After the Wedding by Roisin Meaney (2014). This is a sequel to One Summer, so as soon as I’d finished reading One Summer, I downloaded this one. The reader is taken again to the island of Roone, to continue the stories set up in the first book. Meaney’s books are best enjoyed with a cup of tea and a soft blanket (or pet) in your lap.

The Admissions by Meg Mitchell Moore (2015). Wow. This book hooked me right from the start, and the tension didn’t let up! This is a great story about modern-day parents and kids under pressure to achieve. The Hawthornes may look like the perfect family, but underneath the veneer there’s all kinds of angst and desperation, and secrets!

The Last Bathing Beauty by Amy Sue Nathan (2020). I read this one all the way through (because it takes a lot for me to give up on a book), and I liked it enough, but it did feel like there was way too much telling and not enough showing (Writing 101). At time it felt as though I was reading a screenplay.

Cleo McDougal Regrets Nothing by Allison Winn Scotch (2020). I’m glad I stayed with this book, because it was worth it. Cleo McDougal will annoy you – because she’s flawed! But you’ll find yourself totally invested, and rooting for her redemption. I loved it.

Stay by Catherine Ryan Hyde (2019). Another of my favorite authors, it feels as though she writes just for me. What a gift she has for telling a story. This one is set in the summer of 1969 and features a 14-year-old boy, Lucas Painter, at the center. Can I just say that Hyde captures the spirit of this teenaged boy perfectly?

The New Girl by Daniel Silva (2019). Both my husband and my cousin Becky are big fans of Daniel Silva. I had never read any of his books, but after my husband finished it, I decided it would be my next read. Okay, so now I’m a fan, too. I wasn’t sure I’d take to this thriller, but Silva kept my attention through every twist and turn on the page. I will definitely be reading more.

Something in Common by Roisin Meaney (2013). Another by Meaney, this one between aspiring writer Sarah and hard-edged journalist Helen. Meaney doesn’t feel obligated to give us the cliched happy-ever-after. That’s the easy way. Instead, she tells a more realistic story that will challenge you at every turn. She’s brilliant. Full stop.

The Heartbreak Café by Melissa Hill (2011). I can’t remember who recommended Melissa Hill to me. Maybe just as well. I tried, but I couldn’t finish it. There were way too many grammatical errors and the plot was going nowhere. It’s hard to quit a book, but I needed to move on from this.

28 Summers by Elin Hildebrand (2020). Inspired by the movie “Same Time, Next Year,” Hilderbrand creates her own story based on , of course, her beloved Nantucket island. Hilderbrand is called the ‘Queen of the Beach Read,’ with good reason.

The Lost Letter by Jillian Cantor 2017).  I did enjoy reading this book. It felt like it was meticulously researched, and told a compelling story – something a bit different about the Resistance. But…..here’s my pet peeve. When an author uses a phrase or word too often, it settles in my mind and takes away from the enjoyment of reading. In this case, it was ‘a little.’ There are 148 instances of ‘a little’ in this book – too much! Her editor should have picked up on it. Smiled a little, shivered a little, laughed a little. Ugh.

The Reunion by Roisin Meaney (2016). Listen, Meaney’s books are quick reads, that’s why I could tear through them. Plus, I hated to put them down! Returning to a Roisin Meaney novel is one of the best things I can do for myself. I lose myself in her characters, people you wish you knew personally. I indulge in the plot, not cliched or predictable. I revel in the descriptions of places and food.

The Nanny Diaries by Emma Mclaughlin and Nicola Kraus (2002). I returned to this book for research purposes (my new novel is about a nanny). I remember grabbing it from the library nearly twenty years ago – what a delicious read! Still great, if a little dated.

The Matchmaker by Elin Hilderbrand (2014). Some of Hilderbrand’s most fervent fans did not like this book. I loved it. Delving into uncomfortable topics is a good thing – I felt all of it, from Agnes’s relationship with CJ, to Dabney’s relationship with Box. All of it. If you can make the reader cry at the end, to me that’s success! Well done.

An Address in Amsterdam by Mary Dingee Fillmore (2016). It was clear the author did meticulous research for this book. Set in Amsterdam during the World War II years, it tells a story about Rachel, an 18-year-old Jewish girl who sees the atrocities happening to her Jewish friends and neighbors and gets involved in the Resistance. Excellent descriptions of the area (the author lived for a time in Amsterdam). There were a couple of graphic sexual references that just didn’t fit, but otherwise a must-read.

Have You Seen Luis Velez? by Catherine Ryan Hyde (2019). Unusual title, right? There’s a line in the book that really stayed with me: “People judge you by your most controversial half.” The central character, Raymond (17) is bi-racial and wondering where he belongs. His 92-year-old friend Millie was the daughter of a Jewish mother and non-Jewish father, which impacted her young life at the start of World War II. Together they find a way to reconcile their guilt and fear. This is a beautiful story, as always.

Love in the Present Tense by Catherine Ryan Hyde (2007). Early CRH! I found the pacing a bit slow, but I really liked the characters. It’s about the bond between a five-year-old boy abandoned by his mother and the man who ends up raising him.

The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett (2020). Well, this book kept me up all night recently. I could not put it down. Wasn’t even sleepy. Yes, it’s that good. Gorgeous, lyrical prose. Some say it’s reminiscent of Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye, which I now need to read.

The Castaways by Elin Hilderbrand (2009). Back when she was writing a Nantucket “series,” this was the second book out of three. I didn’t read her books in order, but it didn’t matter. I liked this one a lot, because it brought out the characters so well.

Two Fridays in April by Roisin Meaney (2015). You can see that I read a lot of Meaney and Hilderbrand. Perhaps because they’re both so well suited to summer reading. Every one of Roisin Meaney’s books is a gem.

The Island by Elin Hilderbrand (2010). I picked this one from my library. While nearly all of Hilderbrand’s novels take place on Nantucket, this one actually is set on Tuckernuck, a little spot of land just off Nantucket, owned by its summer residents and lacking paved roads and public utilities. Perfect spot for a mother to bring her two grown daughters and her widowed sister, where, without the distractions of modern-day life, the women are forced into introspection.

The Daisy Picker by Roisin Meaney (2004). This was Meaney’s first novel, and it’s a good one! Main character Lizzie, 41, is stuck in a rut, with a dead-end job and a reluctant fiancé. After seeing a magazine article about regrets, Lizzie decides to pack it in, leave her parents’ home, and drive 80 miles away to start a new adventure. Bravo, Lizzie!

Rogue’s Isles by Thomas Briody (1995). How did I not know about this book?? Thanks to Stillwater Books in Pawtucket, Rhode Island https://www.stillwaterbooksri.com/ I found Tom Briody’s novel, loosely (very loosely) based on the credit union crisis and subsequent disappearance of the notorious Joseph Mollicone on the early 1990s. A great read!

Someday, Someday, Maybe by Lauren Graham (2013). I remember when this book was released, saying I wanted to read it. Well, seven years later, I got around to it. Graham is best known as Lorelei Gilmore on “The Gilmore Girls” and Sarah Braverman on “Parenthood.” It seems to be semi-autobiographical, and is definitely in the voice of Graham/Gilmore/Braverman. Funny, light (mostly), and touching, it defines the hopefulness of a newcomer in New York City, hoping to make it big.

Modern Lovers by Emma Straub (2016). I had this book at the cottage last week, and spent many days by the pool. I stuck with it, but I did find myself turning pages rapidly, just to get through a chapter. The plot was somewhat compelling, and the characters were okay, but I don’t think I’ll remember much about this book.

Okay, I counted 29 books – I don’t think I’ve read that much in a summer since I was eight years old. How about you? What did you read that you loved? Any recommendations?

A Playlist for THE WAY TO REMEMBERt


As you probably know, I re-released my 2015 novel Best Seller after Amazon determined the title was “misleading.” Yeah, but I’m over it now. The Way to Remember is the same book, tightened up a bit, and with a new title and new cover.

The-Way-to-Remember-kindle (1)

The story takes place in 1976, so I thought it would be fun to make a playlist based on the book. I hope you enjoy this travel back in time!

“Fame” by David Bowie. The song was released in on Bowie’s 1975 album Young Americans. This video is from 1978, a few years after Robin Fortune’s initial adventure.

“Afternoon Delight” by the Starland Vocal Band. It reached #1 on July 10, 1976. Songwriter Bill Danoff (a member of the group) said he didn’t want to write an all-out ‘sex song,’ just ‘something that was fun and hinted at sex.’

“Don’t Go Breaking My Heart” by Elton John and Kiki Dee. Released on June 21, 1976. Elton john and his lyric-writing partner Bernie Taupin originally intended for Dusty Springfield to record the song with Sir Elton, but she was unable to do it, and they turned to Kiki Dee, a British singer mostly unknown in the US.

“Kiss and Say Goodbye” by The Manhattans. This song was released in March 1976 and became a worldwide success, hitting #1 in the US, Belgium, the Netherlands, and New Zealand.

“Love Hurts” by Nazareth. It reached #8 in early 1976. This is the same song that was recorded by The Everly Brothers in 1960, but with a much different sound! (You might want to look into the other version to compare).

Theme from Mahogany (“Do You Know Where You’re Going To?) by Diana Ross. It was released on September 24, 1975.

“Let Your Love Flow” by the Bellamy Brothers, a country duo who achieved international success with this song. It was released in January 1976. Both Neil Diamond and Johnny Rivers passed on recording it.

“Evil Woman” by the Electric Light Orchestra (ELO). This song was released in October 1975 on the band’s fifth album, Face the Music. Lead vocalist Jeff Lynne wrote the song in thirty minutes.

“Get Closer” by Seals and Crofts, released in April 1976. Billboard ranked it as the #16 song of 1976. Carolyn Willis of the group Honey Cone is the featured vocalist.

“Love is Alive” by Gary Wright. Released in April 1976. It spent 27 weeks on the Billboard Hot 100 chart, and was ranked the #9 song of 1976.

“Fly Robin Fly” by the German disco group Silver Convention, released 1975. Owing to the success of this song, Silver Convention became the first German act to have a number one song on American music charts.

And there’s your travel back to the mid-70s! I hope you enjoyed this little playlist. And I’m working on a new playlist to go along with my novel-in-progress, The Summer of Princess Diana. 

Be well.

A Birthday Playlist


On the day I turned two years old, the Democratic National Convention nominated John F. Kennedy as its presidential candidate (he went on to win that November). The #1 song in the country was “Alley Oop,” by The Hollywood Argyles. Yeah, I don’t remember any of this. But here’s the song:

On the day I turned 12, construction started on the underground metro in Amsterdam. Apparently planning had been in the works for 50 years. I’ve been to Amsterdam, but I walked everywhere. More familiar to me was the #1 song, “Mama Told Me (Not to Come) by Three Dog Night. Here it is:

On the day I turned 22, I was a recent college graduate in search of a job. It was a slow news day. The temperature in Memphis reached 108 degrees. And the #1 song on the Billboard R&B chart was “Take Your Time (Do It Right)” by The S.O.S. Band. I loved this song! Here it is:

On the day I turned 32, Pima County in Arizona considered banning foam products like Styrofoam containers and coffee cups. “Dick Tracy” and “Die Harder” were in the movie theaters. And the #1 song in the country was “Step by Step” by New Kids on the Block. Travel back to 1990 here:

On the day I turned 42, HarperCollins and Warner Books had both bid $7 million for publishing rights to Jack Welch‘s biography. And the #1 song on the country charts was “I Hope You Dance” by Lee Ann Womack. Here it is:

On the day I turned 52, George Steinbrenner died at the age of 80. I remember standing at the entrance to a restaurant on that day, and the news was on a TV screen above us. I said to my husband, “Oh, Steinbrenner died. Well, he was 80.” Two old guys were in line behind us. One of them said to the other, “Hey, Steinbrenner died. And he was only 80.” The #1 song on the adult contemporary charts was “Need You Now” by Lady A. Have a listen here:

And so here we are. I’m 62 today. Yikes. The #1 song as of today (July 9) has been at #1 for the past 17 weeks. It’s “Memories” by Maroon 5 (appropriate!), and here it is:

Now you make a playlist!

Best Seller Repackaged


The-Way-to-Remember-kindle (1)

About four years ago, I wrote a book and called it Best Seller. It enjoyed some success and more than a few kind reviews. It was one of the nine novels I’ve written, and one of my favorites.

Last November, I received word from Amazon (where most of my books are sold) that they had a problem with the book’s title. They deemed it ‘misleading,’ and advised me that unless I changed it in a few days, they would remove the book from their selling platform.

Wait, what? What??? The book was up for sale for years, and now Amazon decides it’s got a misleading title? And by the way, it wasn’t misleading at all. The words ‘a novel’ were right beneath the title. And, in one of many telephone calls I had with staff at Amazon, I assured them that the novel had never achieved its optimistically titled status.

Didn’t matter. We emailed back and forth numerous times, and I spoke with as many as six different service agents, but the answer always came back the same. And a week later, poof! Best Seller, and all of its reviews, were gone.

Now, I’ve re-released the book. It’s got a different name – The Way to Remember is the name of the book the main character, Robin, is working on – and a new cover. The book’s contents are the same, with just some minor tweaking to, I hope, make it better.

For many of you who read this blog, you probably already purchased and read the book years ago, so I don’t want to trick you into thinking it’s new. It’s not, and the novel I’m working on these days won’t be ready until the end of this year (if I can finish it).

However, if I can find your old review (I was able to take some screenshots before it disappeared), I will be reaching out to you, asking you to post that review again. Because reviews are so, so important to authors. I’m hoping you’ll be willing.

Anyway, that’s my news for the middle of 2020. What a year, right? I hope you’re doing okay – physically, mentally, emotionally. It has been challenging, certainly for me on all of those fronts. Be well, stay safe, wear your face covering.

Mothers and Daughters


Every mother-daughter relationship is unique. Complex. Some of these relationships evolve over time, if there is enough time to evolve.

My mom in Bermuda, around 1938

I looked up to her, then I didn’t. I resented that she was so strict – my friends’ moms seemed so much cooler. More permissive, certainly. By the time I got to college, I distanced myself – I could do what I wanted without her constantly looking over my shoulder. I was free to screw up as much as I wanted.

My parents on their wedding day, 1955

I asked if I could spend my junior year at the University of Fribourg in Switzerland. It was a program offered by my college, and many of my friends, all of us liberal arts majors, were going. Surprisingly, my parents said okay, and off I went.

On the day after Easter that year, my father died of a massive heart attack. My mother was a widow at 50. Three daughters – my older sister just out of college, me overseas and unreachable, and my younger sister still in high school. A widow at 50. Her parents were still alive. She had two brothers, but they both had their own issues. She was forced into doing all the things her husband had always done. Lawyers, accountants. Who will mow the lawn, service the car, pay the bills?

Mom around 1987, age 58

She learned to live on her own. Eventually her daughters moved out, she moved to a condo, and loved quilting. Her membership in the Narragansett Bay Quilters’ Association gave her purpose in her newly-single life. But she missed Jack every day.

Mom doing what she loved

It was around 20 years ago that my sisters and I noticed some changes in her behavior. She had no recollection of an event that we had participated in just a couple of years earlier. My sisters and I finally got her to agree to a test, and the diagnosis was fronto-temporal dementia. How cruel! This brilliant woman, who did crossword puzzles in pen, who taught me to love language and words, who majored in mathematics at Pembroke, was slowly losing her memory and cognitive abilities. I’m grateful that we, and my husband and brother-in-law, were able to surround her with love as she passed.

I think one of the reasons our relationship was a challenge (before I grew up and it wasn’t) was that we were more alike than either of us could admit. As she became more childlike with her disease, it fell to her daughters to be the caregivers, to mother the mother. We did, all three of us. We are Joyce’s girls, always.

Yes, But Would You Eat It? “Z” is for Za’atar


Welcome to the Blogging from A to Z Challenge! Each day in April (except Sundays) I’ll be posting about unusual and exotic foods.

photo of za’atar and aleppo pepper from commons.wikimedia.org

Za’atar, or زَعْتَر‎ in Arabic, is an herb and also the name of the spice mixture typically used as a condiment, which includes the herb za’atar as well as toasted sesame seeds, dried sumac, and salt, as well as thyme, oregano, and marjoram. The name za’atar alone most properly applies to hyssop, a shrub in the mint family. Some varieties of za’atar may add cumin, coriander, and fennel seed. There are so many versions, depending on the region and familial history.

Za’atar, both the herb and the condiment, is popular in Algeria, Armenia, Egypt, Iraq, Israel, Jordan, Lebanon, Libya, Morocco, Palestine, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Tunisia, and Turkey. It can be mixed with olive oil and spread on a pita, or mixed in with hummus, or sprinkled onto meats and vegetables. A traditional beverage in Oman is za’atar steeped in boiling water to make a herbal tea!

I’m surprised Trader Joe’s doesn’t carry za’atar in little glass jars. Maybe someday soon.

So, last time I’ll ask – would you try za’atar?

Thank you for joining me on this culinary trip around the world! I hope you learned something from these posts, and perhaps you have found one or two interesting items to try.

img_0452

Yes, But Would You Eat It? “X” is for Xanthan Gum


Welcome to the Blogging from A to Z Challenge! Each day in April (except Sundays) I’ll be posting about unusual and exotic foods.

photo from flickr.com

I don’t even have to ask you if you’d eat it (even though I will), because odds are you have ingested xanthan gum. It’s in some toothpastes. It’s in some salad dressings. It’s in some wallpaper paste. Yes, xanthan gum is a plant-based food thickener. So where does it come from? Well, it’s made from bacteria that infect numerous plants. So yes, it’s plant-based. And the finished product doesn’t contain any viable bacteria.

Some studies have found that xanthan gum, when added to foods, may help lower blood sugar. It may lower cholesterol. Because it helps to bind water, it can be used for its laxative effect. It has no nutritional value.

I’ll ask it anyway – would you eat xanthan gum?

img_0452

Yes, But Would You Eat It? “W” is for Wasp Crackers


Welcome to the Blogging from A to Z Challenge! Each day in April (except Sundays) I’ll be posting about unusual and exotic foods.

senbei is a Japanese rice cracker, which most of us have tried at least once. You know, the kind that come in bags or containers of snacks. Rice crackers are light and crispy. These just have the added yumminess of…wasps! The wasps that are used in the senbei are farmed especially for human consumption (that’s comforting).

I searched on Amazon to see if they were available, but couldn’t find them. Bezos let me down – I thought he sold everything. I guess you’ll just have to go to Japan (once the Coronoavirus isn’t an issue – I’m writing this post on March 2, so who knows?) to find these rice crackers.

But it still begs the question, friends – would you eat wasp crackers?

img_0452

Yes, But Would You Eat It? “V” is for Vegemite


Welcome to the Blogging from A to Z Challenge! Each day in April (except Sundays) I’ll be posting about unusual and exotic foods.

photo from flickr.com

Hey, it looks like Nutella, doesn’t it? Yeah, no. Vegemite is thick and dark brown like Nutella, but the two are not at all similar. Developed in Australia in the 1920s, Vegemite is made primarily of brewers’ yeast extract (not chocolate and hazelnuts!).

It’s salty and malty, and full of glutamates, giving it a slightly beef bouillon-y flavor. A common way to eat Vegemite is on toasted bread, with a thin layer of butter underneath. It’s loaded with thiamine, riboflavin, niacin, and folate.

And, of course, it was made famous in the early 80s by the rock group Men at Work:

So, you’re out of Nutella. Would you eat the Vegemite?

img_0452

Yes, But Would You Eat It? “U” is for Umeboshi


Welcome to the Blogging from A to Z Challenge! Each day in April (except Sundays) I’ll be posting about unusual and exotic foods.

photo from commons.wikimedia.org

The Japanese umeboshi is translated into ‘salted Japanese plums.’ It actually resembles an apricot more than a plum. They’re very sour and salty, but there are some umeboshi made with honey.

Umeboshi are traditionally made by harvesting the ume fruit when ripe (around June) and packing them in barrels with salt. The salt extracts the juice from the ume. And the liquid that comes out (the ume sit in the salt for about two weeks) is then sold as a vinegar.

Umeboshi is claimed to combat fatigue and protect against aging. Bring them!

Would you eat umeboshi?

img_0452