What I Read in August


beach reads

As summer winds down (it’s not over! it’s not over!), so does my reading list. I tried to cram in as much beach reading as I could this year, trying to balance reading with writing. But as edits and revisions took over my life for this new novel, I was only able to read five books. Still, they were good ones:

summer 69 Elin Hilderbrand (Queen of the Summer Beach Read) released this one in June, just in time for a summer beach read. As the author herself turned 50 in July, she tells a story about four siblings (sisters Blair, Kirby, and Jessie, brother Tiger) who each experience that memorable summer in different ways. The moon landing, Woodstock, and the Chappaquiddick incident on ‘the other island’ are all featured. Definitely a must-read. I bought my copy at Ink Fish Books

before I stopped by my other favorite local bookstore, Stillwater Books, and found this one. Looked good, so I picked it up. OMG. This book! As soon as I finished it, I told my husband he had to read it. He’s really into it. It’s a novel based on a real-life scandal, involving the kidnapping of poor children and selling them to wealthy families. Heartwrenching but ultimately hopeful.

blessings She’s probably my favorite author, and I couldn’t believe I hadn’t read this book. It was part of my library’s big book sale (yes, I filled a giant tote bag!). It took me a little longer to be invested in this one, but Quindlen never disappoints me. This book was first published in 2002, and delves into family secrets and why they’re kept. Beautifully crafted, with rich descriptions and characters you can almost feel sitting next to you.

Winter This one I downloaded through my library’s program (I don’t think Hilderbrand needs the money, so why not spend on local and indie books?). Maybe I missed it, but this is part of a series. The ending left me feeling unsatisfied, but that was because there’s a sequel coming. Apparently the sequel drops in early October. Still a good book, but if you’re a fast reader like me, maybe it’s better to wait until all the books are out.

kitchen yarns I also downloaded this one through my library. It’s a collection of essays, with recipes. Unfortunately, I knew most of these stories already, and they seemed somewhat disjointed (introducing us to her grandmother Mama Rose once was sufficient). The recipes were fine, although a chapter devoted to butchering a pig was, to me, revolting. Still, Hood can write, and many will find this book charming.

 

So, no more “What I  Read” posts for a while. I need to get this book done!

However, if you love reading as much as I do, and if you’re on Facebook, we’ve got a great event coming up November 18. It’s a Rhode Island Authors Showcase featuring a variety of authors. Each one will have something to give away, and the Grand Prize is a $250 Amazon gift card, just in time for some serious shopping. You can find the link HERE and it’s all online. I hope you’ll join us!

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What I Read in July


beach reads

 

 

Even though I’m still not finished with rewriting and revising my new novel (I know, I know! But it will be ready for late November, I promise), I’ve been reading as much as I can this summer. So here’s what I’ve read in July:

Just Keep Going I worked with Judy Davis, and when I discovered she’d written a book about her cross-country bike journey, I grabbed a copy. You can get a copy HERE.

Starting at the Pacific coast in Oregon, Judy rode all the way to Providence, Rhode Island, and raised over $70,000 to fund a swimming program for children. Along the way, she kept journal entries and took photographs, which make for a most interesting book.

MAID I was attracted to this book by the cover, and I thought it was terrific. Stephanie Land writes a true-life depiction of poverty in America. It’s real and it’s difficult. And the author is remarkable – through determination and willpower, she does everything she can to keep her daughter. You can buy it at your local bookstore (do that first!) or here.

Crawdads My husband picked this one up at one of our favorite bookstores, Stillwater Books in Pawtucket, Rhode Island. And while he was reading it, he’d say “Martha, you’re going to love this book.” My reply? “Well, then, hurry up and finish it!” He did. I did. We both loved it – all of it, even the ending! Can’t wait for the movie.

Perfect Couple There’s a reason Elin Hilderbrand is called the “Queen of the Beach Read.” Here Hilderbrand ventures into murder mystery, but still set on the island of Nantucket, and still with a cast of memorable characters. I haven’t yet read all of her books, but I’m working on it! Pick up a copy here.

a piece of the world Did you love Orphan Train? I did, and it introduced me to the marvelous Christina Baker Kline. I also read Sweetwater and grabbed this book when I found it. If you’re familiar with Andrew Wyeth’s painting “Christina’s World,” then this is the book for you. Described as “stunning and atmospheric,” A Piece of the World is a fictionalized tale of Christina, the subject, and Andy, the painter. Meticulously researched and written so beautifully, I loved this book. You can purchase it here.

Cliff Walk This one was fun. As a native Rhode Islander, I could relate to the names and places DeSilva sprinkles throughout his story. But even if you’re not familiar with Little Rhody, you’ll enjoy this ‘hard-boiled mystery.’ I picked up the hardcover at Stillwater Books.

The Identicals More Hilderbrand! And why not, I’ve been slathered up with SPF50 and reading on the beach (when I’m not jumping waves or walking the coastline). Loved this one, too. Reminiscent (slightly) of “The Parent Trap,” this book visits both Nantucket and Martha’s Vineyard (locals have strong ideas about their favorite island!). Although you can buy it online or at  your favorite indie bookstore, I actually downloaded this one from my library (shout out to the West Warwick Public Library!)

pumpkin Yes, it’s summer, and you may not be ready to think about autumn. But this book was a true delight! Set in New Hampshire and smack in the middle of fall, Beth Labonte has written a sweet and endearing romance. Loved it. Get yours here.

Islanders To finish out the month of July, I visited my other favorite Rhode Island bookstore, Ink Fish Books in the lovely small town of Warren, Rhode Island. Have you been there yet? Don’t you LOVE it? I picked up this one on the recommendation of a woman who was in the store, and I’m so glad I did! Set on Block Island (Nantucket and the Vineyard may belong to Massachusetts, but we have Block Island), Meg Mitchell Moore has woven together the stories of three individuals. I couldn’t put this one down, it was so good. Looking forward to reading more by MMM.

So, how about you? I’ve got six hardcovers and tons of digital books in my ‘to-be-read’ pile, but edits are calling to me. So, it’s back to my work-in-progress for now, but I always make time for reading in the afternoon.

See you soon for updates! Keep reading!

February in Flux


Feb

Do you feel it, too? It might be the middle of winter (by the calendar), but I think the changes are palpable. Longer days mean more daylight, as we march toward June. (Then, ironically, the longest day is the first day of summer, and from that day forward, the days grow shorter. How cruel.) Here in southern New England we had a brief taste of spring yesterday, but reality has touched our cheeks with icy fingers this morning.

February, this year, is so busy! Already it’s the 6th day of the shortest month, and I looked at our wall calendar (yes, we’re old school that way) – it’s filled with Sharpie notes and appointments. The dentist, the eye doctor, our accountant, our financial advisor. Book events, and a little research getaway. Days flying, and hoping for no snowstorms.

I mentioned in my last blog post (sorry to be such a recalcitrant blogger) that I’m participating in the 85k90 challenge and it’s working for me, for the most part. I’ve lost a few days due to not feeling good (allergy? sinus infection? cold? whatever, I feel lousy), but have stayed on track, and by today, the 37th day of the year, I’ve written 31,928 words of my new novel. It’s fewer words than I’d hoped for, but after I post this, I’ll return to the work-in-process, still untitled, and hope to log in another two thousand words.

 

And I’ve managed to read a few books, too. I finished What If I Fly? by local author Jayne Conway. It’s a good first novel by a local author, and I’m looking forward to reading more of her work. Then I stayed local and read One American Robin by E.A. Mann. It’s got a gorgeous cover and that really drew me in. Finally, I finished Seventh Heaven by Alice Hoffman in two days, because I couldn’t put it down. Brilliant!

Anyway, there are still 22 days left in this month – lots to accomplish, changes afoot (I’ll write more about them once things settle), and we should all try to stay healthy!

The 85K90 Challenge


January usually brings a feeling of renewal. The days are getting longer (they are!). It’s a new year. We have a chance to start fresh, whether that involves your eating habits, exercise routines, spending and saving and investing, or, for me, starting a new novel, January is an opportunity.

As some of you know, I try to complete a novel every year, and because the Association of Rhode Island Authors, a 300+-member group to which I belong, holds its annual RI Author Expo each December, I like to debut the new novel at that time. So January is a chance for me to get started.

This year, I’ve decided to participate in the 85k90 Challenge. Haven’t heard of it? If you’re a writer, or aspiring to be one, this is a terrific place to start. Started as a small Facebook group in 2016, the idea is simple – write 85,000 words in 90 days (January, February, March). I like the year-long plan, because it helps me to plot out the months. Unlike NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month), which asks you to write 1,000 words a day for a month (usually November, although there’s one in the summer, too), this 85k90 project is more realistic.

First of all, 30,000 words is not a novel, it’s a novella. I participated in NaNoWriMo twice, and I finished, but I was nowhere near done with writing. This year, if I can write (at least) 85,000 words by the end of March, I’ll be ready to step right into first edits. That’s the plan. Second, thirty days goes by quickly. If life interrupts your writing schedule, it’s difficult to catch up. With 85k90, you have more time. You’re still writing about 1,000 words a day, but there are many days when you’ll write more than that, and it gives you a little cushion for the days that maybe you can’t get to it.

The founder of 85k90 is Julie Valerie, a friend and fabulous writer. I’m so grateful to her for her vision and dedication to this project, and I’m right on track to get the new novel written.

And here’s a tiny bit about that new book – It’s going to be a sequel of two different novels. Yep, I’m writing a sequel to April in Galway and combining it into a sequel to A Jingle Valley Wedding – and it’s working!

jingle april

What I Read this Year


Not enough! So many books, not enough time. But perhaps there are a couple of books on my list that didn’t make it onto yours, and maybe you’ll want to add them to your TBR pile:

fire and fury Fire and Fury – Inside the Trump White House by Michael Wolff lived up to its hype. I don’t know that there was anything startling in it, because this administration has been reported on every day. And by now, there’s just so much more…

Galway Stories Galway Stories by Kevin Barry and Mary Costello really helped me understand more about Galway, the setting for my most recent novel. Sometimes gritty, sometimes delightful.

No Excuses No Excuses by Yolanda Alvarez. Let yourself be uncomfortable as you read this stark memoir. My bet is that your upbringing was very different from the author’s. Still, in spite of all the negatives that can be associated with Alvarez’s childhood, she survived. And thrived. And succeeded. Her story will fill your heart.

The Paris Wife The Paris Wife by Paula McLain. This book is about Ernest Hemingway’s wife Hadley Richardson. Written mostly from her perspective, this is a must-read.

This Unfamiliar Road This Unfamiliar Road by Jill Fague. Fague’s first-person account of her battle with breast cancer will move you. With clear and honest writing, she details not only the procedures but all of her emotions.

Thirteenth Star Under the Thirteenth Star – an anthology of writing by Rhode Island authors is the Association of Rhode Island Authors’ second annual anthology. Inside you’ll find a variety of selections from some of Rhode Island’s best.

corey I’m Still Here by Corey Calligano. Another young woman who battled breast cancer. Calligano writes in an honest voice, holding nothing back. A brave and compelling journey.

Damiani Il Bel Centro by Michelle Damiani details her family’s year abroad in the small town of Spello, Italy. Written with humor and introspection, you’ll follow the Damiani family from their home in Virginia to their new home in Italy.

Whitman Have Mercy by Barbara Ann Whitman. Using her extensive knowledge as a family support counselor, Whitman created a novel based on a young girl in the foster system. You’ll feel as if you know Mercy as she navigates the complex road to adulthood.

Matilda Messing with Matilda by Cat Lavoie. Lavoie is one of my favorite romantic comedy authors, and for a sweet escape, pick up this one. Actually, read everything Cat has written!

How to Walk Away How to Walk Away by Katherine Center. Give me a book about hope and despair and I’m hooked. This one ticks all the boxes, with wit, raw emotion, pain, heartache, and ultimately, love and acceptance. Probably the best book I read this year.

North Haven North Haven by Sarah Moriarty. I’ll admit, I picked up this book because I lived in North Haven (Connecticut) for a short time as a small child. This story, however, has nothing to do with Connecticut and everything to do with an island in Maine and a family vacation home. It’s a great summer read.

Hood The Book that Matters Most by Ann Hood. Hood’s early works are magnificent, but like The Obituary Writer and An Italian Wife, this one left me less than thrilled. It’s somewhat autobiographical, and the ending was so far-fetched I was left disappointed.

Stranger Stranger or Friend by Silvia Villalobos. This thriller will grip you from the beginning. The writer uses tension skillfully in her scenes, and if you’re a murder-mystery reader, grab this one.

Mai Crossing the Bamboo Bridge – Memoirs of a Bad Luck Girl by Mai Donohue. You’ll find it difficult to pause your reading of this riveting memoir. From her forced marriage in a Vietnamese village to her escape and survival, against extreme adversity, you’ll come to admire this remarkable woman.

truth The Pendulum’s Truth by Leigh Brown and Victoria Corliss. The writing team of Brown and Corliss make team-writing work so well, you’d think they were just one person. They convey emotion with excellence and tell a great story that you’ll truly enjoy.

How Hard How Hard Can it Be? by Allison Pearson is a laugh out loud funny, brutally honest account of how women of ‘a certain age’ find themselves being pulled from both directions. So relatable to women dealing with work, kids, aging parents, and marriage.

Fear Fear by Bob Woodward. I probably didn’t need to read another book about the chaos in the White House, by the chief chaos creator, but it’s Bob Woodward. This account of the Trump presidency is spot-on, but it’s not like you’re going to feel any better after reading it.

print A Printer’s Choice by W.L. Patenaude. I’m not typically a reader of science fiction, but I was thoroughly engrossed in this well-written novel about the classic battle between good and evil.

A Place of Springs A Place of Springs by Hannah Colby. Colby’s big book was years in the making, and her dedication to scene and detail is evident. An epic tale of love and loss, despair and hope, against a backdrop of the horrific Bosnian War.

Alternate Side by Anna Quindlen. How I missed this one is beyond me. No wonder she’s one of my favorite authors.

Well, that’s it! How about you? What was the best book you read in 2018? What book are you looking forward to?

Forty Years Back


Nice, France

Forty years ago today, I boarded my first airplane and began a year abroad that would forever mark my life. The thirty or so students who went with me might well have the same thought – we all were impacted by a year in Switzerland, with no internet or cell phones.

My first novel, Chocolate for Breakfast, was (very) loosely based on that year. Like Bernadette Maguire, I was 20, naive (yes), and hopeful. Unlike Bernadette, I did not have an affair with a married man, nor did I get pregnant with his child. 😉 I recall explaining that to friends, who took my storytelling literally.

I’ve returned to my beloved Switzerland often – in 1981 to work as an au pair (there’s a book I should write), again a few years later, multiple times in the 1990s, and most recently in January 2017, where I was inspired to write Villa del Sol.

But the year that began on 28 September 1978 was my year. I don’t have any Cardinal beer to drink, no Giandor chocolate bar, and the Café Chemin de Fer is now, I believe, an Indian restaurant. Things change, even in Fribourg, Switzerland.

“Mesdames et messieurs, it is time to go sleep!” 🇨🇭🇨🇭🇨🇭

It is the heat. And it is the humidity.


Nearly September. 95 degrees today. Heat index 104. Just like yesterday.

So who else is cranky? I know (at least) three people who live without air conditioning. I don’t know how they live, though. Our thermostat is set at 74 and I’m hot. But I’m grateful for A/C, especially at night.

I’ve never liked summer best. Fall is my favorite. How about you? Depending on where you live, you might not experience four distinct seasons. But by September, the sun rises later and it’s dark by 8:00 now, so I want that cool air to follow.

Meanwhile, I’ve finished the second round of edits for my new novel, so now it’s off to my trusted readers, who give me honest feedback. I sometimes can’t see a plot hole or a character who uses repetitive language, but they can! I’m still on track to have this book ready by December 1 – the day I’ll be at the Rhode Island Authors Expo!

Until then, I’m reading a lot (what are you reading?). I loved How to Walk Away by Katherine Center and Crossing the Bamboo Bridge by Mai Donohue (her memoir of growing up in Vietnam – you won’t be the same after reading it). I’m almost done with How Hard Can It Be? by the hilarious Allison Pearson, just started Alternate Side by the wonderful Anna Quindlen, and The Pendulum’s Truth by the very talented writing team of Leigh Brown and Vikki Corliss. Vacation next week means lots of reading!

Autumn will get here, eventually. You won’t hear me complain about the cold. Not me.