Sunday, February 28, 2021

Review: The Path to Sunshine Cove


About the Book:

She knows what’s best for everyone but herself…

With a past like hers, Jessica Clayton feels safer in a life spent on the road. She’s made a career out of helping others downsize—because she’s learned the hard way that the less “stuff,” the better, a policy she applies equally to her relationships. But a new client is taking Jess back to Cape Sanctuary, a town she once called home…and that her little sister, Rachel, still does. The years apart haven’t made a dent in the guilt Jess still carries after a handgun took the lives of both their parents and changed everything between them.

While Jess couldn’t wait to put the miles between her and Cape Sanctuary, Rachel put down roots, content for the world—and her sister—to think she has a picture-perfect life. But with the demands of her youngest child’s disability, Rachel’s marriage has begun to fray at the seams. She needs her sister now more than ever, yet she’s learned from painful experience that Jessica doesn’t do family, and she shouldn’t count on her now.

Against her judgment, Jess finds herself becoming attached—to her sister and her family, even to her client’s interfering son, Nate—and it’s time to put everything on the line. Does she continue running from her painful past, or stay put and make room for the love and joy that come along with it?

My Comments:

According to NetGalley, this is part of the same series as The Sea Glass Cottage. , however, unlike many of Thayne's series romances, this one does not come with a huge cast of characters who seem to have little connection to the story at hand. 

Jessica is in town partly because she was hired to help a widow clean out her house and partly because she wanted an excuse to be close to her sister for a while.  The widow has a son who becomes the romantic interest in the story.

Its funny the pictures you get in your mind about characters.  This story starts as Jess pulls her Airstream onto her client's property.  For some reason, I pictured a short-haired frumpy but pleasant woman about my age.  As the story developed I realized that like most romance heroines, Jess was much younger than me.  

Rachel is an interesting character.  She's a stay-at-home mom, a young woman who married her high school sweetheart.  She has an autistic son.  She's also a blogger and posts regularly to other social media.  She has crafted an image and trying to live up to it is crushing her.  

Back when I started this blog my big kids were beyond the uber-cute stage and I never felt comfortable telling stories of their foibles here because though I've never hit the big time as a blogger, I'm well aware that erasing a digital footprint is difficult to impossible and what teen wants to find stories his/her mom wrote about him/her shared on social media?  While paying attention to what I write over time will probably tell  you a lot about me, if you choose to put it all together, you'll have to at least run a Google search to find my name and you'd really have to hunt for my kids' names.  I've always kind of wondered how much of what we read from professional mommy bloggers is real, how much is made up, and to what extent the authors are able to tell the difference.  

I enjoyed the book and the fact that other relationships were as important to the story as the Jess/Nate relationship.  

I'd like to thank the publisher for making a review copy available via NetGalley.  Grade:  B.

Wednesday, February 24, 2021

After the Crash: My Review


About the Book:

Since the sudden death of her husband in a car accident, writer Louisa Adams has done her best to hold herself together. But every morning that she wakes to find his side of the bed cold is more painful than the last, and she’s struggling to make ends meet. She must admit defeat and move into the crumbling seaside hotel her daughter just bought. Perhaps it might help put what’s left of their broken family back together…

Her career falling apart around her, Louisa is offered a final chance – to write an article on a local sand artist, Isaac. Except, when he turns to greet her – tall, handsome, weather-worn and wearing the same dusty pink shirt her husband once owned – her heart skips a beat. Why, when he looks into her eyes, does she feel like he knows exactly who she is and everything she’s been through?

As they explore the rugged coastline’s hidden coves together – laughing and living like she never thought she could again – Louisa finds herself drawn to the way Isaac celebrates the little moments in life. Why create beautiful sculptures in the sand every day only to see them washed away with the tide the next morning?

But with her deadline fast approaching, the discovery of a charcoal scribble in one of Isaac’s sketchbooks linking him to the crash that killed her husband exposes a secret that could tear her family and her heart apart all over again…

My Comments:

I enjoyed reading this story about a woman more or less my own age, as so many of the books I read are about women my daughter's age.  

The story is set in an English coastal town where Louisa is a newcomer.  We follow her through the streets and onto the beach, and we meet other people in the town as she does.  Of course one of those people is Isaac and through her interactions with him, Louisa starts to come back to life.  I think Emma Davies did a good job painting a word picture of the town.  

Louisa is a freelance writer who almost exclusively writes for one magazine and the editor has heard about Isaac's sand sculptures and wants an article.  Isaac does not want people to know about him.  For the first time Louisa is forced to think about how her articles affect those she writes about--she's mostly an investigative journalist.  I enjoyed reading about her writing process and difficulties.  

I'd like to thank the publisher for making a review copy available via NetGalley.  Grade: B 

Monday, February 22, 2021

It's Monday, What Are You Reading?

I'm joining the other folks over at Kathryn's for Its Monday, What are You Reading.
Luckily we only lost power for a few hours and that was last Monday while I was still at work.  Between the weather and Tuesday's holiday, they let us leave early but my office was warm and had lights so I sat at my desk and visited book blogs.

NetGalley has been good to me this week. I got:

I enjoyed other books in the series so I thought I'd read this one too. 

Not my usual, but something grabbed me.  We'll see.

Loved it.  Here is my review.  I talk a lot about the title and if you read it, I'd love to hear your thoughts.

I also used my Kindle Unlimited subscription. 

This week on the blog, besides my post about The Nature of Fragile Things, I posted a review of 

I'm participating in the the 2021 Discussion Challenge and had my first entry this week and it includes author interviews.


Thursday, February 18, 2021

Why This Title: Review and Discussion on The Nature of Fragile Things


About the Book:

Sophie Whalen is a young Irish immigrant so desperate to get out of a New York tenement that she answers a mail-order bride ad and agrees to marry a man she knows nothing about. San Francisco widower Martin Hocking proves to be as aloof as he is mesmerizingly handsome. Sophie quickly develops deep affection for Kat, Martin's silent five-year-old daughter, but Martin's odd behavior leaves her with the uneasy feeling that something about her newfound situation isn't right.

Then one early-spring evening, a stranger at the door sets in motion a transforming chain of events. Sophie discovers hidden ties to two other women. The first, pretty and pregnant, is standing on her doorstep. The second is hundreds of miles away in the American Southwest, grieving the loss of everything she once loved.

The fates of these three women intertwine on the eve of the devastating earthquake, thrusting them onto a perilous journey that will test their resiliency and resolve and, ultimately, their belief that love can overcome fear.

My Comments:

It's been a long time since I sat down after work and read a book cover-to-cover in one night (and early morning) but that's exactly what I did last night, and it was time well spent.  
Set in San Francisco in the early 1900's, just prior to and just after the great earthquake and fire, the book follows Sophie through the days of her marriage to Martin and through her relationship with Martin's daughter "Kat".  One of my secret vices is trashy Kindle Unlimited romances and a bunch of them are "mail order bride" books--the spunky (or fearful) woman from back east travels across the country to marry a man almost sight unseen and of course before the end of the book they fall in love.  This book is a reminder that the reason many of these women answered those ads was lack of other viable options.  While I'm sure many of those relationships were at least somewhat satisfactory to both parties, I'm also rather sure that some of the men weren't completely honest about their circumstances and that others were abusive in one way or another.  
I find the title of the book to be interesting:  The Nature of Fragile Things.  With most books I'm pretty sure how the title relates to the story before I start reading, or, if not then, by the time I'm done.  With this one, I'm pondering.  

What is the nature of fragile things?  Well, they break, that's practically the definition.  Usually if I think of something "fragile" I think of something with some value, even though it is easy to break.  I just googled "fragile" and it means easily broken or damaged, flimsy or unsubstantial, easily destroyed or (of a person) not strong or sturdy, delicate and vulnerable.  So how does the title relate to the book?  

While I'd never call Sophie "fragile", her marriage to Martin certainly was.  We don't consider buildings to be fragile, but the earthquake broke many of them.  Sophie develops a relationship with Kat that is anything but fragile.  Kat's mother has tuberculosis and is very fragile--but also very strong.  Sophie also develops a strong relationship with the woman mentioned above.  
Is this a book about being broken?  I don't think so.  Actually I found the women in the book to be strong, despite their circumstances.  The three main adult female characters were all fooled by Martin, so in some ways I suppose he broke all of them, though he didn't end up getting what he wanted from any of these three.  
If you read the book, why do you think it has the title it does?  

I'd like to thank the publisher for making a review copy available via NetGalley.  Grade: A


Throwback Thursday Book Blog Style


A few years ago "Throwback Thursday" was popular in my Facebook feed.  People would post pictures from the past and we'd all laugh about how silly the clothes looked, or we'd reminisce about when our kids were small, or both smile and mourn about our grandparents.  

As book bloggers, most of us read a LOT of books and generally we review new ones, but just because a book isn't the newest and latest doesn't mean it isn't any good. More than a few of us have been blogging for many years and have reviewed hundreds of books.  In looking at our archives we see books that we forgot we loved and books that probably should be forgotten.  

This link-up is  chance to share your old reviews.  The only rules are 1) share one review from this month (February) of any year but 2021 and 2) visit other participants.  So dig into those archives for books you think we ought to read!  You can add links (only one per person please) through Wednesday at 6.  Next week's link-up will go live Thursday at 6 a.m.  

You are invited to the Inlinkz link party!

Click here to enter

Monday, February 15, 2021

Religion and Fiction

When it comes to challenges for book bloggers, I'll admit, I don't usually play.  However, this year, one caught my eye:  The Book Blog Discussion Challenge.  Basically the idea is to commit to posting a certain number of discussion posts during the year, and then to link up and follow other bloggers discussions.  This is my first entry for that challenge.  I signed up at the Dabbler level, but I'm aiming for the high end of the scale. 

Religion in Fiction

What part should religion play in fiction, or any popular media?  Should it be limited to the "religion" or "religious fiction" section?  If it is a general market book, is it ok to mention that a character went to church?  That something they heard in church affected their life or related to the problem at hand?  Does any mention of faith make a book a "no go" for people who aren't religious? 

Books from certain publishers are marketed as Christian fiction and authors who seek to be published by these imprints know there are "dos" and "don'ts" and people who buy them know they are buying books that comport with and seek to spread certain beliefs.  

But what should be the role of religion in books that are not marketed as religious fiction? While the numbers aren't what they once were, Sunday morning church attendance, at least periodically, is a regular part of life for a large number of Americans. However, while a Christmas episode of many TV shows from years past would at least show characters going into a church, in much of today's media if religious people are portrayed at all they are shown as hopelessly naïve, as caricatures  or as bullies/abusers.  The idea that religion is a normal part of life, but not a part that you are trying to beat others over the head with, seems to be missing from popular culture, including books.  Can you have characters who are people of faith and whose faith is operative in their lives without making your book a call for others to adopt your beliefs? 

Kathleen Basi's Thoughts:

I recently had the opportunity to discuss books and writing with Kathleen Basi, whose book A Song for The Road will be published in May. 

The main character in A Song for the Road is a church musician but the book is not published by a religious publisher.  Since I knew she had been trying for some time to get this book published, I asked Kathleen if she had tried Christian publishers.  Her response (my transcription/paraphrase of a verbal interview):
I've had a lot of anxiety over the years about my fiction.  For example, there's a little bit of mild language in this book, and it's not really who I am--but I know that it's authentic.  There are things that are talked about in this book, things that Miriam witnesses and things that are addressed head on such as sex outside of marriage and related issues that made me nervous as very committed Catholic whose faith is very, very important to me.
However, I believe we don't do ourselves any good by pretending that the ugly things in the world don't exist. If we create this Pleasantville kind of world in which everything is black and white, and there's the good guys and the bad guys , we contribute to a binary view of the world that does not hold up to reality. And if we want our faith to be able to witness to the real world, we have to acknowledge what the real world is like.  

To circle back around, I have always existed in a real anxiety about how I'm on the crack between secular fiction and Christian fiction, because I'm really coming at it with a Christian worldview. And yet, at the same time, I'm departing from the some of the topics that would be in most Christian fiction.

One of my critique partners all the way through was saying, "Well, of course, she's [Miriam] having an existential crisis, any person of faith who goes through what she's going through-- she's grappling with the loss of her family-- it would be weird and inauthentic if she didn't have these questions."

 Kathleen and I talked for quite some time, but here is where we talked about faith in fiction

From Penelope Stokes:

Years ago I interviewed another author, Penelope Stokes.  Stokes got her start in the Christian fiction market and her first books were pretty typical of the genre at that time--romance novels where one of the characters making peace with God was part of the story.  Stokes' writing evolved over the years to being less explicitly religious even though it was still published by a Christian imprint.  Eventually she moved to a secular publisher.   I asked if that was her choice, or if Christian publishers would not accept her newer books: 

That shift was intentional.... I wanted to be able to address issues of diversity from a spiritual perspective, and as you observed, I wasn’t able to do that in a conventional Christian publishing setting. 

I originally published in the evangelical markets because...that’s where I started...and...because at the time the general market wasn’t doing much with spiritual fiction.... It’s true that my general market novels contain subject matter that would be unacceptable to an evangelical publisher, and some of my early readers have castigated me for abandoning my faith. Nothing could be further from the truth.... I really want readers to see that our preconceived notions of God are just that—our notions. 

Do you ever expect to write Christian fiction again?
In the sense of writing evangelical novels that offer answers instead of raising questions? Probably not. But then, even when I was writing for the Christian markets, my novels didn’t fit that mold. I was always pretty much a duck out of water.

My Comments:

I am a woman of faith and just as I like it when I find books about "more mature" women, like me, I like finding books about people for whom faith is  part of life.   However, the more your book explicitly pushes your faith on me, the more I'm likely to roll my eyes. 

I like to see religious activities, even if "activity" means the church picnic, portrayed as normal part of life.   I don't think books have to be ABOUT faith to acknowledge that faith exists and is important to at least some people. 
Perhaps it is because I am a person of faith but I like reading stories where characters struggle with matters of faith or how that faith should affect their lives.  I agree with Kathleen that Christians don't do themselves any favors when they paint the world as black and white and put themselves and those like them on the good side of the fence and those not like them on the bad side--at least until the heathens convert. 

Reality is that any of us with a belief system, whether religious or secular,  that promotes any values other than selfishness, are going to run into situations that challenge us because none of is perfect or selfless.  Whether our struggles are with basic belief, or with sexual morality, or with how much comfort we should give up to benefit others, the struggles are there, and a part of us.  

There is a screenwriter named Barbara Nicolosi who used to be a Catholic blogger.  Something she said hit me:  
Too many Christians think we are supposed to use the arts to give people the answers. We’re not. We’re supposed to use the arts to lead them into a question.
So, what do you think about religion in fiction, particularly in fiction that isn't marketed as religious fiction?  Is it an automatic turn-off?  Is it okay if the characters' beliefs mirror yours, but otherwise, no thanks?  How big a part can it play in a story before you start feeling preached to?  Do you like explicitly religious fiction? 

Review: Moments Like This


About the Book:

After Andrea “Andie” Matthews chooses her career over a marriage proposal and then loses a promotion she worked so hard for, she jumps at the chance to take a break and help run a friend’s coffee shop.

Alone in Hawaii, Andie befriends the staff and quickly grows to care for them, making her determined to revive the company.

As luck would have it, she meets the mysterious Warren Yates on Christmas Eve. They share a cup of coffee, some conversation, and even a moment, which leads to many more in the coming weeks.

But when Andie learns who Warren really is—and what he actually wants—she is torn between her feelings and his deception.

Will Warren be able to win her heart back?

My Comments:

What is the proper balance between work and personal life?  I'd say most middle-income Americans have it about right--we work to live, hopefully enjoy our jobs at least to some degree and generally take about two days off per week.  We take vacations that do not include regular contact with the office.  If they can arrange it, I'd say most families have at least one parent whose job permits a certain amount of flexibility to deal with child rearing.  However, people on the higher end of the income scale often pay for those higher incomes by dedicating their life to their job.  If the surgeon's kid throws up at school he or she is not going to leave in the middle of an operation to get the child from school.  The international deal maker isn't going to be able to fly home from Paris tonight for a band concert and tomorrow for a football game.  

Andie has a high-powered career, along with the perks and pitfalls.  She loves her job which affords her a luxury apartment and designer clothes.  It is also the most important thing in her life, and when she has to choose between it and marriage, she chooses it.  Unfortunately, the company did not show her the same loyalty and when she finds out that a co-worker got the promotion she wanted, Andie has a nervous breakdown. 

Thereafter, a college friend who has remained one of the only real friends in her life asks her to take over running the coffee shop she recently inherited while the friend goes on a long-term honeymoon.  The coffee shop is in Hawaii so Andie heads over there for some R&R and low-key work, and given who she is, she turns that sleepy coffee shop around quickly.  She also gets to know her friend's employees and a very special man.  Warren won't tell her much about who he is, but I enjoyed traveling with them to various spots in Hawaii.  

Of course the book ends with Andi realizing that she doesn't want to go back to living the way she did before, but what changes will she make?

In a lot of ways it was a pretty basic romance novel, but I loved the setting, and enjoyed seeing Andi and Warren both figure out what they wanted in life,  not just in love.  

I'd like to thank the publisher for providing a review copy via NetGalley  Grade: B.  

It's Monday What Are You Reading?

 Happy Lundi Gras!  Parades are all cancelled but this is the year of the house floats.  Instead of standing still watching floats drive by, we are driving by houses made to look like parade floats. 

The characters in the painting all represent facets of Mardi Gras

Each figure represents a marching club

Making the front entrance into a King Float 

Mardi Gras Indians in Costume (an African-American tradition)

The weather has been lousy so I've been reading.  I finished 

The heroine of After the Crash is the mother of a grown child--in other words, she's closer to my age than what many heroines are.  Do you ever seek books about people your age?  Do you think people like you (however you identify/define yourself) are well represented in literature?
I got some new NetGalleys:

This one intrigued me because it is based on an making friends/connections online.  Luckily, getting pregnant was never difficult for me.

 Not sure what made me push the request button on this one, but it looks like it could be fun.

Join the other book bloggers at Its Monday What Are You Reading and let us know how your week went.  

No book reviews last week but I have several coming up this week.  Enjoy Mardi Gras, stay warm and may you have a blessed season of Lent.  

Sunday, February 07, 2021

Monday Memes

This post is linked to Mailbox Monday, and to Its Monday What Are You Reading.  Check out the linked posts to keep your finger on the pulse of the book blogging world.

I got my monthly email from Amazon inviting me to pick my free Prime Reading book for the month.  None of them appealed to me.  However, since I didn't have any "I wants" I decided to try reading outside my comfort zone and selected 

Its a memoir written by a queer black person who uses plural pronouns rather than gendered ones.  I tried, I really did, but the book oozed with pain and seethed with rage and at least in the part I read, the author blamed all of that pain on the carceral (hey, I learned a new word) culture promulgated by white people and the conformity that culture requires.  It takes real talent to write a memoir that doesn't come across as self-absorbed, and unfortunately, Ziyad did not exhibit that talent.  

I got three new NetGalleys this week.  

The only one I've read so far is To Catch a Dream.  It is a romance with vivid bedroom scenes but it is as much about the heroine, Evie, coming to accept that she is loved by others in her life, not just the guy, as is is about him and her.  I'll publish a review in March.  

Last weekend, I interviewed Kathleen Basi, author of A Song for the Road.  We talked for almost an hour so I'm going to write several posts on the topics we covered.  This week I wrote "How to Write a Novel".  

How was your reading and blogging week? 

Saturday, February 06, 2021

How to Write a Novel

I wonder if the SEO gods will send all sorts of hits my way with a title like "How to Write a Novel"? Honestly, my answer would be to start with the first page and end with the last one, and then proofread and revise. However, I've come to realize it is much more complicated than that.  

Those who regularly read NetGalleys or other Advanced Reader Copies are familiar with the blurb that tells you not to quote anything without checking with the publisher, as the book is not in its final form.  Sometimes it is pretty obvious the book isn't finished--page numbers are missing from the table of contents and from other places in the book, or there are typos.  Other times the ARC really does seem "done". 

Years ago someone wrote a book about a client of ours and we were gearing up for damage control if necessary.  Then I found the book on NetGalley and my request for it was approved, as are most of my requests.  I spent the next few days at work carefully reading the book and sending my boss copious notes about it.  I had to explain what an ARC was, and how I scored this one, and the PR firm we hired was suitably impressed.  Once the book was published, I got the assignment of reading it, and comparing it to the ARC, and honestly I was surprised at how different it was.  The basic story was the same but one scene we found problematic was no longer there and another section had been moved. There were also changes to paragraphs here and there.  While I am sometimes and curious about how other books move through the revision process, I've never been interested enough to go through that exercise on my own time.  

Lately I've been following Kathleen Basi, whose novel A Song for the Road will be published in May, on Facebook and reading about how she sent in another round of revisions, got a publisher interested in the book and then revised it again.  I had the pleasure of chatting with Kathleen about her book and about writing in general, and I asked her about the writing process.

Here are some of the things she had to say:  (my transcription of a verbal interview)

The process of writing, revision and publication begins with a question--are you a plotter or a pantser? Some people write by the seat of their pants. I like to plot things out. I get completely paralyzed if I don't know where I'm going....I want to have a framework to start. 
I thought A Song for the Road would write itself because it was a road trip and had this built in structure.
The rough draft came out pretty quickly. But the revision process was long and painful on this book. Well, I shouldn't say painful. I actually enjoy revision. Drafting is difficult for me, but once the dough is mixed, and you get to get in there and knead and shape it—that's the part that I really enjoy. I think I spent six or seven months writing the draft of this book, and then another year and a half revising it.
When I started getting requests from agents, I did two more revisions for two agents who were interested in it, and ended up signing with one of them. And then did another revision after that before my agents felt like it was ready to go on submission. When it sold, then there was another major revision. It wasn't terrible, but it was it was big. I took out a major plotline that that had been sort of central at the beginning, but by that time, the book had matured into something else. We did another more minor round of revisions in the fall before I sent it in final manuscript.

Then I asked her:  "What was the difference? Without recounting the four different versions,  I mean, was Miriam always been the same person?"

Miriam has always been the same person. By the time A Song for the Road went out to agents and all of that, her character was pretty well set.

But in my initial concept for this book, this was a road trip that was structured around social media. She became an internet sensation. And while she was trying to have this private trip, she was also dealing with trolls, and people showing up wherever she was going to be.

I thought that gave her an extra layer of conflict: she was trying to do this intensely private this thing in public. But in the later stages of revision, editors and agents said this book doesn't need that. So most of it went away. In earlier versions of the book, at the end of every section, I had Facebook and Twitter interactions, stuff about her followers and how she was going viral. All of that went away in order to streamline and focus on what Miriam was going through.

Since Kathleen is also a composer and writes non-fiction, I asked her "So you're a composer, and you're a writer, and you write long fiction novels, you've also written a lot of magazine articles, you've written short books dealing with the liturgical seasons and so forth. How is writing a novel the same or different than writing music or writing shorter forms?

The challenge is different for each one. With nonfiction the structure sort of takes care of itself. You figure out, “Here’s the topic, and here's how I'm going to break it down.” You get to use headings and subheadings.  It's short pieces, and then you just have to tie them together. What's hard about writing nonfiction is making it so that somebody would actually want to read it.  It can't just be dry recitation of facts. So that's what's challenging.

In fiction, it's a lot harder to come up with the structure that propels it forward. You don't have those subheadings to guide you. Which was why the road trip was so nice, because it kind of gave me that structure. But with fiction, you have a lot more freedom to play with language, to pause and stop and really  dig into the moments and things that would just not be appropriate in nonfiction. 

With music, I'm writing texts for use in worship, and that I find much, much more difficult, actually. Because the syllables have to fall just right, and you have very few syllables to get a message across. It’s more accessible to congregational singing if it's consistent from one verse to the next, and that imposes a huge, huge amount of work on the composer to come up with texts that are that are appropriate theology, and which have the same number of syllables in the same stress pattern in every verse, and where accent syllables fall in the right place.  So yeah, that's hard, hard work.

Fiction is incredibly freeing compared to that. I'm not constrained in the same way. But I would imagine all of that text work means that I'm thinking about sentence cadence in a different way than I would if I just wrote fiction.

So, how do you write a novel? With lots of hard work, that's how. As a reader I'm glad there are people who are willing and able to write novels because I for one could never put that much work into one project.

I'd like to thank Kathleen for granting me an interview.  Stay tuned to this blog--we talked for almost an hour and I'm hoping to get a couple of other posts out of the interview.  You can learn more about Kathleen, her writing, her music and her beautiful family at her website. 

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