Category Archives: Book Review

Book Review: Exit Signs, by Patrice Locke

Patrice Locke’s charming new romance

It’s always a delight to read a book after having met the author. I met Patrice Locke at this year’s Women Fiction Writers’ Association retreat in Albuquerque, New Mexico, which is also the setting of this delightful tale. In fact, we met just a few days before her book’s release, and she was a bit nervous about the whole business. She needn’t have been—this story is a delight.

Researcher and ghost writer Tracy Price is hired to help dreamy rock star Jesse Elliot with his memoir. Sparks fly, naturally, but her cautious nature and his cockiness lead to misunderstandings and doubts. Meanwhile, Tracy and her partner are digging up intriguing clues about a long-dead poet from the 1930s, whose story may be the key that unlocks their success, as well as freedom from the odious boss, AKA “the dragon.”

Locke knits these two plot lines together in a clever and touching way. The on-again, off-again romance between Tracy and Jesse delivers humor and heartache. I read this novel during the very busy run-up to the holidays, and made sure to carve out a precious hour each day to escape to Albuquerque and see what new adventure or screw-up Tracy would deliver. Tracy’s the sort of heroine who shoots herself in the foot so often that she’s going to need a much smaller shoe, but Locke makes her an extremely sympathetic, well-rounded character all the same. Her quirky snack concoctions, awkwardness around achingly-handsome Jesse, her dogged independence, and her warm heart make her a character to fall in love with. The same holds true for her circle of friends, all well-rounded characters I enjoyed spending time with. This book delivers a satisfying resolution and plenty of warm fuzzies—sweet but not cloying, and great fun.

Book giveaway: Piper Morgan to the Rescue!

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Because we’re all deeply mired in serious matters these days, a little levity is badly needed. How about an adorable little redhead with a heart for puppies? Here’s the latest release in Stephanie Faris’s Piper Morgan series, a perfect holiday gift for the little readers on your list. She’s giving away copies here!

https://www.rafflecopter.com/rafl/share-code/YmE3MjA1ZmE3NmM3MjJlOTUyMzIyZjViYzk5OWQ3Ojc=/?

Piper helps some four-legged friends find the perfect home in the third book of the brand-new Piper Morgan series.

Piper is super excited to help out at Bark Street, a local animal shelter in town. Who wouldn’t want to be surrounded by adorable puppies and dogs all day? And when Piper sees Taffy, the cutest dog she has ever seen, Piper is determined to find a way to bring Taffy home. But it won’t be easy—especially when she finds out someone else wants to make Taffy a part of their family, too!

Stephanie Faris knew she wanted to be an author from a very young age. In fact, her mother often told her to stop reading so much and go outside and play with the other kids. After graduating from Middle Tennessee State University with a Bachelor of Science in broadcast journalism, she somehow found herself working in information technology. But she never stopped writing.

Stephanie is the Simon & Schuster author of 30 Days of No Gossip and 25 Roses, as well as the upcoming Piper Morgan series. When she isn’t crafting fiction, she writes for a variety of online websites on the topics of business, technology, and her favorite subject of all—fashion. She lives in Nashville with her husband, a sales executive.

https://stephaniefaris.com/

http://stephie5741.blogspot.com/

https://www.facebook.com/stephfaris

https://twitter.com/stephfaris

https://www.instagram.com/stephfaris/

 

Have a NEAT Day: A Book Review and Testimonial

shoes and phone

Here’s where you get to say “I told you so.” A few months ago, I finally traded in my flip phone for a smarter model. I’ve long resisted that switch, but Hubs was upgrading his iPhone, and AT&T offered a two-for-one deal. I have to admit, it was getting pretty tiresome answering long texts on my ancient flip-phone, and it’s nice having a GPS that I don’t have to update. My new phone also has a pretty accurate step-counter, which has unleashed my inner statistician. Today I have walked 7, 359 steps. That leaves me fewer than 5K to go.

I’ve had pedometers before, but they’ve all stopped working, miscounted my steps, or ended up in the toilet—those waistband clips aren’t as secure as they ought to be. After tossing the sixth or seventh one, I figured I should be able to keep track of my activity level on my own, right? But there’s a big gap between “should do” and “do.” My phone has turned out to be a real boon in my effort to increase my daily activity. I also enjoy the Duolingo app, which has taught me such valuable Spanish phrases as “How many elephants eat rice?” “He is a double agent” and “I cannot die.” But that’s another story.

It’s a challenge for a desk worker like me, whose favorite hobby is reading, to get up out of that chair often enough to stay healthy. Until I earn enough to buy that treadmill desk I dream of, I need to retrain myself to get up frequently. Going to the gym or taking a walk each day is good for my health, but is not enough to counteract the harmful effects of all this sitting.

Get Up book

Here’s the book review part: I recently read Get Up! Why Your Chair Is Killing You and What You Can Do About It, by James A. Levine, M.D.  Kudos to Dr. Levine for making many, many scientific studies on the effects of sitting accessible to a lay audience. My take-away from this easy-to-read book is the importance of getting out of my chair and adding more NEAT to my life. NEAT stands for nonexercise activity thermogenesis: walking around, fidgeting, doing chores–all the movements, little and big, that our increasingly chair-bound, digitally enhanced lifestyle has eliminated. Of course, we all know that too much sitting is bad for us, but before reading this book, I didn’t really grasp the extent of the problem across prosperous nations. I certainly know, however, how crappy I feel during and after a day spent sitting at my computer, no matter how fascinating the reading/writing tasks I do there.

Although he sometimes wanders a bit in his explanations, Dr. Levine’s writing is entertaining and convincing. A true believer, he presents plentiful evidence of the damage done by our chair addiction, as well as practical solutions to avoid that damage. On Dr. Levine’s advice, I now walk slowly around my house or around the block for 15 minutes after most meals, in addition to getting my behind out of the chair more frequently. I heartily recommend this book to all my chair-dwelling friends and family.

How do you incorporate movement into your workday?

Book Review: The Ice Cream Queen of Orchard Street, by Susan Jane Gilman

Ice Cream Queen

What a delight! Give yourself time to savor this bittersweet, funny, snarky immigrant tale, all 501 pages. We meet Lillian Dunkle, née Malka Treynovsky, as her family prepares to flee pogrom-afflicted Russia in 1913. Crippled by a traffic accident, abandoned by her shyster father and her crazy mother, little Malka is taken in by an Italian family in the ice cream trade, and ice cream becomes her guiding star. Sounds schmaltzy? Not at all; this is some of the finest historical writing I’ve read. Feisty, funny, snarky Malka/Lillian is driven by yearning for family, chisel-sharp ambition, and a wounded heart.  We follow her from her New York Jewish ghetto to fortune and fame as the Ice Cream Queen of America and beyond, into her feisty but very complicated old age. A mistress of historical fiction, Gilman plops us right down beside Lillian to experience most of the twentieth century though her eyes, and what a ride it is! Lillian is, at times, not a very nice person, but I still rooted for her as she went after those who’d wronged her along the way. As a bonus, I also leaned quite the arsenal of Yiddish expressions. Such naches I had from this book!

Book Review: DIY MFA, by Gabriela Pereira

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I was delighted to receive a free advance copy of Ms. Pereira’s newly-released how-to book for writers: DIY MFA: Write with Focus, Read with Purpose, Build Your Community. Have a look here: http://diymfa.com/product/diy-mfa-book

In this volume, she promises the reader the most important lessons from a Masters of Fine Arts program in creative writing. After all, an MFA program requires a huge investment in time and money, and seldom focuses on genre/commercial fiction, which is why I’ve decided not to pursue that degree. Pereira is not the first to try to condense the best bits of an MFA into a book; in fact, I have on my bookshelf The Portable MFA in Create Writing by the New York Writers Workshop, published by Writer’s Digest Books in 2006, as well as forty-two other volumes on the craft of writing fiction. Why add another one?

Well, I’m always hoping for new nuggets of writerly wisdom and inspiration, and I found quite a few in DIY MFA. This book would be a good starting point for any writer who’s just beginning her reference library. Pereira doesn’t go into any one facet of the writing world in great depth, but she gives such a broad view of all the aspects of writerly success that every reader would most likely learn something valuable.

In the first section, Write with Focus, Pereira does a very solid job of presenting basic story structure, characterization, tips for busting through writer’s block, and other goodies that fiction writers need to know. Her background is in the design and data analysis, and she’s fond of acronyms and formulas. Her tone can be quite gushing: the book is liberally sprinkled with exclamation marks and phrases like “Awesomesauce.” My favorite nugget from the first section is her technique of outlining a plot in the style of a subway map, which was a great help to me with my current novel in progress.

In section two, Read with Purpose, we see Pereira’s scholarly training. I did appreciate her liberal use of examples from popular fiction: Pride and Prejudice, The Hunger Games trilogy, and the Harry Potter books. Her explanations of these examples, though, sometimes made me roll my eyes as she belabored the obvious. Her term for critical reading is “Read like a revolutionary”—but every high school student and college English major has done this type of examination of a writer’s technique. If it’s been a while since you’ve examined how a story was put together, you’ll find good reminders here.

It was in section three, Build Your Community, that I found the most value. In fact, I’d recommend buying the book just for this section. Pereira’s advice on critique groups should be read by everyone before they attend their first face-to-face meeting with such a group. Her advice on building your online presence and blogging was also detailed and up to date.

All in all, I found a great deal of valuable information and food for thought in DIY MFA. If you’re a writer in the early stages of your career, this volume belongs on your bookshelf—or in your Kindle. Also, be sure to check out her blog at DIYMFA.com, and her podcasts at DIY MFA Radio.

Book Review: This Chair Rocks, by Ashton Applewhite

This Chair Rocks: A Manifesto Against AgeismThis Chair Rocks: A Manifesto Against Ageism by Ashton Applewhite
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is a book I’ll read again and again in order to counter the stupid things people (both youngers and olders, Applewhite’s terms) say to justify mistreatment and disregard of people who are no longer young. This is basically a sociological/psychological study of our fear of aging and of the ageism that results. Don’t worry, though–it’s not a dry tome; Applewhite provides plenty of interesting anecdotes to personalize the issues she examines.

As an old person in training (also her term), I’m determined not to allow others’ ideas of what an older person should be/do/think limit my possibilities, and I’m becoming more and more aware of what a battle that will be. Just as we women sometimes try to keep other women down in order to avoid examining our own choices and assumptions, so do olders sometimes try to keep their fellow olders down in order to justify their own inertia. Reading this book was truly a consciousness-raising experience.

View all my reviews

Book Review: All Fall Down, by Jennifer Weiner

The novel I’m currently shopping around to literary agents is best described as women’s fiction, a genre I haven’t read as widely as I should. I’m working (well, it’s fun, really) to remedy that. “What is women’s fiction? you ask. “Don’t you mean romance novels?”

Women’s fiction may contain romantic elements, as can sci-fi, fantasy, horror–just about any genre you can name. But the central focus of women’s fiction is women’s personal growth, transformation, and relationships–often family relationships or friendships. There is not necessarily a “happy-ever-after” ending, but there will be a life-affirming message in there somewhere. Chick lit fits nicely into this category but, thank goodness, the protagonist need not be young, chic, and living in NYC for a novel to qualify as women’s literature.

Jennifer Weiner’s name comes up on several lists of recommended authors of women’s fiction. This is the first of her novels I’ve read, but it won’t be the last. Weiner’s protagonist is a very sympathetic character–mother of a difficult child, wife of an indifferent husband, daughter of a helpless mother and a father with dementia, and author of a wildly popular blog. I squirmed and winced and even teared up a bit as I watched her life unravel due to her addiction to painkillers. Weiner gives us an insiders view of rehab–very gritty and frustrating. Though the subject matter is grim, Weiner writes with humor and touching insight. Read this!

Book Review: Provence, 1970, by Luke Barr

Provence, 1970: M.F.K. Fisher, Julia Child, James Beard, and the Reinvention of American Taste 
This book is a delight for foodies and Francophiles. The grand-nephew of eminent American food writer M.F.K. Fischer writes about a winter she spent in Provence in the company of Julia child, James Beard, and other influential food writers. Barr uses the extensive letters and journals of the participants, as well as interviews with a few who are still living, to reconstruct this period in which the American cooking scene took a new direction–away from bland convenience foods and stiff, complicated formality and toward freshness, simplicity, and fusion. I loved Barr’s descriptions of Provencal towns and cities, and especially of the meals prepared and shared there. If you’ve enjoyed the writings of Child and Fischer, you’ll love this.

Book Review: The Grown Ups, by Robin Antalek

Continuing my education in the genre of women’s fiction:

I absolutely loved this book. Antalek takes us from adolescence through early adulthood and beyond in the lives of a group of friends. Her tightest focus is on Sam, Suzie and Bella, but we also get to know the rest of their group, along with many of their parents. It’s impossible not to care deeply about these three characters as they scrabble over the knee-skinning boulders of messed-up families, broken relationships, coming apart and together again. Antalek takes us through the trials of teenaged lust, misunderstanding, ambition, lack thereof, thwarted ambition, unused talents, sibling love/rivalry, addiction, and parental decline: the ordinary stuff of which life is made, and all of it deeply resonant without lapsing into schmaltz. An outstanding book.

Book Review: Separate Beds, by Elizabeth Buchan

(Just trying out the copy-this-review-to-my-blog feature of Goodreads.)

The novel I’m currently working on would be best described as women’s fiction, so I’m reading lots of same to learn about the genre. I found Elizabeth Buchan on a must-read list of women’s fiction authors. The recommended book, Revenge of the Middle-Aged Woman, wasn’t available in my library, so I picked up this one, and I’m glad I did. Buchan handles smoothly the transition from POV to POV in this tale of a British family’s near dissolution, making each character at least partly sympathetic–a difficult task in the case of the critical, crotchety grandmother. All members of this family are deeply flawed, but I found myself rooting for all of them…well, perhaps not one, but I was deeply curious about what would happen to her. An engrossing read for anyone who enjoys a relationship-centered tale.