Tag Archives: Literature

A Few of My Favorite Reads

Books Read2


“Reading usually precedes writing. And the impulse to write is almost always fired by reading. Reading, the love of reading, is what makes you dream of becoming a writer.” – Susan Sontag

Often when I find it difficult to write, I read. I have been dealing with some life changes, some health related and probably the most difficult was my brother’s death. He was in home hospice for several months before he died this past December. I tried to spend as much time with him as I could while working full-time and trying not to neglect my husband and kids.

I wanted to write but my heart wasn’t in it. During those months when I did have some spare time, I spent much of it reading. That has always been my favorite escape.

As you can see I got through quite a few since September. I discovered some new authors and caught up with some of my favorites.

I have been a fan of Jodi Picoult for years. “Breathing Time” is her newest and it was fantastic. It was one of those stories that surprised me at the end. I thoroughly enjoyed it and would recommend it to anyone. The twists and turns will keep you up late.

Dorothea Benton Frank was an AVID (Author Visiting in Des Moines) author this past year. I picked up a couple of her books and because she talked so much about “Sullivan’s Island”, I bought it even though it was not her most recent book. She said there is a scene in there that actually happened so of course I had to read the book to find out what she was talking about.  I can’t tell you about the scene here, I really think you need to let her tell you about it. If you get a chance to hear her speak, do it. Her stories are women’s fiction – set in the south.

Mary Kay Andrew’s “Christmas Bliss” was one of my holiday choices this year. I love her books. The characters are spunky and you never know what they are going to get into. She is another author I have read for years.

I discovered a new author to me – Julia Keller. I read a couple of hers – “A Killing in the Hills” and “Bitter River”. She has a third out and I plan to get it as soon as I get my to be read pile down a little bit more. Her stories are set in the Appalachia area. Her protagonist is a prosecuting attorney who has a teenage daughter and an ex-husband. Her stories are a little more nitty-gritty about the side of life that isn’t so pretty. She has won awards for more than one of her books. If you like suspense, you will like these.

I met an Iowa author –  Heather Gudenkauf. I had read her first book a while back – ” The Weight of Silence” and didn’t realize that she was from Iowa. This time I read – “These Things Hidden” Her stories are well crafted and will keep you guessing. She also is a great speaker. It was one of those really cold Iowa winter nights that she spoke at the West Des Moines library. I ran into some writer friends and it was so worth it.

My Sisters in Crime group has a book exchange every year at our Christmas party. We share a book that we really liked. This year I got one that had been on my wish list for a while. William Kent Krueger’s “Ordinary Grace”. It was just as wonderful as I thought it would be. His protagonist told the story of a murder that happened in his hometown when he was a boy. It is no wonder he won so many awards with this book.

The last book on my list is from one of those authors that I have been reading since his first in the series. Alan Bradley writes cozy mysteries with a little girl sleuth named Flavia De Luce. It is set in England in the 1940’s and they are so cleverly written. I have reviewed some of his books here before and I continue to look forward to each new one. This one was “The Chimney Sweepers Come to Dust”. If you like cozy mysteries, you have to check this series out.

One of my goals is to read more this year. I can’t count all of these toward my goal but I am starting with this Alan Bradley novel as my first for this year.

I read for pleasure but I also read because it motivates me to write. I read novels and books on the craft of writing too but novels are what I turn to most. What do you read? Do you set reading goals?

This year I also want to review more, not just here but on Goodreads, Librarything, and Amazon. Do you know that reviewing a book could be one of the best things you could do for your favorite authors?

I hope you add at least one of my suggestions to your to be read pile.

Until next time,


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Posted by on January 23, 2015 in What I'm Reading


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What I’ve Been Reading…


When I wasn’t shopping, putting up the tree, decorating, and cooking, I spent December indulging in everything Christmas. I had read Kate Kingsbury before and decided to read the new one that came out this year as well as some of her back list. If you are a fan of Downton Abbey, which I am, you will love this series. Since I have read a few already, I have come to love the characters. Cecily Sinclair Baxter is the protagonist. She owns the Pennyfoot Hotel/Country Club. There have been so many murders around the holidays that everyone has come to think of the Pennyfoot having a holiday curse. Luckily Cecily has a knack at solving the mysteries. You will get entangled in the lives of the servants as well as Cecily. These stories are satisfying cozy reads and you too will become attached to the characters. I picked up several from this series but only managed to read two. The rest will have to wait till next December. Here are my thoughts on December 2012 reads.

First I read ‘Herald of Death’ –  This one involves a murderer who kills with a different method each time but leaves an Angel sticker on the victim’s forehead. I would give this one 4 stars.

‘The Clue is in the Pudding’ – involves a maid finding a dead guest in his bed. At first it looks like he was poisoned by some Christmas pudding served by the new housekeeper. Pudding the cook was saving for guests for Christmas day. You then discover that though she might have a motive so do several more characters. 4 stars.

Santa Cruise‘ by Mary Higgins Clark and Carol Higgins Clark was the third book from December. I have read a couple other from this series co-written by mother and daughter but it had been a while. This one was okay but found myself not caring so much about the characters. To be honest, I had a hard time telling who was the protagonist of this story. The characters who appear in the series are Regan Reilly a private investigator and her husband head of the NYPD Major Case Squad. I would have assumed they were the main characters but it felt more like Alvirah Meehan, a lottery winner who must have solved a few crimes in previous books in this series was also telling the story. Needless to say, I did finish it, something I don’t always do now – so many books – so little time. If you like a cozy mystery set on the sea, do check this one out. I would give this one 2 stars.

I resolve to continue reading. I believe you have to read to write. What have you been reading? Any suggestions for 2013?

Till next time,




Posted by on January 1, 2013 in What I'm Reading


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Monday Motivation

“Follow your inner moonlight: don’t hide the madness.” – Allen Ginsberg

Write about something that is bothering you. Use it for a character in your novel or to explain a passage in a memoir or just as a journal entry. Don’t be afraid to dig deep and use what touches you because if you do, it will touch your reader.

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Posted by on September 17, 2012 in Writing a Novel


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M is for Motivation

“If there’s a book you really want to read, but it hasn’t been written yet, then you must write it.” – Toni Morrison

Motivation is what makes you want to do something. If you write, it’s a longing that can only be expressed in words.  If I ignore it, I tend to get grumpy.   I know when I’ve been away from words too long. They call to me. It’s like they build up inside and eventually I have to spill some out.

Reading feeds my motivation. Sometimes because the words are so right, but sometimes even if they aren’t it can motivate me to do better.

Sometimes when I am working on a new project just planning the story and developing characters can pull me into the project motivating me to complete it. The story can lure me into spending more time with it. Those are the nights when I come home from work and wish all I had to do was grab a peanut butter sandwich and sit down in front of the computer and spend the evening with my fictional world.

A goal can help feed your motivation. It’s an end, something to aim for, a reason to continue. But don’t ignore the journey. Getting into the zone can motivate too. It’s intoxicating to reach that point where you are focused only on your work and time goes by without your noticing it.

What motivates you to write? What keeps you going?

May you write what you’ve been wanting to read, this week.



Posted by on July 30, 2012 in Write a Novel


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K is for Kill Your Darlings

“Perfection is achieved, not when there is nothing more to add, but when there is nothing left to take away.” – Antoine De Saint-Exupery.

If you revise with an editor’s eye, you will see those lines you think are gold but for some reason don’t work within the story. You tell yourself, but it’s so cool. Someone needs to see this.  I am so clever. You think it’s the best thing you’ve ever written.

That’s when your critique group starts avoiding looking you in the eye. They want to tell you the truth but they don’t want to hurt your feelings. Instead of enhancing your story, they want to tell you that it sticks out like a pimple on prom night. If you have written for a while, deep down you probably already know it. Now is when you have to be strong. Don’t throw it away; keep it in a file for future use. Who knows, it might spark a new story idea.

Editing and revising is your chance to make it better. If it doesn’t work, take it out. Like a writer friend once told me, it’s only words. You have plenty more where those came from.

Have a great week writing and Sparkle Abbey, have a great week in Anaheim.


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Posted by on July 22, 2012 in Uncategorized


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Sarah’s Key – a Book Review

Sarah’s Key by Tatiana De Rosnay

I discovered this book when someone recommended the movie. Can’t remember who it was but they said it was a very good movie. I have yet to watch it but I did read the book. Figured if the movie was good the book would be good also.

This is a fictional story written around an actual event. It bounces back and forth from present day Paris to Paris, July 1942. The present story is told by Julie, an American woman who has lived most of her life in France and is married to a Frenchman. They have a young daughter. Her husband’s grandmother has moved from an apartment to assisted living and Bertrand, the husband is remodeling the apartment for him, Julie, and their daughter Zoe.  Julie introduces the reader to all of her friends, including a gay couple she shared an apartment with before she was married. All of the characters are well developed and interesting. It becomes clear, early on, that she feels that she has never been accepted by her husband’s family.  No matter what she does, she is just an American.


Every other chapter moves back to the past and starts with that infamous day in July in 1942. That night, the French Police gathered all of the Jews and took them to several different camps to be processed before going on to Auschwitz. It is the story of Sarah, a young Jewish girl and her family. The night of the raid that dragged them from their home, Sarah committed an innocent act that would haunt her for the rest of her life.


The present day Julie is a journalist who is assigned to write an article about Vel’ d’Hiv, the night the Jews were gathered. She discovers clues about this piece of French history that most people would rather ignore and forget. The mystery unfolds as she discovers connections between the past and a family secret. Her husband discourages her but she finds an ally in her father-in-law who supports her efforts and eventually acknowledges his appreciation for answers to questions that relieved a burden of guilt his family had locked away.

The author weaves the two stories together in a way that makes it difficult to put down, until the very end. I felt that the story ended a few chapters before the author actually stopped writing. I couldn’t wait to find out the secret but once that was revealed, the author continued to tell me more than I needed to know about Julie. I did need to know the very ending but some of the stuff between felt tacked on and not so well thought out as the rest of the book. Even with the less than perfect ending, I would recommend this book to anyone who has an interest in the holocaust and man’s ability to survive after unthinkable horror.  I will look for more from this author.

I am currently reading ‘The House of Many Shadows’ by Barbara Michaels. I recently recommended this author to a friend and decided to pick up a few more that I had missed reading. Love the gothic mystery feel and her use of paranormal.


As far as non-fiction, I have been reading several books on outlining and will share some information from them in future posts.

Hope your writing week is productive and enjoy a good book.


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Posted by on July 16, 2012 in Book Review


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Miss Me When I’m Gone – Book Review

          This book was described as a “Honky-tonk” Eat, Pray, Love. I wouldn’t have described it that way. It is the story of two women who were college friends. Both write, one, Gretchen, is a successful novelist working on her second book and the other, Jamie is a pregnant journalist.

The story begins when Gretchen falls down the stairs outside of a small town library after doing a book signing. At first it looks like an accident but when they find her purse several towns away in a lake, they know it is much more.

Gretchen’s first novel called ‘Tammyland’, was about the women of country music, Dolly Parton, Loretta Lynn, Patsy Cline, and of course Tammy Wynette. She draws parallels of abuse from those women’s lives and compares them to her own mother who had been murdered when she was a child.

Jamie is asked to be the literary executor by Gretchen’s mother to oversee her unfinished work and hopefully complete it.

While reading ‘Tammyland’ the fictional book in the story – that reveals some interesting anecdotes about the country music icons-(like the time Tammy Wynette took a bubble bath with Burt Reynolds).

Jamie soon discovers that Gretchen may have found out something about her mother’s murder. Someone breaks into Jamie’s home and steals some of Gretchen’s notebooks and a couple laptops. Gretchen had also left a cryptic voice mail message that she had the feeling someone was lying.  The same message, Jamie now feels guilty for having ignored.

Jamie’s pregnancy progresses as she digs deeper into the mystery of both Gretchen’s death and her mother’s and she knows that she has to finish this before the baby comes or she may never find the time. Ignoring her husband, Sam’s, concerns she plunges herself into the past hoping to explain her friend’s death. She feels she owes it to Gretchen to catch her killer.

I would recommend this book to anyone who likes women’s fiction and mysteries. It’s one of those stories that straddle the line between two genres. It reads like women’s fiction but feels like a mystery.  Though I took a few days to read this one, I was pulled back often to finish it. This story was well written with believable characters and setting. I especially liked how this author brought in information about several well-known songs and how they came to be.

It may have been just me but I really enjoyed the stuff about Tammy Wynette. Probably because my cousin played guitar in her band and I have always been curious about her because of that connection.

I am currently reading ‘Sarah’s Key’ and will review it when I have finished it. It is one of those that I seem to be breezing through because I like it.

What are you reading?



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Posted by on July 4, 2012 in Book Review


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F is for First Lines

“The sensation of writing a book is the sensation of spinning, blinded by love and daring.” – Annie Dillard

Some books suggest that your first five pages are the most important; some say the first 50 pages. If the first line doesn’t catch the reader’s eye, I doubt it matters how well you wrote the first five or 50 pages especially if your reader is an agent or an editor.

It’s a given that you have to make that first line pull the reader into the story and it probably is the most important line in your book but it doesn’t stop there. To continue to pull the reader in, you have to make sure the first line of each chapter and each scene accomplish the same thing.

A good way to study first lines is to pull one of your favorite books off the shelf and start dissecting it. What about that first line made you want to read more? Go further into the story and see how they structured the scenes and chapters. Can you see a pattern of beginning, middle, and end?

Just as you have a story arc, you should have an arc for each chapter and each scene and those arcs start out with a first line.  Don’t settle for weak first lines; make them strong enough to help carry your story.

If you’re working on your first draft, just get it written but when it comes time to edit and revise, polish those lines until they sparkle.  Make them do the job you need them to do and then go on to the second most important line – the last line of each chapter and scene. The first line gets the reader’s attention and the last line brings the reader back for more.

Hope your writing week was productive. If you write and live in the Des Moines area and would like to visit a writer’s group. Central Iowa Fiction Writers meet Saturday at 10:00 AM at the West Des Moines Community Center. Our speaker this month is Cheryl Saint John an author from the Omaha area and she is going to talk about blogging.

If you lean more toward mysteries – the local chapter of Sisters in Crime meets Saturday afternoon at Smokey Row coffee shop at 3:00. Come check us out.

Also, Larry Baker an author participating in AVID, will be at the Central Library June 18th at 7:00 PM. His current book is “Love and Other Delusions”.  AVID is a program sponsored by the Des Moines Library and each year they bring in several authors to talk and sign.

Currently reading “Wild” by Cheryl Strayed, a memoir about a woman who decides to hike the Pacific Crest Trail alone. This is Oprah‘s first pick for her new Book Club 2.0. I bought the e-reader edition and it is interesting to see the passages Oprah highlighted. So far it has been an enjoyable read.



Posted by on June 10, 2012 in Writing a Novel


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Time to Get to Know the Bad Guy

I would like to say I got more done with my story this week but it wouldn’t be honest. I am still working out the kinks of my characters. Protagonist is shaping up well but I think that is because the idea started out with her. I have a skeletal plot and know that because this is a mystery there has to be at least one murder but I don’t have a good grasp of my villain.

This weekend, I am working on the villain. I have ideas for how the victims will die but I need to know the killer a little better. Who he/she is and why he/she would want to kill a bunch of little old ladies. So to work on this, I pulled out another reference book
to help, ‘Bullies, Bastards and Bitchesby Jessica Morrell.

I think the hardest part about the villain is that you have to be able to create someone the reader will fear and hate but they still have to have some quality that  is unexpected and makes them if not likeable, at least human.  Just as the good guy has
to have some flaw, there has to be something good about the bad guy. If the protagonist is perfect and the antagonist is totally evil, the reader knows exactly what to expect, there are no surprises, and the story becomes predictable. So that is my assignment for this weekend.

Today is also the first day of my vacation and I do plan to put in many hours of writing.  I also need to have a little fun, as well. A cookout this evening with family and I’m meeting with my critique group tomorrow about 45 minutes away. None of our group lives in the same town. Because we are scattered within the central part of the state, we picked a city in the middle and try to meet there twice a month. We usually do lunch and then head to a local bookstore for a nice chat and critique, depending on what each member needs.

As far as reading this week, I am working on ‘Witches on the Road Tonight’, by Sheri Holman. It is for pleasure but also for a little research on how this author writes about witches in the Appalachia’s. I am about half way through and it is an enjoyable read. I
will plan to review it later.

Hope you too have a great week – reading and or writing.



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