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Read so far in February

I have read the following three books so far this month and I am about half way through with a fourth. If I do complete that one before the end of February, I will post my review of it also.

I have been working on my novel more this month and I do feel like my focus is improving.

The first book I completed was The Thursday Murder Club. This was an enjoyable read. It is set in an English retirement center and the sleuths are four septuagenarians who meet to discuss old murders. When a developer is murdered near them, they jump at the chance to investigate an active crime. Of course, they do all the things you would expect older people to do, basically get in the way of the investigation, they do help catch the killer. While doing so, the reader does suspect each of them. The characters are quirky, which I like and the plot was complicated enough to make me want to keep reading. I thoroughly enjoyed this book and look forward to the next in the series.

Richard Osman is a well known face on British television as host of quiz shows. He has also created and worked as an executive producer Numerous UK and US television shows. This is his debut novel. He lives in London.

The second novel I read this month is The Butterfly Sister. I found this one from a local independent used book store. I had never heard of the author but I picked it up by perusing the shelves and was first drawn to the cover. It is the photo of the clasp and lock for an old suitcase.

In this one, a woman receives the suitcase of a missing woman she’d known at college. It was sent to her by the airlines because she’d once borrowed it and apparently the woman had not removed her name tag. The college holds bad memories and the woman is tempted to throw it away but tries to do the right thing and contacts the woman’s family. That is how she finds out about her disappearance. The protagonist agrees to deliver the case to the woman’s mother but before she turns it over to the police, she attempts to see if the contents would help her to locate the missing woman.

This was a good thriller and it did keep me wanting to read more. I did spend one late night finishing it. Messing up my wellness goal of going to bed earlier. But with the pandemic, I find myself stuck home most days anyway. So what if I do have a late night once in a while?

Amy Gail Hansen is a freelance writer and journalist living in Chicago at the time this book was written. This too is a debut novel. I would probably read more of her work but not the way that I read other series where I actually wait most impatiently for the next in the series.

The last book was All the Devils Are Here by Louise Penny. This author is one of the authors whose series I don’t read immediately when I purchase her books, not because I don’t want to but because I know she only has one book come out a year and I try to pick a time that I can savor the read.

The only negative about this book was that it was not set in Three Pines, Canada but in Paris, France. So instead of getting to hang out with the residents of Three Pines we were introduced to new characters and visited a few of Armand’s family who’d moved to France. In this book, both Daniel, his son, and Annie, his daughter, live in France with their families. Armand’s daughter Annie is expecting their second child at any time and he and his wife have flown over to be there at the happy moment.

One evening after a family dinner, Armand and his wife witness an attempt on his godfather’s life when he is hit by a car. They go to his apartment and find the body of a stranger. The Paris police don’t believe there is a connection so Armand and his son-in-law Jean Guy – who was also his second in command on the homicide squad in Canada start investigating. That puts the whole family into danger.

The story gives you a better picture of Armand’s family dynamics and while he and his son Daniel have had a strained relationship, it slowly changes to give them a better outlook for their future by the end.

Louise Penny’s books are good for making you feel like you are present in the location and her quirky characters are part of the reason her readers are so loyal. Though she deals with serious subjects there is always a little humor sprinkled in. The only thing bad now is that I have to wait for fall for her next book.

If I manage to complete my current read – At Home in Mitford by Jan Karon, I will have another post later this week. If not, I will add it to my reads in March.

Until next time,

Virginia

 
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Posted by on February 22, 2021 in Uncategorized

 

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February To Be Reads

January was not a good month for reading for me. I only completed one book – Midwinter Murders by Agatha Christie.

Midwinter Murders is a collection of short stories set during the winter. I enjoyed all of the stories but I would say my favorite was the last one – Christmas Adventure. That story had an older Poirot. It involved a family in a manor house at Christmas where the children decided to fool Poirot into thinking someone had died. After the prank was done and the victim did not get up, they realized they had a real murder. Luckily Poirot was there to solve the mystery. The rest of the stories included a few more with Poirot and Miss Marple but some had random characters. It was an enjoyable read for a cold winter month. Since I love Christie, it will be a keeper.

Each month I plan to also choose my favorite read for the month and then at the end of the year, narrow them all down to my favorite for the year. January is simple this month since I only have one book to choose from but I will move forward to find my favorite for the year.

So far February has started out much better, I have completed one novel already in my TBR stack. The Thursday Murder Club by Richard Osman. I will follow up with a review of that book with my next post. I have four books chosen to read this month so besides Thursday Murder Club, I would like to read The Butterfly Sister – Amy Gail Hansen, All Creatures Great and Small – James Herriot, and All the Devils Are Here by Louis Penny. I have already read a few chapters of both The Butterfly Sister and All Creatures Great and Small. So hopefully I can reach my goal of four books this month.

Today we are in a winter advisory with snow all morning and several car crashes on the interstate and a blizzard warning north of us. I have spent the day doing a little laundry, reading, and watching the snow. It truly is a good day to read.

I made it through my first month with the happiness project. When I started this project, I acknowledged that I wasn’t unhappy but I felt I could be happier. Considering what we have been dealing with, I am sure everyone has been struggling with staying home more and the inability to see friends and family. I can’t say I succeeded but I made progress. The main goal for January was to have more energy. So get more sleep, walk or exercise, eat better, and de-clutter my home.

I rarely hit my designated bed time but I did figure out that I may have been trying to go to bed too early, so I pushed my bedtime back a little and did make that goal sometimes.

I really was not able to change my time to shower and dress daily. I still hang out in my pajamas longer than I probably should. I know that will change when we are able to get out and do more and as soon as Spring arrives so I am okay with that but will continue to work on that again in February.

Steve and I had been fairly successful with walking until the weather turned but we do take advantage of the good days. We made a little road trip to a furniture store about an hour away. We figured if nothing else, we could walk around inside and add some steps on our Fitbit. Well we did more than just walk. We bought new furniture for the formal living room and formal dining room. After we’d found a loveseat, tables, and lamps, and while the sales clerk was doing the paperwork, we found the table and chairs we’d seen a year ago but had put off buying. We both really liked that set so much that Steve told the clerk to add it too. Because of Covid we have to wait for a couple items so we will be getting the living room furniture the end of this month and our new table and chairs the end of May or early June. They actually have to make the table the size that we wanted. It is solid wood and made by the Amish. Steve plans to paint the rooms and clean carpet once the old furniture has found its new home. I guess maybe I am happier than I was on January 1st but new furniture always makes me happy.

We continue to work on our diet but that will be on-going. I always say baby steps. As long as we move forward.

So I am continuing with the Happiness project. For February, I am learning to be more kind, stop nagging, and don’t expect praise for things that I do. I will let you know how that goes.

Happy reading and until next time,

Virginia

P.S after I was done, I realized there is a series that I started reading last summer and really want to get back to so if I can, I will read the next Diane Mott Davidson book in my stack of her books to be read.

 
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Posted by on February 4, 2021 in Uncategorized

 

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Magic Lessons

Prequel to Practical Magic by Alice Hoffman

Magic Lessons takes the reader back to the 1700’s to introduce you to Maria Owens.

This was a time when women were herbalists and they helped heal. At the time, there wasn’t good medical care and these women offered a better alternative. Granted they did offer advice for love and some used their skills for the darker side, like revenge but the smart ones knew better than to go there. This was also when women were persecuted and really had no rights.

The story starts in Essex, England during the plague. Maria escapes the witch hunters and travels to America. A failed love’s pain causes Maria to issue the famous curse that keeps the Owens women from finding love.

The strongest magic was literary and Maria knew how to read. It was a lesson she later taught her daughter. Reading opened the world for them but it also made them targets to men who were afraid of strong women.

I watched an interview with Alice Hoffman. She said she was always drawn to writing strong female characters. Her mentor was a Professor at Stanford. She suffered writer’s block after 9/11. By re-reading Farenheit 451 she was able to break through her writers block. She further pulled herself out of it by writing Young Adult fiction.

She is currently working on the fourth book in the Owen’s family series. Originally – Practical Magic was meant to be a stand alone but so many readers wanted to know more about the family so she wrote more for them.

She was surprised by the similarities in the women in the 1700’s and modern day women and some of the similar experiences they shared.

Alice Hoffman was a fanatical reader and a secret writer in the beginning. She sent a story to a magazine that needed work grammatically. The magazine responded that when she decided to take writing seriously, to send it back to them.

Her brother encouraged her to come to California to college. She applied at Stanford and got a fellowship. There she met her mentor who helped her become successful.

Her advice is to write every day and start early. She feels she has to re-learn how to do it with each new book. She does outline, lots of research. She loves Google.

Her themes are usually women in a man’s world. Maria just walked in a door whole for her, probably because she’d been in her head the previous 25 years.

I was a great fan of Practical Magic. I did read the second in the series – The Rules of Magic when it came out so I wouldn’t have missed reading Magic Lessons. If you are familiar with the earlier books or movie, you should have a good idea of what to expect with this one. Yes it is a story about a family of witches who tend to want to do good. This book is perfect for the Halloween season but I would recommend sitting in front of a fire with a cup of tea, coffee, or hot chocolate and sink into an enjoyable journey anytime this winter.

I highly recommend Alice Hoffman’s work. If you have not read this one and you enjoy women’s fiction with a little bit of magic, you need to check this one out.

What has been on your list this month? I am guessing you are making plans for Thanksgiving, if you are in America. Hoping you have a wonderful, safe holiday and maybe take some time to enjoy a piece of pumpkin pie and a good book.

Until next time,

Virginia

 
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Posted by on November 24, 2020 in Uncategorized

 

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November 2020 TBR

“So many books, so little time.” Frank Zappa

In the BookTube circles, November is non-fiction month for readers. Because this is news to me, I have included one non-fiction book this month but will not commit to more because my to-be-read list is so long.

Do any of you save November for non-fiction reading? If so, what are you reading this month? We want to know.

This post will be brief because I plan to review books as I read them and don’t want to be redundant in future posts.

These are the books I hope to read this month. My goal each month will be at least four per month, so as you can see, this is a lofty goal. At this point, I don’t want to know too much about the story, only enough to pull me into reading them. I want it to be a surprise.

Since this post is coming out on November 10th, I will admit that I have completed one of these books already. Later this week, I will post my book review. I will also keep you guessing as to which book that is. Let me know which one you think I chose in the comments below.

I will also admit that I am halfway through two other books on this list. That too, I will save to share later with my November wrap up.

Since there really are so many books and so little time, I will let you go for now.

May the rest of your day be peaceful and productive. Try to spend a little of that time reading.

See you soon,

Virginia

 
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Posted by on November 10, 2020 in Uncategorized

 

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Books Read in October 2020

This is so much fun to be back!

I am starting off with October and it was not as fruitful as September. I have completed two books this month compared to seven last month. I have been a little distracted this month.

I will share a little about my reading habits so that you know what to expect from me in the future. I choose books to read for the month, but I also have a few books that I read a little bit of each day.

Each morning with a cup of tea, I read ‘The Writer’s Daily Companion’. I use it like a daily devotional for writers. Each day it offers something new.

  • Monday: Writers on Writing
  • Tuesday: Motivation
  • Wednesday: Writing Class
  • Thursday: Editing
  • Friday: Biography
  • Saturday: Books Writers Should Read
  • Sunday: Writing Prompts

I also read a chapter from a book on the writing craft. Which I plan to continue doing indefinitely because of my huge collection of craft books. This month I am halfway through ‘Light the Dark – Writers on Creativity, Inspiration, and the Artistic Process. I will share more about this book once I have completed it.

Now onto what I read:

Stop Worrying; Start Writing – How to Overcome Fear, Self-Doubt and Procrastination by Sarah Painter. This book is short only 117 pages. But it is packed full of information to get you out of a slump. This was the craft book I read chapters daily for last month and it is a keeper. Each chapter gives you different methods to break through whatever blocks are keeping you from writing. I found many ideas that I have never heard before and with the number of years I have been writing, that surprised me. I think her advice is what encouraged me to take another look at my blog and start posting content again.

Sarah Painter is a bestselling author and host of the Worried Writer podcast – www.worriedwriter.com. Her fiction includes – The Language of Spells in the Light of What we See. She lives in Scotland with her children, husband, and a grey tabby called Zelda Kitgerald. She drinks too much tea and is the proud owner of a writing shed.

On a scale of 1 to 5 stars and 5 is best, I would give this one 4. If I ever give a book less than 3 stars, it doesn’t necessarily mean it is awful, it means it didn’t resonate with me. A five I reserve for books like – To Kill a Mockingbird or Gone with the Wind. Those are classics and I rarely read new books that I feel will become true classics. They not only have to be excellent, but they need to be books I think will age well and be popular for generations to come.  So, a four from me is really an excellent rating and I would recommend reading it, if it sounds like something you would enjoy.

I planned to read more spooky stuff because of Halloween but the one book I really wanted to read and did was Halloween Party by Agatha Christie. I had picked this book up often over the years but never bought it until this year. I am a true Christie fan. I discovered her years ago when my first was a toddler and we spent a lot of time at story time at the local library. I devoured as many of her books then as I could find. Obviously, I didn’t find all of them and remember complaining to the librarian that they needed to supply more. I did get an introduction to her main characters, Poirot, Miss Marple, and Tommy and Tuppence. My favorite has always been Miss Marple but I did love Tommy  and Tuppence. I have now grown to love Poirot as well. I would also give this one a 4.

This novel introduced a new character to me as well, Ariadne Oliver, a mystery writer and friend of Poirot. In Halloween Party, Ariadne has a new friend she met on a cruise who invites her to her small village and a Halloween party. That night, a child makes a wild claim about having witnessed a murder in the past. That child is later found dead with her head in the apple bobbing tub. Ariadne contacts Poirot because something does not feel right. It was an enjoyable read. If you have never read a Christie, her characters are fairly rounded even though the sleuth does not really change during the series. The crimes are set up well and will keep you guessing. I also watched the adaptation on Britbox for this book. It is part of the Poirot series and they never disappoint. Beautiful scenery, believable cast that usually follows close to the book descriptions and story line.  I plan to continue reading Christie books often so you will see more soon.

Those were the two books I completed this month, but I did start a few that I plan to finish eventually. Those were Alice Hoffman’s Magic Lessons, Stephen King’s If it Bleeds, and The Ghost Tree by Christina Henry. I did enjoy the portion read so far but this month I was too much like the proverbial dog seeing a squirrel and was easily distracted. I will review them once I have completed reading them.

I hope this may have given you the itch to pick up a book or two. Please feel free to comment and offer suggestions of books that you love too.

 I do look forward to the cold nights ahead with a good book and a hot tea or chocolate.

Until next time, keep reading.

Virginia

 
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Posted by on November 6, 2020 in Uncategorized

 

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New Blog Adventure

Anyone who has followed my blog knows that I am an avid reader. I’ve decided to change the focus of my blog from writing to reading. I have not given up on my writing, just on the content of this blog.

Reading has always been my escape. It is the friend who never lets you down. Books are always there when you need them and this year I have needed them.

I will get more into my reading habits as we go but I hope you will join me as I share what I am reading each month. I hope you will feel comfortable to share with me as well. Each month, I will share what I plan to read, what I’ve actually read, which might be different because like a holiday dinner, I always pile on more than I can actually eat. I will share new books and books that I no longer plan to keep. As I complete books, I will post a review and will summarize at the end of each month.

I will try to get my author friends to share information about their new books – maybe what made them decide to write that particular book.

I will also share BookTubers from YouTube because well, can you really get too much information about books?

Today’s post is meant to introduce you to the changes. I plan to post something later this week summarizing my October reads.

I look forward to this new adventure and as always, keep reading.

Virginia

 
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Posted by on November 3, 2020 in Uncategorized

 

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Swinging Into Another Life Phase

So I am swinging into a new phase of my life. Retirement and the chance to write full time. 

Back before 2010, I blogged regularly because I enjoyed it and it motivated me to write more. At that time, my life changed. We were all dealing with a huge recession, hubby lost his job, and I had to make a change I really didn’t want to do. I gave up my career as a Real Estate Agent that I loved because one of us needed a real job with benefits. I went from being my own boss to a ‘ foot in the door’ job with a large insurance company. I will not go into detail but it was 10 years of my life I will never get back again.

Last February, I retired and my hopes had been to focus on writing. After several weeks of dealing with Social Security, Medicare, and my pension, I thought I was there. And then Covid19 hit. I went into panic mode because I am in that age group now that needs to worry. It has taken me several months to accept that life is not how I had envisioned it for retirement but it is not how anyone envisioned 2020 and so far I am surviving. Once I got past the fear, I am taking it a day at a time and again looking forward to living.

I am doing better. My urge to write is re-surfacing. I have attended numerous virtual workshops and a convention or two, also virtually. My local chapters of RWA and Sinc are meeting virtually so I do get to see my friends, at least on-line. I do have one friend who sometimes drives a couple hours one way to meet and chat on my patio. We have been trying to help motivate each other.

I want to apologize for abandoning my blog and I believe it is past time to bring it back. I need to write.

Last fall my local chapter of RWA invited a New York Agent to come talk. I had the opportunity to pitch my story and she did say she would look at it when it it done. At the first of the year, my goal was to have it done by now but since that didn’t happen, I am going forward with my second draft of a romantic comedy and hope to get it to her maybe a few months later than originally planned. Since we didn’t have a specific date set and it was prior to the pandemic, I feel comfortable she will work with me. At this point, it is only a chance for her to look at it anyway. No promises. So I am doing this mainly for me.

I plan to blog once a week. Share writing tidbits, book reviews, author interviews, and maybe add information about author birthdays for the month, just for fun. Fun for me and hopefully fun for you too.

I hope you will join me in this journey as we work together toward a better life with words.

Thanks for hanging in there, until next time.

Virginia

 
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Posted by on August 23, 2020 in Writing a Novel

 

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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,

Virginia

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

 

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‘The First 50 Pages’ – A Book Review

If you can’t hook an agent or an editor, how can you expect to hook a reader?

Just finished reading‘The First 50 Pages’ Engage Agents, Editors, and Readers, and Set Up Your Novel for Success by Jeff Gerke.

Donald Maass even wrote a blurb for the cover – “From the insider’s perspective, everything they’re not telling you about your first 50 pages. Invaluable.”  Jeff is an editor and author of fiction and nonfiction. I haven’t read any of his fiction but I had read Plot Versus Character: A Balanced Approach to Writing Great Fiction”. If you are writing to publish, I would recommend this book as well. It breaks down the differences between people who outline and those who don’t and how you can improve by looking at the process from the other kind of writer’s perspective.

 

Jeff broke ‘The First 50 Pages’ down into two parts. Part one covers the submission process, including proposal killers and a list of mistakes he has seen over and over again with submissions.

Part two consists of what your first 50 pages needs to accomplish. He spells out what you should and shouldn’t do to get published. Jeff’s explanations are easy to understand and he uses examples of both good and bad writing. I was surprised that some of those examples were from published books and well known authors. He showed how they could have been better.

Most of the mistakes made are considered lazy writing. It’s easier to tell instead of show is probably the biggest misstep. He used both books and movies for his examples.

I plan to keep this book handy once my first draft is finished and I’ve started revisions. Jeff reinforced how important beginnings are for publication. I think my biggest surprise was his advise on prologues. He thinks they have been given a bad rap and if done effectively, he thinks they can improve the beginning of a story. Jeff did admit that some Editors are so against them that he has heard of one in particular who would rip it off the front of the manuscript and throw it away before reading the material.

If you’re looking for a writing book to help motivate you to write better, check this one out, I don’t think you will regret it.

May your writing week be productive and your reading enjoyable.

Virginia

 

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