Thursday, May 25, 2017

I had a dream the other night

The dream I had the other night is still very vivid in my mind. I had a dream within the dream, too.  I'm not one to interpret dreams and I'm not sure where to go with this.

You're probably wondering what me having a dream the other night has to do with reading, aren't you?

Before I retired from teaching, I started writing the draft of a middle grade chapter book. I finished it within 9 months of being retired. I had a few people critique it. Adults seemed to like it better than kids. I did revisions. Kids liked the revised version better.

At about the same time that I finished that draft, my youngest daughter needed to write a picture book for school project. I won't say I did the whole project for her... but I came up with the idea of the book, edited her draft and then proudly displayed the finished product on my coffee table. Until my daughter took it away. While the book was still in my possession, I read the guidelines for middle grade picture books and I revised the text to match the guidelines. If I (we?) were ever to attempt to publish the book, we might have a hard time. The audience for a middle grade picture book about the Spanish-American War is probably very limited. I don't think I've ever heard of a 3rd, 4th or 5th grade social studies curriculum including anything about the Spanish-American War.

I started doing research to see how to go about getting either of my books published, but then I had all sorts of family stuff going on and I realized that I didn't have the stick-with-it-ness to publish a book at that time.

What does this have to do with my dream from the other night?

I dreamed that I was sitting at my desk. I'd just shut down my computer and had a sudden urge to write another book. In my dream, I turned on my computer, preparing to sit down and write. Then, in a dream within my dream, I had visions of my main character. She was a single woman. Something tragic had just happened in her life. She was living alone in a walk-up apartment. While she went to the bathroom, someone walked into her apartment and knocked on her bathroom door. When she opened the bathroom door, there stood a woman holding an older baby. Perhaps it was a neighbor?

The dream was so vivid when I woke up. It was so vivid later that day. It's still vivid a few days later.

Do I want to be the type of author who keeps writing drafts of books and stuffing them in drawers? Do I want to be a published author? (Of course. Who wouldn't?) The big question remains. Once the writing is done, because I have no doubt I have several more drafts for several more books inside me, do I want to put in the hard work to get a book published? That's the part of all this that I'm just not sure about.

Do all readers yearn to write?

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Best. State. Ever.

I was able to finish reading Best. State. Ever.: A Florida Man Defends His Homeland in less than 12 hours. Not that it was particularly long, but it was Dave Barry's light and breezy style that got me through the book so quickly.

Dave Barry, originally from Armonk, New York, has been living in Florida for over 30 years. He had a long running gig at The Miami Herald writing local interest pieces. He knows Florida.

The introduction to the book in which Barry's humor comes through loud and clear pokes fun at the state. Or rather it points out why Florida is the butt of so many jokes from people who are out of state. Or even in state. Dave Barry also reminds us that Florida is one of the states with the fastest growing populations and that's due to people coming from other states. He seems to think that Florida becoming such a joke began with the "hanging chads" disaster of 2000. Perhaps. Yes, lots of idiotic things happen in my adopted state. I agree. But I often feel like we hear about this idiotic things on such a regular basis because we don't have as much news as say New York, where I also came from. Or do more idiotic things truly take place in Florida?

Once through the introduction, the remainder of the book is an interesting travelogue. A look at some interesting (okay, odd) locations throughout the state. Did it help that I'd been to most of the places he visits to write the book? The Everglades, Weeki Wachee, The Villages, just to name a few. I'm sure it didn't hurt. I was able to read along and laugh and say "Ah ha!" to myself quite often. I think anyone who has spent a good amount of time in the state will experience the same thing. I gave the book 4 stars on goodreads but I'm not sure if I'd recommend this book to everyone.

Some who've never been to Florida might plan a trip to somewhere else - Indiana or Kentucky or Illinois - rather than Florida. "Do I really want to be around those crazies?" Is this really a defense of the state or an indication of the make-up of the Florida population and a strong suggestion that no matter what you might think of Florida, it's never boring!

Goodreads Giveaways

After finishing my latest book (Best. State. Ever.) earlier this morning, rather than pick up a new book to read, I decided to explore what giveaways are available on When I first discovered this feature on goodreads, authors giving away copies of their books - either as a pre-release or to celebrate an anniversary of sorts or to renew interest - I entered all the time and I won quite a few free books. Then I went thru a slump. No matter what giveaway I entered, I never won.

I'll try my chances at this again. I carefully scrolled through the lists of some of my favorite genres: historical fiction, memoir, contemporary fiction. I read descriptions, I read about the author. I looked at reviews if they were available. And then I clicked "submit." And now I'll wait and see.

I had trouble finding the place where the giveaways are listed on my iPad. In fact, I still can't figure out how to get there directly, without going to the full site and then once in the giveaways, opening the app. But as I was looking for a hint on how to get to the giveaways on the app, I googled goodreads giveaways and found a whole bunch of articles about how to increase your chances to win at giveaways. How it's not totally random. How different books might even have slightly different algorithms. I also read about how the authors don't really have much say in what algorithm is used.

In case you follow me on goodreads and noticed that I had more than 25 books to my "to be read" pile, well, this is the reason why.

Wish me luck!

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Pretending to Dance

Pretending to Dance by Diane Chamberlain combines two of my favorite genres: young adult fiction (coming of age stuff) and contemporary women's fiction. It's also the first book in a really long time that I had the pleasure to devour in just over 48 hours. It drew me in when I actually had a chance to sit and read for hours at a stretch. Yay!

When does pretending become lying? Molly's father, Graham, dealing with declining health due to MS, is a "pretend therapist." He's a real therapist... but he believes in the adage "fake it until you make it." If you want to be brave, pretend to be brave. If you want to be happy, pretend to be happy. That sort of thing.

Molly and her husband are living in San Diego, close to Aidan's happy family. They've reached the point where the only way they will have children is to adopt. The process necessary to go through in order to adopt brings many of Molly's secrets - and lies - to the front of her mind. Molly has lied to Aiden about her family. She's told him her parents are dead. In actuality, her father is dead but her two mothers - both her adoptive mother and her birth mother - who each had a huge role in her upbringing - are very much alive in North Carolina.

We experience the summer of 1990 when Molly falls in love for the first time, rebels against her parents and experiences loss after loss. We also go through Molly and Aiden's journey towards parenthood in 2014.

It brought back memories of the summers in my teens when I thought I knew it all and that my parents were just trying to hamper me. It brought back memories of the years when I wondered if I'd ever be a parent. I loved the relationship Abby had with her dad. I loved the way young Abby tried to figure out right from wrong. This book simply delighted me.

Another thing I realized that I loved about this book is that the ending wasn't rushed. Chamberlain let the story play out. She didn't rush to wrap things up. As I was reading, I recognized that a big complaint of mine about other books is how quickly they are finished. The climax comes... and then a few pages later, the story is over. That wasn't the case with Pretending to Dance. In fact, if I hadn't finished the book as quickly as I had, I considered writing a blog post about authors that have crash endings to otherwise wonderful novels.

The one thing I didn't like about the book would be a spoiler and if you've been following me long enough, you know that's not my style. To be sort of vague (and to jog my memory when I read this post before discussing Pretending to Dance with my book club in a few weeks), I didn't really understand Chamberlain's handling of a particular issue. She treated this particular issue as if there had been no social evolution regarding this issue between 1990 and 2014. I felt that 1990 Molly's thoughts and reactions were spot on while 2014 Molly's thoughts and reactions were stuck in 1990. And I don't mean in the sense that she kept going back to how she felt in 1990. It's as if this issue hadn't been in the news or in novels or in discussions over the past 24 years. The evolution of this issue could have and probably should have been reflected as Molly comes to terms with her family's experience in 1990. Enough said on that! This is the only reason why I gave this book a 4-star rating on Goodreads rather than a 5-star rating. I really did love this book.

Blue is my favorite color

Sometimes I need time to really think about a book before I write any sort of review about it. A Spool of Blue Thread by Anne Tyler wasn't really that type of book, but I was away from my computer when I finished it. I only hope I can remember enough to write something worthy here. (I also pray that I can remember enough about the book to be able to discuss it at a book club meeting a few months from now!)

Don't get me wrong. I really enjoyed A Spool of Blue Thread. I think it's a good book club book because there are a lot of things that can be discussed. But there was very little action in the book and it wasn't overly character-driven either. It's a family story about a quite ordinary family from Baltimore going back as far as Red's parents and going forward to Red's kids. (The grandchildren are minor characters in the story so it would really be a stretch to say that the plot covered 4 generations.)

Red and Abby Whitshank are a perfectly ordinary couple, parents of 4 children, living in a house that Red's father, Junior, built for wealthy clients but which Junior aspired to live in. He got his wish. The house is as much a character in the book as any of the children - or even Red, Abby, Junior or Linnie Mae.

(Another text-to-self connection here... my family is currently getting ready to sell a house that has been in our family for over 80 years... longer than the Whitshanks lived in their house. Tyler gives you an excellent idea of what the house means to Red. Did my family home mean that much to anyone who had ever lived there? I suppose I will never know.)

The Whitshank kids, Amanda, Jeannie, Denny and Stem, are worried about Abby and Red living in that big old house alone. Abby experiences blackouts and Red has trouble hearing. The kids decide that the parents need help. But the parents don't think they need help nor do they want any help. This allows Tyler to unfold the stories of the Whitshank family. How they got to where they are today, what drives the children, what explains the relationships between the siblings. It's all quite ordinary but it's not. On the surface, the story is simple... and probably more common than I know in the community in which I am now living. It also brought back memories of what I experienced at the point where I worried that my parents probably should not have been living on their own.

Tyler weaves the story back and forth through different periods of time. We start in 1994, jump forward to more current times, then back to learn the story of Red's parents in the 1930s. And then we're mostly back to the present. These movements through time make the story evolve in an unpredictable way. But isn't that the way real life is? The spool of thread that is the Whitshank family slowly unravels and we learn that all is not as it first appears.

I love family sagas. I love reading about ordinary (but not so ordinary) families. And I love Anne Tyler's style of writing. (My favorite book of hers is most likely Back When We Were Grownups.) A Spool of Blue Thread is the type of book that really demands to be read in one sitting. But because my reading time was broken up, it surprisingly took me over 2 weeks to finish.

And like I said, I hope I remember enough of what drew me in during my reading when it comes time to discuss this with my community book club.

P.S. Here's the link to my recap of the book club meeting where A Spool of Blue Thread was discussed.

Saturday, May 6, 2017

The October List

May is Mystery Month for Books & Beer Club. After quickly picking last month's romance book, a little more time was spent selecting our mystery. I wish I could remember the three final choices. One was a classic, written in the 1880s, supposedly the first in it's genre. I totally can't remember what the second one was. And The October List by Jeffery Deaver was the third. We did a vote and The October List won.

I liked the sound of the synopsis on

Gabriela waits desperately for news of her abducted daughter.
At last, the door opens.
But it's not the negotiators. It's not the FBI.
It's the kidnapper.
And he has a gun.

How did it come to this?

Two days ago, Gabriela's life was normal. Then, out of the blue, she gets word that her six-year-old daughter has been taken. She's given an ultimatum: pay half a million dollars and find a mysterious document known as the "October List" within 30 hours, or she'll never see her child again.

A mind-bending novel with twists and turns that unfold from its dramatic climax back to its surprising beginning, THE OCTOBER LIST is Jeffery Deaver at his masterful, inventive best.

I was most intrigued by the fact that the book works backwards. And that turned out to be what I most enjoyed about The October List. I felt like I had to pay a little bit more attention to what was going on so I'd be able to follow the sequence of events going back in time. I will admit to being very surprised when I opened the e-book on my iPad and Chapter 36. Hmm, did I not get the entire book? Then I realized that the chapter numbers were even in reverse.

Climax after climax occurs, but we don't know what led to each individual climax. Each chapter starts... and ends... with a sort of cliffhanger. I wanted to know How did we get here? more than once, rather than the more normal, Where is this author taking this next? It made for a quick read, although it did require a bit of rereading when I'd put the book down for a few hours and then pick it up and need to remember what I'd been wondering about. Different time of continuity problem for me.

The main character, Gabriela, is a photographer. So each chapter, even in the e-book, shows a photograph that is somehow related to the chapter. I didn't catch on to that until I was up to Chapter 10 or 9... but once I did, I went back to see how each photograph related to the chapter that followed. That was very clever.

Did I like the book? No, not really. I liked the clever way it was written from ending to beginning. But crime thriller really isn't my genre. About three quarters of the way through the book, I had an idea of how the story might have begun. I wasn't exactly correct, but I was definitely on the right track. I also realized at that point that I really didn't like the characters much at all. But on the other hand, it made me really determined to finish the book and learn what set this story in motion.

Since this isn't a genre I usually read but it is the genre of my author friend, Ronnie Allen, I was able to gain a better appreciation of the way Ronnie develops her characters and weaves subplots throughout. My b rain just doesn't think that way - not forward and certainly not in reverse!

When I finished the book, I thought, yay! I have a week and a half with no book club title pending. I can read whatever I'd like for the next 10 days. What was I thinking? Community book club is this Tuesday. That gives me three days to read a book that has nothing to do with book club - and isn't part of the Outlander series. I guess I'll see what's available from the library and take it from there.

Monday, May 1, 2017

Romance in April

I'm going to be blogging about this book as I read this book. Why?

After Forever Ends is the book selected by Books & Beer Club to read for our romance (genre) month, April. I wasn't at the March meeting when this was selected. When I started reading the book, I had to wonder if I was reading the correct book. It sure seems like a Young Adult novel. While that works for science fiction and fantasy (my least favorite genres), it doesn't really work for romance.

I had to purchase the book since it was only available for sale and not at any library. I'm still trying to figure out if it was self-published. If not, I wouldn't recommend that any author use Melodie Ramone's editor. Punctuation is horrible. Dialogue is improperly punctuated throughout. (And I'm already thru about 25% of the novel. So it's not like the punctuation was bad the first few pages... or chapters.)

I don't understand the time setting of the novel. Silvia is telling her granddaughter her life story. At the time of the telling, she's 86 years old. Okay. That makes sense. We go back to when Silvia starts  new boarding school. As the reader, I expected Silvia to be 15 years old in the 1930s or maybe 1940s. Yet the references to popular culture at the time of Silvia's boarding school days are things that were going on when I was already an adult. And I'm no where near 86 years old. In other words, 86-year old Silvia was 15 in the 1980s. Does that make sense? Maybe if I continue reading, I'll see that the novel ends sometime in the future.

(Took a break to read The Nest. Getting back to After Forever Ends this evening. Book club is in just 5 more days. I've got a lot of reading to get done.)

Book club was this evening. According to my Kindle app, I've got an hour and 45 minutes remaining to complete the book. I wasn't too worried about hearing any spoilers at the meeting. I was also in pretty good company. Three people liked the book (although one agreed with many of my complaints). A few were on the fence about it. And the large majority really didn't enjoy reading it at all. I wasn't the only one who felt that the book was endless and weren't able to finish on time. 

That didn't stop us from having a great book discussion. In addition to talking about the writing and editing (or lack there of) and author's purpose, we talked about the characters and the plot. And the setting. This was probably one of our more focused on the book discussions.

We've decided as a group that we need to take better care when selecting books based on reviews of people we don't know. Especially when it comes to romance. (Personally, I'm not sure why we don't substitute romance with some other genre that isn't on our annual rotation. I might suggest that next time.)

I'm so close to finishing the book. I suppose that I will finish it.

I finished After Forever Ends over the weekend. I'm not sure how the kindle app really learns your reading speed. When I stopped reading on Wednesday, it said I had about an hour and 45 minutes remaining. After about 20 minutes of reading, it said I had over 2 hours remaining. I'd made a commitment to finishing the book so I stuck with it. I'd heard at book club that I wasn't missing much by not reading through to the end. And I suppose that was correct.

The main character, Silvia, jumped around a bit talking about the children (hers and Lucy's) growing up and becoming adults. There was a lot of jumping around and I needed to keep reminding myself whose child belonged to whom. In reality, I suppose all the children belonged to all of them, Silvia, Lucy and the twins. The book ends with Oliver's illness and death and how it impacts Silvia, Alexander and Lucy. (Not a spoiler. In the opening paragraph, you learn that Olive has been dead a few years.) And then it ends.

Silvia started her story by telling it to her favorite granddaughter, Kitty. This was a loose thread that wasn't tied up at the end of the book. It was as if Silvia had been telling the story to herself.

Melodie Ramone wrote a 5-star review for herself on In her review, she wrote about how most of the story came straight out of real life. I do wonder which character Melodie was/is. It makes me wonder if she decided to write down a family story - because this would be an awesome family story - and someone who read it said, "You should publish this. It's a great family saga." Even though it's something that would only completely interest someone close to the author. I'd love to have something so detailed about my grandparents, parents or siblings. But to read it about a stranger's family, not so much so. I also wonder, with regards to the poor editing, if it was published by a vanity press. My first thought was self-published, but there is a publisher noted.

In the end, I did give the book a rating of 2-stars on goodreads as opposed to a 1-star. Mostly because I was able to finish it. But would I recommend it? Not at all... unless you're a family member of Ramone. Then I'd highly recommend it.