Book Reviews to Start Your Holiday Lists

Fall is here. The holidays are around the corner, which means it’s time to start thinking about gift lists. For me, books are a favorite to give and receive. I hope you find a few to add to your lists among the books I read these past few months (reviews below). Other book recommendations, including some bookish gift pairing ideas are included on my other page: Book Recommendations.

For this recent quarterly round-up I plowed through more titles than ever. With my manuscript in the hands of beta readers for four weeks and a commitment to walk two-miles a day, I found extra time for reading. Time spent on the beach in July-September helped, too. Overall, I’m pleased with the variety of genres and voices I read this quarter. From contemporary Nigeria to the late 1880s United States pioneer days, I’ve traveled far and wide with a remarkable cast of characters. A few notes:

  • For further reference, each book is linked to Amazon to read other reviews.
  • Make sure you’re following this blog for future reviews by signing up through the pop-up, or send me your email address via the Contact page.

Lose Yourself into Extraordinary Books

Rating: 5 out of 5.
Just me and Sam Hell hanging out on a perfect September beach day

The Extraordinary Life of Sam Hell by Robert Dugoni. How do I insert a LOVE, LOVE, LOVE emoji here? Please Mr. Dugoni, let Sam “Hell” Hill have a happy ending – that’s the thought which ran through my head with every page I turned. Sam is one of the most relatable characters I’ve encountered in a long time. He is real. His parents are real. His friends are real. His enemies are real. And, every emotional tug on your heart reading his story is real. Hit the link to this one NOW. Buy it, borrow it, do whatever you need to get your hands on a copy and read it! I wish there was a way to loan Kindle books to folks outside my Amazon account. At least I was able to “send” it to my son. I think he’ll enjoy it, too.

The Girl with the Louding Voice by Abi Dare. Adunni, the main character in Girl with the Louding Voice, comes alive with her dreams and desires. Seeking to improve her position, living as a slave in a wealthy Nigerian household, Adunni finds her strength to fight from a neighboring woman and a fellow household servant. I absolutely love the title and the premise of a young woman striving to find and use her “louding” voice. The backdrop of contemporary day Nigeria also educates on the country’s economic and political hierarchies and the class differences which are no different than other countries.

The River by Starlight by Ellen Notbohm. It’s a good thing I spaced this one out from Sam Hell by a few weeks or my husband would have to pick me up and pour the quivering mess of my body into a chair. The River by Starlight is another story that punches you with every emotion like a boxer going ten rounds. It left me bruised, yet wanting more. Put me back in the ring for another round. My full review is listed on GoodReads and Amazon (search for J.R. Daly).

Where the Lost Wander by Amy Harmon. Naomi May and John Lowry, I fell in love with you as you fell in love with each other along the Overland Trail to California in 1853. Amy Harmon is a master story-teller and she came through again for me with this beautiful story of a mindful woman and her strong, quiet man. I listened on Audible which placed me deeper into the setting. Each step along the sidewalk felt like I’d been transplanted onto the dusty trail. For another example of Amy Harmon’s storytelling expertise, I recommend What the Wind Knows. More info on this post: Imprisoned by Research Details.

Books for Keeps

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Cowboy for Keeps by Laura Drake. Lorelei and Reese landed in my mailbox at an opportune moment. For the past few years, I’ve stuck with my preferred genres of historical fiction, memoirs, and lately, two lengthy non-fictions. An escape to Unforgiven, New Mexico came complete with a romance between characters you rooted for from the start. A perfect paperback beach read. My full review is listed on GoodReads and Amazon (search for J.R. Daly).

The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas. Read with my book club after the outcry for racial justice emerged in June. We chose this YA title in an effort to educate ourselves and discuss the lives and challenges people of color face everyday. Overall, we enjoyed a thoughtful discussion of Black Lives Matter and how important this type of book is for a wider audience to read.

For more information on my book club meeting, check out
Women Celebrating Women

Madame Presidentess by Nicole Evelina. Another summer book club choice (the weather cooperated in July and August for outdoor meetings). Madame Presidentess was the fictional choice as we gathered to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment’s ratification. To learn more about the seventy-year struggle to secure a woman’s right to vote, we also read The Woman’s Hour by Elaine Weiss as a non-fiction choice. More info on that selection here: Authors on (Virtual) Tour. The “Madame” presents the real-life presidential candidate of the Equal Rights Party in 1872, Victoria Claflin Woodhull. She was an incredible woman whose story is another one hidden in the shadows of history. A suffragist, faith healer, orator, financial advisor to titans of business like Cornelius Vanderbilt, and co-owner with her sister of the first woman-led brokerage firm, Victoria embodies the nature of the relentless women who strove to prove women are capable of much more than the femme fatale stereotype.

The Nickel Boys by Colson Whitehead. The winner of this year’s Pulitzer Prize for Fiction lives up to its accolades by telling the story of a boys’ juvenile reformatory in the backwoods of Tallahassee, FL. Based on an actual center, Whithead brings to life the struggles of the boys sent there to be reformed. Yet, can reformation happen when abusive powers control your destinies? In the vein of Home for Unwanted Girls and Before We Were Yours, Nickel Boys reminds us how much the most vulnerable children who live among us need the most protection. If you’re into podcasts, I also recommend a new one out from Seth Meyers, Late Night Lit. In the debut session, producer Sarah Jenks-Daly interviews Colson Whitehead. (Yes, Daly, as in my niece. Proud aunt moment.)

Which ones have you read?
Do prizes affect your reading choices?

As an aside, my vote for the Pulitzer would have gone to The Dutch House by Ann Patchett for the incredible craft of character development, right down to the “house” itself. For an extra special reading of Dutch House, treat yourself to the Audible version narrated by Tom Hanks. Perfection. Right down to the way he reads, “Chapter Nine.”

Shanghai Girls by Lisa See. Lisa See is one of my favorite authors. I think I’ve become a groupie. Shangahi Girls is the fourth historical novel of hers I’ve read. While Island of Sea Women and Snowflower and the Secret Fan are still my favorites, Shanghai Girls also embues Asian culture with a powerful theme of sisters’ relationships. The details and authenticity Lisa includes in her research takes you from the streets of Shanghai to Angel Island CA to Chinatown in LA for a powerful, moving story. For more info on my book club’s Skype call with Lisa to discuss Island of Sea Women, check out my post here: The Island of Sea Women.

Another summer treat –
new hammock under the trees.

Summer Longing by Jamie Brenner. Ahhh, summertime. A new hammock and a slight breeze to sway me away into a story of mother-daughter relationships in Provincetown, MA. Set in a town at the end of Cape Cod, I put aside a minor annoyance that the author continued to describe the lush hydrangeas flowers in bloom. Yes, they are beautiful and nearly every Cape yard has them thanks to our sandy soil, but they don’t bloom in their glory until the second week of July, not June. Despite that minor error, Summer Longing was another quick, escapist read. Perfect for swaying in a hammock.

The Wright Sister by Patty Dann. An easy, quick, enjoyable, imagined life of Katharine Wright, sister of Orville and Wilbur. Dann presents a series of diary entries and letters to tell Katharine’s story and her possible involvement in her brothers’ world-changing invention. One of the most interesting topics was Orville’s dismay about the use of aviation for destructive uses during WWI.

I Was Hoping to Get Lost in the Story, But Didn’t

Rating: 3 out of 5.

The Book of Lost Friends by Lisa Wingate. The premise of Lisa Wingate’s newest promises a great adventure which pulls at the heartstrings. The “book” contains newspaper clippings of former slaves who placed notices seeking the whereabouts of family members who had been sold, run away or disappeared before and after Emancipation. For my novel’s research, I read similar notices in The Boston Pilot of Irish families searching for those who walked off gangplanks into Boston, New York, and Philadelphia and were lost into the big cities and small towns of the United States. I wanted to love this book as much as I loved Before We Were Yours by Wingate, but found one of the dual story lines a bit unbelievable. I just wasn’t buying it that three teenage girls could successfully travel from Louisiana to Texas and back in the 1870s with only a few skirmishes.

The Gown by Jennifer Robson. Fashion, royalty, love intrigues, ingenues. The Gown had the makings (pun intended) to be a great story of the design and creation of Queen Elizabeth II’s wedding dress. Robson used a dual narrative and timeline, however, which detracted from the story and felt forced. I think it could have stood on its own with a focus on the historical aspect only, perhaps weaving in parallels between the main character, Ann Hughes, and the young, then Princess, Elizabeth.

The Last Woman Standing by Thelma Adams. Listened to this one on Audible. Very slow-moving story of Josephine Marcus Earp, eventual wife of the famous gunslinger Wyatt. Set in the 1870s, eighteen-year-old Josie leaves the comfort and security of her family in San Francisco to head to the wild west of Tombstone AZ. Almost a DNF for me it moved so slow without a clear character arc and without developing a bond nor sympathy for the Josie character.

Happy Reading.

I hope you’ve put a few down on your gift lists. Let me know which ones made it in the Comment box below.

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I invite you to follow my blog for book reviews and updates on my journey toward writing my first historical fiction.  More information in my Novel Synopsis. You can sign up from this page with the pop-up, or send me a note through the CONTACT page and I can email you an invitation to follow. I’m on social media, too. On my Facebook page, I also post deals I find on Kindle specials ($1.99, $2.99, etc.) for books I recommend. A great way to add to your e-library with minimal costs.

I am a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means to earn fees by linking to Amazon.com and affiliated sites. Amazon and the Amazon logo are trademarks of Amazon.com, Inc. or its affiliates.

 

 

 

 

 

Celebrating Women in Medicine

Did you know September is Women in Medicine Month? What an incredible journey women have traveled and accomplishments they’ve made since my MC Eliza graduated from the Woman’s Medical College of Pennsylvania in 1901. At that point, less than 5% of all physicians were women.

  • In 2017, the percentage of U.S. medical school students hit the 50/50 mark for male and female.
  • This year during a global pandemic, we came to know and respect Dr. Deborah Birx, who has stood alongside Dr. Fauci for countless White House briefings in her role as the Coronavirus Response Coordinator for the WH Task Force. Having a woman of authority and credibility speak to me during those briefings provided a sense of calm amidst the panic.

Standing behind every woman in medicine is the support network of the American Medical Women’s Association (#amwadoctors). “Their mission is to advance women in medicine, advocate for equity, and ensure excellence in health care.” I discovered this group during my research phase while sourcing more material to write about the women doctors who served in France during WWI. One of Eliza’s close friends joins the American Women’s Hospitals to serve as a surgeon. Without any spoilers, she sends an important letter to Eliza from Luzancy, France and I need the descriptions to be accurate and informative.

“Begun in 1915 as the Medical Women’s International Association (MIWA). Overseas war work provided opportunities for professional advancement but women physicians were not allowed to participate in the military medical corps. AMWA formed the War Service Committee, later renamed the American Women’s Hospitals Service (AWHS), to lobby the War Department for military commissions for women physicians and care for civilian war victims.” To commemorate the centennial of the end of WWI, AMWA created an exhibit: American Physicians in WWI which I referenced for my research.

I subsequently reached out to the Association’s Executive Office to source a couple of beta readers for my second round. With no background in medicine, it was imperative I have a woman doctor read my manuscript to address medical scenes, proper language and assess the emotions Eliza may be feeling at certain moments as a woman in medicine. I hit the jackpot when I received a response back from Eliza Lo Chin, MD, MPH., Executive Director. She would love to read for me, and she also connected me with Mollie Marr who had produced the documentary: At Home and Over There: American Women Physicians in World War I. She would like to read for me as well.

I am extremely grateful to both of them for taking the time from their own busy schedules (Dr. Chin with teaching at UCSF, her own practice and family, and Mollie who is a MD/PhD candidate in Behavioral Neuroscience) to not only read, but to also provide with pages of feedback. I now know the difference between the larynx and pharynx and which is visible without a mirror when looking into a throat. 🙂

Now, for some irony. I’ve just written a 300+ page book about early women doctors, yet, throughout my life, I recall having only one female doctor, a specialist I saw when I was a teenager who was in practice with her husband. My primary care GP has just retired. I think it’s time for a woman doctor – looking for recommendations in the greater Boston area!

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I invite you to follow my blog for book reviews and updates on my journey toward writing my first historical fiction.  More information in my Novel Synopsis. You can sign up from this page with the pop-up, or send me a note through the CONTACT page and I can email you an invitation to follow. I’m on social media, too:

  • On Facebook @JanisRobinsonDaly-Author — Follow me on Facebook where I also post info on the Amazon Deals I find on books I recommend
  • On Instagram @janisrdaly_writer
  • On Twitter @janisrdaly_writer

100 Choices for Book Clubs

top 5 BC books

Opinion please – What’s the best part of a memorable book club meeting? The wine served or the book discussion generated? Be honest. A glass, or two, of a good wine may get a discussion flowing, but for me, a successful meeting comes down to how many different comments and viewpoints surfaced.

Thanks to many members of a variety of book clubs who completed a recent survey I fielded I’ve assembled a listing of 100 titles which these readers identified as having prompted the most discussion within their group. Some are recent releases and best sellers, others are older classics. Some are based in the US, others are from around the globe. There’s a variety of genres, from historical and literary fiction, to memoirs and biographies, to non-fiction and young adult. Only two authors appear more than once:  Kristin Hannah and Kate DiCamillo.

If you’re looking for suggestions for your club, or your own personal TBR pile, each title is linked to Amazon to read fuller reviews. Feel free to bookmark this page, share this list out to your entire group, or copy and paste the listing into your own handy word document. And, check out other tips for book clubs here: Book Clubs.

CODE for notations after titles:

* Starred titles are ones I’ve read on my own or with my group. Happy to share my thoughts on any of them. Leave a comment below. 

KU – as of 9/1/20 this is a Kindle Unlimited title

$ – as of 9/1/20 special price available for Kindle

HAPPY READING!

Most Mentioned Title:  Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens*

While I enjoyed Crawdads, I’m a bit surprised it captured the most mentioned title. Apparently it’s being made into a movie, too. Always a good idea to read a book first and then see how well the adaption turns out. My book club has enjoyed several movie nights for favorite books. I also found many similarities between Crawdads and The Great Alone by Kristin Hannah (see below). Some spoilers in my notes on the parallels here: Parallel Lines.

Second Most Mentioned Title:  American Dirt by Jeanine Cummins*

Controversy always spurs conversation and American Dirt provides plenty. I sat in on a Zoom author chat with Jeanine and am glad I did. She provided a personal perspective on the controversary which never came through in the press. More info on the Zoom chat and why I give Dirt five stars, here:  Bookmarked: Reviews Q2 2020

Tied for Third, Fourth, and Fifth Place:

Following titles were all mentioned twice and are listed alphabetically:

stack_of_books

On overload yet? But, wait! There’s MORE!!!

Each of the next seventy-nine titles were mentioned once and are listed alphabetically. Which ones, based on the title alone, intrigues you to click and learn more? I mean, c’mon — Fruit of the Drunken Tree? Out Stealing Horses? I’m intrigued by those titles. Comment below. (I’m still struggling with a title for Eliza’s story. Titles are so important!)

WHEW!!! Half way through this list — 40 more great ones to go. So far, how many have you and/or your book club read? Comment below and share which ones prompted great discussions for your group.

I hope you find this list useful and your book club has many more great meetings filled with discussion, drink, and friendship. Don’t see a favorite a title on this list you recall was a great discussion for your group? I’m keeping the survey open to gather more titles and will update this list again when there’s another fifty more new ones mentioned.

FOR SURVEY CLICK HERE. 

And tell me – which one(s) are you going to suggest to your group?  Share and comment below. Happy Reading!

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I invite you to follow my blog for book reviews and updates on my journey toward writing my first historical fiction.  More information in my Novel Synopsis. You can sign up from this page with the pop-up, or send me a note through the CONTACT page and I can email you an invitation to follow. I’m on social media, too:

  • On Facebook @JanisRobinsonDaly-Author — Follow me on Facebook where I also post info on the Amazon Deals I find on books I recommend
  • On Instagram @janisrdaly_writer
  • On Twitter @janisrdaly_writer

I am a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means to earn fees by linking to Amazon.com and affiliated sites. Amazon and the Amazon logo are trademarks of Amazon.com, Inc. or its affiliates.

Women Celebrating Women

book club 08.24.20

Another successful themed book club afternoon in the “books”. I was eager to host this August to take full advantage of celebrating the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment’s ratification. Today’s celebration falls between last week’s August 18th – the day Tennessee became the 36th state to vote in favor which at the time provided the necessary majority, and this Wednesday, August 26th, the date the Amendment was formally adopted into the Constitution.

Although we had a smaller turn-out of the group, we still managed to have a good time enjoying the 1920’s styled luncheon of tea sandwiches and salads along with the always in demand for summer book club – Pat’s sangria. Who knew the second favorite of the day would be the watermelon salad? (Recipe below). 

combo photo

Everyone donned a sash and a placard as well to complete the theme and to lead into our discussion of the two choices I selected: The Woman’s Hour by Elaine Weiss and Madame Presidentess by Nicole Evelina.

books

The Woman’s Hour is a well-researched, non-fiction account of the details ahead of the final days in Tennessee one hundred years ago. About half the group read this selection and we spent a good amount of time discussing the various factions within the suffrage movement, as well as the “Antis”. Our conclusion focused on the fact that while women like Lucy Stone, Susan B. Anthony and Lucretia Mott may have started the movement back in 1848 with the Seneca Falls Convention, it was the final days of work by Alice Paul and Carrie Catt who carried the vote over the finish line. Paul and Catt are definitely lesser known or publicized names compared to Stone, Anthony and Mott – and deserve more recognition. For more on The Woman’s Hour and the virtual author talk I attended with Elaine Weiss, check out my prior post: Authors on (Virtual) Tour.

Madame Presidentess came recommended to me via a Facebook group when I put out a call for suggestions of a historical fiction about the suffrage movement. There really isn’t a lot written on the topic, but I was happy to select this title so we could learn about another unknown woman in history – Victoria Claflin Woodhull – the first woman to run for president in the United States. Never heard of her? Me neither! But boy was she something else!!  A spit fire of a woman who came nothing with a colorful past of scam-artist parents, brothel living, friends who were prostitutes, and an alcoholic, philandering husband. She ended up opening the first woman-owned brokerage firm on Wall Street, served as a financial advisor to Cornelius Vanderbilt, and yes, had her name on the ballot for the 1872 election for her own created party, the Equal Rights Party. A woman way ahead of her times, she was a marvel. Read it for yourself to find out more about how and why her platform unraveled, as well as the obstacles she faced from day one.

As I finished working on Eliza’s story these last few months, with the new ending occurring in 1920, I realized I added in more suffrage movement moments and influences. I’m glad I did. Here are a few of those excerpts which I included on the back side of the placards for today’s luncheon.

placards

I hope a few of them will inspire you to reflect on the past struggles and triumphs, since now, here we are. One hundred years later facing an election which includes an African-American / Asian-American woman on the ballot for Vice President with one of the major parties. Only time will tell if ten weeks from now, history will be made. But nothing can happen either way unless each and every one of us exercise the right granted to us by all the women who paraded down streets, forced their voices to be heard, were beaten and jailed, where shunned and ridiculed by not only men, but many other women as well. For them, we must continue their march… and VOTE!

For more information on book club ideas, recommendations and themes,

check out this page: Book Clubs

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I invite you to follow my blog for book reviews and updates on my journey toward writing my first historical fiction.  More information in my Novel Synopsis. You can sign up from this page with the pop-up, or send me a note through the CONTACT page and I can email you an invitation to follow. I’m on social media, too:

  • On Facebook @JanisRobinsonDaly-Author — Follow me on Facebook where I also post info on the Amazon Deals I find on books I recommend
  • On Instagram @janisrdaly_writer
  • On Twitter @janisrdaly_writer

I am a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means to earn fees by linking to Amazon.com and affiliated sites. Amazon and the Amazon logo are trademarks of Amazon.com, Inc. or its affiliates.

 

 

 

Commence Holding Breath – Take 2

beta notebooks blog

I expect by this Friday morning I’ll be feeling a bit like Eliza did when she received some life-shattering news:

Her lungs squeezed as if she still wore a corset, a knee in her back as Molly pulled its strings tight, sucking the air of her. She couldn’t breathe.

Eliza is off into the hands of seven beta readers. No one else has read this draft #6 in its entirety, post-editing based on my developmental editor’s suggestions. I’m excited, nervous, and ready to hold my breath for the next 4-5 weeks while I await their feedback.  Yet, I feel so fortunate to have connected with these seven readers. Each of them will bring a different perspective to help me move into the next round of polishing to ensure Eliza’s story will shine and wow the pants off agents and publishers.

(2) readers are men I’ve met from writing groups. I was advised to definitely have a couple of men read to provide a male perspective. My brother doesn’t count. One of them is also a Judge. He’s already reviewed a courtroom scene for me, but it will be great to have him read the rest of the story, especially since there’s a Judge in Eliza’s family, too

(1) reader is a woman doctor. Her review is paramount to confirm my presentation of medical scenes, as well as the emotions, motivations, and responses of Eliza.

(1) is a documentary producer and MD/PhD candidate in behavioral neuroscience. Her eye for historical detail will definitely be welcomed as well as her medical school experience.

(3) are women friends – one is also an aspiring writer whom I met at the St. Augustine writer’s conference, so she has a smidgen of background on the story. One is from my book club who participated in last year’s beta read; should be interesting to hear her take on the transformation of the story over the past 12 months. And the third is a long-time friend and avid reader. Her dream is to open a Books & Bagel shop in Hawaii. My dream is to hold a book signing at her store. 🙂

hat

Now, what to do while I wait for feedback?? Hang this wicked-cool hat on my head, pack up my TBR pile and hit the beach and hammock (after regular work hours). Here’s my TBR pile – what’s yours for the next month or so?

P.S. My hat is on its way. I opted-out of Prime delivery in order to get the digital credit they offer. Makes those Kindle specials even less. If you’re interested, the hat’s on Amazon for $19.95, available HERE.

And, don’t forget – I post Kindle specials on a regular basis on my Facebook page – make sure you’re following to get in on the deals I scour and post for books I’ve read.

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I invite you to follow my blog for book reviews and updates on my journey toward writing my first historical fiction.  More information in my Novel Synopsis. You can sign up from this page with the pop-up, or send me a note through the CONTACT page and I can email you an invitation to follow. I’m on social media, too:

  • On Facebook @JanisRobinsonDaly-Author — Follow me on Facebook where I also post info on the Amazon Deals I find on books I recommend
  • On Instagram @janisrdaly_writer
  • On Twitter @janisrdaly_writer

I am a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means to earn fees by linking to Amazon.com and affiliated sites. Amazon and the Amazon logo are trademarks of Amazon.com, Inc. or its affiliates.

 

A Light at the End of the Tunnel

path

I’m taking a quick break tonight after nearly three days straight of editing, re-working some scenes and writing a few new ones. I need it after moving through the wedding night and into World War I and the Spanish influenza. Whew! The tension! I hope it comes through on my pages as much as I felt it putting the words down. Here’s a sneak peak as some of my research references for these chapters. Can you imagine what my Google search history looks like???

reference pics 1912.1918

This puts me at five more chapters to edit and two, maybe three, new ones to write. After reading through my editor’s comments again, I’m relieved to see those last chapters’ edits should be minimal. No more “head-hopping” (switching Point of View mid-scene) to fix. I’m further bouyed by her comment of “Write one of your strong ending lines here.” I’ve worked hard to have scenes and chapters end with a “Mic Drop” type of impression – a BOOM – and just leave it there for the reader to mull over.

So, the light is shining bright at the end of the tunnel. With another couple of vacation days and a few writing sprints scheduled with a new online writers’ group, I should be ready for my next round of beta readers by August 1. For anyone I’ve contacted about reading, I’ll be in touch soon with more information before I send you the manuscript.

The path has been long, especially when I look back to where I was the last time I used this photo – The Path May Be Long  – two years ago when I sent a few chapters out to preview readers to prep for my first writers’ conference. My writing has improved dramatically. Eliza has grown right along with me. I’m happy to be on this path

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with her.

I invite you to follow my blog for book reviews and updates on my journey toward writing my first historical fiction.  More information in my Novel Synopsis. You can sign up from this page with the pop-up, or send me a note through the CONTACT page and I can email you an invitation to follow. I’m on social media, too:

  • On Facebook @ Janis Robinson Daly – Author — Follow me on Facebook where I also post info on the Amazon Deals I find on books I recommend
  • On Instagram @janisrdaly_writer
  • On Twitter @janisrdaly_writer

 

 

Bookmarked: Reviews Q2 2020

Q2 2020 Books

Time will tell how the surreal months of April to June 2020 will be chronicled in history. I’ve heard many friends claim they haven’t been able to focus on reading. For me, I’ve relied on reading and writing to escape the news of the day. From the Battle of Britain to the Latin American immigration trail to the final days of ratifying the 19th Amendment to the horrors of a Canadian orphanage to the Japanese-American internment camps during WWII, these struggles are real, even if a few are fictionalized. They make wearing a mask, eating take-out instead of dining-in, and adhering to social distancing guidelines seem trivial in comparison.

From left to right, top to bottom, here are quick reviews of the ten books I read this quarter. Each book is linked to Amazon for additional reviews and convenient purchasing.

***** Sea Wife by Amity Gaige  The April release of Sea Wife came as lock-downs were in full swing. I was disappointed the author event with Amity Gaige was cancelled as I was hoping to catch up with her in-person. Amity taught my Coursera Creative Writing class and also invited me to a writers’ retreat two years ago. I didn’t care for Amity’s other book I read ahead of our retreat, but with honest affirmation I’m giving Sea Wife five stars. Sea Wife presents an intimate look at a marriage heading toward drowning in a sea of regrets while the young Partlow family sails around Central America. For a more complete review, visit the post Authors on (Virtual) Tour. At least with the advances in Zoom, I was able to join an online presentation for the book release.  To whet you interest, here’s an example of Amity’s poetic prose:

Sea Wife Well

*** Daughter of Moloka’i by Alan Brennert   As the sequel to Moloka’i , which I read years ago with my book club, I had high hopes for Daughter of. Perhaps the gut-wrenching story of the leper colony in Hawaii, a situation I had never heard of before made it difficult for the story of Ruth (daughter of) to follow in those impressionable footsteps. Ruth’s story, despite time spent in a Japanese-American internment camp as a young mother, lacks an emotional punch. As a writer, I’m learning how important conflict is to engage and hold a reader’s interest.

*** The Last Bathing Beauty by Amy Sue Nathan  I’ve never been much of a soap opera or Hallmark Channel fan. Listening to The Last Bathing Beauty on Audible was all the more irritating with a main character nicknamed “Boop”. Hearing that name said out loud over and over further drove this one down to two-stars. But, if you’re in need of an easy, sappy read or listen, and want to capture some of the Dirty Dancing feeling from the book’s setting at a Lake Michigan resort, by all means, check it out.

*** The Murmur of Bees by Sophia Segovia  Intrigued by the promotion Murmur of Bees covered the 1918 Spanish influenza in Mexico, I picked it up. I ended up being disappointed that the subject covered only a few chapters and brought in a character who faded away (not died) without any further reference. The pace was extremely slow over 470 pages to follow the trials of the wealthy Morales family, an orphaned child with a mysterious aura, and the Mexican revolution. The political maneuverings of the revolution became complex to follow. I struggled through to the end to discover the most captivating part of the book were the final chapters – could have been a fine novella.

**** The Splendid and the Vile by Erik Larson  While I waited for the return of my manuscript from my editor, apparently I found time to read LONG books. The Splendid and the Vile is the newest non-fiction from the master, Erik Larson. The amount of research Larson applies to every book he writes is overwhelming. He didn’t disappoint to bring forward an intimate look at Winston Churchill’s handling of the first year of World War II with Germany’s endless bombardments during the Battle of Britain. For someone who wrote their high school European history term paper on the Battle of Britain, I loved learning even more about the man behind Britain’s Darkest Hour. I also caught Larson on a Zoom presentation after his author event, which I was scheduled to attend was cancelled: Authors on (Virtual) Tour. I may also be partial to Larson since my son enjoys his books, too. It’s great to have a shared interest with your 25-year-old, Only 14 Shopping Days Left

**** The Woman’s Hour by Elaine Weiss  Another dense, non-fiction selection. What was I thinking? While the subject was interesting – the final weeks leading to the ratification of the 19th amendment with passage in Tennessee – oh boy, where there a lot of characters / names to track! One reason I’ve never gotten involved in politics – way too many fingers in the pie. The factions within the suffrage movement forced me to write everyone down so I could keep them straight. And, don’t get me started on the Antis – women against ratification. I’m glad to have read it, however, as part of a new alumnae virtual book club with my alma mater. A good selection, and I chose it as one option for my August book club meeting when we’ll be celebrating the 100th Anniversary. Votes for Women! Yeah! Votes for Women

votes china crop

***** The Home for Unwanted Girls by Joanna Goodman Delayed by a month, my book club finally managed an in-person meeting to discuss Home for Unwanted Girls. Our hostess extraordinaire re-fitted her two-car garage for us to sit on folding chairs six feet apart. She even had individual snack bags prepared for us to avoid many hands in the chip bowl. You’re the best, Bonnie! The night only got better with an active discussion of this moving book inspired by the author’s mother. The tragic lives of Maggie and her daughter, Elodie, diverge and reunite against the backdrop of the cruelty of Catholic-run orphanages and the societal biases of French and Anglo citizens of Quebec in the 1950s. The injustices portrayed in the book are reminiscent of Before We Were Yours by Lisa Wingate. I took minor comfort in learning evil lurks for vulnerable children in Canada, too.

*****American Dirt by Jeanine Cummins  On purpose I avoided reading the details of the controversy circulating around the publication of American Dirt. I wanted to read it without a predetermined bias. I’m glad I took that approach. I’m of the opinion that it doesn’t matter who writes a novel, as long as their research to provide authenticity, and talent for storytelling and character development brings a saga to life. One of my favorite books is Memoirs of a Geisha. Arthur Golden is not Japanese, he’s not a woman, nor did he ever work as a geisha. That doesn’t mean the book isn’t masterful, worthy of a nomination for the PBS Great American Reads as a favorite novel. I don’t recall any outcry when it released twenty-one years ago.

Jeanine Cummins is not Mexican nor Central American, but she is and identifies as Latina (Puerto Rican and Irish). She’s a writer and an advocate for social justice. She didn’t choose to publish a book about Mexican migrants and the horrific trials of their journey over a Mexican author. The publisher made the choice to select and back her manuscript over others which may have been submitted by Mexican authors. The true power of American Dirt comes from the empathy developed for the main character, Lydia, as she flees her home in Acapulco with her eight-year-son. She starts her journey to “el norte” to escape a shattered life at the hands of a cartel. From riding the top of freight cars, La Bestia, with other migrants to sleeping in the desert, to hiding in Underground Railroad type shelters, you are with Lydia and the others in her group every step north. I was fortunate to join a Zoom call with Jeanine sponsored by my local independent bookstore. She stands by her conviction that American Dirt is a novel of social justice which drives conversations. I’m impressed with her conviction and give her five stars – a must read in this time of awakening and ownership of self-identity.

American Dirt_JC

***Yellow Crocus by Laila Ibrahim  A title I had seen floating around the several book groups I belong to on Facebook. A quick, easy read about the relationship between a plantation owner’s daughter, Elizabeth (Lisbeth) and her wet nurse slave, Mattie, in 1850s Virginia. Similar to my historical fiction in the works, Lisbeth rails against her parents’ and society’s expectations to follow her heart. We get a few glimpses of Mattie’s slave life, including her escape through the Underground Railroad. A happily-ever-after for both women wraps up the story. There are two additional books, Mustard Seed and forthcoming, Golden Poppies, following the subsequent years, post-Civil War, for the women.

****Valentine by Elizabeth Wetmore  I didn’t select my recent books with the intention of learning more about Mexico and Mexican immigrants, but somehow ended up with three in three months. In addition to Murmur of Bees and American Dirt, one of the main characters in Valentine, Gloria (Glory), is the daughter of an illegal immigrant. Her mother is deported back to Mexico leaving 15-year-old Gloria alone with an uncle to navigate the aftermath of her vicious rape by a oil worker drifter. Set in 1970s Odessa Texas, the story alternates POV between Glory, Mary Rose, Debra Ann, and Cora, along with a  few other women – who didn’t deserve their own POV IMHO – whose lives intersect after Gloria’s rape. The ending is a bit muddied, but overall I enjoyed this deeply moving story of women’s relationships and the support networks they weave.

In addition to the ten books above, I have two other recommendations. 

*****Answer Creek by Ashley Sweeney  I posted a review of Answer Creek in my Q1 2020 post since I read an ARC prior to its May 19th publication. Ashley is my writing mentor to whom I am so grateful for her guidance and advice as I push along with developing Eliza’s story and her character. Answer Creek follows the trek of fictional Ada Weeks along the Oregon Trail with the Donner Party. Ashley’s incredible descriptions of a setting from over 150 years ago are magnificent. Ada’s character development is on point as we watch her grow in strength and spirit. Answer Creek goes on BookBub and other e-book retailers special at $.99 on July 4th.

Answer Creek ad

Errant by Montrez  I have not read Errant yet, with the confession YA Fantasy doesn’t interest me, nor do I know many teens these days who may be interested. However, since it’s a debut novel from one of my writing group friends, I definitely wanted to help her promote the title. If you’re interested in Fantasy, or know some teens that might enjoy it – please check it out. I mean look at the cover – it’s gorgeous! Story Descriptor: 16-year-old Savannah Scarlett struggles to reclaim her life after the devastating loss of her father, but finding a place to belong isn’t easy for someone who’s used to living life on the sidelines. Just when she thinks things can’t get any worse, Savannah witnesses an impossible phenomenon that triggers the emergence of a wild and powerful gift. Fans of Divergent and the Darkest Mind are sure to enjoy. Only $.99 on Kindle. 

Errant

Update on “Eliza’s Story” – Title still TBD 

And, what about Eliza??? June has been a slow month for editing. Between work demands and prepping two houses for the summer season, I have plowed through 15 chapters. I also had to write a new chapter for an early insert to build out a relationship more and scrap several scenes and re-shape them. I’ve also purchased a valuable tool, Pro Writing Aid, which helps me identify over-used words and readability levels. There are a lot of blurred eyes I need to attend to!

I’m hoping some vacation days in July will be dedicated to polishing the story and preparing for my next round of beta readers.

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I invite you to follow my blog for book reviews and updates on my journey toward writing my first historical fiction.  More information in my Novel Synopsis. You can sign up from this page with the pop-up, or send me a note through the CONTACT page and I can email you an invitation to follow. I’m on social media, too:

  • On Facebook @ Janis Robinson Daly – Author — Follow me on Facebook where I also post info on the Amazon Deals I find on books I recommend
  • On Instagram @janisrdaly_writer
  • On Twitter @janisrdaly_writer

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Onward and Upward

SpaceX

The Washington Post, 5/31/2020: “The docking was a delicate and dangerous part of the mission. The spacecraft chased down the space station, traveling in orbit at 17,500 m.p.h., but then approached very slowly in a series of carefully choreographed maneuvers.”

SpaceX docked this afternoon, realizing its mission to deliver Astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley to the International Space Station. From lift-off to traveling through 254 miles in space to the intricate alignment of the two vehicles to allow transfer, the immensity of this accomplishment is mind-boggling and humbling.

The task ahead of me to edit Eliza’s story seems trivial in comparison. Yet, here I am. Sitting in my little corner of the universe. Six pages of summary notes and 321 pages of tracked changes and inserted comments from my editor spread across the table. After five anxious weeks, Eliza is home. She awaits as I strap into my writing position to blast off into the great beyond of Manuscript Draft #6.

I haven’t worked for 2.5 years on this novel to abort my mission.

stairs come far

I’m ready to push onward and upward.

  • To polish the story into a historical fiction which educates and entertains readers.
  • To reach the top of this long struggle and bask in the glow of pride and praise.
  • To share the inspiration of Eliza’s story with others.

I’m kicking off this next leg of my writing journey with a workshop offered by the Women’s Fiction Writers Association, Grabbing the Reader. We’ll be refining the first 500 words of our novel with review and input from peers. If you can’t engage a reader in the first 500 words (approximately the first 1.5 pages), your novel may be doomed. Take a moment and look at the opening of the book you’re currently reading. Do the first couple of pages accomplish these goals?

  1. Is the first line evocative?
  2. Can you decipher where and when the story takes place?
  3. Is the main character named?
  4. Who is she in terms of her age, life situation, lifestyle, characteristics, personality?
  5. What motivates the main character?
  6. Are sentence lengths varied?
  7. Are there no repeated words/phrases?
  8. Is there one point of view?
  9. Is foreshadowing introduced?
  10. Are the senses invoked to make a scene come life?

I won’t bore you with the other 35 tips in the checklist. Suffice to say, I’ve got my work cut out for me for the next few weeks? Months? Astronauts Behnken and Hurley are expected to stay at the Space Station from anywhere between five weeks to four months. Let’s hope Eliza beats them in her mission – preparing to go off into the hands of another set of beta readers.

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I invite you to follow my blog for book reviews and updates on my journey toward writing my first historical fiction.  More information in my Novel Synopsis. You can sign up from this page with the pop-up, or send me a note through the CONTACT page and I can email you an invitation to follow. I’m on social media, too:

  • On Facebook @ Janis Robinson Daly – Author — Follow me on Facebook where I also post info on the Amazon Deals I find on books I recommend
  • On Instagram @janisrdaly_writer
  • On Twitter @janisrdaly_writer

Authors on (Virtual) Tour

authors on virtual tour

I’ve discovered one silver lining to our current Stay at Home situation – virtual talks with authors. With the unfortunate cancellation of live book signings and author talks, at least many have taken to the Internet to share their stories and discuss their writings. I’ve participated in four over the past four weeks. Listening to these talented writers speak from their homes somehow personalized the experience and made them more real.

The Island of Sea Women by Lisa See. One of my all-time favorite authors. Even though my book club had Skyped with Lisa for our discussion of Sea Women, she was a delight to hear her speak again about the women divers of Jeju Island, Korea and how she begins each one of her books by defining three core driving forces of her story: 1) What is the relationship focus? 2) What is the main emotion of the story? and 3) What is the historic backdrop? Excellent tips to keep in mind and a new assignment for me to reflect upon for Eliza’s story. I enjoyed Lisa’s virtual book talk via a Facebook Live session hosted by Adriana Trigiani, a very entertaining host. And, I agree with one of her comments – Lisa’s stories are like a beautiful Chinese silk – rich in layers. Check her out – she is holding weekly Live sessions on Tuesdays at 6pm EST. I also listened to her interview with Jamie Brenner, an author I hadn’t heard of before, but her latest release, Summer Longing, set in Provincetown MA sounds great. More info on our book club discussion of Sea Women, June 2019, HERE.

Book Club June 2019

The Splendid and the Vile by Erik Larson. I logged into this talk looking forward to learning from the master storyteller who makes the densest non-fiction book read like fiction, like his masterpieces: Devil in the White City, Isaac’s Storm, and Dead Wake. The opening discussion about his latest release on the London Blitz and Churchill’s leadership of the British people during those dark days of 1940 was fascinating. Brendan and I were scheduled to hear Larson at the Harvard Bookstore in late March which was unfortunately cancelled. However, we did receive our books at least and Brendan has already finished his copy, reporting 503 pages is L-O-N-G, but it held his interest, especially reading about bombs dropping across the city while people sat in their kitchens eating in breakfast. Puts our current situation in perspective for sure.

I have my copy next up on my pile. I abandoned the virtual talk, however, when the host turned the conversation into a political rant about current leadership. Regardless of your personal views, this was not the space for that type of dialogue. I’ll have to look for another Larson interview to learn more.

Sea Wife by Amity Gaige. OMG!!! I tried hard not to let my personal connection to Amity skew my opinion while I read Sea Wife. She was one of my writing course professors and the leader of my first writers’ retreat two years ago. I say with confidence and without hesitation, I loved this story for the poetic writing and personal connection Amity makes between the reader and the main character, Juliet. Readers who have lived through the self-questioning days of early motherhood and complicated by their own childhood experiences will find themselves standing in Juliet’s shoes – or sitting in her closet. Sea Wife presents an intimate look at a marriage heading toward drowning in a sea of regrets while the young Partlow family sails around Central America.

While I felt undertones of Kate Chopin’s classic The Awakening, written over 100 years ago, about a woman’s tragic struggle with self-definition, I appreciated the more modern resolution Juliet finds as she faces and battles her fears. Amity also engages the reader through a unique dual narrative approach, interchanging first person POV from Juliet telling her story with entries from the voyage log book of Juliet’s  husband, Michael, who uses the log as much as a diary as a nautical recount of their trip. The juxtaposition, including different fonts, provides a rapid pace to move through the story.

I marked many passages throughout the book which to me are more poetry than prose – a true testament to an author who can write both: She is like a fallen scrap of sky. We’re just a hyphen between our parents and our kids. The night deepened, dark as a well, and time fell into it. And, this gem:

A mother is a house

The Woman’s Hour by Elaine Weiss.  This August 2020, the United States will celebrate the ratification of the 19th Amendment to give women the right to vote. The Woman’s Hour details the final weeks leading up to the state vote in Tennessee to ratify. Tennessee held the distinct honor / privilege / curse of being the pivotal state to bring the Act forward for state voting. If it was approved, TN would be the 36th state, the magic number needed to secure a majority among the then 48 states.

I’m not sure I would have picked up The Woman’s Hour if it wasn’t the first selection of a virtual book club organized by Wheaton College’s Alumnae group. But, I’m glad I did. Weiss’ meticulous research shone through to present a cast of characters which seemed to be in the thousands. I have to admit I needed my own chart to keep track of them all. From the two factions of supporters – the National Woman’s Party led by Alice Paul and the National American Woman Suffrage Association led by Carrie Catt – to the Antis (women against the vote!!! insert mad face emoji here!) led by Mary Kilbreth, to the state Senators, Representatives, Governor Roberts, local journalists, to the two presidential candidates for the 1920 election (Cox and Harding), each one was actively involved in the cliff-hanger days of political maneuverings through the streets and halls of Nashville.

While I enjoyed learning more of the work that went into the years which led to the fateful days in August 2020 and appreciate the dedication of the suffragists, the glad-handing and back-door promises, etc. etc. underscored why I have minimal interest in politics. This statement pretty much sums it up for me: “The strategic schism isn’t uncommon in social and political movements  – all the different factions are confusing to the legislators and the public.” Um, hello – how many Democratic candidates did we start out with leading up to this summer???? I rest my case.

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I invite you to follow my blog for book reviews and to follow my journey toward writing my first historical fiction.  More information in my Novel Synopsis. You can sign up from this page with the pop-up, or send me a note through the CONTACT page and I can email you an invitation to follow. I’m on social media, too:

  • On Facebook @ Janis Robinson Daly – Author — Follow me on Facebook where I also post info on the Amazon Deals I find on books I recommend
  • On Instagram @janisrdaly_writer
  • On Twitter @janisrdaly_writer

Mother’s Day Bookish Gifts

mother child book color drawing

Below are some Mother’s Day gift ideas with book choices recommended through a Facebook poll I recently ran. If you order them now (titles are linked to Amazon for convenience), maybe they’ll arrive in time for the special woman in your life – mother, mother-in-law, sister, daughter, daughter-in-law, niece or friend – anyone who should be celebrated for their role as a mother.

IDEAS

My Recommendation: Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane by Lisa See paired with a sampler of Pu’re tea, and a delicate English tea cup and saucer (available from any second-hand or antique store as attics get emptied of Grandma’s favorites). As usual, Lisa See delivers a powerful story of mothers and daughters, this time set among the Akha people of the mountain area of southwest China combined with the economics of growing tea. Below: China pattern inspiration for appearance in Eliza’s story. china

Other Top Suggestions

  • The Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan. Is this a trend? Asian-American women writing about mother-daughter relationships? Maybe. Doesn’t matter – another great suggestion. Pair it with you own Mah Jongg set for an extra special gift to spend time together.
  • Mothers come in all forms, shapes, sizes, and colors. Sue Monk Kidd’s debut novel, Secret Life of Bees, evokes the idea a mother’s love can come from those beyond the ones that gave us life. Add a delicious jar of honey to accompany this tender story.

little candles

  • Another Hulu adaption which hit the best-seller lists and explores a whole other, dystopian idea of motherhood is Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid Tale. Along a similar vein, if not quite as radical, is The Farm by Joanne Ramos. Both choices would fuel provocative discussions with any mother. Well, maybe not any mother. I’m not sure I could have discussed surrogacy with my Mom. Loved her and miss her, but she was definitely a woman from past generations. Janis Mom Spring 1967 A
  • Another one I’m not familiar with but was mentioned several times: Stepping Heavenward by Elizabeth Prentiss. 
  • The Beach House by Mary Alice Monroe – everyone needs a beach book to read, especially one which extolls how true love involves sacrifice, family is forever and the mistakes of the past can be forgiven. Of course, beach reads means the perfect tote to carry them off to sandy stretches by the shore. beach tote
  • Plenty of others as well which I didn’t have time to fully research. Maybe consider an Amazon gift card for the special Mom in your life to choose her own:
    • A Mother’s Goodbye – Kate Hewitt
    • Charms for the Easy Life – Kaye Gibbons
    • Mama’s Bank Account – Kathryn Forbes
    • Amy and Isabelle – Elizabeth Strout
    • First Mothers – Bonnie Angelo
    • This is How It Always Is – Laurie Franke
    • The Red Tent – Anita Diamant
    • Divine Secrets of the YaYa Sisterhood
    • Shell Seekers
    • When I Married My Mother
    • Mama’s Boy – Dustin Lance Black
    • Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society – Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Bowers
    • The House of the Spirits – Isabel Allende
    • The Mermaid Chair – Sue Monk Kidd
    • Mom & Me & Mom – Maya Angelou
    • Pachinko – Min Jin Lee
    • Beloved – Toni Morrison
    • Terms of Endearment
    • The Wednesday Sisters
    • The Mother Daughter Book Club
    • A Very Distinctly Outrageous Mother
    • The Habit
    • Joanna Brady series – JA Jance
    • Sense and Sensibility – Jane Austen
    • Motherest
    • Dream Daughter
    • A Grown Up Kind of Pretty
    • The Mummy Bloggers
    • Karen Kingsbury’s Baxter Family series
    • Janette Oke’s Love Comes Softly series
    • The Grapes of Wrath – John Steinback
    • The Last Anniversary – Liane Moriarity
    • The Bean Trees and Pigs in Heaven – Barbara Kingsolver
    • The Almost Sisters
    • The Family Upstairs
    • Ginny Moon
    • Lots of Candles, Lots of Cake – Anna Quindlen
    • Caroline – biography of Caroline Ingalls
    • One True Thing – Anna Quindlen
    • Dream Daughter – Diane Chamberlain

Finally, I’m treating myself to a few choices by taking advantage of a great offer available on Amazon through May 3rd – 100 e-books under $5 each. I’ve already picked out Elton John’s biography, Me, and Being Mortal by Atul Gawande. Someone can tell my boys to load a gift card onto our Amazon account to cover them. They’re getting off the hook easy this year!

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I invite you to follow my blog for book reviews and to follow my journey toward writing my first historical fiction.  More information in my Novel Synopsis. You can sign up from this page with the pop-up, or send me a note through the CONTACT page and I can email you an invitation to follow. I’m on social media, too:

  • On Facebook @ Janis Robinson Daly – Author — Follow me on Facebook where I also post info on the Amazon Deals I find on books I recommend
  • On Instagram @janisrdaly_writer
  • On Twitter @janisrdaly_writer