The Bookseller by Cynthia Swanson

The BooksellerThe Bookseller by Cynthia Swanson

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Cynthia Swanson’s debut novel brings a new twist, deftly written, to a well worn familiar theme: What would my life be like if I had made a different choice?

Kitty, a contentedly single bookshop owner, dreams every night that she is married to a perfect husband and raising triplets. Her dreams are detailed and realistic, so much so that I immediately began to question which of the parallel story lines was “real life” and which was the product of Kitty’s rich imagination.

Even though the theme seemed familiar, I was drawn into the story and felt compelled to keep turning pages when my own real life clearly needed my attention. No dishes were washed today, no laundry was done; I started The Bookseller after breakfast and finished it shortly before the six o’clock news.

Swanson is a gifted writer. Kitty’s story is told in the first person, often in the present tense, and the reader is able to feel her confusion and fear, to live for a time inside her skin. You can ask no more than that from any novel.

The only jarring note, for me, was the author’s choice of time frame. The novel is set in Denver of the early sixties and references are made throughout to paint a picture of life at that time and place. A younger reader might find all the unnecessary details about green bathroom fixtures, fruit designs on the kitchen wallpaper, and the Cuban missile crisis intriguing. But I actually remember the time, and it sometimes seemed forced, and as I said, unnecessary.

Nevertheless, I’m giving The Bookseller five stars because it is so well written and entertaining. I recommend it to Book clubs – the story will spark discussion about women’s roles, parenting, autism, the rise of suburbs and loss of vibrant downtown districts, women’s friendships, mother-daughter relationships, and perhaps, even the Cuban missile crisis.




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CAPTURED by Neil Cross

CapturedCaptured by Neil Cross

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

At first I thought this book was going to be a tear-jerker. It’s about a divorced man, living alone, who has just been diagnosed with terminal brain cancer and has only weeks to live. Sounds totally bleak. But it isn’t that kind of book at all.

Kenny writes a list of people he feels he has wronged and decides to make things right before he dies, by apologizing to each of them. His list includes his ex-wife. My first surprise was the easy relationship Kenny has with his ex-wife and her new husband. The three are adults who have moved on and have no lingering bitter feelings or jealousy.

One of the people he wants to apologize to is a young boy he could have helped, but didn’t. A sin of omission no one is aware of except Kenny himself.

Then he tries to find Callie, the girl who was nice to him in grade school when no one else was. He discovers she is missing, possibly murdered, and begins an investigation to find her, or find the truth. As Kenny’s body begins to fail, his resolve hardens, and the mild, easy going fellow turns into an avenging angel of death.

Captured is an action driven novel. There is very little soul searching or second guessing, and no navel-gazing whatsoever. I like that. Action speaks louder than words, and we can understand what Kenny feels by watching what he does with his last hours on earth.

Worth reading – an unexpected treat.

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I, Anna by Elsa Lewin

I, AnnaI, Anna by Elsa Lewin

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I, Anna, recently released as an ebook, was originally written in 1984. It paints a grim picture, laced with dark humor, of a fifty year-old woman trying to make some kind of life for herself after her husband leaves her and takes all of their friends and possessions with him. She is a barely tolerated house guest in her daughter’s crowded apartment with no job, no friends, and worst of all, nothing to do.

The only thing Anna still has going for her is her own wry sense of humor. I’m going to quote from the beginning here:

Anna opened her eyes. Mean gray light intruded around the sides of the window shades. She closed her eyes tight.
“Shit, I’m still alive…”
She tried to concentrate on her two big problems.
One: she had to get out of bed.
Two: she had to decide what to do after that.

On her own for the first time in decades, Anna drifts through the world of Manhattan singles parties, where wrinkled women fight for the right to flirt with paunchy, middle-aged men. One night she lets herself be taken home by one of these flabby Lotharios, but when the man wants more than ordinary sex, Anna snaps. She bashes his head in, hitting him over and over until his face is nothing but a bloody mess. The next morning, she doesn’t remember a thing.

The detective investigating the murder is transfixed by Anna, and they begin a hesitant love affair. But as more and more evidence points to Anna, and her memory of that fateful night comes creeping back, this budding romance may take a turn for the worse.

Every person who touches Anna’s life is a real human–there’s not a single “stock character” in the novel. There’s George, the divorced swinger who shares his apartment, and his drug stash, with his seventeen year old son. The boy’s life is even more pathetic than Anna’s. There’s Freda Miller, an eighty year old widow who talks to nobody except her long dead husband, who advises her not to get involved in the grisly murder next door.

Bernie Bernstein, a Police Inspector, who knows he should leave homicide investigations to his detectives, is drawn to the case in the beginning as a way to take his mind off his own problems. His wife has kicked him out and he’s living in a lonely hotel room. I liked Bernie a lot, and would love to read more of his cases.

I, Anna is a mesmerizing read as a thriller. Since it was written in 1984, it also gives a fascinating, clear-eyed view of life thirty years ago. Back then, women used to say, “we’ve come a long way, baby”.  This novel shows how much further we have come since then. Highly recommended.
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I Promise Myself

I promise myselfThe Fulton Breakfast Optimist Club invited me to talk about my new book at their meeting this morning. At 6 a.m.

For an author, a new book is like a new grandchild: We love to talk about them, and grab every chance, even at 6 a.m.

I was surprised when I arrived at the restaurant to find the parking lot full of cars and the tables full of wide awake, cheerful, welcoming people.  The meeting started with a prayer and the Pledge of Allegiance. Nice. Afterward the whole group stood and recited the Optimist Creed. I was so impressed, I want to share that moment with everyone.

The Optimist’s Creed:

I Promise Myself…

  • To be so strong that nothing can disturb my peace of mind.
  • To talk health, happiness, and prosperity to everyone I meet.
  • To make all my friends feel that there is something worthwhile in them.
  • To look at the sunny-side of everything and make my optimism come true.
  • To think only of the best, to work only for the best, and to expect only the best.
  • To be just as enthusiastic about the success of others as I am about my own.
  • To forget the mistakes of the past and press on to the greater achievements of the future.
  • To wear a cheerful expression at all times and give a smile to every living creature I meet.
  • To give so much time improving myself that I have no time to criticize others.
  • To be too large for worry, too noble for anger, too strong for fear, and too happy to permit the presence of trouble.
  • To think well of myself and to proclaim this fact to the world, not in loud words, but in great deeds.
  • To live in the faith that the whole world is on my side, so long as I am true to the best that is in me.

~ Christian D. Larson ~1912

Keep Your Friends Close

Keep Your Friends CloseKeep Your Friends Close by Paula Daly

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Keep your Friends Close grabbed me from the first page. I literally couldn’t put it down.

The story is mostly told from two contrasting viewpoints: Natty, the wife who is totally confident of her husband’s love, and Eve, the friend who sets out to deliberately steal him away.

Natty is away from home for only two weeks for a family emergency. When she leaves home Sean loves only her, has actually never thought about straying. When she comes home, the first thing he does is tell her he is in love with Eve and wants a divorce. By the next day, Eve is living in Natty’s house with Natty’s husband and children and making her position clear at the business Natty has built. Natty is banished to her father’s spare bedroom, ashamed to show her face because she knows the whole town is talking.

The tension builds chapter by chapter, Eve’s viewpoint allows the reader to know more than Natty does, and your heart aches for her as she bumbles along and starts to figure things out.

The story made me think about how easily a person without principles can find a weakness to exploit in even the most solid relationship.

I won’t say more about the plot because I don’t want to spoil it for anyone. I can say I was not disappointed in the end and would be happy to read a sequel.

Keep your Friends Close will be published in September. I read an advance copy from NetGalley.

 

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What Alice Forgot by Liane Moriarty

What Alice ForgotWhat Alice Forgot by Liane Moriarty

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Most of us reach a time in our life when we would really like to have a do-over. What Alice Forgot speaks to that momentary longing. Alice has a fall and forgets the last ten years of her life. Unfortunately, her family and friends haven’t forgotten.

In her mind Alice is young, idealistic, relaxed, and somewhat shy. She’s madly in love with her young husband and enthusiastically looking forward to the birth of their first child.

Her family and friends still see her as uptight and driven, a bitter sharp-tongued,community leader who is in the midst of a nasty divorce and custody battle for three children.

The author cleverly allows the reader to find out “what Alice forgot” a bit at a time as Alice puts the pieces together. She has to get reacquainted with her sister, her mother, her new “boyfriend”, and a crowd of women “friends.” But the hardest thing of all is finding a connection to three children who call her “Mom”, even though she is sure she never saw any of them before in her life.

An intriguing premise, well written, with just enough wry humor, and a satisfying, all loose-ends wrapped up ending.

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Go Away Home by Carol Bodensteiner

Go Away HomeGo Away Home by Carol Bodensteiner

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Go Away Home is a chance to immerse yourself into a world that is no more, through the eyes, mind, and heart of Liddie Treadway, coming of age on an Iowa farm during World War One. Her family expects her to marry, settle nearby, and spend her life cooking, cleaning, and caring for a farmer husband and his children. It seems her life is pre-ordained and no other path is open to her.

Before marriage, young women of the time are allowed a suitable and temporary occupation, such as teaching or sewing. Liddie pours her heart and her creativity into her sewing and hopes to turn her temporary job, as a dressmaker’s assistant in the nearby county seat, into a career. She’s never been more than 12 miles away from home, but she dreams of becoming a dress designer and traveling abroad.

When Liddie meets a debonair photographer, her life takes an unexpected turn away from respectable sewing and into all sorts of exciting possibilities as his assistant and apprentice.

Suddenly, for almost the first time in her life, Liddie must make important choices for herself. Will she be a dress designer or a photographer? Will she be a single, independent woman? Or will she marry?

Liddie Treadway is not the stock character you may expect. She is a thoroughly real woman, who makes real choices and learns to live with the consequences.




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I wrote 40,000 new words in 14 days with Fast Draft

fast speedometerI didn’t write 70,000 words as Candace Haven insists is possible. Still, I have 40,000 words added to my novel that I didn’t have when the Book-in-a-Month class started  May 25th.

After 14 days I switched to the second half of the class. Candace calls it Revision Hell and I am not arguing with her. The idea is to go through 20 pages every day adding tension and depth, removing cliches, making sure each page engages all three senses, etc, etc.

The fast draft days were an exhilarating, 90 mile-an-hour, top down, laughing in the wind, souped-up Mustang ride.

The Revision Hell days are more like walking up the highway with a trash bag and a weed eater. I’ll get it done. But I’m not having nearly as much fun.picking up litter

Fast Draft Class – can I write 70,000 words in 14 days?

writerI just signed up for an online writing class called The Book in a Month Club, taught by Candace Havens. It was a spur of the moment decision,made without any research or consideration.  I saw a positive mention of the class, on the Writer Unboxed facebook page, moments after getting a $35 payment from Lulu for some of my nonfiction book sales. The class fee was $35. It seemed like a sign.

So, after I made the commitment I figured out what I was committing to. Havens teaches the Fast Draft method. Participants in this class are expected to produce 20 pages a day — a 70,000 word novel — in two weeks.

It makes National Novel Writing Month sound like a walk in the park. The NANO challenge is only 50,000 words and you have twice as long to do it.  It always left me feeling like a limp dishrag, my house a disaster, and my family neglected and irritated.

How can I possibly write 70,000 words in two weeks?

I watch after my grandchildren during the summer. This class starts tomorrow, May 25. School gets out on June 2.

My retired husband recently had knee replacement surgery and he is home in the house much more than usual.

Candace Haven says she will allow NO WHINING about lack of time, fatigue, or mental illness. So I’m doing my whining here before I start.

Oh my – what have I gotten myself into?

Goodbye for a month. I don’t think I’ll have time to blog or write book reviews until the end of June.

 

 

The Butcher by Jennifer Hillier

The ButcherThe Butcher by Jennifer Hillier

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The Butcher made me feel the same way I feel driving past a bloody highway accident. You don’t want to look, but you can’t help yourself. You can’t resist the grisly glimpse inside the mind of the Butcher, a serial killer who enjoys every moment of his victim’s suffering and is never troubled by any twinge of remorse or guilt.

This is not a who-done-it mystery at all. From the first chapter you know one of the most respected men in Seattle, a grandfather and retired Police Chief, is also a “retired” serial killer known as The Butcher. Edward Shank is eighty years old and moving into a retirement home. He’s giving his house, with its buried secrets, to his grandson Matt, who was raised by his grandparents. The Chief knows Matt may discover the souvenirs he saved from his Butcher days, but he doesn’t care. In fact, he’s kind of looking forward to it.

Matt does find the incriminating souvenirs. The discovery throws him into a frenzy of anxiety, confusion and guilt. Self-centered and selfish to the core, his first thought is how his own life will be affected if his grandfather’s crimes were ever made public.

Suspense? Yes! What will Matt do? Will he go to the police? Will he tell his girlfriend, Samantha, who is writing a book about The Butcher? Will Samantha find out on her own? Will she survive being the one person who is closest to both the Butcher and his out of control grandson?

What about Edward Shank? Every chapter leaves you wondering what he will do next. He may be eighty years old, but he’s not dead yet.

As a senior citizen, myself, I have to admit the portrayal of an eighty year-old as malevolent and unrepentant as The Butcher appealed to me. We read enough about crotchety old men who are actually lonely/misunderstood/dying/etc. Edward Shank is one of a kind.

This is my first Jennifer Hillier novel. I’d never heard of her until NetGallery offered me an advance electronic galley. The Butcher will be published in July, 2014.

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