Reading Round-Up: September Edition

It’s the last Tuesday of September already, but there’s still almost a week left in the month! I intend to keep reading and adding to my Goodreads tally, but for this post I’ll summarize what I’ve finished reading since my last round-up. I’ve read a couple things outside my normal genres, and I was glad I did.

The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey

This book, set in the Alaskan wilderness of the 1920s, was the author’s retelling of a fable about a man and a woman who want a child so badly that they make one out of snow. To their surprise, the snow child comes to life and…well, you’ll have to read it if you want to find out what happens. Spoiler alert: it’s not a happy ending.

Here’s the review I posted on Amazon and Goodreads:

“Sometimes I read a book and I don’t quite know what to make of it, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. The Snow Child is one of those books. It’s beautifully written and I could feel the raw emotions and the deathly cold of the Alaska winters as I read it.

I think I’m still processing my feelings about this enchanting book. It teaches poignant lessons about learning to love what we have while we have it, because nothing is certain in this life. It teaches us that love doesn’t mean ownership. It teaches us that hardships are easier when they’re shared.

I’m not sure I would recommend this to someone who normally reads genre fiction, but I would recommend it to someone looking for a book of literary fiction that evokes deep feelings and haunting questions.”

***

From Robe to Robe by Martha E. Bellinger

This was a memoir written by a lesbian woman who spent her life on two career paths: that of Methodist minister, then that of attorney-turned-judge. Both positions exposed her to the harsh realities of LGBTQ persons in ministry (and in organized religion in general) and in government. Here’s my Amazon/Goodreads review:

“I don’t normally read memoirs, but this one fascinated me and I read it in one sitting. Judge Bellinger has penned an honest, straightforward, and compelling look at the way society has viewed Christian lesbians for decades (and, really, throughout history). The book offers LGBTQ persons and their friends, families, and loved ones hope for the future within the framework of organized religion and within the halls of political power. She also makes it clear that there are powerful forces at work against meaningful progress.

Especially given the turmoil in the United Methodist Church at present, I found this book to be timely and important (even though it was published nine years ago, it’s still highly relevant). I think this book should be required reading for both men and women thinking of entering the ministry or the field of counseling. I also think it should be required reading for politicians.”

***

Cape Mayhem by Jane Kelly

This is the second book in the Meg Daniels mystery series. I started with the second book because I happened to have a hardcover copy. I’ll go back now and read the first book, Killing Time in Ocean City. I don’t think it’s necessary to read the books in order, but I know some people insist on it. 🙂

My review says it all:

“If you like capers filled with quirky characters, a lovely B&B, and a main character who has a penchant for self-deprecating humor and getting herself into all kinds of scrapes, this book is for you. It’s a fun read and what I loved most about it was the setting–if you’ve ever been to Cape May, surely you’ll recognize the places in the book. The author stays true to the special landmarks in Cape May, and it’s fun to visit them in pursuit of crime-solving!”

***

People Lookin’ Half Dead by Marja McGraw

This is one of the many books I’ve read by Marja McGraw, and just like all the others, it didn’t disappoint. Marja has  a way with words that is funny, thoughtful, and full of suspense–and surprises. Here’s my review:

“There is so much to love about this book. It’s the story of Pamela and her husband Chris, who are in the process of opening a club reminiscent of an old speakeasy. In the midst of a crippling heatwave, Pamela and Chris, at the urging of Chris’ maternal grandmother (who is a dynamo), take several homeless people under their wings. Once they start getting to know these people from the streets, they learn of the mysterious disappearances of other homeless people. Naturally, they are drawn into the mystery and find that not everything is as it seems.

What I loved the most about this book is its honest, frank, and caring portrayal of homeless people. The author makes a strong point about the homeless and second chances, but manages to do it in a way that isn’t preachy or self-righteous. In addition to the mystery, there’s hope, new beginnings, and even a little bit of romance.”

***

Diamond Doris by Doris Payne and Zelda Lockhart

I have mixed feelings about this last book. Written by Doris Payne, it’s an autobiographical account of the life and times of the notorious international jewel thief. I had seen the book promoted in several places, so I wanted to check it out for myself.

For the most part, I was disappointed. I don’t usually write negative reviews: if I don’t like a book, I simply won’t give it a rating. But this one is different, because I don’t think it delivered on the promise it made. Its Amazon blurb promises a book that is in the same vein as “Ocean’s 8,” “The Heist,” and “Thelma and Louise.” I didn’t find it exciting or, in many parts, even interesting. A great deal of time is spent telling side tales about Doris’ friends and coming-of-age experiences. And as for her jewel-heist exploits, many of them are glossed over as she explains that she confuses the jewelry store clerks and takes the merchandise.

The biggest problem I had with the book, though, is the author’s disingenuous attempt to get the reader to believe that she engaged in this behavior (and in other equally risky activities) to exact revenge on the diamond industry for using African slave labor to mine the diamonds she would eventually steal. I don’t believe for one minute that she broke the law for that reason. What becomes clear in the reading is that she is motivated almost entirely by greed and the thrill of getting away with something.

The one thing I admire about Doris Payne is her single-minded focus on making her own way in a world that gives black women far less respect than they deserve. Though I don’t agree with her choices or her actions, they show that she is determined to provide her small family with the life she never had growing up.

Until next time,

Amy

Author Spotlight: Andi Cumbo-Floyd

Today I welcome author Andi Cumbo-Floyd to Reade and Write. Andi’s books are not like the ones I typically have on my blog, but I have a feeling you’re going to find her work really compelling. She is the author of the new release, The Boy Who Could See Stars, and I’ll let her tell you a little more about it and her other books.

Congratulations on your latest release! Tell us a little about the book, The Boy Who Could See Secrets.

The book tells the story of 12-year-old Jedidiah Wilson and his imaginary friend Mavis, who is 63.  Jed has always been able to see things people wanted to keep hidden, and one day, he sees a figure in the woods and follows her. He then takes his first journey through time. When he returns, he fills Mavis in, and they begin a great adventure to save their new friends.

This is my first middle grade book, and I find that very exciting. I have a son who is a toddler, so I enjoyed imagining him as a 12-year-old – who is much like his dad – and thinking about reading this book with him when’s he’s older. Plus, Mavis is modeled after my mother, Ruth, who died when she was 63. I love to have the opportunity to imagine how she might be with her grandson.

Who is the audience for the book?

Anyone over the age of 8 or 9 or enjoys a story with a little history, a fair bit of magic, and a lot of adventure.

Tell me about the setting of The Boy Who Could See Secrets—how did you choose it, what kind of research did you have to do, why did you choose it?

Oh, that’s a great question. The book takes place on a fictional farm that is based on the farm my husband and I recently sold here in Central Virginia.  I got the idea for the book one evening while I was watching the treeline beyond our pasture, and so it seemed fitting to use the landscape of that place for this story. Thus, research was pretty minimal. 😉

What was the hardest thing about writing the book?

Because this was my first middle grade book, the hardest thing was making sure I kept the story appropriate for that age of reader – mostly in terms of style but also in terms of some content – while also not dumbing down the book. I was an avid reader as a child, and I hated when writers assumed I was dumb just because I was young.  I wanted to avoid that mistake if at all possible.

If your book were made into a movie, who would you like to see playing the main characters?

OOH, another great question.  For Mavis, I’d love to see Kathy Bates. I love her ability to be down-to-earth with characters, and she’s wickedly funny, just like my mom.  For Jedidiah, Noah Schnapp from Stranger Things would be a great choice.  He needs to be someone who can make us believe in magic.

Tell us about your other books.

I’ve written a YA magical realism series entitled Steele Secrets, which deals with history through the lens of magic, as well. Mary Steele can see ghosts, but only the ghosts of African American people who were killed in racially-motivated violence.  As she meets these long-dead people, she comes to understand that her small Virginia town’s history is complicated and that a lot of secrets need to be told in order for healing to take place.

I’ve also written a work of nonfiction about the people who were enslaved on the plantation where I grew up. The Slaves Have Names tells the story of 22 of those incredible people and my journey to get to know them.

Finally, I’ve written several books for writers, including Love Letters To Writers, which is a collection of 52 notes to give writers encouragement and accountability in their writing lives.

Are you in one or more critique groups or partnerships?

You know, I’m not. But I am friends with a lot of writers, and I have great teams of beta readers who read all my work before it comes out to be sure its solid.

Do you write every day?

I don’t. I have a one-year-old, work full-time as an editor, and enjoy TV. But I do write five days a week whenever possible.

Who are your favorite authors? Favorite genres?

I love Margaret Atwood, Chaim Potok, Toni Morrison, Jesmyn Ward, A. S. Byatt, Marilyn Robinson, and Anne Lamott best of all.  In terms of genres, I read a lot of magical realism and fantasy since that’s what I write, and I’m going to be writing some cozy mysteries under a pen name starting later this year, so I’m reading a ton of those.  I do love literary fiction, though, too.

Where would you like to go more than anywhere else on earth?

South Africa. Hands down.  Second up would be Moscow.

What advice would you give to aspiring writers?

Only you can give yourself the time, space, and motivation to write. So do that. Don’t wait for it to happen for you. Make the time, create the space, encourage yourself. We need your stories.

What is your favorite movie and why?

Dead Poets’ Society. Robin Williams was a genius in that film, but I also loved the message about originality, about speaking truth, about the value of community, about grief and mental illness. And since I once was a teacher, I loved Mr. Keating as inspiration.

What advice would you give to your younger self?

Forget what you’re supposed to do or supposed to be. Follow your heart. Let it guide you.

Describe yourself in three words.

Introverted, Passionate, Wild.

I know you recently sold your farm in the Blue Ridge Mountains and have moved to another home. I followed your posts on Instagram and other social media outlets as the move happened and I can’t think of a more beautiful setting to write books. 

We recently sold off the farm that had been my dream for many years in order to make our life as a family a bit more manageable and to give me more space to write.  We loved that little 15 acres and our animals, but now we live deeper into the Blue Ridge Mountains with our three cats and three dogs in a log house on a ridgeline. It’s a lovely space, much quieter and simpler than our farm life. It’s good for us, and it’s especially good for my creativity and writing energy.

Is there anything I haven’t asked that you wanted me to?

I’d love to tell folks about the free, online writing community I coordinate. It’s a casual group full of writers to talk about all aspects of the writing life.  We’d love to have folks join us.  Details are at my website.

Where can readers connect with you?

I’m over at Andilit.com writing about writing, and you can find out about all of my books there.  I’m also on Facebook at facebook.com/andilitwriter, Twitter at twitter.com/Andilit, and Instagram at Instagram.com/andicumbofloyd.

Where can readers find your books?

My books are available wherever books are sold including indie bookstores, Kobo, Apple Books, Barnes and Noble, and Amazon. Plus, they’re readily orderable (is that a word?) by your local bookshop.

Thanks, Andi! 

Until next time,

Amy

 

Last Tuesday Book Round-Up

I’m happy to report that I was able to get more reading done in May than I did in April. As of writing this post, I’ve finished six books so far this month and I may be able to squeeze in one more. Here’s the round-up:

Eighteen Months by Glenn McGoldrick is a short story I first heard about on Twitter. This was the first story I’ve read by this author, and I thought it was thoughtfully written and full of darkness. I can’t tell you much without giving the story away, but if you like suspense, this is a good one to check out.

Daughter of Moloka’i by Alan Brennert was the sequel to Moloka’i. You have to know a little bit about Moloka’i in order to understand what’s happening in the sequel.

The island of Moloka’i in Hawaii was widely known as a leper colony where people were sent decades ago to remove them from the general population. Moloka’i is the heart-wrenching, beautifully-written story of a woman who grew up on the island. As an adult, she gives birth to a baby girl and she and the baby’s father are forced to give up their daughter a day after her birth. Daughter of Moloka’i is the story of that little girl.

Moloka’i is an incredible novel and it was going to be pretty hard to beat it, or even match it. In my opinion, Daughter of Moloka’i doesn’t quite live up to its predecessor, but it’s still a great book and well worth reading.

Desperate Deeds by Patricia Gligor is the third book in the Malone Mystery series. In this book, Ann Kern has to deal with her husband’s unemployment, the possibility he’s drinking again, the aftermath of her mother-in-law’s death, starting a new business, and the most unthinkable thing of all, her son going missing. Here’s my Goodreads review:

“This was the fourth book I have read by Patricia Gligor, and as always, she has crafted a story that is full of characters who could be your next-door neighbors. The book draws the reader in with the promise of suspense, and there is plenty of it in this book. Following the twists and turns is fun, and I was sure I knew what would happen on more than one occasion. I was wrong, which thrilled me! Looking forward to Malone Mystery #4.”

Newsletter Ninja by Tammi Labrecque is a book that you certainly don’t need to read if you have a newsletter, but if you do, get it, read it, and keep it for future reference. I’m in the process of changing how my newsletter is discovered by readers and I’m already implementing some of the changes the book suggests. I’m very excited about it!

A friend suggested that I read Thief of Corinth and I’m glad I did. It was an interesting story about corruption in the ancient city of Corinth and how a young girl and her father face choices they must make in the face of adversity. The main character, Ariadne, is complex and, at times, misguided and angry. Watching her grow and learn about this new system of beliefs called Christianity is uplifting and inspiring.

Organized for Homicide by Ritter Ames is a great cozy mystery full of twists, turns, and…organizing advice. When two women take on the job of organizing a cross-country move for a recently-divorced father of three and at least two of his children, they’ve got their hands full. And when the ex-wife shows up dead, there are suspects aplenty, beginning with the eldest child of the couple. Here’s my Goodreads review:

“I think what I enjoyed most about this book was the friendship between Kate and Meg, two of the main characters. The mystery was intriguing, with enough red herrings, suspects, and twists to please any discerning mystery lover. Highly recommend!”

So, readers, what are you reading these days? Please share!

Until next time,

Amy

P.S. Have you seen my new book cover? Dead, White, and Blue, Book 2 in the Juniper Junction Mystery series, will be available for pre-order soon! If this is your first time seeing it, join my newsletter by clicking here! You’ll be among the first to see my cover reveals.

What do you think??

The Last Tuesday Book Club: The Life She Was Given

This month’s book club selection is The Life She Was Given by Ellen Marie Wiseman. The only other book I’ve read by Ms. Wiseman is The Plum Tree, though she has two others: What She Left Behind and Coal River. Her books feature female protagonists placed in heart-wrenching circumstances who somehow learn to survive and grow.

The Life She Was Given is about two people: Lilly Blackwood, a young Albino girl whose mother sells her to the circus during the Great Depression, and Julia Blackwood, a young woman who has run away from home in the mid-1950s to escape her controlling and unkind mother.

For anyone who hasn’t read the book, I won’t put out any spoilers, but you may want to avoid reading the questions below until you’ve had a chance to read it.

I have mixed feelings about the book. I think Ellen Marie Wiseman is an extremely skilled and gifted writer and she has a way with words that I can almost assure you will bring tears to your eyes (if not a gushing flood of emotion). That being said, this story pushed me a little too far out of my comfort zone. I actually skipped one whole chapter because I knew what was going to happen and I just couldn’t bring myself to read it. I have to say I’ve never done that before.

For those of you who read it, what did you think? What were your overall impressions? And if you read the book, can you guess the chapter I skipped?

Here are the questions for this month, some of which I borrowed and/or tweaked from the back of The Life She Was Given:

  1. When Lilly left Blackwood Manor after ten years of never setting foot outside the attic, were you surprised by how quickly she acclimated to life on the outside? Did you expect her to have more developmental problems given the isolation of her first ten years?
  2. What is the author trying to say, if anything, about religion in The Life She Was Given?
  3. Why do you think Momma and Father were unkind to Julia, when their stated intention was to give her the life her mother had never had?
  4. Do you think Momma loved Lilly, or was her attitude toward her daughter based on something else?
  5. Do you think Lilly could have survived on her own if she had escaped from Momma on the way to the circus?
  6. What are your feelings about Lilly’s father?
  7. The parallels between Lilly’s life and that of the elephants and other animals are many and obvious. How did you feel when Jojo was taken from Pepper?
  8. What do you think of Claude? Do you think he did the right thing by keeping to himself during the time after Lilly disappeared? Do you think he was right not to share his knowledge with Julia?
  9. Do you think the title, The Life She Was Given, specifically refers to Lilly? Did you think it could refer to Julia, too?
  10. Have you ever been to the circus? What is your opinion of circuses?

Next month’s book is The Alice Network by Kate Quinn. It’s a story about a college student looking for a cousin in France after WWII who is joined by a former spy from WWI. I’m excited to read this one!

Until next time,

Amy

Book Recommendation: Rooftops of Tehran

20160207_170729

You probably knew this was coming, since I posted part of it accidentally over a week ago, but now I’ve written more than just the first two paragraphs.

What first drew me to the book Rooftops of Tehran was its cover and the beautiful title font. But once I started reading, I quickly realized the cover isn’t the only beautiful thing about the book.

Mahbod Seraji has written a haunting story about a small circle of friends living in Tehran in the mid-1970s. At the center of the circle is Pasha, a young man with lots of questions, ideas, and conflicting dreams. The story follows Pasha through a trying time in his life, a time which makes him question everything, including whether he wants to be part of his own future- the future planned for him by his parents and other family members.

Tehran in the 1970s is a turbulent place to be. Pasha and his best friend, Ahmed, spend much of the summer on the roof of Pasha’s house. Sleeping and spending time on the roof is a common practice in that city to escape the heat and dust and noise. They talk about books and neighbors and girls, but mostly girls. And in particular, two girls- Zari and Feheemeh. Feheemeh is the love of Ahmed’s life, but it’s Zari who has captured Pasha’s heart. Unfortunately, Zari has been betrothed since birth to another friend of Pasha.

It’s the relationship between Pasha and Zari, and their respective feelings for her betrothed, Doctor, that makes this story heartbreaking, shocking, and beautiful. One fateful night, Pasha unwittingly attracts the attention of the Shah’s secret police, leading to a series of events which will forever alter the course of Pasha’s life.

The suspense initially comes from the back-and-forth of the storytelling. Part of the tale is told in the present from a psychiatric hospital, part in the recent past in Pasha’s Tehran alley. From the hints given in the present, the reader knows something horrible has happened to Pasha. The present and the past come closer and closer together until they collide in an electrifying event that suddenly makes Pasha’s presence in the hospital achingly clear.

But the suspense builds from that moment and Pasha’s release from the hospital is not the end of the story. The reader continues to follow Pasha through his halting recovery, wondering what the future holds for someone as broken as he is.

I can’t say any more without giving away the ending, but I can highly recommend the book. I’m so glad I read it. I hope you’ll check it out, too.

Until next week,

Amy

P.S. I’m working on my next newsletter, which should be out in a few weeks. If you haven’t joined my mailing list, click here to sign up. I’ll be doing a giveaway in the next newsletter to celebrate the upcoming release of my next novel, House of the Hanging Jade.