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.”

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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.”

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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!”

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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.”

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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 Interview: Jane Kelly

Today I welcome Jane Kelly, author of several books set in and around Philadelphia, PA, and south Jersey. She’s also very active in Mystery Writers of America. I first heard Jane speak on a panel at Malice Domestic, an annual conference for readers and writers of mysteries. She and I have kept in touch since then, and I’m honored that she’s here for an interview today.

Let’s start by talking about your new book. What’s the title and what’s it all about?

My amateur sleuth, Meg Daniels, visits another shore town in Greetings from Ventnor City.  After her successful mission in Missing You in Atlantic City, she finds herself viewed as somewhat of a missing persons specialist—as well as an expert in the 1960s. Reluctantly, she reaches back to 1968, a very different 1960s from the 1964 of the Atlantic City book, to locate a Ventnor college student who has not been seen since a day of protests at the Miss America pageant. She takes along a new, temporary, investigating partner, a rock star who aspires to see how the other 99% lives.

Tell us a little about your other books.

Killing Time in Ocean City, Cape Mayhem and Wrong Beach Island are light mysteries. I always call them polite and warn people, if they like blood and guts, my books are not for them. My amateur sleuth solves crimes in New Jersey beach towns where visitors do not expect trouble. Missing You in Atlantic City is the first book that adds a historical element when Meg takes on a cold case.

(Click on the covers below to be redirected to Amazon if you want to learn more…Amy)

  

 

   

I also have written books featuring different sleuths set in Philadelphia that I published as e-books for Kindle only. The Writing in Time series deals with cold cases set against the backdrop of significant moments in Philadelphia social history e.g. the September Swoon of the 1964 Phillies. I have only written the first of the Widow Lady series that starts out in 1960 in a neighborhood much like the one where I grew up.

Tell me about your inspiration for Meg Daniels, the main character in your New Jersey beach towns series.

I started reading female sleuths in the 1980s: Sue Grafton, Sara Paretsky, Marcia Muller. I especially loved Carole Berry’s books. Her amateur detective was an office temp, whose lack of investigative credentials made me wonder if I could overcome my own lack of technical knowledge and create an amateur detective.

Do you spend time at the Jersey shore? What are some of your favorite places to visit?

When I was a baby, my family always spent the summer in Wildwood Crest, but my mother protested that everyone else got a vacation and she just moved her job. So after the age of three, I never again spent the entire summer at the shore. For several years, my parents would take me to a very elegant guest house in Ventnor where my mother could relax. In the winter, my father, a fair-skinned redhead, would take us to Atlantic City for winter weekends.

As I got older, my Philadelphia classmates often got to bring ‘a friend’ with them on vacation. So I became a ‘friend’ and spent time in many different locales: Ocean City, Cape May, Long Beach Island, Stone Harbor, Strathmere, Sea Isle City. Even different areas within each locale. So, I love revisiting all these locales—at any time of year.

My favorite spot? I love the Oyster Creek Inn in Leed’s Point. No matter how often we go, my friends and I always take pictures. We age, but the scenery stays gorgeous.

What does a typical work day look like for you?

I wish I had a typical day. I once set up a daily regimen that started with a brisk walk. On the first day, I took the walk, came home and slept for three hours. I abandoned that routine, but no matter what I have to do on any day, I make sure I write first.

Can you tell us something about Meg Daniels that the rest of the world doesn’t know?

She shares everything with her readers. They have full access to her internal dialog, but there may be some aspects of her past that she hasn’t revealed yet. Not even to me.

What is the hardest thing about writing, in your opinion?

I love writing. I adore editing. But putting the story together in a clear and well-paced order is the  most challenging aspect for me.

Who are your favorite authors to read?

I read a lot of non-fiction, mostly Cold War history and memoir.  Right now I have two fiction projects: 1) to reread classic mysteries, and 2) to read the books of the writers I meet. I am horribly behind on both.

What is your favorite movie and why?

The summer Jurassic Park opened I didn’t see it for weeks because Kenneth Branagh’s Much Ado About Nothing was playing in the same theater and I would walk up to the box office and say “One for Jur . . . Much Ado About Nothing.”

I also love older romantic comedies from the era when I was the same age as the characters. I would love to hang out with the crowd in Notting Hill.

What advice would you give your twenty-year-old self?

“When you are forty, you are going to discover that you like writing novels. You might want to get started now.”

Describe yourself in three words.

I can only say what I aspire to be. Open-minded. Humorous. Kind.

Are you in a writing group or a critique group?

No. I am afraid of them. Always have been. I think I would be too easily discouraged. On the flip side, I don’t feel qualified to give advice. I know what I like but I don’t believe that makes it right.

Is there anything I didn’t ask that you wanted me to?

Want to meet for lunch sometime?

Definitely! You name the time and place. Thanks so much for being here today, Jane.

Until next time,

Amy