My May Reads

May is as busy as I suspected it would be. Everyone is grumbling about the weather. It’s been cooler and wetter than normal for this time of year; records have been broken. On the upside, the flowering dogwoods have been in bloom for much longer than usual, and the flowers on the rhodos and azaleas are slow to show and lasting longer than they usually do too. But the squash and cucumber I seeded have been lost to bad weather, and the tomatoes, peppers and eggplants are still languishing in the greenhouse, waiting for the temperatures to climb. It sounds like perfect reading weather. However, if I’m not writing, I’m outside dodging raindrops and working in the garden. My reward at the end of the day is a good book. And here’s what I’m reading this month:

Eyes Like a Hawk by Lea Tassie

Looking for Jane by Heather Marshall

People We Meet on Vacation by Emily Henry

Books read to date in 2022: 30

Snakes and Slugs and Rabbits … Oh My!

 

A snake slithered across my foot as I walked to the greenhouse one morning last week. I felt it before I saw it, so I was a little startled when I glanced down and saw it slide off my toes and disappear under a nearby Hosta.  It made me smile. My cousins and I used to play with the garter snakes in my grandmother’s garden when we were kids, going so far as to bestow names and weave stories around them (yes, the storytelling seeds were germinating even then). So, seeing a snake in my garden brought back happy memories.

Some people hate snakes. They see them as horrifying, villainous creatures. But, for me, it’s rodents that I hate with an irrational passion. And these days, as the plants in the garden begin waking up from their winter slumber, I have a current hate on for the slugs and rabbits that are decimating the new growth. They are the current antagonists of my world.

Life is full of antagonists. Novels are too. The latter not only require antagonists, but they depend on them to drive a story forward. Without a great villain, the hero can’t shine. And the key to crafting a good antagonist or villain is making them well-rounded enough to be believable. Every villain should have at least one redeeming characteristic.

If I’m ever tempted to forget this, all I have to do is look outside. Snakes may be considered villainous to some, but they devour garden pests and even small mice.  Slugs are a great source of food for birds (thrushes love them), and they break down garden debris and turn it into nitrogen-rich fertilizer.  Wild rabbits are considered a keystone species, essential workers of a healthy ecosystem. In fact, populations are so low in the UK and parts of Europe that environmentalists are sounding the alarm and working to increase their numbers (too bad I can’t figure out a way to export mine; both my garden and my wallet would benefit). Even mice, creatures I will never tolerate anywhere close, link plants and predators in every terrestrial ecosystem.

Whatever antagonist you’re currently facing, whether it’s ravenous rabbits in the garden, a belligerent boss at work or wicked, uncooperative weather, a piece of advice: always wear shoes and watch where you step.

Happy Spring

This Sunday, March 20th, marks the spring or vernal equinox.  Here in the Pacific Northwest, that means the days are getting longer, and daylight takes over the darkness.

In many cultures, the spring equinox is observed as the start of the New Year.  It only makes sense. Birds are nesting and starting families.  Trees are leafing out.  It’s a time of rebirth, regrowth and new beginnings.

Some creative types believe that the natural rhythm of this time of year – the increasing warmth of the sun and the equal length of day and night – actually gives us more energy to create. It’s a perfect time, they say, to plant metaphorical seeds as well as real ones.  

As a gardener and a writer, I love that idea. But something I sometimes forget is that seeds need time and the right conditions to sprout. Some require a cold stretch before the warmth nudges them to shoot out, while others want only heat to emerge. Creative ideas seem to be the same. While some come on quickly, in the heat of the moment, most creative ideas require a bit of percolating before they’re ready to germinate. And then, once those ideas do sprout, they need careful tending.

Right now, I’m tending metaphorical seeds (of a book) I planted a while back. This particular story has been a struggle but I’m hoping that if I prune and shape and carefully tend it, it will flourish in the same way a plant damaged by winter wind and cold comes back. And as I do that, I’m also planting some new creative seeds to tend over the coming months.

Because who can resist the promise of new beginnings? Happy spring, everybody.

Freedom to Read Week

 This is Freedom to Read week. While we may not give it much thought, the freedom to read can never be taken for granted. Even in Canada, a free country by world standards, books and magazines are banned at the border. Schools and libraries are regularly asked to remove books and magazines from their shelves. Those requests rarely make headlines – they often don’t even make the news – but they affect the right of Canadians to decide for themselves what they choose to read. They also have a direct and sometimes devastating impact on the livelihoods of writers.

If you have the time and the inclination, you might like to check out the following links.

Here, Victoria author and friend Robin Stevenson details what happened when her book was banned in the middle of a book tour in Illinois. Ultimately, the experience gave her more of a platform to get her message out:   https://www.freedomtoread.ca/articles/canadian-author-of-kid-activists-speaks-up-about-school-cancellation-controversy/

Next, is YA author Bill Konigsberg responding to parents who have called to have his books banned from school libraries:  https://billkonigsberg.com/an-open-letter-to-parents-who-wish-to-ban-my-books-from-school-libraries/?fbclid=IwAR3VxJkkc4E3Kg_dJfvhkTYe-3QeseXYmvsi7H7YNEU7_Rsv8sbOxxrkeas

And finally, if you’d like to dig a little deeper, here are additional details on some of the challenged works in Canada.  https://www.freedomtoread.ca/challenged-works/

Happy Freedom to Read (whatever you choose!) Week.

My February Reads

The heather is in bloom, the snowdrops too, and the primulas are strutting their colours on the windowsill. We’ve had sunshine the last few days, and though it’s cold and we have another month of winter, it’s starting to feel like spring. Even the seeds I ordered have arrived, which means I need to get them started. It’s a busy time of year, but not too busy for a good book. And here’s what I’m reading this month:

The Rose Code by Kate Quinn

Cure: A Journey Into the Science of Mind Over Body by Jo Marchant

Honey From a Weed by Patience Gray

Books read to date in 2022: 14

Phantom of the Opera

Thirty-four years ago today, Phantom of the Opera debuted on Broadway. It has been performed over 13,000 times, making it the longest-running show in Broadway history. As we know, Andrew Lloyd Webber wrote the musical, giving it an iconic place in our culture. But I knew nothing about the story’s origins, so I decided to do a little digging.  

French author Gaston Leroux wrote Phantom of the Opera in 1909. Originally published as a serialized story in a Parisian newspaper, it came out in book form in 1910 and was translated into English in 1911.

The idea for the story was sparked by actual events. Leroux was a journalist-turned-novelist who spent the early part of his career as a theatre critic. He also covered a story about the Paris Opera house, Palais Garnier. Leroux was aware that once, during a live performance, a fire in the roof of the opera house had melted through a wire and caused a chandelier to crash, killing one person and injuring several more. It was that accident, combined with rumours of a ghost in that same opera house, that kindled the idea for Leroux’s story. The underground lake that he wrote about actually exists beneath the opera house, and it’s still used for training firefighters to swim in the dark. The impetus to write the story down came from Leroux’s curiosity and belief that the Phantom was indeed real. He did considerable research to prove the truth of the ghost, and even on his death bed, he maintained the rumours were true.

Phantom of the Opera sold poorly initially and was even out of print several times during the twentieth century. Today, the story is considered a classic of French literature, and Leroux’s contribution to French detective fiction is comparable to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle in the UK and Edgar Allan Poe in the United States.

My January Reads

                                                                     

In terms of my reading habits, 2021 was pretty typical (it’s nice that something was typical last year!). I read 95 books, close to my average of reading two books a week. If you follow my blog, you may remember that my reading fell off in 2020. I only read about 70 books that year which surprised me because, with Covid restrictions, I had more quiet time at home. However, back then, libraries were locked down for long stretches at a time, and I couldn’t borrow electronically. At least not easily (my Kindle is not library compatible) or in a way that would have made reading enjoyable. Thankfully, that issue is behind me, and I’m now able to borrow both physical and electronic books from our library system. And thank goodness. While lockdowns seem to be a thing of the past, Covid is still with us, so who knows what the future holds? One thing is certain, though, there will be plenty of good books to read. Here’s what I’m reading this month.

Night of Miracles by Elizabeth Berg

Lovish by Karen Rivers

Jackpot by Michael Mechanic

Books read to date in 2022: 2

Happy New Year!

                                    

Here it is a new year, a clean slate, an opportunity to release the old and embrace the new. Not that we need an invitation for that kind of thing; we can do it anytime we choose. But January, in our culture at least, is traditionally the month for new beginnings. Maybe putting away the holiday decorations for another year leads to letting go of past memories. Certainly, the house feels new and fresh and more open to possibilities when the coziness of the Christmas clutter is gone.

2022 is a six-year. Those who know numerology say this is a year to devote to home and family, creativity, and nurturing yourself and others. Mathematically, six is considered a perfect number because the factors of 6 (1,2 and 3) make 6 whether you add them together or multiply them. Perhaps that’s why many people think of six as a lucky number.  

In nature, the honeycombs made by bees are six-sided or hexagonal in shape. Many flowers have six petals. Bell peppers and tomatoes often have six seed chambers. When water freezes, it often forms six-pointed crystals and snowflakes.

Being at sixes and sevens means being in a state of disorder or confusion. Having a six-pack used to mean having six cans or bottles, but now it’s a reference to a set of well-defined abdominal muscles.  

In literature, book titles featuring the letter six are popular: The Sixth Man by David Baldacci; Six Years by Harlan Coben; Six of One by Rita Mae Brown; and The 6th Target by James Patterson. Speaking of books, here’s a quote from Lewis Carroll’s Alice Through the Looking Glass. “Why sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast,” exclaimed the White Queen.

As we start another year with significant Covid restrictions, it seems an almost impossible dream that we’ll ever be finished with this virus. But, as the Queen encouraged Alice, it’s vital to have grit, courage and believe in a positive future. So, since six is considered a lucky number, I’m counting on the coming year to be a good one. And with that in mind, let’s deep-six 2021 and look forward with optimism to 2022!

Fiction For the Holidays

I have some fiction suggestions for you this week.  Below you’ll find novel recommendations for young children, teens and adults. Happy reading!

Our Little Kitchen written and illustrated by Jillian Tamaki. Picture book, ages 4 – 8. A story about a lively gathering when neighbours come together to prepare a meal for their community. With a garden full of produce, a joyfully chaotic kitchen, and a friendly meal shared at the table, this sweet story celebrates diversity, camaraderie and community. 

Sour Cakes written by Karen Krossing and illustrated by Anna Kwan. Picture book, ages 3 – 7. Two sisters wake up in very different moods: the older one cheerful, the younger one grumpy. The older sister proposes they bake a cake, but the younger sibling only wants to bake a sour one. When the younger girl’s mood reaches the boiling point, the older sister agrees to bake the gloomy sour cake. With that, the two sisters navigate the younger one’s messy feelings and get back to playing.

Firefly by Phillipa Dowding. Middle-grade novel, ages 9 – 12. Thirteen-year-old Firefly has had a difficult childhood. When her mother is taken into custody, Firefly goes to live with her aunt Gayle, who owns The Corseted Lady costume shop. Between her aunt’s secure and steadfast support and the millions of costumes in the shop, Firefly is able to try on different identities, find herself in the process and heal.

Facing the Sun by Janice Lynn Mather, teen novel, ages 14 and up. Set in the Caribbean, this story focuses on four friends who experience unexpected changes in their lives when a hotel developer purchases their community’s beloved beach. Facing the Sun, which is told from four points of view, is a coming-of-age story about navigating family, friendship, self-worth and growing up.

People We Meet on Vacation by Emily Henry. Contemporary Romance/Women’s Fiction. Travel writer Poppy decides to take one last shot at reconnecting with Alex, her former best friend, who quite possibly might be her dream man. Best friends since college and complete opposites, Poppy and Alex have taken an annual summer vacation together for years. Or they did up until two years ago when they had a serious falling out. Hoping to mend the rift between them and win back the heart of her best friend, Poppy invites Alex on one last trip. An unabashedly feel-good read with the prerequisite happy ending.

The Rose Code by Kate Quinn. Historical fiction. At 650+ pages, The Rose Code is a time commitment but a worthwhile one. This novel focuses on three very different women, once friends and then estranged, who come back together to help the British solve codes that the Germans have been sending back and forth.  Though it’s a little slow to start, this is a character-driven and suspenseful story of friendship, betrayal, hope and redemption.

Wish You Were Here by Jodi Picoult. Set in the early months of the Covid pandemic, this recently released Picoult title is garnering solid reviews.  In March 2020, Diana O’Toole takes a planned romantic holiday to the Galapagos alone as her boyfriend Finn, who expected to join her on their nonrefundable vacation (and where Diana is almost certain he is going to propose), is needed at the hospital in New York. Unfortunately, the island is soon under quarantine and Diana is stranded there until the borders reopen. Completely isolated, Diana must venture out of her comfort zone and, in fact, eventually comes to question everything she knows about her relationships, her choices and herself.

Not a Happy Family by Shari Lapina. This domestic suspense read from Canadian novelist Lapina will appeal to the thriller lover on your list. The story takes place in the days following the brutal murders of Fred and Sheila Merton in their mansion on Easter Sunday. Their three adult children, who stand to inherit a fortune, are all deemed suspects. And as the story unfolds, Catherine, Dan and Jenna begin to suspect each other as well.

And one I’m anticipating:

The Secret Life of Albert Entwistle by Matt Cain. Published in the UK this year and being re-released in North America in early 2022, this novel tells the story of 64-year-old postman Albert Entwistle who has been living alone in a quiet North England town since his mother died eighteen years ago. But Albert has just learned he’ll be forced to retire on his next birthday. Friendless and with little to look forward to, Albert realizes it’s time to be honest about who he is and to ask for what he wants. So, Albert sets out to find George, the man that many years ago he loved and lost. As Albert embraces a new future, extraordinary things begin to happen.

And That’s a Wrap

 NaNoWriMo wrapped up Tuesday. For the writers who signed on and stayed the course, that means they have a finished – albeit rough – manuscript of around the 50,000-words. I didn’t sign up, at least not officially, but I did commit to writing fresh material for Something About Julian every day.

And I did!

However, I didn’t get as much written as I’d hoped for. Some of that was because of external circumstances (having evacuated friends coming to stay wasn’t in the original plan!), and some of it was because of the story. I ran into a problem with a scene the same week we had our friends here. It was an issue with pacing and the revelation of an important piece of information. Generally, when I run into that kind of thing, I’m always inclined to go back and read over what I’ve written to date, looking to see if a previous misstep brought me to that point. Since that’s a NaNoWriMo no-no, I resisted. I forced myself to go forward. I wrote and rewrote the troublesome scene more than once. That’s also a NaNoWriMo no-no, but I was worried that if I didn’t nail the bones of the problematic scene, the following scenes might stall out too.  Eventually, things gelled. In fact, they more than gelled because the scene took off in a direction I hadn’t considered, one that moves the story forward beautifully. That was great news.

I’ve not finished the manuscript, but I’m a lot closer than I was at the beginning of November. That’s great news too. And with a bit of luck – and if the river doesn’t rise – I should have a finished manuscript by the new year. Just in time for January revisions!