Thursday, July 21, 2011

The Anatomy of Ghosts by Andrew Taylor

I tend to forget how much I love historical fiction; especially good historical fiction. And this historical thriller , Anatomy of Ghosts by Andrew Taylor is just that.
It’s set at Jerusalem college in Cambridge England in 1786. John Holdsworth is a book trader who has lost everything: his young son, who drowned in the Thames and his business. His wife, Maria, who became obsessed and sold all her worldly possessions to try and contact her son, follows a few months later by drowning as well. Holdsworth, a broke and broken man, is soon summoned by Lady Anne Oldershaw, a wealthy upper crust sort, who is concerned about the welfare of her own son who has apparently gone off the deep end at Jerusalem college after claiming to see the ghost of the late Mrs Sylvia Whitcombe. She wants Holdsworth to investigate her son’s nervous collapse and the ghost on the sly while cataloguing her late husband’s library at the college.
Holdsworth doesn’t believe in ghosts but accepts the job for he needs the money. He arrives at Jerusalem college and becomes the guest of the Master, the ailing Dr Carbury and his intriguing wife, Elinor.
While at the college, Holdsworth does some digging and soon discovers the more unsavoury aspects of the place: the behind the scenes wrangling for power, the sinister Holy Ghost club and the unanswered questions of the death of the ghost in question: the young and lovely Sylvia Whitcombe.
It’s one of those books that makes you resent that you have a life and things to do, like work, dinner, etc. when all you’d rather be doing is reading.
The historical detail he provides transports you back in time to life that was really harsh for the poor. There were no conveniences for the people at the time and Taylor vividly captures the sights and sounds of the time from the smells from the sick room to the night soil man who made rounds every morning with his wheelbarrow collecting excrement.
There are so many subplots that all come together nicely in the end. And Holdsworth, the non-believer of ghosts, discovers that sometimes it’s the living that haunt you more than the dead.
I was sorry to see this book end. Great book to curl up with on a rainy day. Or any day.

Friday, July 15, 2011

The Nagging Question

The last few weeks, I’ve been surprised at something unexpected: the nagging question that perhaps it’s time to give up writing and move on with my life.
I’ve wanted to write since I was nine and dabbled with it while I got on with my life: went to college, got a proper job, bought a house, got married, and had babies.
When we decided to move to Ireland five years ago I made a decision that I would be serious about my writing and be more proactive rather than the disconcerted effort that was made while I lived in the US. And I have done a lot more in the last five years than in all the previous 30+. In the beginning, when we first arrived and the boys were babies and needed my undivided attention, I had to wait until my husband came home and every night after dinner, I managed to write and that resulted in a chick lit manuscript which I still love but received 44 rejections none the less. I chalked it up to experience. I became involved in Write Words out of the UK, an online writing group and met some really fabulous people and now am in a private splinter group with them. I published an article in Writer’s Forum. I started two blogs, this one and Chicklite. I also contribute to Book in a Week blog. I completed a first rough draft of another novel, women’s fiction while doing NaNoWriMo. (National November Writing Month- global effort to write 50k, unedited in one month- great novel starter) Unfortunately I had to abandon that as I couldn’t stand the MC (main character).
Two years ago, I started working on my present WIP- about a teenage girl who has supernatural powers but wants nothing to do with it. I have it completed at 100k words, but I’m in the middle of editing it which is time consuming and sometimes I feel like I’m walking through sand. Once that’s done, I’ll make the starter rounds of querying agents.
But all of this takes time. And a big chunk of it. And I’ve yet to be published.
All my life, the dream of writing has always been in the back of mind and sometimes on the back burner while I did other things; mainly lived life. But when I worked as a hospice nurse and took care of a lot of people on their deathbed, I determined for myself that I didn’t want to end up on my own deathbed, regretting that I didn’t pursue my dream of writing. But after five years, can I say that I gave it my best shot, give it up and live with that?
For the very first time, I’m thinking of giving it up. That has never happened before. Granted, I’ve walked away from it, put it down but I always returned. But now there’s a different feeling underfoot. And I have to ask my self: is my dream of writing worth it? Will my boys remember me as someone who had a computer as an appendage? Is it time to stop fooling around and get a proper job?
And that is the question that I’m going to think about and turn over while I’m on vacation in the US in August.

Monday, July 4, 2011

The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll & Mr Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson

I saw this book on the library shelf and couldn’t resist for three reasons:
1) Its a classic,
2) I have Treasure Island (also by RLS) on order for Daniel
3) Its only 88 pages long and I thought, surely I could handle that

I read the book in one day- a lazy Sunday to be exact. The first 2-3 pages were a little difficult to get through and I must admit to having had to reread some of the parts to make it all make sense but once I got into the rhythm of the writing- and it was written about 130 years ago- it became easy and I couldn’t put it down.
The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll & Mr Hyde explores what happens when one man indulges his dark side through chemical means- more relevant now in our drug addled culture than at the end of the 19th century.
It’s a brilliantly woven tale exploring the dichotomy of good and evil.
I also wanted to study the build up of suspense as I’m writing my own paranormal. RLS drip feeds you info about Mr Hyde- at first it starts out with innuendo about the nefarious Mr Hyde and gradually the tale unfolds through the eyes of Dr. Jekyll’s lawyer, Mr Utterson. The book opens with him learning of Mr Hyde and no one can determine his relationship with Dr Jekyll. Utterson assumes that Hyde is blackmailing Jekyll. By the end, the whole sordid tale has been revealed to the astonishment of Mr Utterson and another friend, Dr Lanyon and the bizarre truth will be the undoing of the latter.
Long after I finished reading it, I found I couldn’t stop thinking about it. In a nutshell, it’s the age old issue of good versus evil. Instead of being repelled by his alter ego Mr Hyde, Dr Jekyll exhibits a mixture of sympathy, fascination and an inability to resist the heady, free side of evil. Mr Hyde, on the other hand, shows only indifference towards Dr Jekyll.
This tale is so part of our culture now that we refer to moody (that’s a polite term) people as being a Jekyll & Hyde and in one of my kids’ DVDs, Alvin & the Chipmunks are putting on a school play of Dr Jekyll & Mr Hyde.
It’s a great classic; read it if you get the chance.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Finger Lickin' Fifteen by Janet Evanovich

Finger Lickin’ Fifteen is another instalment in Janet Evanovich’s Stephanie Plum mystery series. Sizzling Sixteen and Smokin’ Seventeen have since been released. (What can I say, I’m a little behind). I started reading the series way back when it first came out- early nineties, I guess. Stephanie Plum has been in my life longer than my husband or kids. The major appeal is the LOL screwball comedy. It must be hard to keep that pace up and the stories fresh, but this particular instalment had me laughing out loud so hard I started crying and in the process scared my two boys. I read the book in 48 hours. This one was one of the best in the series. I’ve read all of the books in the series and the last few books in the series have been disappointing. I don’t know why I keep buying them- something to do with hope and redemption I guess.
Stephanie Plum is a half Hungarian, half Italian girl from the ‘Burg in Trenton, NJ. She works as a bounty hunter for her cousin Vinnie Plum. She stinks as a bounty hunter. Things always go awry: cars get blown up and her apartment tends to get firebombed. She’s assisted by Lula, an ex hooker who’s 300lbs and likes to wear loud, petite size clothing. Say no more. There’s Grandma Mazur who carries a gun in her purse and whose favorite hobby is going to funerals. There are also two men in Stephanie’s life: Trenton cop, Joe Morelli and the mysterious Ranger.
Finger Lickin’ Fifteen opens with Lula inadvertently witnessing the decapitation of a celebrity chef. What ensues is Lula’s OTT idea to enter a barbecue cook off to catch the killers- when they’re not trying to kill her- which they attempt quite often in the book. At one point, Lula, hanging out the car window shooting at them- and her aim is terrible- ends up getting stuck in the window- that scene alone is hilarious.
If you’re in need of pick-me-upper or a great laugh, pick this book up- it’s absolutely hilarious.

Monday, June 27, 2011

So Many Books....

Once I start a book, I have to finish it, even if I absolutely hate it.
This just happened recently where I looked down and realized that I was only on page 100 and still had to get through about 350 more pages. It was like walking in heavy sand on a summer’s day with the sun beating down on your back and dragging extra weight to boot-you get the picture. The book, which will remain anonymous to protect the innocent, just didn’t do it for me. One of the main characters was totally unsympathetic. From any angle, I just couldn’t warm up to him and he was also the main love interest. On any level he didn’t do it for me.
But enough about that.
It’s my optimistic spirit *tonguedeftlyincheek* that keeps me turning the page on a truly horrific, badly written, put-downable book. It’s called redemption and I’m looking for it somewhere by the last page. There just has to be some redeeming quality by the end that justifies the time I spent reading it (time is precious), the money spent (recession, anyone?) and the emotional involvement. Sometimes, there is none of these.
And there has been redemption in the past.
Trinity by Leon Uris comes to mind. I picked that book up three separate times before I finally finished and loved it. Sense & Sensibility by Jane Austen- initially I struggled with it, but soon fell in love with it and everything else written by Jane Austen. Jane Austen books are in that rare category of books that I will read over and over as I never tire of them. I can not tell you how many times I checked The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova out of the library before finally being sucked into it and the only disappointment was that it had ended. And the list goes on and on.
And yet *sigh* there are the clunkers out there that make me want to cry.
A friend of mine recently gave me this advice with my obsession about finishing crappy books: life’s too short, put it down and read something else.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

The Waiting Game

There was a time in my life when I used to be a terrible waiter. And I don’t mean restaurant server. Although I did waitress a long time ago when God was a boy and that’s another story for another day. But getting back to the waiting bit: impatience was-and sometimes still is- my middle name. I was deadly waiting in doctor’s offices and standing in line at the bank or grocery store. And God forbid the person who cut ahead of me. I’d put my hand out and say firmly, “Excuse me but I was next in line.” If there was a hold up in the line ahead of me, I’d start to sigh and shift on my feet and if I was really pushed over the edge, I’d start making tsk, tsk noises. Sitting in reception areas, I was no better. After about 45 minutes, I’d badger the receptionist with questions like, ‘how many more minutes?’ and ‘how many people are ahead of me?’ They must have cringed seeing me walk through the door.
However, I am happy to report that all of that has changed. In an indirect way, I have to credit motherhood with tempering that over the top impatience. Motherhood is a 24/7 job and because of that, my favorite hobby of reading gets put on the back burner- a lot. But a few years ago, I cured that. I now carry my book with me, at all times, in my purse and in my car. Now, I don’t mind going anywhere where there’s going to be waiting. I read in the doctor’s office, standing in line at the post office and waiting outside the boys’ school to pick them up. There have been times that I have been disappointed to hear my name called or my turn arrive in the line as I was usually at a good part in the book. The only place I can’t read is while driving in a car- well not me driving- that would be something wouldn’t it? That would be tricky, trying to read while driving a car- and I drive a manual! That’d give a whole new meaning to the word ambidextrous. Anyways, I tend to get car sick while reading when the car is in motion. But I fixed that too- now I nap- because that’s another thing you get deprived of with motherhood: sleep.
I don’t wait anymore. But I do read a lot.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Tomas O'Crohan's The Islandman

Tomas O’Crohan’s book, The Islandman, was first written in Irish in 1926 and translated into English 3 years later. It tells of life on the Blasket islands off the coast of Kerry. An Irish only speaking population, the last of the islanders were evacuated to the mainland in 1953.O’Crohan himself lived from 1856-1937 and he gives a detailed, vivid portrait of life on the island during the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th. Despite the fact that it was written so long ago, it is a book that is easy to read.
As I sidebar, I must admit to a love of all things of the Dingle Peninsula and its off shore islands. And therefore, I read anything I can, past or present, regarding the surrounding area. I’ve read Peig Sayers voluntarily and I’m a huge fan of the Antarctic explorer, Tom Crean from Anascaul.
That being said, I found O’Crohan’s book to be much more entertaining than that of Peig Sayers.
The insight into the way of life on the island- which is no more- is priceless. There were no shops on the island and the most startling revelation of all was the fact that all the animals (cow, asses, cats and dogs) were brought into the house at night. His sisters had to climb up onto the roof in the morning to collect the eggs as the hens had roosted in the thatch. Formal education was dodgy at best: he didn’t start school until he was 10 and there was a whole gap year when the teacher returned to the mainland to get married and it took a year to find a replacement. They made a living by fishing and going to the market in Dingle. They also benefited from shipwrecks when cargo washed ashore. It was interesting to read how they salvaged the wheat cargo from the sea by boiling the salt out of it and then drying it in front of the fire. When a cargo a tea landed ashore, they had no idea what it was so they fed it to the pigs and one woman used it to dye her petticoats- at that point tea had not been introduced to the island. The sea by its very nature was unforgiving.
At 22 he married- a marriage arranged by his sister. Together they had 10 children and there was a lot of sorrow: 2 died from measles, 1 fell off a cliff, and another drowned trying to save someone else. All of this appears to have accelerated the path to the grave for his wife but Tomas soldiered on.
At the end, he writes: “I have written minutely of much that we did, for it was my wish that somewhere there should be a memorial of it all, and I have done my best to set down the character of the people about me so that some record of us might live after us, for the like of us will never be again.
These people are no more and there is an element of sadness for that which is gone.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Queen of the Simile: Ciara Geraghty

It's no secret that I'm a big fan of Ciara Geraghty. The last post I wrote on her, I reviewed her second book, Becoming Scarlett and publicly declared that Geraghty was the indisputable Queen of Chick Lit.

There are a handful of writers that I wait with bated breath for their new releases: Janet Evanovich, Elizabeth George and Ciara Geraghty.

Geraghty's third book came, Finding Mr. Flood, came out in January and I was down at my local bookstore before they even loaded it onto the shelves.

Finding Mr. Flood follows the story of a one Dara Flood. A petite brunette, Dara works at the local animal shelter and lives with her mother and her older sister, Angel, who is in dire need of a kidney transplant. Dara lives without expectation; it's simpler that way. That way she can't be disappointed. Days before she was born, her father, Mr. Flood walked out on the family never to be seen again. They say parental abandonment is the one thing a child can not recover from. Well it has certainly shaped the Flood women's resulting lives. Enter into the mix Stanley Flinter a very short man (luckily no short man complex) who is a private detective that Dara enlists in the effort to find Mr. Flood to see if he is a match to donate a kidney for Angel.

As the novel unfolds, Dara begins to test the waters with her toe and steps out of her comfort zone. Dara is not a larger than life character like Grace was in Amazing Grace, but she is straightforward and guileless and a casualty of life in a way that makes you want to reach out and right it.

For those critics of chick lit who dismiss it as shallow and about shopping for shoes, I'd suggest that they pick up a Geraghty book and have a rethink.

One last thing. It's about Geraghty's writing style and her use of similes.

I first fell in love with similes about twenty-five years ago when I read Truman Capote's In Cold Blood and in it he described -a corpse, I think- 'as pallid as a funeral lily.' I have never forgotten that.

Geraghty's books are littered with similes and nobody does it better. They are rich in description and I can't help but drink them up.

For example:

'A possibility- as remote as the Galapogos islands.'

'A cloud closed around her like a curtain.'

'Clouseau....ran the length of Dollymount Strand, straining at his lead and pulling Stanley along behind him, like a kite.'

Regarding some one's nose: 'It rose from his face like a bus coming over a hill.' Brilliant.

''Well,' he said, smiling a smile that revealed teeth like gravestones: long and grey and listing in different directions.'

Luckily for us fans, Geraghty just signed a two book deal with her publisher, Hodder & Stoughton for six figures. Well deserved, I might add.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Writer Friends

This past week, I had the pleasure of meeting up with my friend, Clodagh Murphy, author of The Disengagement Ring and A Girl in a Spin. She was gracious enough to take the train down from Dublin to Limerick. We then spent the afternoon in the picturesque village of Adare having a great chat.

One of the things I love about living in Ireland is how much more accessible the writing culture is. When I lived in the States, I only managed to finish one manuscript and I hadn't one writer friend. In the five years that I've lived here, I've written two manuscripts, almost finished with a third, published an article, started blogging and best of all, made friends with other writers. I was lucky enough to get into the chick lit group on Write Words a few years back where some of most fabulous people in writing were hanging around. Since then, I've left WW and joined a splinter group. The camaraderie of the group tempers the isolation that can dog a writer. The networking has introduced me to NaNoWriMo and led me to write 2 posts a month for the Canadian blog, Book in a Week.

But last week, I realized that nothing beats meeting face to face with other writers. It was lovely to spend an afternoon with another writer and talk about all things writing related: from what we're currently working on, to what we're reading and all the nifty stuff in between.

Clodagh's lucky in that she's met alot of the other 16 members of our group, who are scattered throughout the UK and one as far as Australia. Finances alone have prevented me from flying over to England to meet up with some of them: Debs, Keris and Jacqui just to name a few.

Half of the group are published and it never ceases to amaze me how generous they are with their advice to those of us who are not published. Yet.

And all of this is achieved through that marvelous thing called the internet. What on earth did they do twenty years ago? But still, meeting other writers in person is still the best part of the network.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

The Book Bond

My eight year old son, Daniel has started reading chapter books in the last few months. Hardly earth shaking to most, but to a voracious reader like me, noteworthy. Not that it matters, but I'm trying to figure out how his love of reading developed. I suspect it may be a combination of two things: he inherited the gene from me and I've been reading books to him since the day he was born.
That last sentence wasn't intended to be smug. Daniel and I had an unconventional bonding after his birth. Born 16 weeks early and weighing only 1 lb 10 oz, he spent the first two months of his life in an incubator. He was 32 days old when we got to hold him for the first time. But everyday, I was there, talking to him, reminding him that he wasn't alone, that Mommy and Daddy were with him every step of the way. In those first early days, someone suggested that I read to him. And read to him I did. I Love You As Much by Laura Melmed and Tumble Bumble by Felicia Bond were favorites.Since the age of two, Daniel has always taken a book or a magazine to bed with him. We've gone through our fair share of flashlights and itty bitty book lights.
His aunt in England sent him two Roald Dahl books, Charlie & The Chocolate Factory and George's Marvellous Medicine, which we started by reading a chapter at night. We've graduated to Enid Blyton, Arthur Ransome, JK Rowling and now, Rick Riordan. At Christmas, he read Diary of a Wimpy Kid by himself over a two day period.
Yesterday we went into town to our local bookstore and I enjoyed his excitement as he ordered the second books in the Harry Potter and Diary of A Wimpy Kid series. He has his own library card and has taken books out religiously every two weeks for the past few years.
Books are the one thing that bonds us together. Every night, I look forward to reading the next chapter of whatever book we're into at the moment and I know he does too. While we read Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, we regularly recited lines from it as well as recalled favorite passages.
In the last year, his interests have grown to include soccer. He caught World Cup Fever and never recovered. It's an interest that I encourage but don't share. First, I'm not athletically inclined. Second, I was reared on the American sports of football and ice hockey.
Two people can be as different as day and night, but a love of books can be the bond that brings them together.
But more importantly, I know the value of books and this is what I want to pass onto him. Reading will help him in school, it will help him with spelling and it will introduce to him new worlds that his father and I will never be able to show him. Reading is portable. With a good book, you'll never mind waiting, you'll never be bored and you won't care about rainy days while your on vacation. And when times are tough, as they invariably are in life, a book will be your shelter, your escape route and possibly, even a lifeline.