What I Read This Month

Since March is National Reading Month, I’m going to try something different. Instead of one long book review every so often, I’ll provide a wrap-up of all the books I read in a given month. For those with visual or other limitations, these are available in accessible formats from Audible, Bookshare, and the National Library Service. They can also be found in print and eBook formats from Amazon and other online retailers. Happy reading.

Hope Flames by Jaci Burton Copyright 2014 by the Berkley Publishing Group, a Division of Penguin Group U.S.A. LLC

Set in the fictional town of Hope, Oklahoma, this romance is about a veterinarian and a policeman who fall for each other, despite painful past relationships and their resolves never to love again. It’s funny how these two pretend not to have a relationship, although they become involved in a full-fledged affair with lots of sex. I like the way the characters and their dogs interact with each other. Close to the end, I found this book hard to put down.

This author does a pretty good job of depicting domestic abuse and other crimes. I also like the ways she promotes responsible behavior. Condoms are always handy when the urge arises. At the scene of an accident the policeman is working, a teen-aged girl who caused the collision by texting and driving is forced to turn over her car keys and cell phone to her father. I recommend this book to anyone who likes romances and dogs. There’s a sequel, Hope Ignites, and I’m looking forward to reading this.

The Opposite of Loneliness: Essays and Stories by Maurina Keegan Copyright 2014 by Traci and Kevin Keegan

This collection was published posthumously. The author was killed in a car accident after graduating from Yale in 2012. The title essay appeared in the college newspaper soon after her death and went viral on the Internet. Other essay topics include her grandmother’s car, whales, and how she and her mother dealt with her Celiac’s disease.

After reading her first two stories, I thought they would all be about college students which would have made sense since she was in college when she wrote them, and that was what she knew. However, she surprised me by writing outside her comfort zone. In one tale, a woman in her mid-60’s reads to a blind man while stripping. In another, a submarine crew deals with being stranded on the ocean floor due to technical difficulties.

This book starts with an introduction by one of Keegan’s professors. It’s a shame this author died so young. I’m glad her work was published. It would have made great material for literary magazines.

Nora Webster by Colm Toiben Copyright 2014

This was a good book to read around St. Patrick’s Day during the month when our old, faithful Irish setter Clancy was born. May he rest in peace. The story spans several years and takes place in Ireland during, I presume, the 1960’s, but no exact date is given. Nora Webster is a widowed mother of four children, two boys and two girls, left to cope with her husband’s death from an unexpected illness. When money becomes a problem, she is compelled to return to work at an office where she was employed before she was married. There, she is bullied by a sadistic office manager and ignored by most co-workers until a nun intervenes on her behalf, and she joins a labor union.

After a spontaneous vocal performance at a pub, she takes voice lessons, joins a gramophone society, and buys her own phonograph and records. In the end, she is asked to join a choir that will perform the Brahms German Requiem.

I didn’t like the fact that no exact date was provided. At first, I thought it was set in the present, but when the characters didn’t appear to be using cell phones or the Internet, I realized it had to take place during the mid-20th century. The fact that everyone drove cars and Nora Webster had a television but no phone and a reference to Elvis and the moon landing by American astronauts helped me pinpoint the decade. If I were more familiar with Irish history, news events mentioned in the novel would have given me more of a clue as to the time. Still, it would have been helpful if the author inserted a year at the beginning of the book, i.e. “It was a cold October afternoon in 1961.” Also, I was never sure of the children’s exact ages, although it was said later in the book that the older son was fifteen.

Being a devotee of classical music and having been a registered music therapist, I was intrigued by how music affects the main character. It takes her away from life stresses: her older son’s speech impediment and inability to concentrate in school, her younger son’s being moved to a lower class without warning or explanation, her younger daughter’s involvement in political activities, her older daughter’s requests for money, friends and relatives interfering in her life and that of her children. In one fascinating scene after she has been unable to sleep for weeks, she dozes off downstairs in her sitting room during the day while listening to a recording of a Beethoven trio. In a dream, she hears noises upstairs, though no one else is home. She makes her way to the second floor, wanders into her bedroom, and finds her late husband in a rocking chair and has a conversation with him. When she wakes up, she’s sprawled across her bed and convinced it wasn’t a dream. I recommend this book to anyone who likes classical music and all things Irish.

Not Quite Mine by Catherine Bybee Copyright 2013 by Catherine Bybee

Catelyn Morrison is a twenty-something reality TV star who finds a baby on the doorstep of her Texas penthouse apartment after her brother’s wedding. Fearing her wealthy family’s and the public’s reaction, she flees to California with the infant where she volunteers to design the interior of her brother’s hotel, though she knows little about interior design. In the process of trying to keep the baby a secret while attempting to find out the mother’s identity, she finds herself reconnecting with a boyfriend she broke up with earlier and her mother who abandoned her years ago. The ending is predictable.

At first, I wasn’t sure I wanted to read this, especially when I got to the point where Catelyn finds the baby with an unsigned note from the mother and a fabricated adoption paper listing Caitlin as the adoptive mother. In the note, the mother claims to know a lot about Caitlin including the fact that she’s unable to have children. This sounds like something straight out of a soap opera or gothic novel, but I was curious so I soldiered on and am glad I did. I had an idea who the baby’s mother and father were and was glad to learn my suspicion was correct. That’s all I’m going to say about this heartwarming tale.

Abbie Johnson Taylor, Author

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A Cardinal Holiday

I know Christmas has come and gone, but recently, I read a delightful book, A Redbird Christmas by Fannie Flagg, and you know what? This book can be enjoyed any time of year.

In Chicago, Oswald T. Campbell learns that his emphazema is getting worse, and unless he leaves the windy city, he may not last through Christmas. His doctor gives him a brochure for a resort in an Alabama town called Lost River. However, when he tries to get a reservation, Mr. Campbell finds out that the hotel burned down in the early 1900’s, but through a miraculous twist of fate, he finds someone in the town willing to rent him a room.

The rest of the story centers around an injured redbird named Jack. Taken in by Lost River’s general store owner, he learns to do tricks and becomes a fixture in the community who is mourned by many when he dies unexpectedly. Other characters besides Mr. Campbell’s landlady and her feeble mother include the postmistress, mailman, and a private investigator/process server, to name a few. The author takes us through events in these characters’ lives over the course of a year until a Christmas miracle allows a little girl with a serious birth defect to walk again. I was lucky to run across a recording of the book read by the author, and that was a nice touch.

Fannie Flagg’s career started in the fifth grade when she wrote, directed, and starred in her first play, The Whoopee Girls. At nineteen, she started writing and producing television specials. She later wrote for and appeared on Candid Camera. She then became established as a writer and actress in television, movies, and the theater. She even wrote the script for the movie adaptation of her book, Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Café, and it was nominated for an Academy Award and a Writers Guild of America Award and won the Scripter Award for best screenplay of the year. She lives in California and Alabama. To learn more about her and her books, visit http://fannieflaggbooks.com/ .

I’ve read many of Fannie Flagg’s books including Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Café, Welcome to the World, Baby Girl, and Can’t Wait to Get to Heaven. Her characters are funny and provocative, and everything turns out well in the end. Although her plots my not be realistic at times, it’s fun to escape into the worlds she creates. I recommend A Redbird Christmas and other tales to anyone who enjoys a good laugh and a heartwarming story. Happy New Year!

Abbie Johnson Taylor, Author of We Shall Overcome, How to Build a Better Mousetrap: Recollections and Reflections of a Family Caregiver, and That’s Life: New and selected Poems

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My Writing Process

Two authors invited me to participate in a blog tour that involves answering four questions about how I write and tagging them and other authors in the process. First, let me tell you about the authors who invited me.

Traci McDonald lives in Utah and is the author of Killing Casanova, a western romance. Her blog is called Writing Blind. She says, “I have been a writer since I figured out how to make words on a page. I wrote for English classes like most people, but I wrote everything else I could think of in between. I won minor competitions with short stories, poetry, and lyrics before becoming visually impaired. That is just a politically correct way of saying I am blind. I lost my eyesight 17 years ago, but it never stopped me. I have struggled with my health and raising kids, prior to the publication of my first novel.”

Deon Lions is also blind. He lost his sight in 2010 and is the author of Sully Street, a young adult novel now available on Amazon. He is working on a prequel, Goodbye Savannah and has published a second book, Ready, Set, Poetry. He lives with his wife of 32 years in Central Maine. His writing has been published in newspapers and online magazines and has appeared in various publications associated with his writing groups. His work has also been published in local newspapers, and he has appeared on Internet radio shows. With help from family and friends, he hopes to continue moving forward with new aspirations. His blog is called Surviving.

Now, here are my answers to four questions about my writing process.

What am I working on? My chapbook, That’s Life: New and Selected Poems, is forthcoming from Finishing Line Press so I’m promoting that. It’s important that the publisher receive as many pre-orders as possible because that will determine how many books will be printed. If Finishing Line Press receives less than 55 pre-orders, they will only do a limited printing with no eBook.

How does my work differ from others in its genre? My poetry is straightforward with few abstract concepts. It’s easy to understand. My late husband was never a fan of poetry, but he liked mine.

Why do I write what I do? As the song goes, “I don’t know why. I just do.”

How does my writing process work? I do most of my writing on a computer with the help of screen reading software and a Braille display. I could edit, edit, edit until the cows come home, but I probably wouldn’t get anything published. Since my late husband was a baseball fan, I have adapted the three strikes and you’re out rule of editing. Before submitting something, I read it through three times, correcting mistakes and making changes as I go. If I feel I need to read it a fourth time, I will. Otherwise, I spell check it, and then it goes to a magazine or publisher, and what will be will be. Some people may turn their noses up at this, but every writer has his/her own way of doing things, and no technique is right for everyone. With two books under my belt, a third on the way, and stories and poems published in various journals and anthologies, I think I have a lot to show for my writing process.

I invited two other authors to participate in this blog tour, but only one responded, saying she was too busy.  However, I see no reason why I can’t share information about them and links to their blogs. I’m sure they’ll appreciate the exposure.

Alethea Williams is the author of Walls for the Wind, and Willow Vale. You can visit her blog, Actually Alethea, by clicking here. “Western history has been the great interest of my adult life. I’ve lived in Wyoming, Colorado, and Oregon. Although an amateur historian, I am happiest researching different times and places in the historical West. And while staying true to history, I try not to let the facts overwhelm my stories. Story always comes first in my novels, and plot arises from the relationships between my characters. I’m always open to reader response to my writing.”

Glenda C. Beall is a poet, teacher, and mentor in Hayesville, North Carolina. She has two blogs: Writing Life Stories and Writers Circle Around the Table. Her poetry chapbook, Now Might as Well be Then, was published by Finishing Line Press in 2009. She suffers from a chemical sensitivity disorder which a lot of people don’t understand, and this is sometimes reflected in her writing.

Abbie Johnson Taylor, Author of We Shall Overcome and How to Build a Better Mousetrap: Recollections and Reflections of a Family Caregiver and That’s Life: New and Selected Poems

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Recipe for Love

Picture this. You’re a successful chef with your own restaurant. Things are going pretty well until a television cook and food reviewer writes a scathing piece on your establishment. After that, things start going downhill, and you’re eventually forced to close your business.

Your aunt retires from her catering job with a wedding venue and arranges for you to have her old position temporarily. You really want this to become permanent. One day, your boss asks you to prepare a sample menu for special clients. No problem, you think, as you put the menu together and prepare the meal.

At the appointed time of the tasting, your boss tells you that only the groom’s brother has arrived, and he’ll be sampling the food. Okay, you think, as you start carrying everything into the dining room. Then, you spot him, that same chef who put you out of business with that awful review. He’s the groom’s brother, charged with arranging the food for the wedding.

Garrison Keillor would say, “Wouldn’t this be a good time for some bebop areebop rhubarb pie?” However, in Lucy Kevin’s book, The Wedding Gift, once successful San Francisco chef Julie Delgado ends up eating humble pie, opening her mind to new cooking possibilities, and falling in love with well-known television chef Andrew Kyle. Will these two cook up a brand new recipe together? You’ll just have to find out.

New York Times and Washington Post best-selling author Lucy Kevin’s books include Seattle Girl, Sparks Fly, and Falling Fast. The Wedding Gift is part of a series called Four Weddings and a Fiasco. The Washington Post has called Lucy Kevin one of the top writers in America. When she’s not writing, she’s swimming, hiking, or laughing with her husband and two children. Click here to read more.

I downloaded The Wedding Gift from Audible, but it should be available in print and eBook formats from Amazon and other online retailers. One thing I like about this book is that it’s short. Some romance authors drag out the “girl meets boy, girl loses boy, girl gets boy” scenario, but in The Wedding Gift, things are resolved much more quickly as a result of its brevity. Although I didn’t like the ending at first, I definitely plan to read more of Lucy Kevin’s books. I can’t wait to get my next credit for a free download from Audible so I can read the second book in the Four Weddings and a Fiasco series.

Abbie Johnson Taylor, Author of We Shall Overcome and How to Build a Better Mousetrap: Recollections and Reflections of a Family Caregiver

A Cat Saves the Day

Three years ago, I reviewed Homer’s Odyssey by Gwen Cooper, the true story of how the author adopted and cared for a blind cat. I just finished reading her latest book, Love Saves the Day. This novel’s story is told, in part, by a cat.

Prudence has brown tiger stripes and white feet. She thinks she knows everything, and after living with Sarah, her “roommate,” she has developed ideas of how humans should interact with cats, and when others besides Sarah don’t act the way she thinks they should, she says they don’t have good manners. Sarah, a former DJ and recording artist who once owned a record store and now works as a typist in various offices, found Prudence at a construction site when she was a kitten, and as she says later in the book, they were meant to find each other.

Prudence is contentedly living with Sarah in her apartment in New York City’s lower east side until one day when Sarah has a heart attack at work and never returns home, leaving Prudence to wonder where she is and go hungry once she runs out of food. A neighbor finally feeds her, and Sarah’s daughter Laura and her husband Josh arrive. Much to Prudence’s horror, they box all Sarah’s possessions and take them and her to their apartment on the upper east side.

This story isn’t just about Prudence. Most of the chapters are in the cat’s point of view, but others tell Laura’s side of the story. Sarah tells her own story in two of the chapters. We get an idea of Sarah’s life as a teen-ager after moving to the city from White Plains and Laura’s life growing up there.

At first, Josh and Laura are distant with the cat. Josh isn’t sure how to treat Prudence, and Laura, still resentful of her mother for the way she grew up, views the cat as another painful reminder of her past. The only reason she agrees to take Prudence is because it is stipulated in her mother’s will. When Josh loses his job with a marketing company due to downsizing, Laura, a lawyer working in a prestigious firm, feels the pressure of being the only breadwinner and worries about money. After looking through Sarah’s old discs and other memorabilia, Josh becomes active in a movement to save the studio where Sarah made her records. Since Laura thinks he should be looking for another job, this causes tension between them, and they each bond with Prudence.

After Sarah relates a shocking incident from the past, we understand why Laura resents her mother and worries about money. Then, Josh and Laura have a huge argument on the day of their wedding anniversary, and Prudence becomes violently ill after eating lilies that were delivered for the occasion. This brings Josh and Laura closer to each other and to Prudence as the book ends.

I downloaded Love Saves the Day from Audible and found the narration excellent. This book isn’t all serious. I had to laugh at the way Prudence perceives things, although she probably wouldn’t have found it funny. She thinks Josh’s computer keyboard is a cat bed and sleeps on it during the day when he’s not home. When Josh vacuums the spare bedroom where the boxes of Sarah’s things are stored, she thinks the vacuum cleaner is a monster about to attack her and the boxes. When Josh tosses a newspaper on the floor in the kitchen after reading it, she attacks it, looking for mice and other rodents, much to Josh and Laura’s amusement. The ruckus Prudence creates when she finds a toy rat in the closet among Sarah’s things is almost too funny. All this, along with the serious stuff, makes this book a worthwhile read.

Besides Love Saves the Day and Homer’s Odyssey, Gwen Cooper is the author of Diary of a South Beach Party Girl. Her books received positive reviews on NPR and in such publications as USSA Today, People, and Entertainment Weekly. A native of Miami, Florida, she worked for five years in non-profit administration, marketing, and fundraising. She led direct-service volunteer activities on behalf of such organizations as Pet Rescue, The Miami Lighthouse for the Blind, and the Miami Rescue Mission. She also initiated Reading Pen Pals, an elementary school-based literacy program in Miami’s Little Haiti. She was selected for membership in the chamber of commerce’s Leadership Miami Program and nominated for the organization’s Carlos Arboleya Award. She also joined the Hannah Kawn Poetry Foundation and eventually switched from non-profit administration to marketing communications.

She moved to Manhattan, New York, in 2001 where she was the creative services director for AOL Time Warner’s online marketing group. In 2003, she became the special projects manager at Wenner Media, the publisher of Rolling Stone and Us Weekly where she worked until the sale of her first book. She lives in Manhattan with her husband Laurence and their three cats: Homer, Clayton, and Fanny.

Love Saves the Day is available from Amazon and other online retailers. It can also be purchased and downloaded in a recorded format from Audible. I suggest you curl up in your favorite armchair with your cat and read this book.

 

Abbie Johnson Taylor, Author of We Shall Overcome and How to Build a Better Mousetrap: Recollections and Reflections of a Family Caregiver

A Tangled Web

In 1967, Rose, pregnant and alone, drives from her home in California all the way to Kentucky to stay in a home for unwed mothers. Thus begins Ann Patchett’s novel, Patron Saint of Liars. Actually, the story starts years earlier in Kentucky when a farmer discovers a bubbling spring on his land. To his astonishment, his sick or wounded livestock are healed after drinking from the pool. Then his daughter falls gravely ill, and after being given water from the spring, she is healed. 

The news travels far and wide, and a wealthy landowner buys the portion of the farmer’s property containing the spring and builds a hotel. Later, the spring dries up, and the hotel is sold to the Catholic Church and eventually becomes St. Elizabeth’s Home for Unwed Mothers, managed by an order of nuns.

Rose isn’t your typical unwed mother. In fact, she’s married, but for reasons unclear even to her, she’s not happy. When she discovers she’s pregnant, she consults her local priest who refers her to St. Elizabeth’s, far away from California where no one will find her. After leaving a note that doesn’t say much, she hits the road.

You’d think that after being around unwed mothers with no husbands who are forced to give up their babies, Rose would realize her mistake and return home, but that’s not what happens. When she arrives at St. Elizabeth’s, she tells everyone her baby’s father is dead, a common lie. She soon starts working in the kitchen and develops a friendship with an old nun who is quick to provide information about a saint for each day of the year, but there doesn’t seem to be a saint of liars.

Right before Rose is scheduled to give birth, she decides to keep the baby but not to go back to her husband. She marries Wilson, the facility’s maintenance worker who has fallen in love with her and doesn’t know her past. She never tells him, and he never shares his painful past with her. Her daughter Cecelia is born and grows up at St. Elizabeth’s, surrounded by unwed mothers who dote on her as if she were their own. As a teen-ager, she develops a friendship with one of the girls who is close to her age. Will she learn the truth about her mother’s past and who her father really is? The ending might surprise you.

 

Ann Patchett was born on December 2nd, 1963 in Los Angeles. Her mother, Jeanne Ray, is a novelist. Ann moved to Nashville when she was six, and that’s where she lives with her husband and dog. She went to high school at St. Bernard Academy, a Catholic school for girls run by the Sisters of Mercy. After graduation, she attended Sarah Lawrence College where she took fiction writing classes with Allan Gurganus, Russell Banks, and Grace Paley. She later attended the Iowa Writers’ Workshop and the Fine arts Work Center in Provincetown, Massachusetts where she met Elizabeth McCracken, a longtime friend. While in Massachusetts, she wrote Patron Saint of Liars. In 2010, she co-founded Parnassus Books in Nashville after discovering that her hometown didn’t have a good bookstore. In 2012, she was on Time Magazine’s list of 100 most influential people. I’m looking forward to reading her memoir, This is the Story of a Happy Marriage, in which she talks about her life with her husband and dog and her experiences running a bookstore, among other things. 

After the prolog, Patron Saint of Liars is divided into three sections in which the story is told from the first person point of view of each of the three main characters: Rose, Wilson, and Cecelia. I found Rose frustrating, a complex character I couldn’t understand. I wanted to shake her by the shoulders for her lack of consideration for her family; yet I was amazed by her care of the elderly nun and the other girls. In any case, I was relieved to find Wilson and Cecelia more down to earth, more practical. I like the way the characters relate their experiences as if they were talking to me face to face.

Patron Saint of Liars can be purchased from the author’s Website in a variety of print and recorded formats. It’s also available from Bookshare. I found this book hard to put down, and I hope you will, too.

Abbie Johnson Taylor, Author of We Shall Overcome and How to Build a Better Mousetrap: Recollections and Reflections of a Family Caregiver

In Praise of Cats

The first poem I ever read by Marge Piercy is “In Praise of Joe” which can be read here. This poem, about her addiction to coffee, inspired me to write “Ode to Dr. Pepper” which I posted on my blog here. In case you’re wondering what Dr. Pepper and coffee have to do with cats, I just finished reading Marge Piercy’s 2002 memoir, Sleeping with Cats. You can read my review of this book here.

 

Abbie Johnson Taylor, Author of We Shall Overcome and How to Build a Better Mousetrap: Recollections and Reflections of a Family Caregiver