Category: books

Love in a time of war

The best Mondays are the ones with book  giveaways tucked inside them! I am so pleased to have as my guest today fellow San Diegan and author Jeanne Dickson and to give away the CD audio version of her new novel, Grounded Hearts. Here is a WW2 story I’m pretty sure you haven’t heard yet! The story is set in Ireland, which was neutral during WW2, something I hadn’t known. It’s also a love story about a young widow who takes in a downed Allied Forces pilot at great personal risk. I loved this book and I think you will, too. Read through my Q and A with Jeanne to see how you can get in on the drawing.

Q: Welcome, Jeanne! Let’s start out with where you came up with the idea for Grounded Hearts.

A: I got the idea from my father. He was stationed in England during World War II. Issued a weekend pass, he decided to fly to the U.S. Army base in Northern Ireland, and then visit family who lived nearby. Once there, he borrowed a bicycle and peddled across the border into Eire, “Free Ireland.” A few minutes into his ride, a member of the Garda, the Irish National Police, stopped him. The officer told him to turn his army jacket inside out, or he’d have to arrest him as a combatant and send him to the K-Lines internment camp. My father did as directed and continued on his way without further incident, which was fortunate because 240 soldiers from both sides of the conflict faced internment in Ireland during the war.

Q: How did you go about the research?

A: I started with family stories and childhood memories of living in Ireland. From there, I searched for books on World War II Ireland—there are only a few. And of course, I combed the Internet.

Q: What were some or a couple of the most interesting things you learned about Ireland during WW2?

A: The rules of Irish internment surprised me. Internees received day passes to visit the local towns if they agreed to return at night, and if they also promised they wouldn’t attempt to escape. If an internee escaped while on leave, once back at their home base in Britain, they’d be promptly returned to camp in Ireland, or they’d face a court marshal in England. However, at night, it was the internee’s duty to try and escape. Go figure. Apparently, the Irish guards only had blanks in their guns. Should someone try to escape, the Irish government didn’t want anyone hurt.

Q: Will there be more books with any of these characters?

A: I would love to write Dr. Juliet Mann’s story. She’s complicated and flawed. After blotching her assignment in Grounded Hearts, she’s given another chance to redeem herself, but the mock engagement to an Anglo-Irish earl has Juliet wanting to shoot him almost as much as she does the enemy.

Q: What has the writing process been like for you?

A: Very long! Many almost published moments, and then dashed back to the ranks of the unpublished. But all along, I’ve studied and improved my craft and never stopped writing and submitting.

Q: What advice do you have for aspiring novelists?

A: Get connected with a writing community. The friendships you make will see you through days of pain and moments of joy. And keep studying the craft. There are no shortcuts. It will probably take longer than you think to be happily published, but hang in there, and don’t give up.

Q: What’s next on the horizon for you?

A: I’m working on a new manuscript, a contemporary romance this time, set in Ireland, and I’m waiting for news on a couple of submissions. The process continues, and I love what I do.

Susan here! Thanks for being my guest on the blog today, folks! To get in on the drawing below for the CD audio version of this lovely book (the narrator has a lovely Irish lilt to her voice!) just comment below with one reason why you love a love story. A winner will be drawn randomly on Friday, so get your comment in by midnight Pacific time on Thursday, Aug 31.

Have a great week everyone!




Revisiting an old tale

Some time ago, my first group of novels went out of print and the rights to them were returned to me. Over the last few years I’ve had new covers made (the original artwork for those first covers belonged to the publishing house) and I’ve put half a dozen back out there on Kindle Select as e-books. These long-ago first books, on which I cut my teeth as a novelist, were written for the inspirational market, which just means the characters had an encounter of some kind with the Divine or divine themes, and their lives were never the same, but in a good way.

The funny thing about going back over the text of a book I wrote a decade or more ago, is I realize how much I have grown in my skills and abilities as a novelist. The way I wrote a book ten years ago is not the way I write a book now. The quirky things I did then, like having the characters say each other’s names to each other as though they might forget who they’re speaking to if they don’t begin the next line of dialog with the other person’s name, and the embarrassing over-use of words like very and actually and just. Yikes. I’m happy to say I’ve thankfully outgrown those bad habits. I also apparently had a perplexing aversion to contractions. All those I ams and we cannots and she should haves that sound so much better as I’m and we can’t and she should’ve are little fixes that I am grateful for the chance to make as I get these story files ready for their resurrected lives back in the book world.

I’m not changing anything in terms of the story itself; it just seems like the story as it was told when I mined it out of me needs to basically stay the same. I feel like I owe that much to that younger version of me, who wanted to be a novelist and gave it her best with the skills she had at the time. But the little technical and stylistic things that don’t change the story, but rather how the story sounds when it falls on the ear, those little bits are definitely getting a once-over.

Today, I am working ON A SEAHORSE IN THE THAMES, which first saw the light of day in 2006. The lovely new cover (which I adore) is the handiwork of my madly talented daughter-in-law. It’s kind of a slow process, looking at eleven-year-old sentences and changing as little as possible while making it as lyrical as a book with my name on it needs to be for me to let out in the wild again.

Sometimes I wonder what the literary greats would have done if they could’ve had back those first novels and been allowed to rework the magic. Would they have done it? Would we want them to?  I think this might be the reason I don’t ever read a book of mine after it’s published, and I’ve author friends who feel the same. The itch to keep working at the sentences would aggravate us too much. And when a novel’s still in print there’s not much likelihood we’ll have the chance to change anything larger than a typo here and there.

There’s a quote by Paul Valery that I’ve always liked about what it’s like to write and release. “A poem is never finished, only abandoned.” Like the poets, at some point we novelists have to turn the book over to the printers and walk away.

Unless, of course, it comes back to you… 🙂

A book called wonderful

As I type this blog post I am reminded that some of you reading may have entered the drawing for the three books I was giving away. picked the winner and it’s number 38, which was Lynn. Congrats, Lynn! Thanks to all who entered. There will be another giveaway of another new book by a friend of mine in the coming weeks, so stay tuned folks.

Last night I finished Fredrik Backman’s A MAN CALLED OVE – finally.  It had been recommended to me so many times. My own book club just read it but I was on a writing deadline then and had to be a flunkatoid and skip out on the gathering to discuss. But the stars finally aligned perfectly and I got to it. What a great book, for so many reasons, including its architecture.

I didn’t know too much about the story going into it. I actually prefer diving into a book that the masses love in just such a way. I want to be as surprised as were those first readers, who devoured it, and then were the first to start telling everyone, “You’ve got to read this book.” All I knew was everyone was telling me how wonderful it was. I wisely didn’t ask to be told all the details of what it was about. I did hear a bit about its premise when it was chosen for my book club, but it was the barest minimum and I asked no questions.

I won’t spoil it for any of you who haven’t read it either. I will paste a bit from the back cover just to clue you in on its vibe, although I haven’t read a book quite like this one before:

Meet Ove. He’s a curmudgeon—the kind of man who points at people he dislikes as if they were burglars caught outside his bedroom window. He has staunch principles, strict routines, and a short fuse. People call him “the bitter neighbor from hell.” But must Ove be bitter just because he doesn’t walk around with a smile plastered to his face all the time?

Behind the cranky exterior there is a story and a sadness. So when one November morning a chatty young couple with two chatty young daughters move in next door and accidentally flatten Ove’s mailbox, it is the lead-in to a comical and heartwarming tale of unkempt cats, unexpected friendship, and the ancient art of backing up a U-Haul. All of which will change one cranky old man and a local residents’ association to their very foundations.

It’s a book that affirms life and all that makes living so wonderful, even though to live fully is to fully experience love and loss. To love someone is what makes you human and not a beast. I know it’s been made into a movie – I haven’t seen it yet – but please do yourself a favor and read the book first. These characters are ones to cherish; they’re the kind to inhabit your heart and soul before you see them on a screen. If you’ve read it, I’d love to hear your thoughts.

And now I must add Fredrik Backman’s BEARTOWN and MY GRANDMOTHER ASKED ME TO TELL YOU SHE’S SORRY to my TBR tower. I hear they are also wonderful.

Have a nice weekend, everyone.

Friday giveaway!

Seems like I spend a lot of blog time (or a little, depending on how you look at it) apologizing for not spending time on the blog. Surely you know that saying, “Time flies.” This is what we say when the reality of something we meant to do and haven’t done comes crashing in on top of us and we can’t come up with a good excuse other than it’s the fault of time! Ha!

Well today, in addition to my sheepish “How did that month go by so fast?” I’ve got some books to give away; a nice little trio of novels that I was privileged to read before they were published so as to provide an endorsement. A thank-you copy of the book in its final, release-day form is always sent and I am realizing I need to pass along books I’ve already read for two reasons: One, they deserve to be read, not just sit on my crowded shelves. Two: I’ve got crowded shelves.

So, one lucky commenter, drawn by, will be the winner of these books, all of which I was happy to write blurbs for.  All you need to do is comment below by next Thursday, noon PST, so that I can announce a winner a week from today in a rare moment when I actually remember it’s Friday and I need to feed the blog.  Here’s a little it about each one:

THE FEATHERED BONE by Julie Cantrell is a tear-jerker to be sure, but it’s masterfully written. Julie’s the New York Times bestselling author of INTO THE FREE, which came out a few years ago and won all kinds of awards. Not only is Julie a powerful wordsmith, she’s one of the nicest people on the planet. This story takes the reader to pre-Katrina New Orleans in the point-of-view of a mother on a school field trip where her daughter’s best friend goes missing. As the search continues for this girl, the storm that changed the way we all think about hurricanes slams into the South. The back cover says, “Set amidst the murky parishes of rural Louisiana and told through the eyes of two women who confront the darkest corners of humanity with quiet and unbreakable faith, The Feathered Bone is Julie Cantrell’s master portrait of love in a fallen world.”

THE GOOD AT HEART by Ursula Werner is a WW2 novel that gets its title from one of Holocaust victim Anne Frank’s most memorable lines from her diary: “In spite of everything I still believe that people are really good at heart.” If you’ve ever wondered what it must have been like for German civilians torn between love for their country and doing what is right, here’s a story that imagines such a moral dilemma for one family. This novel is based on Ursula’s discoveries about her own great-grandfather. It’s part love story, part suspense, and part family saga. I said of it in my blurb on the back cover, “…a compelling tale of ordinary people living in extraordinarily complex and character-defining times. Poignant and moving…”

YOU WERE HERE by Gian Sardar is a debut novel full of intrigue and delicious suspense. It’s a dual time-periods tale with an “ill-fated love triangle in the past and a horrifying crime in the present.” It’s the kind of book with twists and turns and that sense of deja vu that reminds one of not just, “I’ve been here before,” but “I’ve been here before and something bad happened.” One endorser wrote, “A nail-biting thriller, a tragic love story from the past, a very contemporary romance, a genuinely scary ghost story with a full-out gothic finale that would make Edgar Allan Poe sit up and applaud…Completely original and relentlessly engaging.”

So there you have it! Just say hello below or scold me for being such a stingy blogger or tell me what you’ve been reading and you’re in the drawing. Have a great weekend, folks. May it be filled with books and sunshine and happy thoughts.

Coming your way in February 2018

Words don’t adequately express how much I LOVE the cover for this new book of mine which will be released into the wild on February 6, 2018. Under the Canopy of Heaven will be my first hardcover; a little detail that has me feeling excited and nervous and elated all at the same time. It’s also the first book of mine in 10 years to feature only a historical time and place. But you know what? It’s the way the book needed to be. I didn’t want to force a contemporary overlay where a second story wasn’t needed just to stay in the dual-time periods lane. I think you will agree when you read it. And I really am so anxious for you to read it.

I had the rare and wonderful opportunity when I was in NYC last week to meet the graphic designer who created this cover. Her name is Colleen and she deserves the kudos for her work here. Thank you, Colleen. You are brilliant.

This story is about a family — a father and mother and their three daughters ages 15, 12, and 7 — who move to Philadelphia in early 1918 when the dad becomes heir-apparent to his uncle’s very successful undertaking business. They have no idea within months of their arrival that the Spanish Flu will also arrive in Philadelphia. Told in alternating chapters by this mother and the daughters, the story reveals what the deadliest pandemic in history was like, not just for the wife and children of a newly trained undertaker, but for Philadelphia, America, and the world.

Swann Fountain in Logan Square as it is today. This photo was taken by me a couple days ago. It was placed here in 1924.

I will be telling you more about his book in the coming months, but for now I want to share with you a photograph from last week’s research trip to Philadelphia as I wrapped up the last edits. The fountain at right, which was erected just a few years after the Spanish Flu pandemic, and which sits in beautiful Logan Square (one of William Penn’s planned green spaces from back in colonial times) is the fountain you see on the cover. The young woman represents one of the daughters — Maggie —  in 1925, when Part Two of the book takes place. The butterfly motif shows up here and there in the pages of the story because they are the perfect example of the beauty and frailty and preciousness of life.

I love those little butterflies on the cover, and the delicious font, and the framing with the Gates of Paradise and especially the golden color palette that makes it seem your hand would come away warm if it you laid your palm across the book.

I’m hoping you love this story when you finally get the chance to read it. I won’t lie. The story might make you cry. Probably will. But it’s a story that in the end celebrates the resiliency of the human spirit and the power of love to carry us when we cannot carry ourselves. There will be more on this later, I promise. For now, though, I would love to hear what you think so far. Thoughts?

She’s here at last!

I am so happy to announce that A BRIDGE ACROSS THE OCEAN releases today! I loved writing this book for so many reasons. One, I got to become good friends with one of the few remaining war brides who emigrated to America aboard the RMS Queen Mary. You can read June’s remarkable story here or watch a lovely 6-minute documentary here. Two, I took a bit of a creative risk with regard to life after death and the existence of ghosts (You can read why I decided to include a ghost or two in this book here!). Three, I fell in love with this storied ship; first a luxury ocean liner, then a troop carrier, then a transport for war brides, and now a floating hotel (famously haunted, so say some) in California.

A BRIDGE ACROSS THE OCEAN is a story primarily about two European women who meet aboard the Queen in 1946. They are among two thousand other war brides who married American servicemen during WW2 and are now emigrating to the States. Though both of them survived the hell of war, only one of them, a young French woman named Simone, is an actual war bride. The other, Annaliese, is a German ballerina pretending to be a Belgian war bride to escape a terrible situation. Her secret comes out on the last day of the sailing, and when it does, tragedy strikes. Meanwhile in the present day, thirty-something Brette just wants to live a normal life, but the ability of being able to see ghosts, a gifting that pops up randomly in the women in her family, is making that impossible. When she visits the famously haunted RMS Queen Mary, she comes face to face with the ghostly echoes of Simone and Annaliese’s fateful crossing. She sets out to uncover the truth, right an old wrong, and maybe in the process, learn to live with who she is.  I hope you love it as much as I do! All the buy links are listed on this Berkley Publishing Group page.

Where I will be…

War bride June Allen and me aboard the Queen Mary.

I will be doing some traveling with this book and I would love to see you at one of these book tour stops: (Email me if you would like additional information about any of these)

March 23 Laguna Beach Books  6PM in Laguna Beach, CA

April 8 Lunch and speaking event AAUW Author Luncheon at the Jacobs Center, San Diego, CA

April 22 Barnes & Noble with war bride June Allen 3PM in Noblesville, IN

April 27 Bookmark Shoppe book club discussion 7PM in Brooklyn, NY

May 3 Aaron’s Books at JoBoy’s Brew Pub 6:3oPM in Lititz, PA

May 6 Corona Public Library Historical Fiction Brunch in Corona, CA

May 20 Adventures by the Book event with war bride June Allen aboard the Queen Mary (a ticketed event; only a few spots remain!)

May 21 Meet and Greet with war bride June Allen 2 PM aboard the Queen Mary in Long Beach, CA

July 13 Common Good Books 7 PM in St. Paul, MN

July 16 Barnes and Noble (time TBA) in Mankato, MN

July 22 Newport Beach Library  6PM Authors Under the Stars event in Newport Beach, CA


Give me shout out if I am headed to your neck of the woods! I am so very glad you are a part of my reading community.  I would love to hear what you think about this book after you’ve read it. And if you’ve got a ghost story, I’d love to hear it! I was surprised to hear during my research time how many people have one…

p.s. Happy Pi Day!

Inviting grace to dinner!

Today I am so happy to have my good friend Annette Hubbell on the blog so to talk about her new book, A SPOONFUL OF GRACE, which is a truly lovely collection of mealtime blessings to share around your table, and to give one way to one randomly drawn winner. So do read to the end.

I’ve known Annette for nearly a decade, back when the idea for this book was just a new thought in her head. When she was finished with it, and asked me to read an early copy, I told her and I’ll tell you, I wish I’d had this book when my husband and I were raising our kids and sharing all those family meals together.

Annette has written a lovely guest post that follows about why saying grace together at mealtime is a great idea. If you have any questions for Annette and/or want to get in on a drawing for a free copy of this great book (so sorry but you must have a US address for the drawing), just pop them into the comments section.


Ten Reasons Families Who Say Grace Are Happier

Annette earned her undergraduate degree in Marketing from San Diego State University, her M.B.A. from Cal State University in San Marcos, and a Certificate in Christian Apologetics from Biola University.

by Annette Hubbell

“Mom, I think saying grace makes the food taste better,” my daughter announced the other day. “That’s probably not very scientific,” she went on to say, “but maybe it’s because when I do say grace I’m with people I love.” Then she thought a minute and said, “I have to start doing that when I’m by myself and see what happens!”

Do you find that opening a meal with grace brings an aura of harmony or calmness to the table? Saying grace before a meal does have many benefits—if Grace could be bottled or put in pill form, it’d be a bestseller!

If you come together as a family for dinner—and a 2013 Welch’s Kitchen Table Report asserts, perhaps surprisingly, that a majority of families eat dinner together most nights of the week—there are many reasons a heartfelt prayer before a meal will nourish your hearts, minds, and souls, as well as your tummies. Here’s why:

  1. Studies do show that saying grace with people you love—or even by yourself—affects your attitude, making the food taste better and aiding in digestion. Ever have a good food experience when you’re sad or angry? Probably not. “So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God” (1 Corinthians 10:32).
  2. Saying grace means that—at least once every day—you acknowledge the presence of God in your life. Thanking God is a great way to develop a relationship with him, and he is just waiting for you to ask him into your heart. “I am knocking at your door,” Jesus says, “just waiting for you to let me in” (Matthew 7:7). Can’t you hear him say, “Let the miracles begin!”?
  3. Saying grace means that you take time to think of others, because a grace usually includes a request to watch over someone or praise for a blessing in another’s life. Let’s face it, the world of the young is self-centered by definition. Thinking of others helps in the character building process. Relationships are critical in the development of all God’s children and their ability to carry out His will. Galatians 5:22–23 tells us that the fruit of [having] the Spirit [within you] is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.
  4. Saying grace together promotes benefits such as family bonding and enhanced accountability. When you talk about things together, you’re sharing. And that, by definition, invites more than the stock yes, no, or ho-hum answer, because your understanding of each other grows when you interconnect, better equipping you to meet each other’s needs. “Truly, truly, I say to you,” says Jesus (in other words, listen up!), “whoever believes in me will also do the works that I do; and greater works than these will he do, because I am going to the Father” (John 14:12).
  5. Saying grace cultivates the confidence to converse openly about your faith. Paul directs us to be ready to season our conversation with salt (Colossians 4:6)—to act with grace, kindness, patience, and reluctance to judge. Saying grace provides opportunities to practice these character qualities with each other.
  6. Saying grace opens your mind to an attitude of gratitude. Did you know that the more thankful you are the happier, healthier, kinder, and more likeable you’ll be—and the better you’ll sleep? “I can do all things through him who strengthens me,” asserts Paul (Philippians 4:13).
  7. The act of praying aloud together lifts one’s own spirit, fosters praise, and increases mutual feelings of appreciation. “A glad heart makes a cheerful face” (Proverbs 15:13a).
  8. Saying grace reminds us that our food, as well as God’s countless other daily blessings, is a gift. “May grace and peace be multiplied to you in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord” (2 Peter 1:2).
  9. Saying grace reminds us that God is always present. We don’t need to ask him to be with us but do need to acknowledge that he’s always there. “I am with you always, to the end of the age,” says Jesus (Matthew 28:20b).
  10. Saying grace, whether by yourself or with your family or others with whom you’re sharing a meal, sows the seeds of a thankful attitude. Being thankful for what you have fosters an attitude of wanting to make the world a better place and to give to others. It may seem counterintuitive at first, but the verifiable truth is that the more you give the more you’ll get: “Give, and it will be given to you. Good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be put into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured back to you” (Luke 6:38).

Mealtime is the hub of family life, and prayer is the foundation of a Christian home. Those who eat together, and make their time together about more than just food, are happier, healthier, and more loving. Those who regularly add a warm and loving grace to their mealtime already know exactly what I’m talking about. It’s not that incorporating prayer is a cure-all or in itself creates a life full of joy (It certainly won’t stop siblings from arguing). By making grace a part of your regular family mealtime experience, however, you open the door to possibilities unimagined. Family prayer heals, protects, strengthens family ties, teaches forgiveness, builds unity and brings the family closer together. “If you make yourselves at home with me and my words are at home in you,” Jesus promises, “you can be sure that whatever you ask will be listened to and acted upon” (John 15:7).

Some people think the meal is incomplete without dessert. Perhaps we’d all be better off if we made grace our dessert and adopted the motto Have Dessert First!

Susan here, who says, “Who can argue with that?” Say hello in the comments to be put in the drawing. A winner will be randomly drawn from those who comment on Friday at noon PST. Have a great week!

Ten more days and a wake-up!

Five war brides aboard the Queen Mary in 1946, as they sailed into New York harbor.

It’s always as nerve-wracking as it is thrilling, the last few days before a book is released into the wild. I love this novel that’s coming your way in just a matter of days, (March 14) but to be honest, I took a creative risk on this one and so naturally I’m anxious.  I don’t write ghost stories, but this one, ahem, has ghosts in it. And I don’t usually tread into the world of the wildly unknown and unproveable, but I have with this one. And just in case you missed my earlier post about the ghosts that appear in A BRIDGE ACROSS THE OCEAN, they are quite literary and not at all out to scare you. Seriously. They have the same quest for happiness that the mortal characters in the story have. Just so you know.

And while I will be posting again when the book releases, I thought I’d use this moment to let you know where I will be in the coming months so that if you live near any of these places we can say hello face-to-face. Here’s the line-up so far, with more to come:


March 10 Litchfield Moveable Feast – 11AM Luncheon and 2PM signing, Myrtle Beach, SC

March 11 Foxtale Book Shoppe 1PM – Woodstock, GA

March 14 Book launch at Warwicks Books  7:30PM La Jolla, CA

March 23 Laguna Beach Books  6PM – Laguna Beach, CA

April 8 Lunch and speaking event AAUW Author Luncheon – Jacobs Center, San Diego, CA

War bride June Allen and me aboard the Queen Mary earlier this week.

April 22 Barnes & Noble with war bride June Allen 3PM – Noblesville, IN

April 27 Bookmark Shoppe book club discussion 7PM – Brooklyn, NY

May 3 Aaron’s Books at JoBoy’s Brew Pub 6:30PM – Lititz, PA

May 6 Corona Public Library Historical Fiction Brunch – Corona, CA

May 21 Meet and Greet with war bride June Allen 2 PM -Aboard the Queen Mary in Long Beach, CA

July 13 Common Good Books 7 PM – St. Paul, MN

July 22 Newport Beach Library  6PM Authors Under the Stars event – Newport Beach, CA

I would love to meet and chat with you at one of these events. Comment below if we’ll be able to do that or if you need any additional info about one of these dates.

Have a great weekend, folks!

My new favorite author

I’ve been away from the blog the last few weeks (my apologies) while working on revisions for a book that will come in 2018 — my first hardcover!  The good news is all this hard work will be worth it, I think. I already love this story so much more now than I did when I turned it in to my editor the first time.  The bad news is, I’ve let some other things go, like the care and feeding of the blog. Sorry. But I do have some book recommendations for you today that will hopefully make up for it.

A long while back I read Alice Hoffman‘s TURTLE MOON. It was the first novel I’d ever read told in the present tense and I remember loving it. Then life got busy and for whatever reason, I failed to read Alice’s next offerings to the literary world. That was a huge mistake. I’ve since rediscovered this immensely gifted writer and now I know I missed out on a lot of good reads since Turtle Moon. Suffice it to say I have some catching up to do.

One of the great things about modern technology is the ability to have a book read to you while you drive. I don’t have much of a work commute. (I walk from the upstairs to the downstairs) but I spend a surprisingly ample amount of time in my car anyway. Errands, visits to book clubs, shopping, weekend stuff, visits to the grandlad in Orange County. All of that time behind the wheel adds up. I checked out from my library Alice’s THE MARRIAGE OF OPPOSITES for a drive up to Los Angeles back in December and loved loved loved it. The narration was exquisite and I actually found myself wanting to drive back to LA to keep listening to it.  When I finished with MARRIAGE, I next checked out THE MUSEUM OF EXTRAORDINARY THINGS and was again spellbound. Both books are so amazingly well written and full of rich layers of characterization. I highly recommend them both. And if you’ve never tried an audio book before, I’d say start with these. I plan to get on board with Audible sometime this year, although I do like patronizing my local library’s audiobook shelves.

One more thing about Alice Hoffman’s novels.   My meter for adult language and bedroom stuff probably leans toward a more moderately modest setting and I am happy to say Hoffman is careful here. She manages to write stunningly real and relevant prose without excess adult language and bedroom situations. You don’t miss it if you’re used to it, and you don’t notice the absence of over-the-top profanity and etcerera until you read perhaps another book where highly adult language and etcetera seems to appear on every page. I love that about her storytelling.
I recently had the opportunity to hear Alice Hoffman speak about her latest book, FAITHFUL, which is on my nightstand now, and I’m so ready to read it when I’ve got these edits done.

If you’ve been reading Alice, I’d love to hear your thoughts on her style and storytelling goddessness!

And I promise to better at feeding the blog in 2017!

Here I am with my mom and daughter Stephanie at Warwick’s Books when Alice was here in my neck of the woods for the book tour of FAITHFUL. So, yeah, we’re in the front row…

Quiet and yet full of sound

commonwealthpatchettI’ve been a fan of Ann Patchett since Bel Canto many years ago. She is a master artist of the written word and as clever and insightful as they come. So naturally I was a happy clam when I got my hands on her newest, Commonwealth.

The story starts out at a christening party where two families are present. From that afternoon and across the next five decades, the individual lives in these two families will overlap. The pages quietly but evocatively explore the wonderful and wily way stories are shared between family members. The back cover says, and I love this, “Commonwealth is a meditation on inspiration, interpretation, and the ownership of stories. It is a brilliant and tender tale of the far-reaching ties of love and responsibility that bind us together.”

I had the rare and amazing opportunity to hear Patchett speak about the writing of this book at an event hosted by my local indie bookstore, Warwick’s Books.  She had my mom and me and the other 300 people in the venue in stitches and in tears as she cleverly spoke of the autobiographical quality of the story – it is crafted on her own family history. How like family life – to be laughing so hard your sides ache one moment and then huddled together in tears the next as you console each other over a shared loss.

I am impressed any time a writer can take me on a story journey that is quietly impacting, sublimely demanding. I tend to write novels that have a more overt story arc, and usually about a protagonist who wants something and who faces a clear obstacle in her quest to have it. That’s the story. Ann Patchett is able to write a tale that makes me primarily ponder the art of living, rather than the art of storytelling.

I think what I found the most delicious was that every chapter read like a short story. Amazing, really, how Patchett was able to do that. The bigger story was always being told, but no chapter was wholly dependent on the one before it or the one after.  That, to me, is flawless story-crafting and I now I am itching to try my hand at it.  Some books I love because of their structure more than anything else. This is now one of them, along with The Art of Racing in the Rain, Life After Life, Life of Pi, and All The Missing Girls, and The Good Girl.

Did I love it as much as Bel Canto or State of Wonder? Hard to say. It’s a different kind of book. A Goodreads reader said of Commonwealth, “If there’s a grand theme in this novel, it’s this: who owns the stories that compose a life?…What is public and what do we keep to ourselves?”

That, to me, sheds a lot of light on how this novel is different from most I read and certainly every novel I’ve written. It asks a different question.

Another Goodreads reader said this: “There are no surprise endings, no hidden lessons, no zombie apocalypse. Just the slow burn of daily life as the characters make mistakes and learn from them, trying to piece together a meaningful existence like the rest of us.”

The oldest definition of “commonwealth” is “the general good.” We live our lives, short or long, woven into the fabric of a family, good or bad, and we quietly want this for our little tribe: a general good. Life is the pursuit of it.

Highly recommended.