My Childhood by Maxim Gorky ~ Nonfiction Book Review

wpb8Maxim Gorky, hailed as the father of Russian literature, shares his firsthand account of Russian life in the late nineteenth century in this book, the first of three memoirs he would produce. This beautiful, if tragic account, paints a window for the reader to peer through time into an era of struggle and despair, told in the dispassionate  voice of a child. It reveals the both the resilience and the fortitude needed by the Russian people.

This is not a book with plot, action or humor. What it is is a series of eloquent descriptions and hard realism, laced with priceless Russian fairy tales, folklore and songs as told to Gorky by his Grandmother. It is a quick read, and one I’d recommend to those interested in memoir, history, realism, and to writers. Five stars.

Meme Monday ~ Laughs for Readers and Writers

I’ve decided to do something a little different on Mondays, and that’s share some of my favorite memes geared towards readers and writers that I’ve encountered during the prior week.

Best Reader Meme of the Week:

meme

Funniest Grammar Nazi Meme of the Week:

goog3

Corniest Laugh Meme of the Week:

meme1

 

Vanishing Acts by Jodi Picoult ~ Fiction Book Review

wpb7.jpgThere’s no question that Jodi Picoult is a good writer. Some of her books that I’ve read have left me completely floored. This wasn’t one of them.

Don’t get me wrong – this was a good book. I just didn’t connect to it. I liked the supporting characters more than the main characters, and while the plot was well thought and enjoyable, it felt almost formula to me. As usual, it was obvious that Picoult did a lot of research for this book. Unfortunately, it seemed clumped together in data dumps throughout the novel. If I had to guess, I would say that her heart wasn’t in this one as much as some of her others.

I did enjoy this book, and if I found it a bit disappointing, it is probably because I have such high expectations when reading Picoult. Four stars.

 

Wild By Cheryl Strayed ~ Nonfiction Book Review

wpb6This book is brutally honest. The author splays herself across the pages, revealing hers sins and transgressions, opening herself up for judgement and condemnation. As I was looking over some of the reviews on Goodreads, I was surprised by how many people chose to do just that. I was shocked by how readily the jackals ripped this book apart.

Who reads a memoir about someone who has always made all the right decisions and known their path in life? Sounds pretty boring to me.

Maybe you can’t relate to some of Strayed’s mistakes. Maybe you find her behavior completely unforgivable and reprehensible. Maybe that’s how she felt about herself. Maybe that’s why she rashly decided to hike over 1,000 miles of the Pacific Crest Trail when she was so ill prepared – to face her demons and her own behavior and find a way to embrace her mistakes as a necessary part of her journey through life. There is no sugar coating in the pages of this book. What you will find in this book is honesty, humor, and one individual’s tale of survival – not of the PCT, but of the situations thrown at her by life.

Wild by Cheryl Strayed is one of those books that exists on many different levels. It’s a book about adventure, a story to fuel wanderlust and exploration. It’s a tale about searching for one’s self and a place to belong – not in the sense of an actual place, but within yourself. It’s a book about making mistakes and losing your direction in life. And it’s a novel about the untimely loss of a parent.

I immensely enjoyed Strayed’s insightful prose, beautiful descriptions and sharp wit. I appreciated her story. You may not. In my opinion, five stars.

The Wild Inside by Christine Carbo ~ Fiction Book Review

wpb5I really enjoyed this novel by first time author Christine Carbo. From the first page the book felt comfortable, like the welcoming pages of a favorite author’s work. Carbo provides the reader with a wonderfully detailed setting in Montana’s Glacier National Park. She also sets up a haunting backstory for the main character to be tortured with while investigating what is a truly heinous murder.

Carbo’s writing is clean, her descriptions vivid, her characters sharp, and her pacing will keep readers in suspense. This book has all the makings of a masterpiece. If it falls slightly short of perfection, one need only to remember that this is the author’s first book, and with that said, I can’t wait for the release of her next novel, “Mortal Fall”. Carbo is a promising new talent on the mystery/suspense scene and I can’t wait to see what she has in store for us readers. Five Stars!

Gator on the Dinner Plate

gatorgator6In keeping with my foray into culinary adventures, I cooked gator for dinner the other night. I had eaten gator before, I had just never cooked it. With a recent victory under my belt (I wouldn’t call the frog legs I cooked a smashing success, but they were a success none-the-less, with a pleasant taste and no one got sick) I was feeling brave. I figured gator2since I had mastered the art of cooking amphibians, I should give reptiles a try. The same store that sold the frog legs, McKinnon’s in Portsmouth, NH, also sold alligator meat, so I bought some and gave it a try.

There were slightly more recipes for gator than frog legs. Like usual, I took what I liked the best from each recipe and made it my own. After cutting the meat into nugget-sized chunks, I soaked it in a mix of milk and hot wing sauce for several hours. I made a beer batter by mixing equal parts beer with flour. I used Shipyard GingerBreadHead, which is seasonal and may also be regional, but made the BEST beer batter that I have ever tasted. (It also made a tasty cooking cocktail with a shot of vanilla vodka in it and a cinnamon-sugar rim.)

gator4gator5I seasoned flour with Old Bay, Nature’s Seasoning, salt and pepper. I used Grapeseed Oil for frying because one of the recipes I read named it and I had some that had been sitting unused in my pantry for forever and this seemed an ideal way to get rid of it. Working in batches, I dredged the gator in the flour mixture, dunked it in the beer batter, and fried it in the oil over medium high heat, turning to brown all sides nicely. I have to say that it came out really good, the best gator I’ve ever eaten. I won’t hesitate to cook gator in the future.


 

beercheddarmustardsauceI also made a cheddar/mustard/beer dipping sauce to go with the fried gator, which was a big hit. It was a little bland, because on this I more or less did follow a recipe. Next time (and I will definitely make this sauce again) I’m going to try adding a bit of Worcestershire, maybe a touch of Tabasco and a pinch of garlic salt.

 

 

Life Happens ~ Speed Bumps, Traffic and Detours

2016 is off to an interesting start. Challenging, but not bad. It’s the wisdom to see the difference – how difficulty can be a positive thing – that has inspired this blog post, as well as how I view my struggles as a writer.

It’s our first winter in our new house; two Floridians living in a snowy mountain valley in New Hampshire. Although we did our best to prepare and take preventative measures, I had a sneaking suspicion that there would be a few surprises in store for us. Like waking up after a night where the temperature plunged to -11 to find no water running to part of the house.

Obviously, some of the pipes had frozen, which isn’t the worst thing in the world. We still had some running water, unlike a few months ago when the well pump went. Well issues are one of those things that most people can’t fix themselves. One of those expensive homeowner headaches that make you cringe when you hear about it – unless it’s happened to you, in which case you get a knot deep in the pit of your stomach and bile creeps up the back of your throat while your checkbook scurries to hide from the pain.

Frozen pipes don’t have to be a big, scary problem. The question is whether or not the pipes have burst, in which case both a plumber and the checkbook would need to be hunted down. The only issue was that, in order to reach the pipes in question, I’d have to make my way through the somewhat scary basement and worm my way into the absolutely terrifying crawl space. I’ve written about this dungeon under my house before. It’s not a place where one would choose to spend their time.

When we first we moved in, when we thought we had money (before we learned that the house feeds on cash like candy), we were determined to make the basement a friendlier place. We called several specialists who came and took a look to make recommendations and give us an estimate. The issue was that once they saw the place, we could never get them to call us back. And now it was up to me to go in there. Alone.

I didn’t want to do it. As in, can’t I go get my teeth drilled instead? But I didn’t really have a choice. So I womaned up and climbed into the hole, a flashlight in one hand, a hairdryer on an extension cord (my safety line) in the other. And I thawed the pipes, which luckily had not burst. And I saved the day. And I didn’t even get a parade (but I did get a cookie).

The point is, life is filled with things that you don’t want to do.

Speed bumps are meant to slow us down. Traffic keeps us from getting where we want to go as fast as we want to get there. Detours make us take the long way to get where we are going. These aren’t just a part of life – they’re an important part of life. These are our opportunities to learn and grow and build character. And I’ve just learned that instead of fighting against these things, that if I accept them, embrace them and go with them, my life is happier.

Speed bumps slow you down. I had other plans for my day. I intended to finish a short story, make final edits and submit another, and work on edits on my novel in progress. I did none of those things. Instead, I learned to conquer my fear. I learned that tasks done without a struggle are finished quicker. I learned that it doesn’t hurt me to put off what I want to do until another day.

Traffic keeps us from getting where we want to go as fast as we want to get there. I gave myself the goal of a year to write a novel, get an agent, and get a book deal. HA. Double HA. Turns out, the world doesn’t work that way. No amount of hard work and determination are going to get you where you’re going until it’s your time to arrive. The lesson here is to keep trying. If you want something, don’t give up. But don’t make your goal the only thing you can see, either. You’ll get there when it’s time. And you may be an entirely different person by then, because you’ll be who you’re supposed to be when you arrive.

Detours make us take the long way to get where we are going. Inconvenient, yes, but sometimes these detours teach us a new route that we can use. Sometimes we pass unfamiliar territory . We see and learn new things on the way, so that when we finally get to our intended destination, we are  better prepared to be there.

I’m one of those people who is always in a rush. There aren’t enough hours in each day. There may not be enough time in life to do and experience everything that I want. I make goals and set timelines and experience frustration when I don’t meet them. But it isn’t failure. It’s the learning process that will help me to be the best me.

What do I want? A career as a novelist with a major publishing house. When do I want it? Now. But later is okay, too.

 

My Top 5 Books of 2015

Despite a 3 month hiatus while moving and fixing up our new house, I read 48 books in 2015. That’s a visit to 48 different worlds, a brief stint spent living 48 different lives, and countless new (if imaginary) friends. This past year, I read novels to broaden my literary horizons, works to learn from, pieces to grow from, and books just for fun. It was incredibly hard to pick my top 5 favorites this year, but here they are:

wpb11). TANA FRENCH – Okay, I know that I’m cheating here, but seriously, if you like mysteries with a twist and you haven’t read anything by French before, you’re missing out. On my grandmother’s recommendation, I read In The Woods at the beginning of the year. I then proceeded to read everything French has written, and she can’t write more fast enough! I highly recommend anything by this author.

wpb2) EIGHTEEN by Jan Burke – This is a collection of 18 short stories by bestselling author Jan Burke. The anthology includes an Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine Readers Award and Macavity Award winner, an Agatha Award winner, an Edgar Award and an Agatha Award nominee, and the first story ever to feature her popular character, Irene Kelly. I read a Jan Burke book years ago and loved it, yet strangely never picked up another. After reading this book, I will not make that mistake again. This collection spans every color of the mystery rainbow, historical to modern day, professional detective to amateur, and everything in between. This is a must read!

wpb33) GONE GIRL by Gillian Flynn – I didn’t expect to like this book. I saw the movie first (which I hate and almost never do), but after watching the movie I was really interested in seeing how Flynn had structured the novel. I am so glad that I did! I enjoyed this book on many different levels. Even though I knew what was going to happen, it still seemed fresh. This book delivers!

wpb24) THROUGH A WINDOW by Jane Goodall – I read a number of nonfiction books this year, and was wondering which one to include on this list until I looked back and saw this one. I love Goodall’s writing. I love her subject matter. Put them together and you get a thought provoking, engaging work that reads like fiction and stirs the heart like a Disney movie.

wpb45) THE 6TH EXTINCTION by James Rollins – This was a given. Rollins is returning to his weird science, Michael Crichton-ish early works and I could not be happier. I though that I might eventually outgrow these type of fast paced thrillers, but I’m happy to report that hasn’t happened yet! Take one part heavy science, add a dash of outlandish ideas and a dollop of adventure and you get a recipe that makes this reader very happy.

 

(On a side note, I’ve taken to using a board on Pinterest to keep track of the books I read, and I’ve found that it works really well. This is definitely a habit that I will carry on into 2016. Click the above link to see all of the books on my 2015 reading list.)

Goals for the New Year

I realize that everyone and their extended family going back two generations into the grave will probably be posting their New Years Resolutions, and I’m usually not one to jump on the bandwagon, so I’m not going to. You can take away my chocolate, threaten my books with water, and spank my puppies, but I still won’t tell you my resolution – because I can’t. I’m not making one. Instead, I’m making a list of 10 goals that I would like to achieve in my writing career this year.

Some of them are easier than others, like #7 (I never said what sized shelf, I can always just make one to fit the books and magazines I’m published in) and #10. Others I’ve already done, like #6 , #8 and #10. Others I’ve been trying to do for over a decade now (#3 & 4). The significance is that not only is this the first time I’ve put my goals down in writing, but also its the first time that I’ve shared them with anyone else. Maybe it’s the accountability thing, or maybe it’s fear of the embarrassment of failure, but this year I intend to pursue my goals with unrelenting, laser focus. If I have at least 6 victories from this list to share this year, 2016 will have been a success.

What are your goals for 2016?

2016 Writing Goals

1) Get an agent.

2) Get a book deal.

3) Get into Ellery Queen MM.

4) Get into Alfred Hitchcock MM.

5) Win an award.

6) Write two novels.

7) Fill a shelf with published work.

8) Explore a new genre.

9) Join an Association.

10) Keep an idea journal.