Hanukkah Has Begun!

[Photo Credit: Roy Lindman]
 
This is a holiday season in more than one way. If you are Jewish and don’t know the Christian tradition, I urge you to read about the history of the holiday, from pagan celebrations till today.
If you are not Jewish, it’s more likely that you are aware of the Christian traditions but less so of the Jewish ones. I urge you to learn more.

Stay on the lookout for local events or TV specials that will teach you more about these holiday traditions. Maybe urge your book group to read along those lines! However you celebrate, happy holidays!

Wanted: A Book You Can Put Down

It’s almost a truism that “I couldn’t put it down” is about as high praise as a book can get. And yet, it might not always be the highest recommendation!

 

wanted book can put sinco christy esmahan
Right now, I’m reading Sinco: A Love Story Set in Spain, the second book in the Cantabria American School series. Bueno, the first book in the series, was part of my reading for Spain. I wrote about it after I returned.
 
[Source: Amazon]
But back to Sinco. The characters remain the same as in Bueno, with all their individual concerns, fears, and grudges. Some characters are brought to new prominence, others have faded a bit, but the point is, it is a smooth continuation of the plight of struggling young first-time private school director Harvey Jones.

 

His nemises at the school have nicknamed him Sinco because when Jones is pronounced in the Spanish way, it becomes Sin Cojones. These enemies are becoming ever more vindictive and plotting.

 

The book is funny, full of human foibles, and steeped in Spanish culture. It’s a good read.

 

And I can put it down at any time! Indeed, I’ve done so several times times recently. And this is a good thing! This is a hectic time for me—as for many—so I treasure a book I can pick up for a few minutes or an hour, put aside, and not struggle to get back into the story when I pick it up again.

 

For your holiday reading pleasure, I recommend Sinco, a book you can put down!

Thankful for Books—

—AND THE ABILITY AND TIME TO READ THEM!  Although the book mentioned here are Thanksgiving themed, they are good reads any time.

 

Thankful for books thanksgiving turkey
Murder and mayhem. Janet Evanovich has three Thanksgiving themed mysteries: Thanksgiving, Foul Play, and The Grand Finale. Apparently Evanovich knows the potential of holidays for drama!

 

Also, Thanksgiving Angels: A Mercy Allcutt Mystery by Alice Duncan.

 

For more options, click here!
thankful for books thanksgiving
Otherwise, here are some suggestions from Goodreads readers.
  • Thanksgiving Night by Richard Bausch
  • The Ghost at the Table: A Novel by Susanne Berne
  • The Lay of the Land by Richard Ford
  • A Patchwork Planet by Anne Tyler
  • Thanksgiving by Michael Dibdin
  • A Thanksgiving Miracle by Wells Earl Draughon
  • The Thanksgiving Virgin by Charles Haas

 

 

thankful for books turkey
 Classics
  • An Old Fashioned Thanksgiving by Louisa May Alcott
  • Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens
thankful for books silver turkey
BOTTOM LINE: Be thankful for online searches, for you can find Thanksgiving books for all ages and genres!
 
thankful for books happy thanksgiving

Why Read Aloud?

read aloud kids
Most of us stopped reading aloud when our last child outgrew being a listener. But remember what engaged you and your child. It probably included rhythm, delightful words (think Dr. Seuss), vivid images, and different voices for different characters. These are all good things for adult books and stories.

read aloud yourself
Reading your work aloud is a good way to improve it. Ideally, someone else would read it aloud while you listen and take notes, but such a partner may be hard to come by. Alternatively, read aloud to yourself—actually reading, not mumbling the words. Perhaps even recording yourself reading at least part of it. Reading aloud accomplishes several things.

1. It highlights verbal tics: Repeated words or phrases hit the ear in a way they don’t hit the eye. Providing a character with a verbal tic can be a good thing, but when everyone uses the same word or phrase, it becomes the author’s verbal tic, and that is not good. It’s boring. I wrote about this in an earlier blog. Also, the same speech patterns makes it difficult for the reader to identify the character who is speaking.

2. You hear awkward sentence structures. Too long. Too convoluted. Too many parenthetical insertions. Too long a series with everything separated by commas, etc. Anywhere you stumble reading aloud, your stranger reader is likely to stumble reading the written word.

3. You can identify needed and unneeded attributions. If John and Susan are the only two people talking, you needn’t identify every change of speaker—something you can easily hear.

4. If you read it as it’s written, punctuation flaws jump out. You can hear when you’ve put a period at the end of a question, or a question mark at the end of a declarative sentence. You can hear when a sentence would benefit from a dash—to add more emphasis than a comma.

5. You’re likely to notice when too many of your paragraphs begin with the same structure. The most likely pattern here is to start each paragraph with a character taking an action. John stood…  Mary slammed the book down… Sam laughed… Claris tossed back a shot of bourbon… Such a pattern begs for varied transitions.

BONUS: Reading your work aloud is good practice for when you win a major award and are asked to do public readings all over the country!
 
read aloud author speakers

My Reading While Traveling

I’ll start by confessing that I did less of it than I planned! Between walking miles every day (literally), consuming enough wine, cheese, and desserts to pack on five pounds, and napping on the bus between cities, the time just flew by. On the other hand, I did promise a report, so here it is.

Alentejo Blue

reading way portugal monica ali alentejo blue
This book set in Portugal just got better and better. Each chapter is a story, and each story switches to a different POV character while the other characters fade into secondary or supporting roles. In the course of the book, each character gets richer and richer. It’s a fascinating look at a town as a whole, experienced by its citizens. Often the stories/lives seem to be downers, but in the end, it’s more upbeat than I expected! And as I said when I started it, the writing is excellent throughout. I recommend it as a story read, but also as an example of how to put together a novel in an atypical structure.

Sedella: The Story of a Spanish Village

[Source: Amazon]
Sedella, on the other hand, just didn’t grab me. The description drew me in, tracing a Spanish town from pre-history to the present, with a mixture of historical/anthropological information and a fictional story line. In this instance, the structure didn’t work for me, going back and forth between the fact and the fiction. I soon found myself skimming the facts and skipping to the story line. In the end, I put it aside altogether in favor of the second novel set in Spain.

Bueno: A Love Story Set in Spain

[Source: Amazon]
Bueno: A Love Story set in Spain by Christy Esmahan is delightful. The “hero” is Harvey Jones, an American and novice headmaster of a private school in Spain, the Cantabria American School. Although there’s no hint of a love interest in the first half of the book, it drew me in immediately. Harvey is full of good intentions but he’s on his own in a strange place where he knows nothing of the politics among the teachers, the Board members, the parents, and his mentor. The priorities of the president of the Board, largely responsible for hiring him, are not shared by the teachers and parents.

Harvey has come to Spain in part to be closer to his brother, recently deceased, who was killed in a terrorist attack while living there. He’s taking classes in Spanish to improve the Texas version he arrived with. His nemeses take advantage of that and start calling him “Cinco” because when the J in Jones is silent, as it is in Spanish, it becomes the verbal slur “sin cojones.”

This is Book 1 in the Cantabria American School series and I fully intend to find Book 2! But when shall I get back to Don Quixote and Tales From the Alhambra? I acquired them abroad and haven’t really started either!

Two Novels Set in Spain

By the time you read this, I will be in Spain—and maybe I will have read these books by now. But I bought them for the trip and I’m writing this before departure, so I’ll tell you why they’re with me (on Kindle).

 

sedella story spanish village
[Source: Amazon]
Sedella: The Story of a Spanish Village by John Hardy is (according to its Amazon blurb) “a romantic historical novel about an Andalucian village, from prehistoric times to the present day… Each of the historical chapters is in two parts. The first part is a fairly factual account of the relevant time, though some of these facts may be slightly altered in time, etc., to fit the story. The second part of the chapter is a story set around these historical events.” Two things drew me in: historical novel and romance. It should be light reading plus a little education.
bueno christy esmahan
[Source: Amazon]
Bueno: A Love Story Set in Spain by Christy Esmahan made the cut because (1) it has a 4.5 out of 5-star rating; (2) it has food scenes; (3) the protagonist is a teacher; and (4) it’s a romance—which promises, light reading and a happy ending.

 

I’ll let you know how they turn out!

Reading My Way to Portugal!

By the time you read this blog, I will have arrived in Portugal. Needless to say, I read ahead.

 

reading way portugal monica ali alentejo blue
This is a book of short stories set in the Alentejo province of Portugal. I started it at home and, if I didn’t do so on the plane, will finish it on site.  Monica Ali is an award-winning author whose work has been translated into thirty languages. I like what I’ve read so far, and am sure the remainder of the book will be equally gripping.

 

Each chapter features richly drawn, complex characters. Some of the families have lived in the village for generations, some are ex-pats, and some are just passing through. Their stories weave together making the whole greater than the sum of its parts.

 

All the ex-pats and tourists are disenchanted with their lives, and moving to another place doesn’t help them. Meanwhile, the local Portuguese have very little, and many yearn to be someplace else—e.g., Cape Cod or London—but live their lives as best they can day to day.

 

The great hope is that Marco Alfonso Rodrigues will come back home and bring prosperity to the district. He is rumored to be “a very big name in the tourist industry… Luxury resorts in Thailand and Singapore. So I have been told.” (p. 45)

 

In fact, when he does return, villagers, tourists, and ex-pats come together, their jealousies and disappointments colliding. It is not a happy book (although there are touches of humor). Why read it? Because the writing is excellent!

 

my portugal george mendes
My other do-ahead reading was cookbooks. Eating is one of my favorite travel activities! I enjoy eating fish that have no comparables in the U.S. I relish identifying traditional seasoning patterns for various countries. Sometimes I even eat ahead, so to speak.

 

reading way portugal tomato tuna salad
This tuna, tomato, and onion salad from My Portugal was great—though my creation didn’t look quite so picture-worthy! I am looking forward to Portuguese port and other wines, and to learning to love salt cod!

 

learning love salt cod
One thing I especially look forward to is tasting the differences between Portuguese and Spanish cooking.

williams sonoma savoring spain portugal joyce goldstein

Watch my Facebook page for photos!

Books, Travel, Life is Good!

spain book
In a few days I am leaving for Portugal and Spain. For the modern traveler setting off on such an excursion, the expected reading is likely to be a travel guide. In that type of book, I highly recommend the Lonely Planet guides. They are clear, accurate, and comprehensive.

 

virginia is for mysteries vivian lawry
But those are not the only books people turn to for travel guidance. At one point, Virginia Is For Mysteries was ranked #3 in the Amazon list of travel and tourism—presumably because each story was set in a different Virginia location. People at book signings have said they actually used the book to decide where to go on vacations. One woman said she and her friend were in the process of visiting all the places written about!

 

charlaine harris malice domestic mystery most historical
A similar volume is likely to appeal to the armchair traveler. My story in this volume is set in Civil War Richmond, but other authors chronicle death and destruction from Puritan Massachusetts to post-WWII settings, and from Buffalo to Wales.

 

bill bryson books
Although not always writing of travel, when he does, Bill Bryson is one of my favorites. He has a slanted view that appeals to me, along with rich detail, humor, and a fresh take on familiar places.
Perhaps you read Blue Highways when it first came out in 1981. It was a bestseller. And it has staying power, for it was reissued in 2012! William Least Heat Moon traveled what one might call secondary roads or scenic byways—the ones shown on road maps as blue lines. He has an amazing voice for taking one off the interstate!

 

Bottom line: Travel reading is good, and travel is made even better by reading!

Discover Richmond

discover richmond connect
 
Grab it. Read it! When this RTD insert came with your paper a few days ago, you might have been tempted to pitch it. It’s very heavy on ads, especially in the first half. But take a closer look.
discover richmond amy black tattoo
I found several people, places, and things I can already connect to. For example, Amy Black. When I decided to redecorate rather than repair after breast cancer surgery, my oncologist recommended Amy. You may have read my In My Shoes essay about it in October of last year. I can’t praise Amy too highly. She is tough but gentle, accepting, and truly believes every body is beautiful. We both grew up in Ohio, so there is that cultural connection as well.

 

Amy is best known, perhaps, for her work with breast cancer patients, but she is an artist beyond that.
discover richmond back tattoo
I can’t appropriately show you what she did with my scars. I can only say that it was so appealing, I decided to have a “wrap-around” including both breasts and my back. And imagine my surprise when I discovered that during the year my youngest daughter (the only one with tattoos) lived in Richmond, on the recommendation of a Colorado tattoo artist, she sought Amy to create the tattoo honoring her daughter’s birth.

 

Amy is just one of 22 local people highlighted in this issue.

 

discover richmond hollywood cemetery
A place I particularly connect to is Hollywood Cemetery. I love cemeteries and graveyards. Hollywood is the third oldest garden cemetery in the country, inspired by the first, Mt. Auburn Cemetery in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

 

vivian lawry virginia is for mysteries
I am so taken with Hollywood Cemetery that I set my first short story mystery there (“Death Comes to Hollywood Cemetery”).  Brief as it is, the Discover Richmond article manages to mention half a dozen interesting features of Hollywood.

 

Among the 31 destinations described, some of my favorites are Library of Virginia, the VMFA, and Lewis Ginter Botanical Gardens. Some of the destination I’d like to visit include Unsung Sites of Black History and Meadow Farm Museum. Numerous neighborhoods are mentioned, including Short Pump and Ashland (The Center of the Universe).

 

discover richmond local neighborhoods
There is a guide to craft breweries, regional wineries and distilleries, and restaurants, and 15 pages of resources, from museums and historic homes to art galleries, music groups, theater and dance groups, hobby and special interest groups (including James River Writers, Sisters in Crime/Central Virginia, Virginia Romance Writers, Virginia Screenwriters Forum, and Virginia Writers Club).

 

This compilation does a good job on things I know well, so I trust the info when  learning about the things I don’t know so well. It entices me to explore and to revisit past pleasures. My point here is that you should read—and keep—Discover Richmond

Books into Movies

books into movies raymond chnadler
[Source: Amazon]
Monday night TCM showed the 1946 movie The Big Sleep, starring Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall. That led me to recall that fifteen Chandler books became movies, including Murder My Sweet, The Blue Dahlia, Strangers on a Train, Lady in the Lake, and Time To Kill. 
 
So, consider other books that have been famously made into movies.
 
Add in books that have given rise to TV series.
Which of these book/film pairs are you familiar with? What is your opinion of each? And what can you add to the list?