My reading companion of 17 years, Kenya

Tuesday, April 9, 2024

Still Life

Still Life is the debut novel written by Canadian author Louis Penny.  It's the first book in a cozy mystery series set in a small, Quebecois town featuring Chief Armond Gamache and his team of investigators. In this peaceful town where nothing ever happens, a murder takes place. The murder of a beloved, retired schoolteacher puts everyone in this rural, artsy village of Three Pines on edge.

There is much to love about this mystery but there are a lot of characters to keep track of. Fortunately, Ms. Penny has a flair for character development.  It's hard to give them all a unique voice, believable personalities, and lifestyles, but she does it.  In the beginning they all seem misfits who have found Three Pines to be a safe haven from the rest of the world and then their world reveals itself when the safety net seems to unravel, and little secrets are revealed. 

The story progresses through vibrant conversations in coffee shops, walks in the woods and fascinating dinner parties that bring the quirky groups of townspeople together to figure out what happened to their 77-year-old friend, Jean Neal. I also commend Ms. Penny for including a social element that pervades our world today - that of gay bashing. She doesn't linger on it but does give the reader space to think about it.

Penny's Chief Inspecter Gamache is a gem of a character and just the right person to bring alive the story of this town. With his attention to details, unique observation techniques and a sympathetic, compassionate nature towards people; he easily engages them in conversations. He often begins with, "Tell me about it". The characters are all very likable and well developed with the exception of Yolande, Jean Neal's niece and the new agent on his team, Yvette Nicole.

While this is an enjoyable read, keep in mind that Ms. Penny has created a fictional town and also intermingles fictional books and authors as the plot develops. I was totally intrigued by the depth of the conversations taken place within the bookstore and looked up the authors mentioned. I was ready to purchase at least two book - Loss by Brother Albert and Being by Dr. Vincent Gilbert but sadly, the authors never existed.  Loss and change are key elements that vibrate throughout the story. The scene in the bookstore helps the plot line by describing the psychology of some of those who are considered misfits in society, and while the books and authors are fictional, the emotional response to the depth of conversations is real.

Tensions mount in the town as friends join forces to understand and to solve the mystery of who killed their friend while knowing that the killer is among them and someone they know and probably trust. 

I highly recommend that you enter into the intriguing world of the beauty and the community of this little village. You may want to stay for the whole series.

Friday, February 2, 2024

A Scone To Die For.

One of my goals this year is to add a new genre of books to my reading world.  I enjoy reading a variety of fiction and non-fiction especially when it comes to memoirs, interior/architectural design and history books. This year I added the cozy mystery genre to my fiction palette.  There are so many cozy mysteries to choose from.

A Scone To Die For is the first book in the Oxford Tearoom Mystery series authored by H.Y. Hanna.

Gemma Rose, the main character, is a 29-year-old University graduate who worked at an executive level position in Sydney, Australia for eight years. She was disappointed in that endeavor, so she returned to the Cotswold area to pursue her dream of owning/operating a tearoom. 

This story is a quintessential cozy mystery that you can easily curl up with while enjoying a cup of tea, coffee or a glass of wine. It's a compelling mystery rich in lively characters especially the three elderly sleuths who along with Gemma try to solve the story's murder mystery. The Three Biddies as they are known in the book provide moments of laughter and mingle beautifully with the postcard picturesque descriptions of the charming Oxfordshire countryside and villages. The suspense and mystery details relating to the various murders will keep you engaged to the very end.  

                                                                 I highly recommend this book. If you are already a cozy mystery reader, then this is a must read. You will love it.

Monday, January 1, 2024

Happy New Year Everyone

 I read dozens of books throughout the year.  On January 1st of every year, I pick out the 'must read' books for the year. 

Non-Fiction books:

The Stories We Tell by Joanna Gaines. Memoir.

The Yellow House by Sarah M. Broom. Memoir.

The Highly Sensitive Person by Elaine N. Aron, Ph.D. Psychology/personal development.

Heavy by Kiese Laymon - Memoir.

Plant Dreaming Deep by May Sarton - Memoir.

Becoming Philadelphia by Inga Saffron. Architecture/Urban Studies.

Fiction books:

What Girls Are Good For by David Blixt. A Novel of Nellie Bly.

Still Life by Louis Penny. First book in the Chief Inspector Gamache Mystery series.

Wild Irish Rose by Rhys Bowen and Clare Broyles.  Molly Murphy Mystery.

Nineteen Minutes by Jodi Picoult. A thought-provoking Novel

The Poppy Wife by Caroline Scott. A novel of the great war.

What Did You Do In the War Sister? A novel regarding Catholic Sisters in the Nazi resistance.

The Wicked Redhead by Beatriz Williams. A jazz-age novel.

So, as of today, these books are on my to-do list.  I love to-do list.

Wishing everyone a happy and healthy new year.


Thursday, August 24, 2023

Writer's Digest Conference 2023

August 17-20, 2023
New York City


The Writers Digest Conference was an energy shot in the arm for every writer that was able to attend. It was held again this year in the Midtown Hilton on the Ave of the Americas (6th Ave.). It is an easy walk (about 2 miles) from Pennsylvania Station, but taxi is certainly a faster method. My last WD Conference was in 2019, pre-covid, so I was eager for an in-person writing event and this one did not disappoint.

The day before the conference started, a variety of all-day workshops were held for anyone who wanted to take advantage of the moment.  The conference offered a rich variety of sessions within several categories: Craft, Publishing, Fiction and Non-Fiction, Inspirational and Platform Building.  It also offered a Pitch Slam throughout in designated time slots the first day for those wanting to connect with an agent. Within the Hall of the spacious second floor there were also plenty of vendors like Ingram Spark, Your Book is Your Hook who could answer any questions.

I jumped at the chance to soak up some concrete advise from Michael Le Ronn in his hour presentation: Microsoft Word Unleashed. It was fabulous. He knows his stuff.  For anyone not familiar with One Drive, it was a good explanation of the features of the software. He strongly advised writers to turn on Auto Save. I never work in Dark Mode, but he showed how to switch the different modes and said Dark Mode is becoming the popular choice. He also advised that writers take advantage of the Read Aloud option. I absorbed as much info as I could, and I was happy to know that the conference will be sending the attendees a replay of the sessions, so I didn't have to write everything down. He also offered his help with question afterwards by giving us his email. Several people stayed a little later that he helped with specific questions. 

 I have a tendency to get stuck in the middle, so I was excited to see that Hank Phillip Ryan was set to address this very issue in her session: Conquering the Muddle in the Middle.  In Act 1, the writer has established the genre and has laid out the setting and the problem to be solved.  In Act 3, is the resolution. The character either wins the prize or is defeated. And the middle, Act 2, focuses on the decisions the character makes to keep the story advancing. She gave us a 5-step approach to keeping things changing so you can keep the story advancing at a good pace. 

Tiffany Yates Martin gave several presentations and an all-day pre-conference intensive on Supporting Elements of Story. She is loaded with excellent information and a high dose of energy to keep the pace going for the length of the session. She's amazing. I attended her Writing Multiple Timelines and Storylines session.

I grew up in a big family of seven sisters, and I seem to always have too many characters in my stories. Ms. Martin gave me several tips regarding mixing POVs that I will be sure to take include in my writing. 

This session was excellent.

There were more craft sessions but I had to also delve into publishing, media and platform still. Each block of time, say 10:15-11:15, offers classes within all the categories and you can't do all of them. That is why the organizers send out a replay of the conference to the attendees.

I have more confidence in my writing skills than I do in my promotion or media skills. I know this about me, so when a presentation regarding promoting your book before and after its release came up from Jennifer S Wilkov, a successful book and business consultant, I quickly signed up. She's a dynamic speaker.                                                                                                                                                                                                  One of her biggest tips was probably start promoting yourself and your book six months before its released.  That's odd for me to think about doing since the book hasn't been published yet.  That's why authors or publishers will offer the reader a chance to pre-order a book before its printed. It keeps the readers interested especially if it's part of a series. This was a fast-paced session and went from goal setting to digital and offline marketing in record time.

These are just a sampling of what was offered that weekend. It was a well-developed conference. There was little time to fit in the city itself, but I worked it out. One of the best things about New York City is its creative energy. I look forward to the next Writer's Digest Conference in 2024.

Tuesday, August 8, 2023



Set in the rural southeastern coastal area of Ireland, "Foster" by Claire Keegan tells the story of a young child born into a family with too many mouths to feed and too little money to do it.  It is on a hot summer day after Mass that her father drives her to Wexford to live with the Kinsellas, relatives she doesn't even know. He stays long enough to engage in small talk about farming, sits down for some food to eat, then leaves her not with a kiss but with these parting words, "Try not to fall into the fire, you." She watched him drive down the road, "Why did he leave without so much as a good-bye, without even mentioning that he would come back for me?'

Keegan's writing is poignant, drawing you deeper into an emotionally bound story that will keep you reading from cover to cover. You never know the child's name, but you know everything she is feeling. You feel her sense of abandonment, her sense of fear and her sense of achievement as the novella unfolds.

The Kinsella's home is strikingly different from her parents. They say, 'yes' instead of 'yeah'. They have a freezer where 'perishables can be stored for months."  There is a toilet in the house but a chamber pot if the little girl is afraid to use it. There is a tub and she can take a bath when she needs. She has a bedroom with colorful trains and a small boy in the patterned wallpaper.  She thinks the boy looks sad. There is a sadness in this home because of the little boy that once slept in this bedroom.

The Kinsellas are a loving couple who enjoy having friends over for playing cards and playing the spoons. It is a lively home filled with laughter to help manage a tragedy of long ago. They are the parents she needs, and she is the daughter they need. But the summer is not yet over, and she does not know if she will be here or with her birth family when summer is over. 

Sunday, June 20, 2021

The Alice Network

 From page one, Kate Quinn's novel gripped my attention and didn't let go til the end of the book. It's the best historical fiction novel that I have read this year.  The novel is based on a spy network comprised of women  operating during WW1.  There are two story lines going on in the book. One takes place during WW1 and the other in 1947. I found the story fascinating in both time frames. 

This is a story about the courage and strength of women. It is brilliantly written and the characters are richly drawn and their experiences captivating. I absolutely loved this book.