The Pursuit of History: Northern Ireland

I recently spent a weekend absorbed in Patrick Radden Keefe’s Say Nothing: A True Story of Murder and Memory in Northern Ireland.  I love a good nonfiction and when I saw this book advertised, I realized that even though I had heard U2’s Sunday Bloody Sunday, I had no real knowledge of the time in Ireland known as The Troubles.  I decided that needed to change.

I found the book fascinating and informative.  One complaint about it was that it doesn’t explain where the sectarian discrimination came from and I think at the is point no one really knows anymore.  It’s there and it’s crazy and lives have been lost and destroyed because of it.  This book is not for the faint of heart.  The 1970’s were particularly brutal and are described in detail.  The story details the activities of the IRA and one woman who was “disappeared” for being an informant.  It was a sad and effecting story.  I would recommend it for anyone who wants an overview of the Troubles especially with the controversy surrounding Brexit.  Many believe the UK’s exit from the EU will threaten the tenuous peace in Northern Ireland.

Happily, Derry Girls, the Netflix series from Ireland supplemented my study of the Troubles with wit and humor.  Say Nothing can be a bit of a downer but combining it with a comedy series helped to take the sting out.  Not that we should ever forget what those people went through and God forbid it should happen again.  But that show is hilarious, and I recommend it too.

Whether you claim Irish heritage or not, it’s history worth knowing.  So, if you have a weekend to kill, curl up with it.  But remember: whatever you say, say nothing.

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Back on the Road Again

When I was in college, I had the opportunity to go on a Maymester to Scotland.  That was in 2008.  It didn’t travel internationally again until 2018 when I went to Taiwan.  I prayed that it wouldn’t be another ten years before I travelled again.  And that prayer was answered.  In January I’m headed on a pilgrimage to Israel with the church.

When I was preparing to go to Taiwan last year, I felt led to read Wild by Cheryl Strayed.  It’s not the typical book you’d pick up before a mission trip.  It’s not even approaching “churchy,” but it was just what I needed.

Because at its core, the book is about mental toughness.  Cheryl Strayed hiked the Pacific Crest Trail by herself with little knowledge of hiking and camping.  She endangered herself and got a lot of things wrong.  She could have turned back countless times (a few times she probably should have) but she didn’t.  She simply refused to give up.  She had reached a point in her life, mentally and emotionally, where she didn’t have any other option.  It was hike or die.

I really needed that message.  Not so much for the time I was actually in Taiwan but for what has come after.  On my job, as a writer, in my personal life.  I get tired and discouraged.  And angry.  So angry because I’m doing what’s asked of me and yet it’s just so damn hard.  But I’m not giving up.  It’s not an option.  It’s not in the vocabulary.  This is a no-fail mission.

I have no idea what will come out of the trip to Israel but I’m going.  Because, really, there just isn’t any other option.

Reading Roundup

I’m currently in a “book hole.”  You know that place where you’ve finished a book and you just can’t settle into a new one?  It’s frustrating.  So instead of reading, I thought I’d write about the ones that have recently moved to the Read shelf on Goodreads.

The Hiding Place by CJ Tudor

I was really excited to get CJ Tudor’s second book since I liked her debut The Chalk Man.  I picked this one up expecting the unexpected because she seems to do that pretty well.  It started out fine.  I was intrigued by our less-than-truthful narrator and the eerie English setting.  We had a mysterious setup and I was onboard, but I found myself disappointed at the answer to the mystery.  Maybe I was just expecting too much but it just wasn’t enough for me.  I hesitate to recommend it because it didn’t do anything for me, but people are different.

Cocoa Beach by Beatriz Williams

It pains me to say it, but I didn’t really like this one.  I know, I know, I sing Ms. Williams praises a good bit on this blog and she really is great, but this one just, well, isn’t.  For starters it’s too long.  There are very few people who have any business writing books that are over 400 pages.  There was a story there, but I think it was just drowning in all the words and descriptions and introspections.  I personally didn’t connect with the narrator and it was never definitively explained why she refused to see her husband for the three years leading up to the book’s events.  Not to mention if you’ve read A Certain Age, you already know the story of her sister and father so you’re stuck treading water for the benefit of all those who haven’t.  I’d say skip it and wait for her new one The Golden Hour coming out next month.  I’ve already pre-ordered it.  I know I have a problem.

How Not to Die Alone by Richard Roper

Book of the Month’s latest offering is a book about death and life and…well, death.  A book about a man who works tracking down next of kin for people who die alone in their homes sounds pretty depressing.  And he lies about having a happy family life while living like the very people he investigates for.  Again, depressing.  Except for the delightfully quirky love interest and the off-the-wall co-workers, right?  Sadly, this book just didn’t come together for me.  It’s one of those that was good enough to finish but not really that good.  Book of the Month has always been hit and miss and I think this one goes in the miss category.

The Huntress by Kate Quinn

If you’ve made it this far, you’re probably thinking “Does this girl like anything?”  Yes, actually, I do.  I loved Kate Quinn’s new historical fiction novel The Huntress.  If you have the least bit of interest in historical novels and WWII, do not miss this one.  Like I said, very few can write a 500 pager, but Ms. Quinn is one of those few.  Intriguing characters, Nazi hunters, unorthodox love affairs, and female bomber pilots.  What’s not to love?  No one writes a battle ax character better than Kate Quinn.  I was enthralled by Eve Gardiner in The Alice Network and now Nina Markova.  I’ll be pre-ordering her next one for sure.  I do not need an intervention.

Happy Summer reading, y’all!

All Hail…Pardon?

What follows is a rant about the finale of Game of Thrones.  You’ve been warned.

Ok, really.  Jon saves literally everyone from the Night King, and he gets exiled to the wilderness and Tyrion, who straight up told him to murder Dany, gets to be Hand?  To Bran.  Bran?  BRAN?!  We’ve been fighting for eight seasons over who’s daddy was who and who has the better claim on the throne just to throw it out in two seconds and oh, we’ll just have a group of people decide what’s “good.”  Wait, wait, wait, you just freaking killed Dany because you thought one person deciding what was good was such a bad idea, Tyrion.  Seriously?

And if Grey Worm ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy.  Varys had a point that Jon was a hero and that the people would love him and accept him as king.  Especially since he saved the WORLD.  But who’s counting, right?  They laughed at the people getting to choose their own ruler, but they sure let the Unsullied have a big vote.  They wanted a benevolent ruler and they had one in Jon, the proven heir to the throne.  But nooo…  Let’s get rid of the one guy who would have been able to mostly unite the Seven Kingdoms in favor of a guy who prefers to hang out in his mystical world and leave the matters of state to his dubious advisors.  (Bronn holding the purse strings.  I’m sure that’ll go really well.)

And let’s just let Tyrion run everything, shall we?  For someone who wasn’t supposed to want the power for himself, he sure seems like a manipulator at the end.  I like Tyrion, but it’s super unfair that he gets Jon to do his dirty work and then walks right into power.  Call me crazy, but that just seems to undermine Tyrion’s mostly good-guy status, that we’ve been following for all eight seasons.  Guess the joke’s on us.  Hope he knows what’s “good.”

And let’s just let Sansa walk all over everybody.  How come nobody raised his hand and said, “Wait, why does Sansa get to have a free kingdom?  Oh, is it because her brother was just made king?”  You just said you didn’t want power to have to do with who your family is.  Sigh.

And don’t get me started on Dany.  You spent seven seasons setting her up as “the breaker of chains” and then turn her into a raving lunatic in the space of two episodes.  And then remind us of all the good she’s done for people while advocating for her swift demise.

BTW, I thought winter had come.  Why wasn’t it snowing in King’s Landing?  Winter doesn’t look so bad to me.

Does the Lord of Light even exist?  What was all that with the tree children and all the stuff Bran was into?  And what about the god with no face that Arya learned all her mystical crap from?  There’s no more Night King so why do we even need a Night’s Watch?  So we can get rid of inconvenient political prisoners like Jon apparently.  I totally don’t blame Jon for riding off with the Wildlings at the end.  Thanks for nothing, Westeros.

Well, when the Six Kingdoms turns around and decides they do want to hold elections, (because obviously none of them can make up their minds) I’ll be campaigning for Jon Snow.  Cause Bran?  Yeah, #notmyking.

Love and Hate in the Time of Audiobooks

Back in the fall I got a new car, the result of an accident involving the Jaws of Life, a night in the hospital, and a hematoma that just won’t quit.  On the brighter side, my shiny, purple RAV4 has brought me into the 21st century with Bluetooth capabilities and a nice sound system.  Eventually, I realized that these could be used to listen to audiobooks on my commute thanks to Libby, the amazing library app.

I was pretty stoked until I remembered that I don’t actually like listening to audiobooks because my mind wanders, and I miss things.  But I gave it a shot anyway.  I started with Julie Shumacher’s Dear Committee Members, a novel told through a series of letters.  I thought the format lent itself to audio because it’s told in only one voice.  I was reminded of the other reason I don’t listen to audiobooks when I tried French Exit by Patrick deWitt.  The narrator worked for the voice of our protagonist, an aging New York aristocrat, but when she read as the male characters, it was not a pleasing auditory experience.  Also, I wasn’t into the story, so I abandoned it.

I thought I would give up on the experiment until Aha! Of course!  Non-fiction!  This will solve the problem of multiple voices since it’s merely recounting the true experiences of others.  It won’t, however, solve the problem of my attention span, but we can’t have it all.  So, I settled on Lost Girls: An Unsolved American Mystery by Robert Kolker.  It was pleasing to the ear but not the best true-crime I’ve read/listened to/absorbed/whatever.  That brings up another issue.  What do you say when you’ve finished an audiobook?  I listened to Insert Book Title?  Does that count as “read” even if you didn’t actually eyeball the book?  Do I need a separate list on Goodreads?

Sigh.  I suppose that’s a personal choice, how you classify your audio/reading experience.  I definitely prefer the reading of a book to the listening of one but when you’re trapped in a car (regardless of how nice) for an hour a day, we beggars can’t be choosers.

Happy reading/listening/whatever, y’all!

Magnolia Run Available Now

Hello, happy readers!  Just wanted to let everybody know that my book Magnolia Run is now available via Christian Faith Publishing.  Find it on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and iTunes.  You can also follow me on Goodreads.

This has been a singular experience.  It’s been nine months since I was told my book would be published and there are still days when I can’t believe it.  I guess I just don’t know how to handle that dream-come-true moment.  The idea of getting published was always more of a daydream than an actual this-will-happen-someday dream.  If I’m honest, I never thought I could write a book that someone else would actually read.  But I did.  And I’m here.  And it’s available.  Check it out and let me know what you think.  Happy reading, y’all!

Dreading the Soggy Bottom

Have you ever made a pie?  You work so hard making the crust and preparing the filling, only to have the middle of the bottom come out wet and yucky.  It ruins the whole pie.

There’s such a thing as the soggy bottom of a book too.  It’s that point about two thirds in where the author starts circling.  You know that book, the one where you’re loving the characters and you’re caught up in the mystery and then nothing happens for a hundred pages.  We keep going over the same clues and our characters spend a lot of time doing irrelevant things.  It’s enough to make you throw the book across the room.

I’ve been enjoying Michael Connelly’s new series about Renee Ballard and I really liked the recent crossover with Bosch, Dark Sacred Night.  I’m a big fan of the Amazon series but this was my first experience with Connelly’s writing.  I recently borrowed one of his called The Poet, a one-off from the mid-nineties.  At five hundred pages, this book had the soggiest soggy bottom I ever did see.  I skimmed the last two hundred pages and by the end I didn’t even like the characters anymore.  It was quite disappointing.

Of course, a book doesn’t have to have a soggy bottom to get ruined.  Case in point, the one I just finished, that will remain nameless, that had the granny menacing everyone with a blowtorch before revealing why she did it.  No, really.

So, it has not been the best few weeks for me in reading.  I hope y’all are faring better with your endeavors.  Maybe next time I’ll have better news and recommendations to share.  Until then, happy reading, y’all!