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!

Book or Movie?

As I was facing a Saturday night alone with a pint of Ben and Jerry’s, I turned to the interwebs for something to entertain me.  It turns out that they recently adapted the Nick Hornby novel Juliet, Naked.  Last April when I went to Taiwan I bought that novel to read on the excruciatingly long flight.  (No, really, it was thirteen hours.)  I was drawn to the off-beat plot of a woman in a dead-end relationship who starts up an accidental correspondence with her boyfriend’s musical idol.  But I found it to be pretty boring.  The writing was bland and it dragged, not really giving me anything to connect to.  I got through maybe a third before moving on to something else.  That’s why you always put multiple books on your Kindle before flying to the other side of the world, am I right?

So, why would I want to watch the movie you ask.  The book is always better than the movie, right?  They even have t-shirts that say “The book was better,” so everyone knows it.  Well, call me crazy but I’m squarely in the camp of Not Necessarily.

Books and movies are different mediums.  Some stories work really well in book form and lose something in translation.  I’m sure you can find many a rant online about why your favorite book didn’t fare well in Hollywood.  And a lot of times that’s true.

I heard great things about that movie The Notebook.  Everybody loved it and it was just the most romantic and beautiful love story.  As any good reader I said, “I’ll read the book first.”  So I did and it was…terrible.  Oh, M. Goodness, so overblown and melodramatic.  I was expecting more from Nicolas Sparks, having seen the film version of Nights in Rodanthe, which was pretty good if you’re into that kind of thing.  So what was I missing?  I came to the realization that some authors and their stories are just better suited to film.  I think Nicolas Sparks is one of them.

So that brings me back to Juliet, Naked.  I watched it and really enjoyed it.  Everything that was flat on the page was bright on screen.  The connections between the characters were genuine and not overdone.  I particularly connected with Annie.  She felt real and believable.  It’s not your typical rom-com and if you find yourself with a Saturday night in, I recommend it.  I also recommend High Fidelity, another Nick Hornby novel that was adapted in 2000.  I’ve never read the book so you’ll have to make your own judgement there.

I have seen some really bad adaptations (I’m looking at you, It) but I’ve also seen some good ones.  I may be standing alone, but I’ll stand up for those films that are truly better than the book.  Always is a strong word, but life has taught me that there are always exceptions that prove the rule.

A Year in Reading

It’s that time of year again.  When we start looking back at the events that shaped the last eleven and half months and if you’re like me, the books that delighted us during that time.  I’ve been pouring over my stats on Goodreads and marveling at how many thrillers and mysteries I read.

When I was in Taiwan earlier this year hanging out with Rhonda, the lady of the missionary household, she asked me what people are reading right now.  I raddled off some names, you know, Ruth Ware, Tana French, the new Paula Hawkins.  It was only after the words were out of my mouth that I realized she meant church people.  What are they reading in Christian self-help, Kim, not the latest in chick thrillers.  Oh.  No wonder she was looking at me funny.

The year saw my introduction to historical fiction thanks to Beatriz Williams and her marvelous novel The Summer Wives.  I have a huge author crush on Ms. Williams and I’m current delving into her Schuyler Sisters series.  I admit it, I’m addicted.  I also enjoyed The English Wife by Lauren Willig and The Alice Network by Kate Quinn.  I had high hopes for The Clockmaker’s Daughter by Kate Morton but it was disappointing.

This was also a big year for true crime.  I recently read I’ll Be Gone in the Dark by Michelle McNamara.  That’s an incredible story made even more remarkable that the Golden State killer has been caught and Ms. McNamara is not here to see it.  It’s a sad story all around and one I’m going to watch as it develops in the news.  Other well-done true crime was The Dark Heart by Joakim Palmkvist and the Bloodlands series by Harold Schechter.

Memoir was down this year.  I usually have several under my belt by this time but in 2018 only two made the list, Hillbilly Elegy by J.D Vance and Cheryl Strayed’s beautiful story Wild.  I recommend them both.

A highlight in general fiction was Fredrik Backman’s A Man Called Ove.  It’s a delightful story that strikes that difficult balance between poignant and amusing.  I also enjoyed Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman.  She’s at once off-putting and relatable, making for a page-turning romp that’s also like watching a train wreck.

Here’s to the great reads of the past year and all the great ones yet to come.  Merry Christmas, y’all!

Bridge to Nowhere

Have you heard about Markus Zuzak’s new book Bridge of Clay?  You probably have because the whole world loved The Book Thief and have waited forever.  No really, it’s been thirteen years.  That’s the first red flag.

When I heard Mr. Zuzak was publishing a new book I was excited because I loved the writing of The Book Thief.  I thought the plot wasn’t that original or exciting but the style was awesome.  I also loved I Am the Messenger because the story was so off beat and interesting.  If we could have a book that married the amazing prose of The Book Thief with a charming plot like I Am the Messenger, we might have a contender for Favorite Book.

But it was not to be.  I read an interview on Goodreads where Zuzak said he had been trying to write this book since he was really young and he agonized over everything, making sure it was perfect.  Uh-oh.  Red Flag number two.  Something that personal does not usually translate.  Mostly it’ll resonate with, well, you.  Despite this reservation I gave it a shot.

What we have here is a failure to communicate.  I read about half of the book and I have no idea what we’re supposed to be getting from it.  We start out with five boisterous teenage boys taking care of themselves with a bunch of animals running around.  That was actually the part I liked.  They were interesting, I liked the way they interacted, each with his own unique personality.  Enter the deadbeat father who asks them if they’d like to come with him out to the middle of nowhere and build a bridge.  Um, okay.  So one of them decides it’d be a good idea to quit school and go to the middle of nowhere with a man he hardly knows to dig holes in the hot sun so they can put a bridge over a mostly dry river bed.  Um, okaaayyy…

Most of the 250 pages I read didn’t even have anything to do with Clay or his brothers.  It was all about their mother’s childhood behind the Iron Curtain and how she got to Australia and their father’s childhood and how he married one girl and then got divorced.  Why do I care?

I’m sorry, but you introduced a whole group of really interesting characters and then left them for half a book to talk about their parents’ pasts?  What does that have to do with anything?  Not to mention this is supposed to be a first person narrative.  The narrator is the oldest brother who isn’t seeing any of this first hand and yet writes like he has intimate knowledge.

To me, this book was a mess.  I think this is what happens when a story marinates too long in the writer’s head.  He gets too close and loses perspective.  Zuzak wanted to convey some awesome family saga with great points about healing and forgiveness but really it’s just a bunch of sound and fury signifying nothing.

As much as it pains me to say it, I think Mr. Zuzak missed the mark this time.  I would give this one a wide berth.

Book Reviews: Non-Fiction

Ok, another round-up of book reviews.  This time we turn to non-fiction.  I love a good true crime but I also love biography and memoir, so this is a bit of all three.  Enjoy.

Blood Lands Series by Harold Schechter

I thoroughly enjoyed these short works by Harold Schechter.  Each one focused on a lesser-known true crime story in American history and only took around an hour to read.  I especially liked the one about the family of murderers living across the prairie from Laura Ingalls Wilder.  It was aptly titled Little Slaughterhouse on the Prairie.  The other one I liked was The Pied Piper about a young man in the 1950’s who committed Manson-style murders by holding other young people in thrall.  I would suggest this series of short reads for anyone just getting into true crime.  They get in and get out and don’t have time to get dull and repetitive like so many I’ve abandoned over the years.

Wild by Cheryl Strayed

Before I traveled to Taiwan I felt that I needed to read Cheryl Strayed’s memoir about hiking the Pacific Crest Trail alone.  It was well-written and quick and deeply poignant.  There’s something about solitude that really centers us.  One thing that stood out to me was the mental toughness it took to do something like that.  It wasn’t just physical.  It took a lot of “mind over matter” to get through it.  That idea of pushing through and overcoming really spoke to me.  I definitely suggest this one even if, like me, you have no intention of hiking anywhere, alone or otherwise.

In Search of Mary Shelley by Fiona Sampson

I realized recently that while Frankenstein is a masterful work and is still relevant today, I knew very little about the woman who wrote it.  So I read In Search of Mary Shelley by Fiona Sampson.  It was a little long but it kept me engaged throughout.  I think it’s amazing that Shelley wrote Frankenstein when she was only nineteen.  People have mocked Shelley for being obsessed with death but death was all around her.  Her mother died at Mary’s birth, her half-sister committed suicide, her husband was killed in a boating accident, and only one of her four children lived to adulthood.  I think Mrs. Shelley can be forgiven for having a preoccupation with death.  Frankenstein is much more than a monster story.  It goes to the heart of what it means to be human and what happens when humans attempt to create life.  In Search of Mary Shelley is a good read and I recommend it for biography lovers.

The Dark Heart by Joakim Palmkvist

This is the best true crime I’ve read in awhile.  Set in Sweden, it follows the missing persons case of Goren Lundblad in 2012.  An interesting twist to the story was the role of Therese Tang, an investigator with non-profit organization Missing Persons Sweden.  Though not law enforcement, Therese blows the case wide open.  But the best thing about this one was the dramatization of scenes without straying into fiction.  I never thought Capote was successful in mashing up true crime and fiction in In Cold Blood.  This seemed to be much more fluid and engaging, without crossing any lines.  I recommend The Dark Heart for true crime buffs and anyone looking for a good whodunit.

That’s all for now.  Happy reading, y’all!