Across The Wall: THE WARSAW ORPHAN by Kelly Rimmer


Some of the most powerful books written in our time are set during the Holocaust. The horrors that took place during WWII present us with unique ways to explore human suffering.

I don’t believe anyone likes reading about the Holocaust or how many lives the world lost, but there’s a dark fascination. This time period allows us to tap into a shadowy world of despair which scars us to this day.

I pray that nothing of this scale will happen again, not even for prime book material. It hurts when I remember these things happened recently enough that there are survivors.

That said, there is nothing wrong with using tragedy to remind humans how to treat other humans. 

Literature has in its arsenal the power to fight ideology, which is why books have been banned–by churches and governments. Punch back and pick a banned book to read today. Before you begin, though, I want to talk about The Warsaw Orphan by Kelly Rimmer.

I haven’t read The Book Thief in a long time, but there are parallels to it in the matter of youth. For most of the novel, main characters Roman and Emilia are in their teens. They grew up mentally, but I pictured two people fresh out of childhood.

They were staring at the wall dividing the ghetto from the city–each staring from a different side.

The Warsaw Orphan made me ill in all of the ways that a good book should. Descriptions of dying, starving, homeless people waiting for death to gather them–but worst of all were instances of the soldiers’ indifference. I’m sure that not all soldiers were in favor of what was happening. I would like to read a book set during this time in which the soldiers are not blind to the suffering. If you have recommendations, I’d appreciate them.

The Warsaw Orphan describes realistically how Roman and Emilia grow. Roman becomes an angry man, ready to throw his life away with every resistance effort. Emilia retreats into herself, a coping mechanism when circumstances overwhelm her. They don’t have a perfect happily ever after romance. You don’t walk away from a nightmare like that and fall in perfect love. It takes time, and I liked seeing their efforts to trust one another.

Literature based on WWII is sobering. It reminds us of what happens if we forget that the people around us are human. When we start weeding people aside as useless or unnecessary, we compromise that humanity. I don’t believe we’ll reach such a degree of evil again, since history has been so well documented.

Fiction is not useless, either. It’s actually a powerful tool. Stories such as The Book Thief and The Warsaw Orphan help us to catch a glimpse of the inhumane. Fiction is a great way to learn from the past.

Books were once banned because they can shape a society. Books are powerful enough to recreate the most shameful events in history. They’ll pull us into the ghetto, where we hear and smell suffering through a well-phrased sentence. Books show us why these things were wrong.

I am not happy these things happened; I’m sure we’d have found topics to write about without the Holocaust. I am happy that people are not afraid to write about the ugly truth. Let these stories, whether they are biographies or fictitious accounts, remind us of humanity, loss, and strength.

We are capable of evil, but we are also capable of good.

The Warsaw Orphan brought me close to tears with sentences that hit home. The words settled on old injuries like balm I didn’t know I needed. Our pain is different from the pain written about in this book, but literature still heals that.

Read The Warsaw Orphan–it will change how you see people.

Top Three Books – Week 1


This year I decided to start a reading journal and practice intentional reading–which involves taking note of character names and ages. I also record sentences that are powerful or elements that will shape my own writing.

This has helped give my blog renewed purpose–book reviews, thoughts on literature, and history. It’s also a journal as I explore genres such as mystery or thriller. Reading an average of ten books a month (I’m a fast reader) and not having reviewed them all, I’m going to have a weekly feature called Top Three Books.

Some posts will echo praise for titles I’ve written about; others will be special mention for novels I enjoyed but didn’t earn blog post glory. I’m excited to track my journey this way. I hope it will make me a better writer and thinker.

The Storytelling Animal by Jonathan Gottschall

One of my greatest pet peeves is the claim that literature is somehow in danger.

It’s a complicated topic, but pinning the blame on eBooks or audiobooks simplifies the matter too much. We should not be afraid for the future of books, and Gottschall makes a fantastic argument as to why.

Story comes from the human mind. Humans were telling stories before there were ways to write them. Even if in another universe, paper books vanished–we will never be without story.

I love the smell of ink on paper, but isn’t story the most important aspect of a book?

The Seine by Elaine Sciolino

I love history. This explains my preference for classic novels–I often find more in an old book that was published as a serial than a hastily written novel penned to earn numbers on Amazon.

Elaine Sciolino went to extraordinary lengths to learn the history of the Seine river in Paris. The Seine is a diva, moody and vengeful. Sometimes she’ll save a life, but sometimes she’ll take it.

This quote from The Seine forever changed how I see Paris:

Without the Eiffel Tower, Paris would still exist; without the Seine, there would never have been a Paris.

If you want to learn French history without plunging into complicated details, Sciolino’s account is written in a language that’s easy to follow. It’s absolutely gripping.

You might not be able to travel this year, but let a book take you to Paris.

All The Good Girls by Willow Rose

I did not review All The Good Girls for the simple reason that it’s a quick read. I didn’t take many notes; it’s so fast-paced that I couldn’t have found the time to set it aside and jot down quotes.

It’s a murder mystery which in my humble opinion (I’m new to the mystery genre) was worth the time. As a writer, I thought some plot twists could have been handled better. The characters might have been written with more depth.

I liked All The Good Girls; I’ll read the rest of the series. There is a focus on God and prayer in this novel, so Christians would enjoy it. There are no “skippable” scenes, if you’re looking for a clean read.

I wonder if the focus on writing a clean book took away from what it could have been. All The Good Girls still deserves mention for its breakneck pace and the sheer fact that it was a page-turner.

Conclusion

Where I wrote blog posts reviewing a book, I linked to it in the title. Click on them and read for more thoughts.

This was a fun selection to make. Do you have comments on any of these books? I would love to hear your opinion!

River of Life: THE SEINE by Elaine Sciolino


If we made a list of the magical properties found in literature, we would have to include that of transporting us to a different place. When a person can’t afford vacation, a good book can take them to streets far away.

Before visiting Paris with my mother and brother, it was a dream of mine to know her streets. They are works of art; the city was designed over the centuries by her leaders to be aesthetically pleasing. You can call the Louvre a museum, but the streets are mesmerizing. Statues and bridges provide wonders to gaze upon.

When a visit to Paris was still but a dream, I satisfied my wanderlust reading books set in the City of Light. They were written in different time periods and different genres. It might have been ink on a page, but each time I finished a book set in Paris, I felt that I knew France a little better.

This was true in a way; I learned about Paris in the way you know a place after reading about it. If a book is well-written, it can be a powerful tour guide.

The reality is that you never know a country until you’ve been there. The vision of Paris I built in my head with each novel was lovely–but it cannot compare to the reality.

The City of Light is a marvel of human artistry. It’s a testament to development as a civilization as time passed. France boasts of a rich history that most never learn of. There’s more to France than the guillotine during the French Revolution.

I learned so much history in the pages of The Seine by reporter Elaine Sciolino. This book is not heavy like a textbook; Sciolino’s writing style is light and talkative. I never once felt that I was dragging through boring events or struggling with names I couldn’t pronounce. This is history that anyone can appreciate.

Sciolino paints a different perspective of Paris. This perspective is from the river, that ancient body of water pulsing through Paris like a vein. Sciolino has traveled far and wide in search of Seine lore, learning about the river goddess Sequana. She even lived on the Seine during a great flood, when water spilled over the banks.

Elaine Sciolino has witnessed many of the Seine’s moods.

I didn’t have enough time to see all of Paris; it’s bigger in person than you probably think! One thing I remember was the sparkling water of the Seine. I remember how the water shimmered as the sun set. The Seine was the first thing I saw when we arrived; before I had a clear view of the Eiffel Tower, I saw the Seine, dark and mysterious in the moonlight.

The Seine is a treat for the history lover and travel junkie. Sciolino has painted for us a panoramic view of this river. She hiked to its “origin,” a stream way up north. She visited places where the Impressionists painted their works of art, capturing the nature of France in all of her elegance.

The Seine takes us on a fascinating ride through the history of the country, following the course of her famous river. It ends with a sobering chapter about the fire which destroyed Notre Dame in 2019. Sciolino us how water from the Seine was used to help stop the fire.

I will continue to read books about Paris until I can visit her again. I hope that, when the time comes, I will know more about this city. The Seine is one of my favorite books; let it take you across oceans to the place where art and history was made.

Classics By Women: NOT JUST JANE by Shelley DeWees


What are the greatest powers to be found in books? There are many, but let’s think about the history behind each piece. People have been writing for centuries, some to inform and others to entertain. There’s a title about everything for everyone.

For more on this, check out my post about Jonathan Gottschall’s book The Storytelling Animal.

Once you start digging into classic literature, you will run into obscure authors and discover the roots of your favorite fairy tales. It’s like Alice falling down the rabbit hole.

Ponder for a moment how the ability to write empowers. Reading and writing have a great influence in the direction that our world takes. Literature makes such a mark on society that it wasn’t always open to everyone.

Women in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries were discouraged from writing.  It went against the gender roles that society had preset for them. Women were only taught what was necessary for marriage and raising children. If they thought about writing a book (at least, one that wasn’t on the topic of good housekeeping), they risked becoming outcasts.

“Proper” men and women alike mocked ladies who wanted to write. If their tales were indeed written, they were never published. If they were published, most authoresses so feared the condemnation of society that they didn’t publish with their names. Instead they chose the appellation By a Lady.

There are too many women with such a history to celebrate in one blog post or even in a whole book. Shelley DeWees’ Not Just Jane introduces us to seven authoresses aside from Austen who broke the rules. Some were forced into writing to make a living because their husbands could not provide, or–in the case of Sara Coleridge–forced into marriage that tore her away from her passion.

While some of these women wrote about politics, especially during the Great Terror of the French Revolution, others just had stories to tell. Some of them survived because of questionable friends in upper ranks of society. Others were taken “under the wing” of important gentleman (one had a flirtation with the Prince of Wales).

Things like this kept them fed, but didn’t change how they were perceived by the ton. It was a point of no return.

The choice to become a female writer in the eighteenth century was one of strength and bravery. Could I have taken that path when there was so much at stake? I’m glad I don’t have to balance these things now in making that decision; times have changed.

I’m glad the world is full of room for women and their stories.

Learn about seven authoresses who shaped literary history. When you finish Not Just Jane, read a book by one of these women. What can we do to honor their memories? We read the stories they must have doubted could survive.

Paper or eBook? THE STORYTELLING ANIMAL by Jonathan Gottschall


Is the paper book becoming extinct?

This is a question that keeps surfacing, and it divides the community of readers in a manner that is not always pleasant. Debates rise that are unfriendly in nature. If you say that you prefer eBooks or audiobooks, someone feels the need to be judgmental.

We need to remember what a story really is. A story isn’t confined to paper, or an audiobook’s voice, or the screen of your Kindle. A story is something else difficult to describe, and we don’t do it justice by saying it belongs on paper alone.

Are we addicted to books, or to the stories recorded on pages? When the cliche Kindle-versus-paper-book debate surfaces, how many of us stop to think that it is not the paper which keeps us entertained, but the words on it?

The Storytelling Animal is a short book about our natural addiction to fiction, to the escape we have craved for centuries. Gottschall reminds us that, as our world changes, we find stories in different forms.

His insight was fascinating, and it made me question why so many of us participate in the Kindle-versus-paper debate at all. Some like to collect paper books (I’m certainly one of them) but if I can find the story I want on my Kindle for a smaller price, I won’t say no to that. 

It’s the story that eases the banality of day-to-day life. It isn’t paper that plays a story like television screens do, but my own imagination.

Ancient cultures told stories orally. Generations memorized them and passed them down. Now they may be found recorded in books, but were they not stories when they were spoken to attentive crowds? Consider epics like Beowulf; they were not written but spoken by bards. Are they disqualified from being called stories because they did not originate on paper?

One chapter spoke about dreams, how our brains are never through telling stories, even when we sleep. In dreams, the mind goes to a place where bizarre things are ordinary. Later we remember snatches of what we have dreamt, and only in this waking hour do any of these things seem odd, because in the dream it was quite natural.

I’ve always been of the opinion that what humans want is the story. We like to see the titles on our shelves grow; there is certainly satisfaction in watching the line of black Penguin classics increase. What we will carry with us when we aren’t reading are the scenes we visited, the words of poetry planted into our memories like wildflowers.

This doesn’t take the excellence from the paperback or leatherbound book–it only reminds us of what our memories can do. We don’t need to hold paper in our hands to revisit a place we loved. 

The stories that capture our imaginations will live in us after we finish reading. I sometimes wonder what plotline I’ll revisit in my final hours. Will my tired mind wander to a Jane Austen romance, or will it echo verses of poetry?

The eBook did strike a pet peeve when it ended at 60%, only to be followed by promotional features. I wanted more insight on the nature of story and how it affects us as humans. When 40% of a book is promotional, you feel cheated and rather mocked. This book is, therefore, very short.

I enjoyed reading it, but I hope that the paper edition is not like this!

Overrated? THE FOUR WINDS by Kristin Hannah


When a novel is labelled overrated, this creates a temptation for me to read it. Books I have enjoyed have been called so in threads by other readers, books such as The Book Thief and The Couple Next Door.

I’m skeptical when a book is called overrated. What exactly does that mean? Does the person posting know of a similar book they enjoyed better? Are they listing novels people like and labelling them, simply to annoy?

Everyone has their own reading style, of course.

The Four Winds by Kristin Hannah was the subject of many such discussions before it was released. I had an ARC, so I was going to read it anyway, but one of the forums had a thread titled “Reasons Why I’m Not Reading The Four Winds”–with hundreds of people commenting.

I am stubborn. This upset me. I decided to read the book without paying attention to the comments.

I’ve never read a book by this author, though I know she is famous. My first impression of The Four Winds was that the woman described on page one, the young lady who grew up finding friends in books, sounded like me. Plenty of readers can relate to Elsinore as a young girl in the introduction.

I can agree with some critics that the novel started slowly. If I wasn’t so determined to brush off the naysayers, I might have started reading a side book to fill in the gaps (it’s a bad habit I’m developing). I don’t want to feed this habit, so I turned the pages and became hooked on the story four chapters in.

The book is about hard times. Hard times–this phrase is invoked often in The Four Winds, and it means something different for everyone, character and reader alike. Some people during hard times lose the desire to fight, choosing to wilt away. Some lose their minds under the strain to survive. Then there are some, like the main character, Elsa, who become stronger when the going gets rough.

No one ever believed in Elsa. She suffered from the yellow fever as a child, and her mother feared the illness had made her weak for the rest of her life. This prevented her from doing anything that involved work, like playing with friends. She spent most of her time at home, reading books and sewing.

It wasn’t until her twenty-fifth year that she chose to be daring. She made herself a red dress, cut her hair into a bob, and climbed out the window. One night, she decided to be bad; that night would change the course of her life.

Ironically, this storm helped Elsa find herself. When her mother and father tossed her out as a consequence of her poor choices, she found herself living with the Martinelli family as a wife–and soon a mother.

We might call it the first blessing Elsa ever received–because with the Martinellis, she found strength. She had something to fight for. She learned that she was not as weak as her parents made her believe. No longer dragged by the wind, Elsa became a woman with the Martinellis.

Then came the Depression and the disaster of the Dust Bowl. Hard times became infernal.

When someone has already fought to become a stronger person, how much will it take for them to buckle under strain? The land that fed and maintained the Martinellis is dying, becoming sand under their feet.

Elsa packs her children into the car and leaves for California. It’s rumored that they will find relief in California–but rumors so often let us down.

The most powerful element in The Four Winds was Elsa’s relationship with her daughter, Loreda. At some point in her adolescence, Loreda started to behave like a teenager, embarrassed by her mother and blaming Mom for everything. The Four Winds made me cry, though, when this turbulent relationship was set to rest…at a great cost to Loreda.

This is one of the few books that did make me tear up.

Ignore the naysayers and read The Four Winds if you want a story packed with drama and a struggle to survive. There are proud moments; there are fearful moments. There are also moments in which you’ll be thankful that you weren’t alive during the Depression.

Survival and hard times look different for every generation. Read this book to find out how people waded through hard times, long ago–but so long ago.

Suspense: KILLING FLOOR by Lee Child


I once read of a technique that is commonly used by suspense writers to raise the tension level in a book. It involves breaking up sentences. Adding variety. Making it sound like a mind in the midst of a complicated problem.

This clue equals this. Except–what about this? And there is this as well.

I first encountered this technique in Shari Lapena’s The Couple Next Door. It’s an effective way to illustrate panic, helplessness, and anxiety in a character; it makes the reader feel the same way. The second thriller I have finished reading, Killing Floor by Lee Child, uses the same technique.

My exploration of the the thriller genre is creating many chances for me to sample well-known names and series. The Jack Reacher books are stories I never imagined myself reading. For years I have fed my inner reader on flowing sentences from poetic literature; it’s taking me a while to adjust to the jerky, high-energy nature of thrillers and mysteries.

Killing Floor isn’t what I expected–but then, I didn’t know what I was expecting when I decided to give this series a try. I enjoyed the story, and certainly will look for the other books. However, I struggled to find common ground with Jack Reacher himself. I think that might have been done on purpose. 

His character is portrayed as solitary, detached, almost selfish. This means that the characters surrounding him are full of color and life. The romance is detached, surface-level, not the profound stuff that I enjoy reading–but it suits a character like him.

He’s intent on not staying anywhere, living a life of freedom, leaving no trace of his existence, even in the form of receipts.

The plot, though–it is so complex that I forgive the dryness of Jack’s character. The world in Killing Floor is a giant jigsaw puzzle, the kind where you have twenty pieces that are the same color blue. You’ll spend days, probably, trying to get those pieces together, and when at last you discover the order in which they click, the picture has the detail you’ve been missing. 

Such is the world of Killing Floor: You have a handful of compelling but dissonant clues, and wrest with them for a while. By the time Jack has figured out which direction to take, that world is more realistic and beautiful; you want to get deeper in.

By the time Killing Floor has become a safe world with the criminals put away, the book has ended. You’re given a chapter or two of joy and a radiant glimpse at what the town of Margrave will be like without bad guys.

Then, Jack decides he doesn’t want to stay in Margrave–and it’s over. You’ve walked a wild path with him, solving mysteries and staying alive, but just like him, you can’t stay. You’ve been rewarded with only a glimpse of a small town at peace.

This genre of writing is far from what I’m used to, but remains a refreshing change. I’m drinking in the techniques used to write thriller and suspense, hoping to use them one day in my own books. There are so many new books for me to choose from that I feel like I’m in a brand-new playground, surrounded by adventures.

It pays to leave your comfort zone. Try a genre you didn’t think you would like: you will discover literature in all its beauty. It will make you feel, think, and hope for things you hadn’t before. It will widen your worldview. You’ll be reminded that the possibilities with novels and stories are endless.

Have you read the Jack Reacher books? What do you think about them? Which book in the series is your favorite?

The Three Musketeers by Alexandre Dumas


Though I did enjoy reading this masterpiece of French literature, The Three Musketeers was not exactly the story that I had expected. To begin with, not once in the book did the famous phrase appear: “All for one, and one for all!” Neither did there appear to be a single overarching plot. It’s a book written for people with different attention spans; it had been published in serial form over the course of two months, so it was designed to keep readers hooked like a television show.

I like books written in serial form. They require commitment to read, though; I’ve been working on The Three Musketeers for almost a month, and I’m a fast reader.

Something still felt rather off about the whole story. I blame all of the cartoon adaptations that have popped up over the years. These adaptations present children with a softened version of the story, so it is a surprise when one opens the long novel and discovers elements of darkness or sketchy behavior. Adaptations did this book no justice.

It’s about four men, sword-wielding Musketeers loyal to the King, who are willing to fight and duel almost anyone over anything (many of these things are trivial.) It features gambling, murder, infidelity, mistresses, and a great deal of bloodshed (because of trivial things.) Honor is the big virtue the book touts, but it is often portrayed in a trivial manner–comical.

We might hesitate, these days, to call such men heroes, but they are indeed the heroes of this novel. D’Artagnan, Porthos, Athos and Artemis live to protect the King and Queen, no matter what that might involve. They also protect one another, helping avenge a person who insulted a friend. Loyalty is an admirable quality, too, but some instances I felt could have been let slip.

That’s the point of this book, though–it lauds bravery, fearlessness, loyalty and honor. It perhaps goes a little too far, but I understand that, at the time it was published, readers might have been in need of characters like these. It was published in 1844; not long before that, people had experienced the Bourbon Restoration, the fall of the first Napoleon–a time of great fear, in which wars were waged and many people were killed. Escapism has always been necessary to heal a society from a difficult time period. Maybe the French of the 1840s needed reckless, brave, outspoken heroes, people who would fight for their honor, leaders.

This, of course, is only my speculation; what is for certain is that the fall of Napoleon would have been felt for a long time after it took place, and it would have affected literature.

Of the four characters, the only Musketeer I had sympathy for from the beginning was Aramis. He is only temporarily a Musketeer; his real desire is to enter a monastery. He took up the sword on a youthful matter of honor, but reading about his theological epiphanies and his genuine conscience provided me with a welcome break from the rash duels.

Athos I also came to like, but only near the end, when more details about his past were given. He was able to keep a level head in the midst of a struggle, as opposed to young hot-blooded D’Artagnan, who does not hesitate to draw his pistol. At the age of twenty-one, D’Artagnan has not lived enough. When a tragedy takes place near the end of the novel, he does show his human side, and I sense this tragedy was the initiative for him to mature.

The brave lackeys who aided these men did not get the credit they deserved; rather, they are often treated as objects, even to be gambled away. The Musketeers are not always people worthy of admiration.

Though it was an enjoyable read, I felt that the story did not fully grip me until the final quarter, in which we see the tale from the antagonist’s point of view. Milady de Winter’s thought process is completely different from the Musketeers. For better or for worse, she is making decisions based on reason and cunning, rather than knee-jerk duels. She is by no means a good person, but her intelligent choices kept me reading. I wanted to know what she would do next.

The Musketeers–and most of the men in this novel–underestimated the clever ways in which a woman under pressure can survive.

Finally, the prose–it was so beautiful that I found myself constantly stopping to jot down a quote or two. I wish that I could read The Three Musketeers in its original French; one day, perhaps.

The Three Musketeers is the first in a series of books published by Alexandre Dumas, known as The D’Artagnan Romances. In order, the series is as follows:

  • The Three Musketeers (serialized between March and July, 1844)
  • Twenty Years After (serialized between January and August, 1845)
  • The Vicomte of Bragelonne: Ten Years Later (serialized between October 1847 and January 1850)

In addition, there have been unofficial sequels:

  • The Son of Porthos (1883) by Paul Mahalin, published under the pen name of Alexandre Dumas
  • D’Artagnan Kingmaker (1900) – supposedly based on one of Dumas’ plays
  • The King’s Passport (1925) by H. Bedford-Jones
  • D’Artagnan, the sequel to The Three Musketeers by H. Bedford-Jones

In addition is a sequel written by Dumas himself but left incomplete after seventy-seven chapters, called The Red Sphinx. This, in particular, interests me–as all unfinished classics do, such as Dickens’ Mystery of Edwin Drood and Austen’s Sanditon. Unfinished novels give a sense of the authors’ being very much alive; I’ll write more on this later.

I will certainly finish The D’Artagnan Romances, but keeping in mind that each of them is an almost month-long commitment. You can’t skim old books like these without losing sight of what makes them timeless. 

Our world is fast-paced; to read a good classic, one must be prepared to slow down.

Review: The Windsor Knot by SJ Bennett


The Queen of England is a mystery to us. It only seems fitting that someone should write her into a mystery novel as The Boss, investigating a gruesome murder. The Windsor Knot shows her in a new, delightful light.

When a famous Russian pianist is found dead in Windsor castle the morning after a lavish party, the police first assume that it was a suicide. Soon, a new theory surfaces involving politics and Russian spies. 

Authorities walk on eggshells around Her Majesty while investigating, assuming that she can’t handle the gruesome details–except they’re wrong. The Queen has been solving mysteries since she was a young girl, and she’s tougher than they give her credit for.

There are guest appearances by public figures that we know, such as Sir David Attenborough and President Obama. It’s a shoot off of Netflix’s The Crown. All of these characters, though, are bland compared to SJ Bennett’s portrayal of Prince Philip. 

Philip is the only character who provides comic relief. Despite his unfiltered behavior, it’s clear that he keeps the Queen balanced. He makes her feel like a human, even when he says things that annoy her, and sometimes you just need someone around who’s not afraid to annoy you.

The Queen, of course, never goes to make inquiries herself. She sends her secretary, Rozie Oshodi, to meet people and ask questions. Rozie is a fantastic character. The daughter of Nigerian immigrants, she represents strength and diversity. She had a humble beginning, but is now the Queen’s confidante. The strong female character trope is often pushed onto readers until it becomes annoying; this did not happen with Rozie. We get to watch her do her job and do it well, never standing over us to announce her presence. I believe this is how the strong woman character should be written: she ought to be admired because of what she is doing, not what she is announced to be. Remember–show, don’t tell.

I don’t know if it’s my fault–sometimes I skim a book–but I never had a solid grasp on what happened to the Russian pianist or why. Descriptions of royal palaces and guests filled my mind with imagery, I suppose. I did not pay enough attention to the clues or the resolution. When I had finished reading, I needed to make a list of events on a separate page. I had to piece them together myself in order to understand what happened.

I cannot say if it was my fault or if there was some flaw in the writing of the mystery; I am, after all, new to the genre. Nonetheless, I can’t ignore the fact that the mystery was lost in the forest of famous locations and people.

In all, I recommend this book to anyone who likes The Crown or is curious to see famous people in novels. It’s well-written, with a crisp writing style that pulls you along. There was never an instance in which I stumbled over word choice. The setting, characters, and portrayal of the Queen made this a light book worth reading. 

I give it three stars only because the mystery aspect was rather lost on me, but again, my mind might have wandered. I’ll figure that out when I reread it one day. If you like royalty or mysteries, you should definitely read The Windsor Knot; it is a charming, entertaining novel, great for lifting the spirits and for escapism.

Entering the Mystery Genre


For the book lover, literature becomes more beautiful over time. With the passing of the years, our tastes in books evolve. We learn about a certain genre, falling for it to an extent that we live in it, and suddenly–another genre whisks us to a new place. We then see the world from a different angle.

I have been immersed in historical fiction for at least three years. I’ve learned a great deal about important events, how life was lived, the way people dressed, and social interactions. This information molded most of my recent manuscripts. Historical fiction continues to be an important part of what I write and will eventually publish.

I didn’t like mysteries when I was younger. Maybe the mysteries that I chose to read were not the best, but I found them tedious and boring. I was more interested in emotional books than the mechanics of building a whodunnit. I never considered reading thrillers–I guess too many of them were overrated? Too many used paperbacks were sent in droves to the thrift store? I can’t account for my aversion to thrillers.

This year, towards the end of May, I was barricaded with ideas for a mystery. I won’t give details, but it is set in the present day (pre-Covid, mind) and it has been delightful to work with characters who have the same advantages that I do. They’re all over my imagination now; I can’t focus on banal tasks without a new scene filling my head. I even find reading difficult to do, since these new characters want to have my attention; they won’t share it with a novel.

Aware that I haven’t the slightest idea of how to write a mystery, I began searching for good ones to read. Ever loyal to the classics, I am reading Agatha Christie–but since what I’m writing is present-day, I’m also looking for modern mysteries. The thrillers that I find present a welcome change in pace from the classics that I had been reading, though Alexandre Dumas still paints better pictures in my imagination.

In short, I am reading things I never thought I would be reading before; is this a sign of maturity in a reader?

The first thriller I’ve read was suggested in a book group. The Couple Next Door was part of a bookhaul I got at a yard sale, and it had been sitting in the back of my closet for three years. It was delightful when I realized that the most popular thriller in that group was already within my reach. I found it and finished it–in one day.

What a change in pace. What a race to an unexpected ending. I definitely want to read more; I’ll be looking for the next book.

The reader’s life involves many forms of growth. Some of them can only be understood by other readers. As I enter the genres of Mystery and Thriller, I want to learn all about them. The first thing I looked up after finishing The Couple Next Door was Which are the first thrillers that were written? Though I did not find a direct answer, I did discover a good list of thrillers here. A couple are good old classics that I was planning to read anyway, including The Moonstone and The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde.

It feels like I’ve taken an unexpected turn in the road of reading and writing, and I’d like to find people already deep in those genres to share with. Do you have a favorite mystery or thriller book? Do you know of any blogs that might help me on this new path? Please comment and let me know!

NEVERWHERE by Neil Gaiman


I know I have written about the book Neverwhere in the past. It’s one of the few books I classify as favorites.

Those stories become favorites because something about them remains in me. It might be a character, or a place, or a phrase I must repeat every few years.

Sometimes, I will have forgotten the rest of a book in question—all of it except for the one thing that made it immortal.

This year, I read Neverwhere again after so long that I’d forgotten most of the story. Very little of it was familiar. Apart from some phrases that inexplicably took root in my memory, the mood and setting of this book felt new.

Halfway through, I remembered why I have always loved the story. The simplicity of main character Richard Mayhew is beautiful every time I ‘meet him’ again.

He is not popular or exciting. He has some aloof friends at work and a girlfriend who treats him like a loser. It seems as if his life will never speed up—until he does an act of kindness which flings him into London Below, a world of monsters and treachery.

Richard is frightened to be there. He is no instant hero, like those we encounter in movies. It takes him a painstakingly long while to accept he isn’t dreaming.

The boldest element in Neverwhere is Richard’s humanity, his ordinariness, something we can all relate to—and something we seek subconsciously in everything we read.

Like him, we feel insignificant sometimes. We grow through trials, some of them tremendous and frightening. These trials can shape us into heroes, if we let them.

We should never feel pressured into instant bravery—that’s not how humanity works. Instead, we should accept ourselves for what we really are; that is the most frightening and brave thing to do.

Neverwhere is a favorite because it has Richard, a character who gives me hope even when he has lost his own. His transformation is not painless; he does not meet the monsters with his chin up every time. Nonetheless, he emerges a warrior.

Richard’s humanity was the thing I needed to revisit in Neverwhere, a place I will never tire of—because his humanity makes it easier for me to accept my own.

Your Favorite Author?


It takes a while to discover which authors you might call ‘favorites.’ I, for one, tend to bounce from book to book, rarely lingering on a single author unless they wrote classics.

Charles Dickens has been a favorite author of mine from the start—I read A Christmas Carol every Christmas Eve!—but apart from him, I have never thought, “I need to read all the books this person wrote.” There are too many to choose from, I think, to not allow room to explore.

shelf above: Agatha Christie & history (mostly European); below, historical fiction and women writers I enjoy

At last, however, I have found some authors who—while I hesitate to call them favorites—I would want to read their books over and over. It’s their writing style; it’s the way they build the worlds in their novels.

Why don’t I call them favorites? I don’t know; I’ve always had an easier time picking favorite novels than favorite authors. After all, an author might have one really great book, while their others are mediocre; I still like them, but are they a favorite?

Have you ever grappled with the question of a favorite author? I would love to hear if you settled on one, and if so, what you love most about them!

Featured is a photo of a shelf with some of the authors I would read again. (There are more, but their books are on my Kindle!)