Update: Books I’m Reading In September


I can’t believe we are halfway through with September! I posted a list of books I was going to read in September, and I’m going to update you that. Some books I have read as planned, others are taking more time, and more crept in because my bibliophile self could not stick to the plan.

Stonehenge: A New Understanding is taking me the longest to read. I can’t quite name why—I bought it because I am interested in Stonehenge and its history, but the way that it is told in this book is slow and rather dry. Perhaps a person who is interested in obscure archaeological details would enjoy it more.

I am still going to finish it one day, but as it is, I’m reading a chapter at a time. I don’t want to speed-read something I don’t like and forget all about it. There is valuable information to be found in this book, but I’ve enjoyed other history books that were far more gripping.

I’ve read half of Dracula. At once upon starting, I remembered why it was my favorite book ten years ago. The book manages to be frightening without the notorious jump-scare that has invaded modern books and movies. You’re able to soak in the mystery. When they are frightened, so are you. I’m thinking that I’ll read the second half of Dracula in October.

As an aside, I’m reading the paper copy I enjoyed as a teenager; holding the pages is a great comfort!

Now, for the books I have finished so far in September:

In The Market For Murder by T. E. Kinsey

Oh, Lady Hardcastle! I think of this series and feel a thrill. Not since Harry Potter have I found a set of characters I am so fond of! In The Market For Murder can be enjoyed as a stand-alone, though I recommend you read the first installment so that you can appreciate why these characters are so great.

Lady Hardcastle and her ladies-maid Flo are not sit-on-your-hands Downton types who avoid trouble (or murder). In book one it is hinted that Lady Hardcastle and Flo were stranded somewhere in Asia where they escaped murderers, a deserted island, and other such atrocities after Lord Hardcastle’s death.

The first book, called A Quiet Life In The Country, is exactly that: Lady Hardcastle’s attempt to be a proper lady and find a quiet life in the country. There is murder in the country as well, disrupting her plans.

Lady Hardcastle and Flo are not damsels in distress. In book one, there is a scene where a drunken man touches Flo inappropriately. She ‘accidentally’ trips on the recently waxed floor and ‘accidentally’ hits him in the groin with her elbow. Then she warns him to be careful or she might ‘accidentally’ hit him again.

Read this series on purpose. You need these heroines in your life.

The Particular Charm Of Miss Jane Austen by Ada Bright & Cass Grafton

What would become of the world if Jane Austen had never written her books? What would a bookstore look like without Pride and Prejudice, in all its different editions, entire shelves? This comedy/romance, the first of a duo of books, insists that life without Mr. Darcy would be tragic.

The character of Jane in this book has the ability to travel in time. She is enjoying the costumes, tributes, and merriment at the annual Jane Austen festival in Bath, one of the cities where she once lived, when the necklace that lets her travel in time is lost.

Following its loss, her work disappears. There is no longer a Jane Austen festival. The main character, Rose Wallace, is frantic that she will never read about Mr. Darcy’s dysfunctional courtship again.

This book is a comedy, so I try not to be cynical that Rose’s first worry is not about Jane Austen being trapped in a century not her own. Instead, she’s going berserk about the fact that Mr. Wickham is no more.

I often wanted to scream at Rose that she was being a selfish entitled little—er, bookworm.

Because of all of these things, the book is hilarious. It’s a great twist on Jane Austen fan fiction, and it’s well worth the read. I won’t soon forget it!

The Hidden People by Alison Littlewood

I have just finished reading The Hidden People today. I might have written this update post because I needed a space to gush. The book is often compared to my other all-time favorite, Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell, and rightly so. The setting is impeccable; I have literally had a dream in which I was staying at a bleak house exactly like the one described in Littlewood’s book.

It’s the second book that influenced my dream world with its magical setting and description. The first book to do so was Piranesi; I’ll talk about that sometime soon!

Halfoak is a little village in the English countryside where the people swear that Changelings are not only real, but they live in an oddly shaped hill and steal children. When main character Alfie’s cousin Lizzie is killed on suspicion of being a Changeling, he goes to investigate this murder and ensure that she is given a Christian funeral—which few of the superstitious villagers attend.

The magic in this book is that the ending doesn’t steal the wonder. Was it all a result of the villagers’ superstition, or are there really Changelings in Halfoak stealing children and corrupting wives?

It is not a happy ending for Alfie, but I consider it happy that the reader can ask themselves while unable to sleep, Could it be?


The Hidden People is a perfect Halloween read if you need something a bit lighter than Dracula. It’s also good for people who like fairy stories.

All of these books are ‘family friendly,’ though Littlewood’s book is Gothic and that is the magic of it. In The Market For Murder is a cozy mystery; there is a crime committed, but you spend more time laughing at Lady Hardcastle’s antics than dreading pools of blood. Miss Jane Austen is pure fun—if you want a light read, this is it!

What have you read this month? Please tell me!

The Bookworm’s Bible: FOR THE LOVE OF BOOKS by Graham Tarrant


For The Love Of Books is the perfect gift for your picky book-loving friend. It’s the sort they’ll read over and over–for fun, as well as to learn.

It was there in my Kindle for months before I started to read. At once I realized that it was the perfect match for me! I had already been doing my own research on writers, book series, and events that triggered classic stories. This work opened a treasure chest of details to keep me going.

Graham Tarrant has gathered priceless facts and ‘did-you-know’ bits. I finished reading with the sense that I’d been given a crash course on literary history. 

You finish reading this book with the sense that you’ve gone through volumes of classics, biographies, and newspaper articles. The only downside is realizing there are so many books we’ve yet to read.

Why can’t I skip bedtime for reading time?

Which Tasty Morsels?

For The Love Of Books features everything to hook the bibliophile. It talks about authors’ disputes and the (mostly) indirect swings they aimed at each other. These were done via interviews–but sometimes their books featured characters suspiciously similar to their rivals.

It provides juicy details on literary romances. If you want to learn about husband-wife cowriters, there are such romantic duos. If you prefer the dangerous, there are love affairs that authors carried out with colleagues. You’ll also find that some of them preferred the writer-hermit lifestyle to a family setup.

Are you curious about the origin of the mystery novel? A chapter has been dedicated to mysteries and thrillers. There are many famous female mystery writers, Agatha Christie being the best known. You’ll read about spy novels that were based on the authors’ experiences.

Of course, there is the melancholy: there are some authors who passed away before they could finish their work. I’m not talking about Dickens with Edward Drood or Jane Austen with Sanditon. No, this is a threat that all authors face! I can’t imagine anything sadder than an unfinished manuscript on my bedside when my last day comes.

Fellow bookworm, you’ll find everything here to satisfy your appetite.

“What Do I Read Next?”

For The Love Of Books will make you feel enlightened. You’ll fall in love with the literary world and its history–but you might also find yourself in a panic. You won’t know what to read next! There are so many titles mentioned; it might depend on which category you’d like to explore. 

Do you want to read the first detective story by Edgar Allen Poe? Called The Murders in the Rue Morgue, it’s said to have inspired future “career” mystery writers. Maybe you’d like to know which writers produced their best work under the influence of alcohol. If you dedicate yourself to the It’s A Fact tidbits, you will still learn much. In two or three sentences, Tarrant delights us with history to mull over and laugh at.

Behind every great story is an even greater story. That is my motto, and Graham Tarrant has written the book to feed my obsessions: books and history, history and books. I am grateful for this gem, this must-have for book lovers, and the material it has given me to continue my research in these realms I adore.

The Writer’s Lifeline: JANE AUSTEN’S BEST FRIEND by Zoe Wheddon


It is also a truth universally acknowledged that a woman in possession of a great talent must be in want of a brilliant best friend.

This twist on the first sentence of Pride and Prejudice ushers us into the book Jane Austen’s Best Friend, a touching piece that sheds a new light on the most famous authoress in history. 

We often picture Miss Jane Austen alone at her desk, poring over her manuscripts. Rarely do we remember she was also a woman. She had a human heart that longed for affection and needed friends to keep her sane.

Thankfully for Jane, such a friend existed. Her name was Martha Lloyd. No drawings of her exist, but Austen scholars have managed to piece together a vague description based on snatches from letters.

Martha had the personality of a devout Christian woman; acts of charity were part of her nature. She was not blessed with a lovely face: as a child, she suffered a violent bout of smallpox. Though she survived, it marked her countenance–a fact which played against her chances of finding a husband, and indeed she remained a spinster.

A caring, gentle soul, Martha was always nursing the sick and at the bedsides of the dying. She did this so often that their families left her allowances on which she survived. There were times when the Austens were struggling to get by; they could always count on Martha to help them through hard financial times.

This book humanizes Jane Austen. I can picture her as a teenage girl writing her Juvenilia, giggling with Martha at the scandalous scenarios. The first to read Jane’s work in their rawest form were Jane’s sister, Cassandra, and Martha Lloyd.

What a thing to envy! Many people today would love a glance at Jane’s first drafts. She later became a heavy editor, as is known in the case of her novel Northanger Abbey, which she continued to tweak until her death. As it was published posthumously, Jane Austen never saw Northanger Abbey as a book. It was that story she could never seem to get right; any author knows how that feels.

From my own experience working on novels, I know that writing is difficult when you’re on the journey alone. There is a balance: you want to share your drafts with people, but they’ve got to be the right people. You want feedback as you go, but the thought of sending those pieces to just anyone–it almost causes a physical pain! 

My fresh-off-the-press readers include my brother, a few critique partners, and writing buddies who don’t always read the draft but allow me to bounce ideas off of them. Jane’s version, the people who cheered her on as she wrote some of the most famous novels in history, included Martha. 

I believe Martha deserves the chance to be known. She was a comfort to Jane, a source of inspiration, and much-needed comic relief when life became dark. Even as I type this, I can picture Jane Austen gossiping with her best friend about situations that would later wind up in her books. It makes my heart sing!

Jane Austen was brilliant, but she wasn’t a member of a different species. She became famous after years of hard work, but was not too different from me.

If you want a heartwarming read, Jane Austen’s Best Friend soothes the soul like a cup of tea–with lots of honey in it. It will give you more insight into Jane Austen’s life. It will also help you see more clearly what it means to be someone’s best friend.

Death at Scarclaw Fell: SIX STORIES by Matt Wesolowski


Have you ever wondered what would happen if you examined a situation from multiple angles? Round up all of the people involved and ask them about what happened. You’d watch their opinions differ and their accounts mix and match.

Matt Wesolowski’s Six Stories follows this premise. It is the written transcript of Scott King’s podcast. Scott’s goal is to rake up old graves. He takes cold cases and looks at them, not as a detective or reporter. He gives people involved a space to talk, and they are drawn to him because of this perspective.

The characters interviewed felt so real that it might have been a true story. I appreciated how people with disabilities were given compassion. It was refreshing to read a piece where the narrator (in this case, Scott King) takes into account the status of a vulnerable adult.

The six points-of-view were flawless to me. Motives were clear, backgrounds separate. While they all lived through the same tragedy, they approached it in distinct ways. Some were ashamed by it; others were almost indifferent. Everyone who knew the murdered kid was affected by him in distinct ways. This affected how much sympathy they showed for him later.

I have to admit it: their stories made it easy to single out who was “it.” I wasn’t surprised when the big reveal happened. I don’t know if the author did this on purpose, focusing on the different voices and how they lead to the same conclusion. It did not take away from my enjoyment of the novel.

Perhaps what was creepiest about the situation was how normal it felt. These teenagers were behaving like teenagers. The trouble they got into with smoking and drinking was what you would expect from angsty teens.

Right until the end, when we learn of the horrific, we struggle to believe they are being interviewed about a murder. It might have been an intervention.

This well-written thriller has a wonderful mythical, horror flavoring. I sometimes wondered if there could be spirits and monsters in the marsh. It is bleak, detailed, and–in my opinion–a great idea for a mystery book.

A heads up for those who mind: the novel has strong language. It wasn’t bad enough to distract me from the plot. If you want a good thriller, I encourage anyone reading this to give Six Stories a try.

Top Three Books – Week 2


It’s been a year of experimenting with different genres. For example, I hadn’t in the past enjoyed any mystery books. Now I’ve done some research and am excited to give the genre a second chance. I can find the hook in a mystery novel–if it is well written!

I haven’t posted about any of the books featured here. There are reasons–for example, Marigolds for Malice is part three of a series. I didn’t feel comfortable reviewing it having dropped in so late. That’s why, instead of a long blog post, I’ll limit my thoughts to a few sentences.

1- Marigolds for Malice by Bailey Cattrell

Marigolds for Malice is a cozy mystery. It’s the sort of mystery you can read when you’re awake at night with insomnia–nothing disturbing or terrifying disrupts the sense of who did it?

Cozy mysteries are good in small doses. They’re essentially fairy tale mysteries, mysteries without the alarm or thrill. If I read too many, would I become accustomed to not being alarmed? Isn’t that important in the mystery genre? It’s only an opinion, though, from a newbie. I do plan on reading more cozies!

The main character Ellie is a young woman who, recently divorced, makes a living with her perfume store. Magic is a thing in this book: she knows which herbs to mix into potions to soothe any malady. This reference to the language of plants and flowers charmed me. As a gardener, I believe that different plants have different purposes–though I don’t see myself putting together healing potions!

2- Like You Love Me by Adriana Locke

Like You Love Me is a romance. I had just finished an intense murder mystery and my mind was reeling; I wanted to read something light and entertaining. This was the right choice. There aren’t complicated mysteries or love triangles. It’s straightforward, sweet, and everything you expect a romance to be.

For a romance, the characters are well done. They have goals other than falling in love, they make mistakes and feel sorry. The story might be simple for a reader, but it isn’t simple for the characters at all. How do you pretend to be married for a week–and what do you do if you actually fall in love?

I breezed through this charming story in a day. Setting was also painted for us carefully and with great detail: by the time it was over, I wished I could visit Honey Creek. The place itself has a character to it that I haven’t found in other books.

3- Excellent Women by Barbara Pym

The online description of Excellent Women summarizes this book quite well:

Mildred Lathbury is a clergyman’s daughter and a spinster in the England of the 1950s, one of those ‘excellent women’ who tend to get involved in other people’s lives – such as those of her new neighbor, Rockingham, and the vicar next door.

Some people don’t want to get involved in the affairs of the person next door–but it happens anyway. Mildred is content with her uneventful life. She’s involved at church, organizes rummage sales, and always seems to be making a cup of tea for someone who needs it.

I laughed when, at one point, she asked herself why she always seemed to be making tea for people.

It’s a simple book, but the beauty is in that simplicity. When Mildred’s new neighbor brings problems with her that Mildred isn’t accustomed to, she finds herself in a series of awkward situations. Will these situations shake her out of her comfort zone?


Of these three, I enjoyed Excellent Women most. Barbara Pym’s comedy is subtle; you want to pat Mildred’s hand and tell her it will be okay, but you also giggle each time she reaches for the teapot. I thought it the best written of the three.

Have you read any of these? Do you have a cozy mystery to recommend? I hope July brought you happy reading!

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.

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!

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?

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.

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.