Cape Cod Scenes, Reading Adventures, and Neighborhood Turkeys

“Live in the sunshine. Swim in the sea. Drink in the wild air.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson

Summer rushed on by in a whoosh of heat and humidity. We try to capture it in pictures, to somehow hold the light, but it still dissolves into the past with a chill. Now that we can feel that chill in the air, here are a few scenes to warm us by.

Cape Cod can get pretty overcrowded in the summer so instead of reading on the beach, this is my usual warm weather reading spot:

That way, I can look up from my books and watch the squirrels, chipmunks, hummingbirds, and neighborhood turkeys while trying not to think about all the yard work that I should be doing.

I’ve made a dent in my summer reading list while adding a few from my book club. The ones that I didn’t get to over the summer will have to become cozy autumn reads. Of the ones that I did read, I highly recommend Swimming Lessons and The Art of Chasing Normal.

A huge thank you to Millie Thom, D. Catalini, and William McCaskie for the latest reviews of Ocean Echoes. I really appreciate it whenever anyone takes the time to add a review. Millie Thom writes exciting Viking/Saxon adventures set in the mid ninth century. Check out her books here. Her blog includes modern day adventures while seeking out those special places where history can be felt and imagined.

It’s about time to announce the winner of a signed copy of Ocean Echoes. And the winner is…BJ. I’ll get that right out to you.

I’m sorry I haven’t been around for a while. Every time I tried to make it back, life had a way of getting in the way. I’ve missed everyone and will look forward to catching up with you!

What was your favorite summer/autumn read? Do you have any neighborhood turkeys?

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Summer Reading and a Giveaway

beach reading spotIt’s finally summer on this part of the planet and that means it’s about time for some reading in the sunshine. For those in the Southern Hemisphere, I hope you’ll find a cozy fireside nook to snuggle into for some winter reading.

Here are the books I’ve been looking forward to reading for a while, so they’ll become my Summer (or Fall) reads. (Click on any picture for a description):

                                 

Thank you to Book Club Mom, Milka, Carrie Rubin, Christy Birmingham, Ally Bean, and Goodreads friends for recommending some of these.

And a huge thank you to Kate Johnston for her review of Ocean Echoes. Kate is a freelance writer and environmental crusader. We share a love of writing, nature, the ocean, and probably hundreds of other things. Her blog, 4 AM Writer, is filled with advice for writers at all stages in their careers. If you haven’t visited her yet, please make sure to stop by and check out her books in the last row above.

Goodreads Giveaway: To celebrate the summer, there’s a Goodreads Giveaway going on now for signed copies of Ocean Echoes. Feel free to enter if you live in the U.S., U.K., or Canada. The Goodreads giveaway ends on July 21. For blogging friends, if you leave a comment here by the end of July you’ll be in the running for another signed copy. There’s also a Kindle Countdown Deal for more summer celebrations – Ocean Echoes will be half price at only $1.99 starting today until July 20.

Have you read any of the above books? Do you recommend any others for summer reading? What will you be reading at the beach or by the fire? 

Versions of the Self

To celebrate International Women’s Day, I’d like to share this amazing book by Christy Birmingham with you. I highly recommend it to men and women, to people who love to read poetry and to people who have never read poetry. To everyone who has ever been filled with doubts or regrets, love and joy.

The poems found in Versions of the Self resonated with me when I read them, and they’re still resonating. There are so many feelings that can be found here, so many relationships, so many selves.

I loved the poems that celebrated freedom and could at times feel my soul soaring along with the words. Then different poems made me stop and think while bringing me back to Earth.

The poem, “Within a Few Feet,” shows the regrets that hold us back and keep us earthbound, all while freedom is only a few feet away in the form of seagulls tempting the author to fly.

Some poems show the gradual process of healing before being able to move on, then we come to, “Made to Write,” where the writer discovers her purpose and “I Stand Here,” showing her growing confidence with this last stanza: “I stand alive,/Healthy and complete, as/My branches extend into fresh air around me.”

We also see the joy of new love and the fear of that love diminishing or disappearing. Questions and disappointments surface, but then there’s always that chance for freedom and soaring again. “You, Colors, and Realization” shows this perfectly after stating “You were once a masterpiece”:

“Today, your colors fall to a wooden floor,/While I run a paintbrush under the kitchen tap/To clean the bristles and/Paint a new day,/Made of colors that I alone choose.”

Anyone who has ever had doubts while in a relationship, and I’m guessing that’s everyone, will find themselves here. Times of insecurity and despair combine with a blooming confidence and an ecstasy for life, giving the reader an overall feeling of positive energy and tingling inspiration.

We see the friendships we form with different people, how we push each other, help each other, inspire each other, and push each other away.

The theme of freedom floats through the pages, and it’s not always meant as freedom from a particular relationship. There’s a stronger sense of freedom from fear, freedom from anything holding you back from what you’re meant to do.

We see this in “Flight Path” with these lines: “You are more than your drenched feathers…You are meant to fly, I know you can, and/It is the moment when you turn can into will/That I will savor the most.”

With all of these poems and inspiring words, we see the bravery it takes to step forward into each day and the exhilaration that’s felt when we leave our fear behind. Everyone who reads this collection will see different versions of herself or himself, the effects we have on each other, and all the energy that can be felt when we find a way to be true to ourselves.

Happy International Women’s Day – and thank you to Christy for your inspirational poems!

How will you be celebrating International Women’s Day?

The Everything Theory: Combining Adventure with Ancient Mysteries

everything theoryI’m always looking for novels that will make me look at the world in different ways. The Everything Theory does that while entertaining readers with a fast-paced plot and memorable characters.

Theories on everything from how the pyramids were constructed to Stonehenge to Atlantis abound through this novel as the characters search the far reaches of the Earth for answers.

The adventure starts in a small town in Australia when an amateur astrologist is found dead after an apparent suicide. Luke, his assistant and cohort, doesn’t believe his friend killed himself. Then someone tries to kill Luke and he wonders if they stumbled across information that others want to keep hidden. While on the run, he meets a group of researchers who know why he’s in danger.

The result is a chase full of twists and turns and learning along the way. The theories shown in this novel made me wonder about the truth behind the ancient knowledge that we dig up and try to explain. Are we seeing the truth when we look at history in this way or are we seeing what we want to see?

Stonehenge

Dianne Gray delivers descriptions that put you right in the middle of the action:

“Seira Kanahele scrambled from the tunnel and into the dying light where the colours of dusk and shadows of dark clouds moved like sharks through the mountains. As she looked behind for the others, her long, black plait flicked like a snake at her back. She covered her head with her gloved hands as the mouth in the mountain spewed dust and rocks and millions of years of history across the remote, uninviting slopes…Only humans could have created the beauty of the caves and only humans could have destroyed them.”

Character descriptions like this reminded me of Dickens:

“He pulled back his hood to reveal hair like black feathers styled by his pillow, a youthful complexion with rosy cheeks like fresh slap marks and a small mole between his bottom lip and strong, square jawline.”

“All his life he had thought of the Earth as nothing more than the ground beneath his feet. He never imagined ancient cities below, or the tons of rock and dirt that has been laid down through the ages like the pages of a book holding the records of a forgotten history.”

I didn’t want this novel to end. I wanted it to go on with all the theories of the world, making me wonder about what we like to call the truth. But the ending was absolutely perfect and the epilogue really made me smile. Recommended to anyone who loves to wonder about the world.

Click here to order The Everything Theory. You can connect with Dianne Gray, the author of The Everything Theory, through her blog or on Twitter.

What do you look for in a novel? Do you have any theories on ancient mysteries?

Memorable Characters in David Copperfield

David CopperfieldCharles Dickens once said of all his books, David Copperfield was his favorite. I had to read it just for that reason.

It’s known as one of his most autobiographical novels. The story travels through the main character’s life from childhood into adulthood while showing the choices he makes and the ramifications of those choices.

It’s the story of a relatively normal life in early 1800s England and because of that we get to be immersed in all the sights and sounds and expectations of the time.

The best part of his life turns out to be the people he chooses to spend it with. All kinds of characters appear and disappear and then appear again. They truly color his life and make it worth living.

London

From the eccentric aunt who yells out, “Donkeys!” whenever a donkey dares to wander into her yard to Mr. Micawber, who distributes IOUs as if they were real money, to the infamous Uriah Heep, who’s always described as slimy, the characters bring so much to the novel and the reader never knows when they’re going to appear. Whenever I’d start to get a little bored with the story, another character would wander back in and I’d be entertained again.

LondonDavid Copperfield was first published in 1850 and the story takes place from the 1820s on. In some ways, it was ahead of its time, mostly because Aunt Betsey Trotwood speaks out against the way women and children were treated. I loved that character’s spunk.

She takes care of Mr. Dick, who has been working on a speech for years and makes kites out of his drafts because his obsession with King Charles the First keeps slipping in. He flies the kites as a way of diffusing the words and clearing his mind.

And then there’s Uriah Heep. He’s one of those people you love to hate and he’s described perfectly with passages like this:

“His damp cold hand felt so like a frog in mine that I was tempted to drop it and run away.”

“I found Uriah reading a great fat book, with such demonstrative attention, that his lank forefinger followed up every line as he read, and made clammy tracks along the page (or so I fully believed) like a snail.”

I think my favorite Dickens novel is still A Tale of Two Cities because it’s more story oriented, but the characters in David Copperfield have stayed with me long after reading it. Recommended to anyone who wants to spend time with some memorable characters.

Have you encountered any memorable characters lately? What made them memorable?  

All the Light We Cannot See and the Power of Imagination

hedge rabbitCreativity lurks in unexpected places. Instead of trimming these bushes into the usual rectangle or oval, someone decided they’d look better as a caterpillar and a rabbit.

hedge caterpillarEncountering these animals on a quiet side street made me wonder why we don’t do this kind of thing all the time.

The wonderful thing about reading and writing is that both are chances to use our imagination.

In All the Light We Cannot See, Marie-Laure and her Uncle Etienne turn a couch into a flying machine  to escape France during World War II:

“They visit Scotland, New York City, Santiago. More than once, they put on winter coats and visit the moon… ‘Here, try some nice fresh moon flesh,’ he says, and into her mouth goes something that tastes a lot like cheese.”

My brother and I used to do that kind of thing all the time. We’d hop from the couch to the coffee table to a rocking chair because the living room rug would suddenly turn into an ocean or a lava pit.

Then we grew up and the rug was just a rug. We forgot that we could turn it into something much more fun and interesting.

In All the Light We Cannot See, when Werner and Jutta hear radio broadcasts like this, the world opens up for them:

“The brain is locked in total darkness, of course, children, says the voice. It floats in a clear liquid inside the skull, never in the light. And yet the world it constructs in the mind is full of light. It brims with color and movement. So how, children, does the brain, which lives without a spark of light, build for us a world full of light?…Open your eyes, concludes the man, and see what you can with them before they close forever.”

After hearing those words, their world is transformed:

“…and then a piano comes on, playing a lonely song that sounds to Werner like a golden boat traveling a dark river, a progression of harmonies that transfigures Zollverein: the houses turned to mist, the mines filled in, the smokestacks fallen, an ancient sea spilling through the streets, and the air streaming with possibility.”

Unless we’re constantly reading or writing, we’re probably not using our imagination enough in daily life. After reading All the Light We Cannot See, I’ll try to imagine more often. Maybe the next traffic jam will turn into a parade full of characters and clowns.

I’m enough of a dreamer to believe if we change our perception of the world, the world will change. I know that’s a silly thought but silly thoughts might be the best kind.

“Imagination is the only weapon in the war against reality.” – Lewis Carroll, Alice in Wonderland

What do you think the world would be like if we used our imagination more often?

Summer Reading Giveaway

beach reading spotIt’s about time for some beach or patio reading in the sun. I’m looking forward to diving into these books almost as much as the ocean: The Shell Collector (because Letizia reminded me of that one), Slaughterhouse Five (after reading this review by Ste J), Tinkers (because of reviews from Goodreads friends), All the Light We Cannot See, and a million others.

I’m grateful for the friends I’ve found and I’d like to thank everyone for taking the time to stop by and visit. So to celebrate you and the summer reading list, it’s time to do another giveaway. If you comment on this post by Wednesday, June 24, your comment will put you in the running for a $25 Amazon gift card. The winner will be announced here on Thursday.

In case you’re hunting around for a few more beach or fireside reads, take a look at these books written by blogging friends. Just click on the book cover for a description of each:

seneca-scourgeeverything theory      sixtraincover

btsg-sidebar-cover     nola-fran-evie-cover-large     enb_sidebar_cover

     2-SecretKeepers_ebookRGB_2     3-HandsOfMercy_ebookRGB_2

tgwig     the_artemis_effect    comebacktome-amazon51vfLeJncVL     lauren     lauren2

licia    11question     soul

Books are by: Britt Skrabanek, Carrie RubinDianne Gray, Kourtney Heintz, Charissa StastnyKasia James, Coleen PatrickLauren Scott, K.C. Tansley, and my friend from UMass Amherst Licia Sorgi.

There’s also a Goodreads giveaway going on for K.C. Tansley’s The Girl Who Ignored Ghosts. And don’t forget to nominate Eating Bull on Kindle Scout within the next four days for the chance to win a free e-book.

What’s on your summer (or winter fireside) reading list?

Books as Traveling Companions

Barbara Kingsolver is one of my favorite authors so when the time came to choose a traveling companion for a trip to Arizona, I chose her words. Her novel Animal Dreams takes place in Arizona and her descriptions became the perfect background music.

Arizona canyonsI read this description while on the plane and couldn’t wait to get out there:

“The canyon walls rose straight up on either side of us, ranging from sunset orange to deep rust, mottled with purple. The sandstone had been carved by ice ages and polished by desert eons of sandpaper winds.”

canyon wall

Once I finally stood near the canyon walls, I made sure to notice the colors threading their way through the rock and all the layers representing centuries of creation.

After hiking up a steep path, ancient cliff dwellings came into view. From down below, the dwellings couldn’t be seen at all. They blended in with the canyon to the point of invisibility. Everyone figured they built their homes that way for protection against potential enemies. Later, I read this passage and saw the cliff dwellings all over again but in a different way:

“The walls were shaped to face the curved hole in the cliff, and the building blocks were cut from the same red rock that served as their foundation. I thought of what Loyd had told me about Pueblo architecture, whose object was to build a structure the earth could embrace.”

cliff dwellings

Tucked away in a crevice between the cliffs where sunlight acted as a calendar, petroglyphs told their own tales. They spoke of the people who lived there high above the ground, of hunting parties, and of women with Princess Leia hairdos.

petroglyphs

DSC03868_2

Kingsolver describes petroglyphs as a record of progress through the generations:

“There were antelope, snakes, and ducks in a line like a carnival shooting gallery. And humans: oddly turtle-shaped, with their arms out and fingers splayed as if in surrender or utter surprise. The petroglyphs added in recent centuries showed more svelte, self-assured men riding horses. The march of human progress seemed mainly a matter of getting over that initial shock of being here.”

Now that I’m back home, I can revisit the red rock canyons any time with a turn of the page.

(And the Twitter goat club will be happy to hear there’s a goat in Animal Dreams.)

Related Post:
Writer…Uninterrupted – during Vacation

Do you choose novels based on setting? Have you ever taken a favorite author along on vacation? 

Snowbound Reading through the Decades

snowWhen the snow is up past your knees and you can’t open the door, then all you can do is stay in and read. That’s why I love the snow.

I’ve been wandering through the decades with a chronological short story collection and I’m stuck in the 1950s for now. The collection begins with a story published in 1915 and goes up to the end of the century. I’ve seen farming communities replaced by city life. Writing styles have become more rushed. Now I’m stuck in suburbia surrounded by themes of society’s expectations and restrictions. I’m looking forward to the 60s.

My favorite story from the 1930-50 era is “Resurrection of a Life” by William Saroyan, published in 1935. The character remembers being a newspaper boy in 1917, roaming the streets, shouting disastrous headlines. It beautifully shows what that might do to a young boy. Not only does he see the coldness of the city, but he repeats and sells stories of war.

“There he is suddenly in the street, running, and it is 1917, shouting the most recent crimes of man, extra, extra, ten thousand huns killed, himself alive, inhaling, exhaling, ten thousand, ten thousand, all the ugly buildings solid, all the streets solid, the city unmoved by the crime, ten thousand, windows opening, doors opening, and the people of the city smiling about it, good, good, ten thousand, ten thousand of them killed. Johnny, get your gun, and another trainload of boys in uniforms, going away, torn from home, from the roots of life, their tragic smiling, and the broken hearts, all things in the world broken.”

DSC01831_2We see and feel the city, the people bustling by, and the boy there in the middle of it all. While others think of war as abstract, he breaks it down to individuals. He sees their faces caught up in something large and monstrous. Toward the end, he still manages to find beauty in it all:

“And all that I know is that we are somehow alive, all of us, in the light, making shadows, the sun overhead, space all around us, inhaling, exhaling, the face and form of man everywhere, pleasure and pain, sanity and madness, over and over again, war and no war, and peace and no peace, the earth solid and unaware of us, unaware of our cities, our dreams, unaware of this love I have for life.”

Sometimes I take a break to read The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce. It’s a great one so far.

Are you snowbound or enjoying the sunshine? What have you been reading lately?

A Century of Voices

bookI started the new year off with voices from the last century. I know, I’m weird.

The voices are contained within this volume of short stories. They’re in chronological order starting with the year 1915 so reading through them is like reading through history. Not the kind of history you read in textbooks, but the kind that’s filled with people’s thoughts and feelings. There have been stories about immigration and racial issues, farming communities and mobsters. Poverty. Cruelty. Injustice. And yes, hope.

Famous voices can be found through the pages, including the familiar ones of Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and William Faulkner. But I’ve enjoyed hearing the others, the ones I hadn’t heard until now.

One of my favorites so far, “A Jury of Her Peers” by Susan Glaspell, was published in 1917. It shows how often women were dismissed, even though they were always there farming, cooking, and cleaning. That attitude comes through as the normal way of things with passages like this:

“Oh well,” said Mrs. Hale’s husband, with good-natured superiority, “women are used to worrying over trifles.”

The two women moved a little closer together. Neither of them spoke.

“And yet,” said he, with the gallantry of a young politician, “for all their worries, what would we do without the ladies?”

The women did not speak, did not unbend.

Reading through this volume has reminded me why I love short stories. They give the reader so much in only a few words. The best short stories could easily be novels. They’re packed full of emotion. In these times with so little time (really the way it’s always been), it’s surprising that more people don’t read short stories.

It’ll be interesting to see how writing styles have changed over the last century. I’ll keep reading through time and will let you know how it goes in future posts.

What do you think of short stories? Do you have a favorite short story writer?

Favorite Summer Reads

summer garden

My favorite summer reads aren’t exactly beach reads, maybe because I never did make it to the beach to read this summer. Each one made me think of the world in different ways. That’s usually all I look for in a book: to think beyond myself, to become a character I’d normally never be while learning something along the way.

Flight Behavior by Barbara Kingsolver is such a wonderful book for all those reasons and the gorgeous writing tops it off. The sub-plot of a marriage winds its way through a larger environmental story while both can be seen as stories of denial. Flight Behavior shows that denial is something humans excel at, even in the face of repeated weather disasters, while sympathizing with the characters for living and surviving in a time and place where nothing is stable or sure. The novel also shows how far removed something like climate change can be. Priorities like family and enough money for food are too overwhelming to look beyond and see what’s happening in the larger world. But then, if those larger world problems continue to be ignored, they will become personal and this novel shows that too.

The Seneca Scourge by Carrie Rubin is a fun, fast-paced novel that puts the reader right into the hurried shoes of a physician at a hospital. The medical perspective gave me a newfound respect for all that doctors and nurses go through on a daily basis. Add to that a mysterious pandemic and a doctor who shows up along with it, and the pages really start turning. Carrie Rubin does an excellent job of showing the mystery surrounding Casper with scattered instances of strange behavior. The science fiction twist added even more excitement to the story. My mind started spinning with all the possibilities. By the end, the characters had become friends that I didn’t want to leave. Of course, Carrie Rubin’s blog (The Write Transition) is a favorite too.

The Fault in Our Stars by John Green – Every once in a while, I’ll pick up a book based purely on the title and will try not to hear anything about it before reading it. That’s what I did with this one. If I had known it was about kids with cancer, I probably wouldn’t have read it. But I loved it. I loved the philosophical discussions about life, love, and the universe. I loved the characters, their quirkiness, and their honesty. This book will make anyone laugh and cry (sometimes at the same time), just like life.

What are some of your favorite summer reads?

The Giver Series: Learning from Fictional Societies

The GiverThank you to Milka for recommending The Giver series by Lois Lowry. I enjoyed The Giver so much that I launched into the next three: Gathering BlueMessenger, and Son. All four young adult novels are short, easy reads so they’re great for those of us most likely to fall behind on reading challenges.

Different communities are described in each book and it’s fun to compare them with each other, and then with our own society. The Giver shows a futuristic society that at first seems perfect. There are no wars. There’s no such thing as pollution, poverty, or hunger. Everyone rides bicycles to get anywhere within the community and there’s never any reason to leave.

But the characters never make any choices, which leads to having no real emotions, including love. A council decides everything: a person’s future career, spouse, children, meals. Individualism is discouraged. They think they’re content, but they’ve never known anything else.

Gathering Blue is then a surprise because the community is completely different. It’s a rougher place, with people living in huts and squabbling over territory. People act more on instinct or their own desires. They occupy themselves mostly with finding food through farming or hunting, though there is never enough food. Possibly because of this, they think nothing of ostracizing those with physical deformities, leaving them to die.

Messenger shows another, more balanced society. This one is based on welcoming outsiders, people who had to escape other places. Everyone finds a way to contribute to the community and it feels more like a family.

Then someone called the Trademaster appears. He has things people have never seen before, materialistic things, and they begin to trade the best part of themselves for those things. Materialism makes them more individualistic and they begin to worry that, with all the outsiders coming in, there won’t be enough resources for everyone. They vote to build a wall around the community. Outsiders are turned away. They don’t notice the connection between the Trademaster and the changes in their society.

Son ties everything up, with characters appearing from all three books like long lost friends. My favorites were The Giver and Messenger, mostly because of the unique communities but also because I loved Matty, the main character in Messenger.

Speaking of communities, I’m thankful for the friends I’ve found here. Milka (who recommended these books to me) has two great blogs: Perfecting Motherhood, a humorous look at parenthood with reviews of adult and children’s books, and a nature photography site where she finds beauty everywhere.

What do you think a perfect community would be like? Can we learn from fictional societies like these?

Thoughts on The Book Thief and Colors

the book thiefI kept hearing about The Book Thief. It stayed on my to-read list for a long time, probably because I’d hear it described like this:

It’s about a little girl living in Nazi Germany. Her family hides a Jewish man in their basement and they become friends. The story is narrated by Death.

I thought it sounded too depressing. Strangely though, it’s not.

That’s the basic story, but it’s also about the survival and growth of love in the harshest environments. It’s about the effects of books on our lives, the power of words, and the importance of friendship and hope. More than that even, it’s about colors.

Markus Zusak paints with words and he doesn’t just paint pictures. He paints feelings into those pictures. His father painted houses and that must have influenced his descriptions because the colors come through in such a vibrant and unique way. A sense of wonder and amazement for life can be felt along with the colors and words.

When I read a book, I want to feel and experience everything. Reading The Book Thief feels like this:

sunset

Yes, there’s darkness and sadness in it. But there’s also light and so many glowing colors. And the light does have a way of shining through.