Tuesday, June 22, 2021

Blue Desert by Celia Jeffries - BOOK REVIEW



Blue Desert by Celia Jeffries (2021, Rootstock Publishing)

Sixty years after Alice George lived in the Sahara desert with the nomadic Tuarig tribe, she received a telegram telling her that Abu was dead. "Who is Abu?" her husband asks. "My lover," she replies. This is the set up for Blue Desert, the new novel by Celia Jeffries. The story braids the two narratives of Alice's time spent in the Sahara during the years of World War I and 1970s London, during the week she tells her secrets to her husband for the first time.

The story of Alice’s time spent with the Taurig people is particularly fascinating. The Sahara is land mass larger than the continental United States and is seemingly hostile to human life. But this tribe found a way to live in harmony with that environment. Add to that, women were valued and held power within their society in a way that contrasted markedly with the British society Alice had left behind in the early 1900s.

One of the main themes in Blue Desert is how survival and love can be entwined and take many forms. What helped Alice survive in the desert was acceptance—of her situation and of the people she found herself among. What helped Martin survive the WWI was acceptance of the altered state of the world. Finally, what made their marriage work was total acceptance of each other as they were.

If you like historical fiction with a feminist bent, Blue Desert is the book for you.


Read my author interview of Celia Jeffries, here.

Learn more about the book Blue Desert and author Celia Jeffries on her website, here.

Watch the YouTube video of the Cambridge Common Writers launch of Blue Desert, here, where you can listen to Celia read from her novel and answer questions about the story and her writing process.

Saturday, June 19, 2021

The Garden in Every Sense and Season: A Year of Insights and Inspiration from My Garden by Tovah Martin - BOOK REVIEW


In The Garden in Every Sense and Season: A Year of Insights and Inspiration from My Garden, Tovah Martin chronicles four seasons in her garden, carefully describing what each of her five senses experiences each season. As she describes:
This is the story of a nose and how I followed it through the year. This is the saga of a garden and how it spoke to me. In these pages I chronicle a pair of hands as they grope their way through the weeding, hoeing, and digging without too much pain. And this is the tale of someone who has looked at her garden for years, but only now saw it fully for the first time.
I’m a half-hearted gardener at best. Well, that would be a gross overstatement. I like to wander through famous gardens or sit in a pretty garden, mine included. But I’d prefer someone else to make mine pretty for me. My husband, reasonably enough, does not find this arrangement equitable. My hope is that Martin’s lively and chummy descriptions of the rewards of gardening will inspire me to get my hands dirty.

Martin has been creating her seven-acre garden in northeastern Connecticut since 1996, so there is plenty for her to see, smell, hear, touch, and taste. But don’t think this is a book (only) about mooning over the lusciousness of a ripe peach or the nostalgia of a rough fence board under the fingertips. Martin's essays offer practical gardening advice, organized by season and senses. Her “touch” section for Spring, for instance, includes an essay on garden gates with this:
I favor a barrel bolt with an easy-release lever and latch grab that catches seamlessly. Heavy-duty garden gate versions have a latch you can release easily with a gloved hand.
Not sappy poetry, that. But for those who enjoy it, the luscious peach is there too.

The 100 essays in The Garden in Every Sense and Season are like spending a year in a garden with a good friend. You’ll have a few laughs, pick up some sound pointers, get fresh ideas, and maybe appreciate your own garden in a new way.

Thursday, June 17, 2021

Spin: A Novel Based on a (Mostly) True Story by Peter Zheutlin - BOOK BEGINNINGS



Are you in a book club? Did you meet during corona time?

I'm in two book clubs, and they responded to corona completely differently. The one I've been in the longest broke down during COVID. We haven't gathered since Portland declared its semi-lockdown status on March 17, 2020. We barely emailed each other. And that is odd because the group has been going strong for 18 years or so, longer than the 14 years I've been a member. We rallied now that restrictions are lifted and we are all vaxxed and are getting together in July to get back on track. I'm quite excited about that!

My second book club has only been around about five years. It reacted the opposite to COVID restrictions. We went from meeting every other month when we met IRL to meeting every month on zoom. Our virtual meetings were a social lifeline last year and right up through last month. We got together in person last night for the first time in over 16 months. We were all giddy to gather at my house for a potluck and some chat about Skios by Michael Frayn. We had so much fun!


It is time again for Book Beginnings on Fridays, where readers share the first sentence (or so) of the book they want to highlight this week. Please add the link to your Book beginning blog or social media post in the Linky box below. If you share on social media, please use the #bookbeginnings hashtag.


This week, my Book Beginning is from Spin: A Novel Based on a (Mostly) True Story by Peter Zheutlin, new from Pegasus Books:

Dearest Mary, 
I'm an old woman now. Exactly how old depends on which of the many stories I've told over the years you choose to believe, for I have not always been the most reliable witness to the events of my own life.
I like this beginning a lot! You get the idea right away we have an autobiographical story told from the perspective of an old lady who just confessed she will be an unreliable narrator. Sounds like fun!

Spin is the historical fiction account of Annie Londonderry adventures as she became "the first woman to cycle around the world" in the 1890s. Author Peter Zheutlin is Annie's great-grand-nephew and wrote the novel based on historic and family materials. 

Spin is an entertaining summer read for adult and YA fans of historic fiction.


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blog event button for The Friday 56 on Freda's Voice


Another fun Friday event is The Friday 56. Share a two-sentence teaser from page 56 of your book, or 56% of the way through your e-book or audiobook, on this weekly event hosted by Freda at Freda's Voice.


From Spin:

Thus, when I arrived at the Providence Hotel late that afternoon, I had no money to pay for my lodging. So I bartered with the hotel manager to allow me to earn my stay by working the candy counter at the hotel store for several hours and to give a short lecture in the lobby on what we called then “physical culture” (exercise and physical fitness) to a few curious guests who saw me standing there with my wheel.

What do you think? Does Spin look like a book you would enjoy or do you know someone who would?

Wednesday, June 16, 2021

Grammar for a Full Life: How the Ways We Shape a Sentence Can Limit or Enlarge Us by Lawrence Weinstein - BOOK REVIEW


Grammar books range in style and I’m a fan of all of them. They can be straightforward handbooks on the rules of grammar like the classic The Elements of Style, or classified as grammar books but focus on punctuation like the funny Eats, Shoots & Leaves. Books about language usage often get lumped in with grammar books. My favorite of these is The King’s English by Kingsley Amis.

But Grammar for a Full Life is not like any grammar book I’ve ever read. It’s a self-help book that seeks to make you a better person as much as a better writer. Lawrence Weinstein explores big issues like agency, belonging, freedom, and mindfulness, all viewed through the lens of grammar.

Weinstein breaks the major topics into several subchapters, each reading like the musings of the college professor he is. His chapter on empathy in the context of correcting other people’s grammar is particularly good. Throughout, he offers many examples to illustrate his points but few hard and fast rules.

He looks at how grammar choices may reflect personality traits and distinct ways of understanding and dealing with life. More important, Weinstein considers how, by intentionally making certain choices about grammar, we can foster our well-being. For example, he writes convincingly that a combination of active and passive voice unleashes creativity in a way that using only active voice does not.

Grammar for a Full Life caught my eye because I like any grammar book. It captured my heart because of its unique charm.


Listen to an interview with Larry Weinstein on the Clark and Miller podcast, here.

Read a review of Grammar for a Full Life on Do Yoga for Beginners, here.

Visit grammarforafulllife.com to learn more about this wonderful book and its author.

Monday, June 14, 2021

They Called Him Marvin & More -- MAILBOX MONDAY



They Called Him Marvin is the intimate history of one family caught up the War in the Pacific during WWII. First Lieutenant Dean Sherman was one of some 570 Allied airmen captured by the Japanese. His wife Connie was home in Utah, raising the baby Dean never met. 

Roger Stark's new book tells the story of Dean and Connie Sherman in all its historical context, using their own letters as well as primary source materials. It is the story of the brave men flying B-29 fighters and the harrowing effects the war had on families on both sides.

They Called Him Marvin launches September1 and is available for pre-order now. Learn more about the book and what prompted Stark to write it on theycalledhimmarvin.com.  


"They were the fathers we never knew, the uncles we never met, the friends who never returned, the heroes we can never repay. They gave us our world. And those simple sounds of freedom we hear today are their voices speaking to us across the years." Bill Clinton

Such a man was 1st Lt Dean Harold Sherman, B-29 Airplane Commander.
They Called Him Marvin is a history. A history of war and of family. A history of the collision of the raging politics of a global war, young love, patriotism, sacred family commitments, duty and the horrors and tragedies, the catastrophe that war is.

The other books that came into my house last week were this nifty set of vintage Viking poetry books. My neighbor had a garage sale and, while he was ambivalent about parting with this set, he was happy they were only going across the street so he can visit them. 

I can't see myself hunkering down to read any of these cover to cover. But I can imagine dipping into them now and again when I'm feeling nostalgic for my days as an English Major. 


Join other book lovers on Mailbox Monday to share the books that came into your house last week. Visit the Mailbox Monday website to find links to all the participants' posts and read more about Books that Caught our Eye.

Mailbox Monday is hosted by Serena of Savvy Verse & Wit and Martha of Reviews by Martha's Bookshelf.

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