Saturday, April 10, 2021

March Wrap Up - My March Books



March was a good reading month for me. I didn't have a clunker in the bunch. I continued to climb Mt. TBR, as seven of the ten books I read had been on my shelf before the year started. Some have been around a long, long time! 

Two of these were books for my TBR 21 in '21 Challenge (Old Filth and The Library Book). The other five TBR books count toward my Mt. TBR Challenge goal of 60 total off my TBR shelves. Otherwise, I made no progress on my 2021 reading challenges.

Here is the list, in the order I read them, not the order in the picture:

The Lighthouse by P. D. James. This is the penultimate book in the Adam Dalgliesh mystery series. This may be my favorite of all mystery series, so I hate to see it end, although I plan to read the last book, The Private Patient, this year. I don't usually keep mystery books after I finish them, but I keep all my P. D. James books because I can see myself rereading all of them one day.  ๐ŸŒน๐ŸŒน๐ŸŒน๐ŸŒน๐ŸŒน

The Anglophile's Notebook by Sunday Taylor. This was a charming romance with a literary theme and a bit of a mystery. This was one of the three new books I read last month. I got a review copy and my review is on it's way! ๐ŸŒน๐ŸŒน๐ŸŒน๐ŸŒน
The Midnight Line by Lee Child. I was a diehard Reacher Creature, and this one was pretty good, but after 22 books, I think I’m fading on the series. I read that Lee Child decided to retire and is turning the series over to his brother, who is also an author. There are two more books after Midnight Line written by Lee Child, then two written by Lee Child and his brother Andrew Child (both pen names, by the way). I plan to read the last two Lee-only book and call it quits. I'll retire along with Lee. ๐ŸŒน๐ŸŒน๐ŸŒน๐ŸŒน
The Library Book by Susan Orlean, which is a history of the Los Angeles Public Library using the devastating 1986 fire at the central, downtown branch as the organizing feature. This was a fascinating book. It makes me want to read more of Orlean's books, many of which are on my TBR shelves. ๐ŸŒน๐ŸŒน๐ŸŒน๐ŸŒน๐ŸŒน
A Visual Life: Scrapbooks, Collages, and Inspirations by Charlotte Moss. I loved this gorgeous book, which I read as part of my project to read all my coffee table books. I'm trying to read one a month. ๐ŸŒน๐ŸŒน๐ŸŒน๐ŸŒน
Missing Joseph by Elizabeth George, book six in her Inspector Linley series, another fave of mine. I read this one with my ears, even though the book book was on my shelves. Focusing my audiobook borrowing on my existing TBR shelf is one of my reading resolutions for 2021. ๐ŸŒน๐ŸŒน๐ŸŒน๐ŸŒน
On The Wealth of Nations: Books That Changed the World by P. J. O’Rourke, which I read to bone up on an Adam Smith study group I’m in this year. ๐ŸŒน๐ŸŒน๐ŸŒน๐ŸŒน
Old Filth by Jane Gardam. I finally read this and loved it! I've already raced through the other two books in the trilogy, which will show up in my April wrap up. What a wonderful story of marriage, friendship, and the legal profession! ๐ŸŒน๐ŸŒน๐ŸŒน๐ŸŒน๐ŸŒน
One Corpse Too Many by Ellis Peters, book two in her Brother Cadfael series. This was the second new (to me) book I read. It was not on my shelf and I borrowed the audiobook from the library. I’m not sure I will stick with this series. I have so many others I prefer, including her George Felse series. This one just isn't grabbing me as much as it does other people. Am I wrong? ๐ŸŒน๐ŸŒน๐ŸŒน
Mystery Man by Colin Bateman. Oh my! I laughed so much when I listened to this!  I looked like a mad woman, walking around my neighborhood park, snorting with laughter. This was a new to me book and author my law partner insisted I read with my ears. She gifted me the audiobook from Audible. Why have I never found his books before? I loved the narrator's Irish accent and now I can't wait to listen to the other three books in this hilarious mystery series. ๐ŸŒน๐ŸŒน๐ŸŒน๐ŸŒน๐ŸŒน

Thursday, April 8, 2021

Blue Desert by Celia Jeffries & When in Venuatu by Nicki Chan -- BOOK BEGINNINGS



So many new books come out this time of year that I have another twofer this week for Book Beginnings on Fridays! I'm not complaining! Who doesn't love new books?

Please share the first sentence (or so) of the book you are highlighting this week. Add the link to your blog or social media post in the Linky box below. No blog? No problem! You can always play along by leaving a comment right here with your opening sentence. Just please remember to tell us the name of the book and the author.


From Blue Desert by Celia Jeffries:

"I wish for once the post would land upright in the box."

Blue Desert comes out April 20 from Rootstock Publishing and is available for pre-order now from many sources. See Celia Jeffries' website for more information.

Alice George lived in the Sahara desert with the nomadic Tuarig tribe during the years of World War I. 60 years later, she gets a telegram telling her that her former lover from her time in the Sahara has died. The story braids the two narratives of Alice's time spent with Abu in the desert and 1970s London, during the week she tells her secrets to her husband for the first time. If you like historical fiction with a feminist bent, Blue Desert is the book for you.

From When in Vanuatu by Nicki Chen:

Diana was high on hope that morning.

When in Venuatu launches April 27 from She Writes Press and is available for pre-order from many sources. See Nicki Chen's website for more information.

Nicki Chen's new novel, When in Venuatu is the page-turning story of expats Diane and Jay, living in Manila when, for various reasons, they decide to move to the South Pacific island of Vanuata. Although Vanuata is the beautiful tropical island where James Mitchener wrote Tales of the South Pacific, their new home is not the idyllic paradise it first appears. While Diane and Jay become part of a captivating international community, the couple faces disappointments that test their marriage and lead to Diane's personal transformation.


Please link to your Book Beginnings post not your homepage. If you post or link on social media, please use the hashtag #bookbeginnings, with an S.

Mister Linky's Magical Widgets -- Thumb-Linky widget will appear right here!
This preview will disappear when the widget is displayed on your site.
If this widget does not appear, click here to display it.


Freda at Freda's Voice hosts another teaser event on Fridays. Participants share a two-sentence teaser from page 56 of the book they are reading -- or from 56% of the way through the audiobook or ebook. Please visit Freda's Voice for details and to leave a link to your post.


From Blue Desert:

I don't want to keep these secrets anymore. They're heavy and bite my neck and constrict my throat and maybe I was wrong in thinking I would lose Edith if I told her the truth.

From When in Vanuatu:

She didn't ask how he could complete a mission that was supposed to take ten days in three or four. This time, when he insisted she stay inside and be careful, she didn't roll her eyes.

Saturday, April 3, 2021

Q&A with Arlana Crane, Author of Mordecai's Ashes -- AUTHOR INTERVIEW


Author Arlana Crane lives in Calgary, Canada but her earlier years on Vancouver Island in British Columbia inspire her fiction. Mordecai's Ashes is the first book in her Larsson Investigation series, set in Victoria, B.C.

Arlana talked with Rose City Reader about Mordecai's Ashes, her favorite authors, and more:

How did you come to write Mordecai's Ashes?

The idea of a younger man inheriting a detective agency and trying to be a detective with no formal training came to me years ago, and I started a story along those lines, only to get very stuck over the central case in the plot. When I revisited the idea a couple years ago, I decided to make the main character more like someone I might know and suddenly it all came to life again. The idea for the main crime at the middle of the story was actually my younger brother’s, as it happens.

What part does the Vancouver Island setting play in your story?

It’s a major point in the plot, the fact that it’s an island and that so much of it is very sparsely inhabited lent itself nicely to a drug running concept, and it provided a nice, atmospheric background for the story as well.

Mordecai's Ashes is described as Book 1 of the Larsson Investigations series. Will we see Karl Larsson and his sidekick Kelsey again?

Oh yes, I’m working on the sequel now, and hope to have it out by the end of the year.

What did you learn from writing this mystery – either about the subject of the book or the writing process – that most surprised you?

I think just how difficult it can be to get a story out of your head and onto paper. I think the most apt analogy for the drafting process was the idea that it felt like a cat trying to hack up a hairball. Annoying, massively uncomfortable, but so satisfying when you actually manage to do it.

Did you start with the end of the mystery in mind and work backwards? Or did the ending come to you as you wrote the story?

I did have the twist ending in mind before I had even decided on the central theme of the book, but I originally ended the main "case" of the book much earlier than in the published version, only I wasn’t satisfied with the way it felt. I was complaining to my brother that I would never be able to write a really exciting novel, like some of the authors we both enjoy, and he said that all I needed to do was “add more explosions” to my story, which is exactly what I ended up doing!

What is your work background and how did you transition to writing fiction?

I’ve worked in administrative office jobs for most of my adult life, which I have to admit, aren’t the most conducive to create pursuits, but they do provide a certain amount of "daydream time" in the course of average work day, and writing in my spare time has become my way of keeping myself from losing my mind in the day to day grind.

Who are your three (or four or five) favorite authors? Is your own writing influenced by the authors you read?

That’s a hard one. I grew up loving all the "Queen’s of Crime" -- Christie, Sayers, and the like. I’ve always been a big fan of Jane Austen and I love most of J.K. Rawling’s work. But I think my writing is probably most influenced by authors like Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammett. I love the way they handle the English language. If there were any author I wish I could emulate it’d be one of those two.

What are you reading now?

I’m currently in the middle of both The Queen’s Thief series by Megan Whalen Turner, and the Discovery of Witches series by Deborah Harkness. Don’t ask my how I managed to start two series at the same time, it just happens. I have no control over it.

You have a terrific website and are active on social media, like twitter and Instagram. From an author's perspective, how important are social networking sites and other internet resources to promote your book? 

A website seems to be a must for any author and I enjoyed the process of putting mine, Arlana Writes, together as an opportunity to get some of my short fiction out into the world, as well as touting my novel.

As for social media, I’ve found it very useful, not only for reaching potential readers, but also for connecting with other writers and just having that chance to share ideas and encourage each other. Twitter is really great for that. My Twitter handle is ArlanaCrane. I highly recommend following the #WritingCommunity hashtag to any new authors on that platform. My Facebook and Instagram accounts, @ArlanaCraneCrimeWriter and @Arlanawrites respectively, are more about letting anyone who is interested see a more personal side of me.

Do you have any events coming up to promote your book?

Sadly, events are difficult at the moment, however Mordecai’s Ashes is up for the Crime Writer’s of Canada award for first time crime writers, which is pretty exciting!

What’s next? What are you working on now?

My big focus at the moment is getting book two in the Larsson Investigations series written. It’s a bit of a quirky plot, but I think readers who enjoyed book one should find book two just as much fun.



Thursday, April 1, 2021

Blood and Oranges by James Oliver Goldsborough & Princes of the Renaissance by Mary Hollingsworth - BOOK BEGINNINGS


Thank you for joining me once again for Book Beginnings on Fridays! I have two books this week just for a change of pace.

Please share the first sentence (or so) of the book that has captured your attention this week. Add the link to your BBOF blog or social media post in the Linky box below. Please use the #bookbeginnings hashtag if you post or share on social media.


book cover of Blood and Oranges: The Story of Los Angeles

It began on an ordinary morning at the rancho, of which there been too many lately.

This fast-paced historical novel tells the story of Los Angeles from the roaring twenties to the uproarious nineties. Goldsborough brings the research skills of his nonfiction writing and the crisp style of his years in journalism to this tale of tale of urban glamour, corruption, crime, beauty, glitz, and grime that is as sprawling and fascinating as Los Angeles itself. 

Blood and Oranges launched in March from City Point Press.  and available for pre-order

The sea was calm on 5 August 1435 when Alfonso V of Aragon set sail along the southern Italian coast in search of a small Genoese fleet which, according to his spies, was in the area.

-- from Chapter I, "Usurpers: Alfonso of Aragon & Francesco Sforza," in Princes of the Renaissance: The Hidden Power Behind an Artistic Revolution by Mary Hollingsworth (Pegasus Books). 

Hollingsworth's new nonfiction book also came out in March. It tells the history of the patrons of the art and architecture of the Italian Renaissance, during the tumultuous period of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. 

Princes of the Renaissance is a beautiful book, filled with photographs of the places and color pictures of the art described.


Mister Linky's Magical Widgets -- Thumb-Linky widget will appear right here!
This preview will disappear when the widget is displayed on your site.
If this widget does not appear, click here to display it.


Freda at Freda's Voice hosts another teaser event on Fridays. Participants share a two-sentence teaser from page 56 of the book they are reading -- or from 56% of the way through the audiobook or ebook. Please visit Freda's Voice for details and to leave a link to your post.


From Blood and Oranges:

Sadness was a big part of Willie's life. What could there be in this pretty young girl's life that brought sadness?

From Princess of the Renaissance:

However, Alphonso I was no longer the political force he had once been. In the summer of 1449 he had become infatuated with a nineteen-year-old Lucrecia d'Alagno, and she was now his publicly acknowledged mistress, treated as his queen and seated at his side to celebrate court festivities.

Tuesday, March 30, 2021

Dorothy L. Sayers -- FAVORITE AUTHOR


Dorothy L. Sayers (1893 – 1957) was one of the four Queens of Crime of the Golden Age of detective fiction, along with Agatha Christie, Margery Allingham, and Ngaio Marsh. Sayers wrote a series of mystery novels and short stories featuring amateur sleuth Lord Peter Wimsey. Four of the novels also feature Lord Peter's love interest Harriet Vane.

Sayers went to Oxford University where she studied modern languages and medieval literature. She graduated in 1915 with first class honors in modern languages. He received a masters degree from Oxford in 1920. Sayers also wrote plays and poetry. After the success of her mystery novels, she turned to more nonfiction work, writing articles and essays, mostly exploring theological subjects. She also translated classic works, including Dante's Divine Comedy

I started reading Sayers's Peter Wimsey series a few years back and am almost finished with it. Wimsey has a lot of Bertie Wooster in him and Sayers can be very funny. My favorites are Clouds of Witness and The Nine Tailors. I have yet to read the short stories but will read them all as soon as I finish the last two novels.

Those I have read are in red. Those on my TBR shelf are in blue.

Whose Body? (1923)

Clouds of Witness (1926) (reviewed here)

Unnatural Death (1927).

The Unpleasantness at the Bellona Club (1928) (reviewed here)

Lord Peter Views the Body (1928) (short stories)

Strong Poison (1930)

Five Red Herrings (1931)

Have His Carcase (1932)

Hangman's Holiday (1933) (short stories, 4 with Lord Peter)

Murder Must Advertise (1933)

The Nine Tailors (1934)

Gaudy Night (1935)

Busman's Honeymoon (1937)

In the Teeth of the Evidence (1939) (short stories, only two with Lord Peter)

Striding Folly (1972) (short stories)


Read my interview here of Carole Vanderhoof, the editor of The Gospel in Dorothy L. Sayers: Selections from Her Novels, Plays, Letters, and Essays, an anthology from Plough Publishing House.

Updated on March 30, 2021.

Thursday, March 25, 2021

Windhall by Ava Barry, New Literary Thriller from Pegasus Books -- BOOK BEGINNINGS

 book cover of Windhall by Ava Barry


My 13th Blogiversary was this week! I celebrated with a "13 Things About My & My Blog" post last Saturday, which you can find here if you want to read it.

One of my favorite blog things has been hosting Book Beginnings on Fridays. BBOF didn't start here on Rose City Reader, but it started almost at the same time and had its seeds here. A blog no longer with us called Page Turners started BBOF and kindly gave inspiration credit to "Opening Sentences" posts I used to do here on Rose City Reader. Page Turners passed the torch to another blog, also no longer with us, called A Few More Pages, who hosted from October 2010 through February 2012. I took over in March 2012 and have hosted ever since

Book beginnings on Fridays is a place for bloggers and readers to share the opening sentence (or so) of the book they are enjoying this week. Please post the link to your BBOF blog post in the Linky box below. If you participate on social media, like Facebook or Instagram, great! Post the link to your social media post in the Linky box. 

You can always play along without another platform. Just leave a comment with the opening sentence, name of your book, and author's name. 


Windhall by Ava Barry is new this month from Pegasus Books
I dreamed of that night a hundred times. The gates of Windhall thrown open to greet a procession of ghostly cars, dazzling apparitions gliding up the drive.
This "literary thriller" finds investigative journalist Max Hailey trying to solve the cold case murder of a Hollywood starlet in the 1940s. Hailey is convinced that a famous movie director killed his leading lady, although the case was thrown out decades earlier. A modern-day copy cat killer gives Hailey the chance to re-open the old case and poke around the director's decrepit mansion, Windhall.

I love the cover, the premise, and the opening sentence. What do you think? Would you keep reading?


Please link to your Book Beginnings post. If you post or share on SM, please use the hashtag #bookbeginnings (with an S).

Mister Linky's Magical Widgets -- Thumb-Linky widget will appear right here!
This preview will disappear when the widget is displayed on your site.
If this widget does not appear, click here to display it.


Freda at Freda's Voice hosts another teaser event on Fridays. Participants share a two-sentence teaser from page 56 of the book they are reading -- or from 56% of the way through the audiobook or ebook. Please visit Freda's Voice for details and to leave a link to your post.


From Windhall:
"I'll be out of here in two seconds," I whispered. "Just buy me another minute, if you can."

Wednesday, March 24, 2021

February Wrap Up -- My February Books


Um, March is speeding along, almost over, and I just realized I forgot to post my February wrap up post! This is why I skipped bookish New Year's resolutions in the past -- just like all New Year's resolutions, they never last longer than a month.

But it takes repetition to create a new habit. So I am posting now, several weeks late. My intention is to post my March wrap up post in a timely manner and try to get in the habit of posting a wrap up post of the prior month's reads early each month. Baby steps.

In February, I continued my plan to try to choose as audiobooks (which I borrow from the library for the most part) those books already on my TBR shelf. It may seem silly to borrow a book I already own, but there are so many books on my TBR shelves it will take me at least 15 years to read them all at the rate I'm going. I need to speed things up and borrowing the audiobook edition from the library is my plan for doing it. 

I'm also trying to finish, or at least work on, some of the mystery series I've started. And I'm trying to read at least one coffee table book each month to justify my ever-expanding collection of these oversized beauties.

Here are the 13 books I read in February, in the order I read them, not the order in the picture.

A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman. I was slow to get on the Backman bandwagon, but I’m all on now. ๐ŸŒน๐ŸŒน๐ŸŒน๐ŸŒน๐ŸŒน

The Nine Tailors by Dorothy L. Sayers, a Lord Peter Wimsey mystery and highlight of the month. I read this one with my ears and it is one of the few in the series I do not own in a paper edition. I am close to finishing the series and hope to do so this year. ๐ŸŒน๐ŸŒน๐ŸŒน๐ŸŒน๐ŸŒน

Murder in the Bastille by Cara Black, who does for Paris what Donna Leon does for Venice. This was another audiobook not on my TBR shelf. I own several from later in the series and want to fill in so I can read them. ๐ŸŒน๐ŸŒน๐ŸŒน๐ŸŒน

Reflex by Dick Francis. I love his horse-racing themed mysteries. I read this one with my ears although I had a beat up paperback as you can see in the picture. ๐ŸŒน๐ŸŒน๐ŸŒน๐ŸŒน

At Home with Books: How Booklovers Live with and Care for their Libraries by Estelle Ellis, Caroline Seebohm, and Christopher Simon Sykes. A gorgeous coffee table book with useful information and lots of inspiration. ๐ŸŒน๐ŸŒน๐ŸŒน๐ŸŒน

Fear of Fifty by Erica Jong. I meant to read this, her midlife memoir, when I turned 50 and finally got to it now for my 55th birthday last month. ๐ŸŒน๐ŸŒน๐ŸŒน๐ŸŒน๐ŸŒน

Shuggie Bain by Douglas Stuart, the one new book I read last month. I read it because it won the Booker Prize. I could have done with 100 times more Shuggie and one tenth of Agnes. Grim. ๐ŸŒน๐ŸŒน๐ŸŒน

Whip Hand, also by Dick Francis, which won the Edgar Award for best mystery in 1980. I read the three Sid Halley books out of order (3, 1, 2) and they were all great, but I wish I had read them in order. ๐ŸŒน๐ŸŒน๐ŸŒน๐ŸŒน
Three Men in a Boat by Jerome K. Jerome, which was a reread for me and I loved it even more this time around. It is so funny! ๐ŸŒน๐ŸŒน๐ŸŒน๐ŸŒน๐ŸŒน

The Valley of Fear by Arthur Conan Doyle, the fourth and final Sherlock Holmes novel. It was very good! I set out to read all the Sherlock Holmes books in order. I still have two books of short stories to get through and then I’ll be finished. ๐ŸŒน๐ŸŒน๐ŸŒน๐ŸŒน

Three Men on the Bummel, also by Jerome K. Jerome. Also really funny, especially his descriptions of Germans liking to tidy up their forests – so true! He wrote it in 1900 and we tease our German cousins today about tidying the forests. ๐ŸŒน๐ŸŒน๐ŸŒน๐ŸŒน

Bibliophile: An Illustrated Miscellany by Jane Mount. This was beautiful and entertaining – and greatly expanded my wish list. ๐ŸŒน๐ŸŒน๐ŸŒน๐ŸŒน

Homage to Catalonia by George Orwell, which I’m glad I finally read. I don’t understand the Spanish Civil War any better than before, but at least I understand why I don’t understand it. This will be my Spain book for the 2021 European Reading Challenge. ๐ŸŒน๐ŸŒน๐ŸŒน๐ŸŒน

The prettiest cover of the month!

Tuesday, March 23, 2021

Q&A with Solace Wales, Author of Braided in Fire: Black GIs and Tuscan Villagers on the Gothic Line - AUTHOR INTERVIEW


Solace Wales is a San Francisco Bay Area art educator. She and her artist husband have lived part time in the small Tuscan village of Sommocolonia since 1975. Over the years, she became enthralled with the WWII stories she heard in the village, particularly with the stories of the African American US soldiers who occupied the village in segregated troops and had been involved in the horrific Sommocolonia battle of December 26th, 1944.

Solace used her research of  local Italian WWII history and oral accounts of veterans and villagers to write Braided in Fire: Black GIs and Tuscan Villagers on the Gothic Line.

Solace talked with Rose City reader about her new book, Braided in Fire, and the history of Black G.I.s in WWII:

How did you come to write your memoir, Braided in Fire?

My interest in WWII Italy was sparked in 1958 by a 6-weeks course on the Italian resistance movement that I took at age 19 as a Junior Year Abroad student. I was moved by the strong moral stance of resistance fighters we read about, and every time a Sienese woman, an ex-partisan, lectured, I was left in tears.

This WWII interest lay dormant until 1975 when my husband and I, and our toddler daughter, began living part of every year in Sommocolonia, a medieval stone village in the foothills of the Apennines. Our peasant neighbors immediately began telling us about their hair-raising war experiences, but it wasn’t until 1987 that I saw I must preserve their history. I began interviewing them with a tape recorder.

Their full stories made me realize I must locate and interview the African American vets involved when Germans attacked the village the day after Christmas 1944. Once I did so, I knew that this joint history was important —it had to be written.

Although my inquiries play a role in the book, Braided in Fire is not a memoir. It focuses on the main protagonists, Sommocolonians and black GIs.

Your book is also the story of Black GIs who fought a village battle in Tuscany in WWII. Can you tell us a little bit about that?

There is confusion about which Black soldiers are the focus of Braided in Fire. The book’s main African American protagonists were not, as many assume, “Buffalo Soldiers” who belonged to the 92nd Infantry Division. They were members of the 336th Infantry Regiment, a well-trained, proud, all-Black regiment which was ‘attached’ to the 92nd Division for four disastrous months.

It was 366th soldiers, who were basically abandoned in the garrison of Sommocolonia, when, the morning after Christmas 1944, German forces attacked the frontline village in numbers three times that of the Black GIs and the Italian partisan soldiers present. Finding himself surrounded by Germans, Lt. John Fox, forward observer in the little mountain village, asked for artillery fire onto his own location. His request was honored in a few minutes, yet, because of the color of his skin, it took 52 years for his country to honor him posthumously with the Medal of Honor. The 366th GIs fought valiantly, but whether villagers or soldiers, all present had their lives either lost or changed irrevocably by the disastrous battle.

How does your story, the memoir part of your book, connect with the story of this almost forgotten battle in the village of Sommocolonia?

I have the reader follow how I became involved in telling the story. And then I share snippets of my interviews which allow the reader to become intimately acquainted with the books’ eight main protagonists, four villagers and four African Americans.

What is the meaning of the title, Braided in Fire?

Originally I was going to call the book Circle of Fire because a villager told me how terrible it was when they saw that all the wooden farm sheds around the village were burning. “It was a circle of fire,” she exclaimed, “and we were on the inside!”

But when I described the book I was working on to a professor of Italian from my Alma Mater, as the meeting of Black GIs and Italian villagers during WWII, she exclaimed, “Oh! You’re writing braided history!” I’d never heard the term ‘braided’ applied to history, so she explained that historian Natalie Zemon Davis coined the term to signify the history of peoples encountering one another as opposed to the history of rulers, the famous and the powerful. My book follows the lives of ordinary people who came from two groups who lived worlds apart but were thrown together into the fulcrum of the Second World War. I knew immediately I wanted Braided in the title.

I quickly realized there was another reason why the word was appropriate. The book follows three groups or strands which are entwined together in the village of Sommocolonia: villagers, African American soldiers, and Italian partisans.

Did you consider turning your personal experiences and what you learned about Sommocolonia into fiction and writing your story as a novel?

Early on I did write a first draft of a chapter in novel form (not including myself), but I quickly realized that the true story was more remarkable than any fiction.

Who is your intended audience and what do you hope your readers will gain from your book?

Thus far Braided in Fire has captured the interest of people with widely different interests. I hope this trend continues as the wide audience is what I hoped for. Some choose the book because they are WWII military buffs and others simply because of its dramatic human story; Italo-files are attracted to it because of its setting; still others are interested in African American historical accounts.

However people come to it, I hope readers will learn about an amazing bit of American/Italian history. The story reveals truths about the suffering of two groups little is known about in regards to WWII: Black GIs and Italian peasants. At the time, both groups had strong oral traditions, but not written ones. As a result their experiences have, with a few exceptions, gone unrecorded.

Why is it important to know about this history? The extreme political danger, the terror and the hunger experienced by the Italian population during the war remind readers of the suffering wartime brings to those who today are experiencing war on their doorsteps.

And the indignities and dangers suffered by Blacks who were trying to serve their country and help liberate Europe are relevant to our current racial problems. In Italy these men were fighting two battles, one against the Nazis with their convictions about the superior Arian race, the other against their own white superior officers, who generally treated them with contempt and often appeared not to care if they lived or died.

It is my hope that in revealing the heroism of these Black soldiers who, despite the appalling treatment they received, gave their all in the cause of liberty, will help Americans to fully appreciate the value of our Black citizens.

You have a terrific website that offers a lot of resources related to Braided in Fire. Can you describe some of them and tell us how you gathered all this information?

There are many resources on my website, Braided in Fire, because I’ve been involved with this story for over thirty years — in researching over time, information accumulates. It’s been a great boon that I have an excellent webmaster, Kris Weber, to organize the large amount of material so skillfully.

I’m proud of the Long Notes to be found under "BOOK." Many of these notes contain additional information not included in Braided in Fire so that scholars and others interested in deepening their understanding of people and events related to the Sommocolonia story can do so.

Under "NEWS & EVENTS" readers can find the Media coverage Braided in Fire has received as well as Readers Reviews. I was recently delighted by a letter written to me by Robert Brown, Jr., the son of an intelligence lieutenant who was with the 366th Infantry Regiment, someone I had interviewed. Among other things, he wrote:
The picture you paint is so detailed and descriptive that the reader feels transported back to that time and. . . you create a crescendo-like pace even though many of us readers know what will happen later, but the lead-up and background are essential to get the full impact of the story.
Under "RESOURCES" are many photographs of Sommocolonia and events that have taken place there, including of my reading on the 75th anniversary of the village battle, December 26, 2019 of my soon to be published book. Because of the pandemic, this is the only live book reading I’ve had thus far.

Also under "RESOURCES" are five of the related articles I’ve written:
“La Mulattiera” translates as “The Mule Trail” and describes (in English) various journeys up and down the important trail —the only wartime link between Sommocolonia on its small mountaintop and the larger town of Barga in the valley below. Travelers on the trail include various villagers, several 366th soldiers climbing up to be stationed on the frontline for the first time, John Fox going up in a jeep in 1944, and his widow, Arlene Fox & family walking down in 2000.

Can you recommend any other books about Black GIs in World War II?

"Buffalo Soldier" (a member of the 92nd Division) Vernon Baker led a successful attack on a seemingly impenetrable German stronghold in the coastal mountains immediately to the west of Sommocolonia. I highly recommend his autobiography (written with Ken Olsen), Lasting Valor: The Story of the Only Living Black World War II Veteran to Earn America’s Highest Distinction for Valor, the Medal of Honor (NY: Genesis Press 1997, Bantam Books 1999). Baker speaks with candor about his childhood and his civilian life as well as about the military action which eventually won him deserved recognition.

Another "Buffalo Soldier," Ivan Houston, also wrote an interesting autobiography. Houston’s book (written with Gordon Cohn) Black Warriors: The Buffalo Soldiers of World War II. (Bloomington, NY: iUniverse 2009) touches on his private life, but concentrates more on the military action he was involved in, including his participation in the liberation of the Tuscan city of Lucca.

A documentary film With One Tied Hand about Houston’s return to Italy when he was in his late eighties was produced by the Pacific Film Foundation with its premier in 2017. As an older vet, he received the same enthusiastic, heart-warming welcome he remembered as a young soldier when his African American unit liberated Italian towns.

There are two purely military books written by African Americans who had been Buffalo Soldiers with information also relevant to the 366th Infantry Regiment. I examined these carefully and returned to them frequently: Ulysses Lee’s U.S. Army in World War II: The Employment of Negro Troops. (Washington, D.C.: Center of Military History U.S. Army, first printed 1966 —CMH pub 11-4), 1990; and, Hondon Hargrove’s Buffalo Soldiers in Italy (Jefferson, NC & London: McFarland & Co., 1985.)

In my website article RACIST 92ND PERFORMANCE REPORT I quote freely from Daniel Gibran’s insightful book, The 92nd Infantry Division and the Italian Campaign in World War II. (Jefferson NC: McFarland & Co, 2001.)

A book that was especially inspiring to me is the excellent oral history by African American Mary Pennick Motley: The Invisible Soldier: The Experience of the Black Soldier, World War II. (Detroit: Wayne State Univ. Press, 1975.) Motley was a superb forerunner in capturing black soldiers’ WWII experience via interviews. A few of her interviewees were 366th soldiers —I was naturally particularly interested in these. I am forever in her debt.

What do you think people today can learn from the stories about WWII and, in particular, the black GIs involved? 

The agony and devastation of war is always worthy of contemplation, especially for those of us who have never experienced war in our own front yards. The message is clear: We must learn diplomatic ways to solve problems.

The abuse Black Americans suffered at the hands of their white superiors in the Army of WWII is very relevant to the Black Lives Matter movement of today. Though Black soldiers no longer suffer as many inequities in the current U.S. Army, prejudice continues to be expressed in myriad ways in American society. With BLM, white people are finally learning to become attuned to some of the nuances of prejudice. This book will further that understanding.

What's next? What are you working on now?

I’ve written a portion of a different story to do with Sommocolonia, one not centered in WWII. I think I will tackle finishing that first. It will not be a long book like Braided in Fire —perhaps 150 pages. It’s focus? I would rather not talk about it while I‘m just flushing out its direction in my mind.

I was a children’s art educator for forty years and have long had in mind a book on how to further creative thinking in children. Will I get to writing about this topic? I hope so, but I am 82 years old, so who knows.

Then there is my journal writing. I may use some of it in an autobiographical way.



Saturday, March 20, 2021

It's My 13th Blogiversary!


Wow! It's my 13th Blogiversary! Rose City Reader started on this day in 2008, 13 years ago. That makes this blog officially a teen ager, although it feels more like a grandma in blog years. 

I've met a lot of friends through Rose City Reader over these years, but I've never done a Meet the Blogger post. Now that the blog is entering it's teen years, it's time for one!


  • My name is Gilion with a hard G, like girl, Dumas, like The Three Musketeers.
  • I live in Portland, Oregon because I love rainy days.
  • I live in a 110-year-old house because I am a homebody and like puttering around.
  • Hop on Pop was the first book I read by myself, when I was three, and I’ve had my nose in a book ever since.
  • My parents encouraged me to read by paying me a dime for every book I finished and a quarter for every “classic” and the habit stuck!
  • I'm more verbal than visual, so I was slow to join Instagram, but I finally did in 2017 as @GilionDumas (easy) and post mostly pictures of books, some of tabby cats, cocktails, and miscellany. 
  • I started Rose City Reader when I finished reading the 121 books on the Modern Library's list of Top 100 Novels of the 20th Century and had turned my attention to other "Must Read" lists. I wanted a place to keep track of my lists. Soon I added Prize Winners and Favorite Authors. I can't resist a list! All the lists are in the right side column and the links at the top.
  • My favorite books are literary fiction, classics, vintage mysteries, coffee table books about home decorating, food writing, books about books, many memoirs, some general nonfiction, and occasionally history. 
  • I have too many favorite authors to list! You can find many of them in the lists in the right column or the tabs at the top. I'm working on adding more.
  • According to LibraryThing, there are over 1,700 physical books on my TBR shelves. ๐Ÿ˜ณ I get through 100+ each year, but that will still take me until I’m over 70, without buying another book, and we know that won’t happen!
  • I host two challenges and one weekly event here on Rose City Reader. 2021 is the 10th anniversary of European Reading Challenge, which has been one of my favorite thing about this blog. I've met so many wonderful fellow bloggers though the ERC! The TBR 21 in '21 Challenge (or any version of reading a number of TBR books corresponding to the year) is new in 2021. There's still time to join both! I love the weekly event, Book Beginnings on Fridays, which has been going on a long time!
  • Aside from actually reading books, blogging about books here on Rose City Reader has been my main hobby for 13 years. Blogging has brought me a lot of joy. I look forward to many more years here at RCR. 


Thursday, March 18, 2021

Amphibians, New Book of Connected Short Stories by Lara Tupper, on BOOK BEGINNINGS



Welcome to Book Beginnings on Fridays, where participants tease their fellow participants with the opening sentence (or so) of the books they are reading this week.

Please post a link to your Book Beginning blog post or social media post in the linky box below. If you post or link to social media, please use the hashtag #bookbeginnings (with an S on the end).


Amphibians is a new short story collection from Lara Tupper and it launched this week:

On the lake the loons are sparse, but Helen has acquired a throw pillow, a present from the girl, stitched by a local artisan and bought with allowance money from an overpriced gift shop.

-- from "Amphibians," the title story in this collection of 11 linked short stories. This opening sentence may not seem to make sense, but read on!

The stories in Amphibians are set in Maine, Italy, Japan and the United Arab Emirates, but all explore the theme of "feeling not quite right in one's own body" -- on water or land. Tupper's female characters are quirky, fragile, tough, wounded, and all very real.

Amphibians won the Leapfrog Fiction Contest so was published by Leapfrog Press as the prize. Lara Tupper is the author of the wonderful historical novel Off Island. Visit Lara Tupper's website for information about the book and online events.


Please link to your Book Beginnings post: 

Mister Linky's Magical Widgets -- Thumb-Linky widget will appear right here!
This preview will disappear when the widget is displayed on your site.
If this widget does not appear, click here to display it.


Freda at Freda's Voice hosts another teaser event on Fridays. Participants share a two-sentence teaser from page 56 of the book they are reading -- or from 56% of the way through the audiobook or ebook. Please visit Freda's Voice for details and to leave a link to your post.


From "Dishdash" in Amphibians:

In the apartment Mo rubs the white sand from her shoes and it leaves brown streaks on the towel, like ordinary dirt. She drinks an entire can of Pepsi and reads, in Lonely Planet, that Dubai is “the Miami of the Middle East."

Monday, March 15, 2021

New Memoir, Historical Fiction, Mystery, & Coffee Table Book on MAILBOX MONDAY


Several books came into my house last week for one reason or another. How about you? Did you get any books?

Here is my stack:

-- Wife | Daughter | Self: A Memoir in Essays by Beth Kephart, which came out last week from Forest Avenue Press. I featured this one on Book Beginnings on Fridays last week, so you can read more about it here

-- The Bridgetower Sonata: Sonata Mulattica by Emmanuel Dongala (Author),  Marjolijn de Jager (Translator). This one launches April 15 from Schaffner Press and is available for pre-order.

The Bridgetower Sonata is historical fiction about a Black violin prodigy who fled Paris to London on the eve of the French Revolution. He later moved to Vienna where he became a friend and collaborator with Ludwig von Beethoven. What a story!

Emmanuel Dongala is a Congolese author living in Massachusetts. The novel is translated from French.

-- Son of Holmes and Rasputin's Revenge by John T. Lescroart. This omnibus includes two early books by a favorite mystery writer. Before he wrote his long and popular Dismus Hardy series set in San Francisco, Lescroart wrote these two historical mysteries featuring Auguste Lupa, the putative son of Sherlock Holmes. The first is set in WWI France. The second in Russia in the last days of the Czar.

-- John Derian Picture Book by John Derian. Yes, that's the cover! I left the picture big because the book is big, even for a coffee table book it is over-sized. I love it. I splurged on this big beauty as a treat for myself because we successfully settled thee cases we've worked on for the last 2 1/2 years. 

I love coffee table books. One of my coronatime projects has been to actually sit and read them, instead of just leave them stacked on the coffee tables. I love the heft and beauty of them. It's brought me real pleasure to go through several of them this past year and appreciate the pictures and the narrative that accompanies them.


Join other book lovers on Mailbox Monday to share the books that came into your house last week. Or, if you haven't played along in a while, like me, share the books that you have acquired recently.

Mailbox Monday is hosted by Leslie of Under My Apple Tree, Serena of Savvy Verse & Wit, and Martha of Reviews by Martha's Bookshelf. Visit the Mailbox Monday website to find links to all the participants' posts and read more about Books that Caught our Eye.

Saturday, March 13, 2021

Tina Ontiveros, Author of rough house, a Prize-Winning Memoir from OSU Press -- AUTHOR INTERVIEW

Tina Ontiveros is a writer, teacher, and bookseller based in the Pacific Northwest. Her memoir, rough house, tells her story of growing up below the poverty line in small timber towns around the Pacific Northwest, living mostly with her charming but abusive father, sometimes with her mother, who struggled with her own demons.

Release last fall from OSU Press, rough house was picked as an Indie Next Great Read and won a 2021 Pacific Northwest Book Award from the Pacific Northwest Booksellers Association.

Tina talked with Rose City Reader about rough house, writing about a family like hers, and other memoirs that inspired her:

How did you come to write your memoir rough house?

Honestly, I think I have always been writing it. I think that, before I sat down to write rough house, the story was writing me. For a long time, I let anxiety about my past and the shame of poverty dictate my entire life. I didn’t really know where I was trying to go, only what I was running from. Early in my writing process, I worked with the amazing poet and writer Bhanu Kapil. I wrote to her once and asked-if Loyd was a monster, and Loyd is my father, what does that make me? Her response -- In this writing, you are the maker of Loyd -- was a liberation. Once I accepted that power, I was able to write the story with a sense of wonder and curiosity.

But I also have to say -- education and financial freedom are a big part of it. As I moved out of poverty, and as I became more educated, I was able to set down the shame and write. In her memoir, A House of My Own, Sandra Cisneros says that self expression is a privilege of the wealthy. I find this to be true. If I were not financially secure, I don’t think I’d have the courage, the space, the privacy, or the free time to take the risk of writing the story.

Your book won a 2021 Pacific Northwest Book Award – congratulations! Can you tell us how the Pacific Northwest shaped your childhood and your story?

My environment -- the natural world and the towns I grew up in -- are an integral part of rough house. Everything about the book is shaped by the landscapes of the Pacific Northwest. My mom, once she left my dad, lived on the edge of the Oregon desert. The Dalles is almost always sunny, brown, dry. My dad roamed around the region, but almost always in the green spaces. With my dad, it was evergreens, water, rich brown soil. So I came to experience my life as having these two opposite environmental poles -- just as my parents were like the opposing poles that marked the boundaries of my life growing up. I was always existing back and forth between them. While I grew to build a life more like my mother’s -- living within the bounds of more conventional society -- I always preferred my father’s physical environment. Today, I live next to the water, surrounded by green trees.

Your memoir is intensely personal – did you have any qualms about sharing so much?

While I was writing the first draft, I never considered the idea I might publish. I knew that would shape the work and my focus was on the work. It’s always important to remember that the book is not my life -- it is a made thing. I used many tools to make it. My personal history is the central element of the work, but because I applied the tools of fiction and poetry to this work, there is a distance between me and the made thing that is rough house. My discipline is reading and writing, my practice is reading and writing. And making the book was an act of discipline and practice.

Once I knew it would be published, I had a moment of worry over some of the more personal parts. I even wrote that anxiety into the Worst Thing chapter -- but even there, those are some of the most revised and rewritten pages in the book. Every aspect of it is a made thing. My only concern was how it might impact my mom and my brother -- I wouldn’t have published without their blessing. But they both loved the book and wanted it to be shared with the world.

Did you consider turning your own experience into fiction and writing the book as a novel?

No, not in this case. Because I had become financially secure and had the privilege of education, I felt a responsibility to put a family like mine in a book. I wanted to share the strength and valor of women like my mother -- who really do not have my options and do the best they can. And I hoped that children who grow up with parents whose choices are so limited could see themselves in my pages. I think books about the poor can be too focused on hardship and darkness. For me, a big part of growing up below the poverty line was this sense of always feeling outside of society. And often, the books we read about the poor reduce people to images that are easy for us to consume. I worry about writing something that might further marginalize and shame people who live in poverty. I wanted to tell the truth about the hard parts, but also capture the joy, beauty, and poetry of our lives. There is treasure there that I would not have found in any other life.

Who is your intended audience and what do you hope your readers will gain from your book?

I think I wrote the book for people who live, or have lived, in similar circumstances. I get letters from people like that and I love it -- just hearing their stories and how reading rough house made them feel proud of their stories. But I also wanted it to reach people who have not lived that way. Now that I am middle class, I notice the ways we make rash judgments of the poor and I’d like to help change that if I can. In this country, we like to say anyone can pull themselves up by the bootstraps, but it simply isn’t true. Not everyone has boots. Some are born at such a deficit, it takes generations to catch up. Not all people are given the chance to realize their potential. And it is very frustrating to live that way, to try to raise your children in joy when you can’t give them the same opportunities as other children.

Can you recommend other memoirs that deal with traumatic childhoods? Do any tell about growing up in turmoil and poverty with the candor and heart you put into your own story?

I read so many memoirs while I was writing rough house! Not just those about traumatic childhoods, but anything that might help me build my own. I think Maya Angelou did it best in I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings. I love Joy Harjo’s Crazy Brave. Maxine Hong Kingston, The Woman Warrior. The poet Mark Doty has a wonderful memoir called, Firebird. More recently, Ta-Nehisi Coates, The Beautiful Struggle. Terese Marie Mailhot, Heart Berries. Jaquira Diaz, Ordinary Girls. But I was influenced by novelists, poets, and essayists as well, like James Baldwin, Nobody Knows My Name, Rebecca Solnit, The Faraway Nearby, Toni Morrison, Sula, Leslie Jamison, The Empathy Exams and so many more -- too many to list.

What did you learn from writing your book – either about the subject of the book or the writing process – that most surprised you?

So many things! But one that always proves true -- just keep writing and trust the process. I had no idea what shape the book would have, which stories would stay in and which would have to be cut, what I was even trying to say with the book. But I just kept writing until I had enough pages to stand back and really consider what they wanted to be. Then I revised and revised and revised, until the book emerged. For me, revision is like 93% of writing. So often, I work with students who want to be writers but don’t sit down to read & write each day. That’s what it is to be a writer. Not to publish, but to write and to read as part of your daily life.

What kind of books do you like to read? What are you reading now?

I read everything, I will give pretty much any book a bit of my time. But mostly, I spend my money on essays, poetry, and literary/lyric nonfiction by women, writers of color, and folks who are working to give voice to people we have not heard from enough in our literary canon. I am interested in life in the margins, ways we can untangle the web of shame that binds people in poverty for generations, and in people who create and sing despite oppression.

I just finished reading an advanced copy of Elissa Washuta’s new book, White Magic, which releases in April from Tin House. It’s amazing. I also just finished Willy Vlautin’s new novel, The Night Always Comes, which is a wonderful and sad book that really illustrates the truth that capitalism just does not work for everyone. Now I’m reading Hanif Abdurraqib’s new book, A Little Devil in America. I was so excited to get my hands on it. Abdurraqib is one of my favorite writers working today. I’ll read anything he writes.

Do you have any events coming up to promote your book?

This is actually my first week off from book events since the end of September! I am lucky and grateful for such a wonderful launch to my first book -- despite the pandemic. rough house was a PNBA bestseller for 17 straight weeks. We are now headed into the third printing. With the PNW Book Award, the Indie Next honor, it has all just been amazing. It has also been very time consuming. I didn’t realize it would be like another job!

I have quite a few private events coming up but nothing open to the public for a while. I’m lucky to have some interest around the region in rough house as a community read book. I’ll be doing some events with the Roseburg, Oregon public library in May and it looks like some other library/community read events are in the works. I’m very excited to be joining the faculty at North Words Writer’s Symposium in Alaska this summer. Tommy Orange is scheduled as the Keynote and I admire his work very much. New events pop up all the time and are updated (with some regularity) on my website.

What is the most valuable advice you’ve been given as an author?

I could never pick just one thing as the most valuable. I owe my writing life to so many generous mentors along the way. While I was working on an early draft of this book, the poet Beatrix Gates told me to write as if nobody will ever read your work. Following her advice really made this a better book.

Any tips or hints for authors considering writing a memoir?

I think everyone should write about their lives. It just helps you to process your experience of the world peacefully and thoughtfully. But writing for yourself and writing to be read are two entirely different things.

If you are writing to be read, you have to have some emotional distance from the events of the story. I never truly enjoy a memoir when I can sense the writer is still sort of grinding an ax. Memoir that really engages me has a sense of curiosity and exploration. It’s impossible to have that if you are entrenched in a specific version of the truth or you are holding on to anger. I read that Mary Karr tells people to write the most difficult thing first -- the thing that keeps them up at night. If they can’t, then they aren't ready to write the story. I tell students the same thing -- write the worst thing first. If you can do that without too much emotion, you might be able to write the story with the sort of curiosity and wonder that makes it good literature.

What’s next? What are you working on now?

A few things. I am really interested in the essay form right now. I published an essay with Oregon Humanities magazine last year and have been working on a collection of essays ever since. I am also chipping away at another memoir, about growing up in The Dalles with my mom. It is roughly the same era as rough house, but a very different sort of poverty, with a single mom who worked all the time, which gave us kids tons of freedom. I’ve also been tinkering with another project that is based on my family but I’m playing with magical realism and imagination in that project -- sort of pushing the boundaries of nonfiction. Everything I write is concerned with inequality and class. That just seems to be where my curiosity goes right now.



Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...