Friday, February 26, 2021

The Bird that Sang in Color by Grace Mattioli - BOOK BEGINNING

 book cover of Grace Mattioli's new novel, The Bird that Sang in Color


I'm here on Friday again, not Thursday evening. My apologies. It was another crazy work week. I.m going to try to schedule a few Book Beginning and other blog posts for upcoming weeks this weekend to get a jump on things. 

I hope your week is more calm than mine! What are you reading? Let's share the first sentences or so of the books we are enjoying this week. Please use the hashtag #BookBeginnings if you post or share on social media. 

Share your link in the Linky box below. You can participate with a blog or a social media account like Instagram, Facebook, or anything else that works. Or just leave a comment with your opening sentence and the name of your book.


My book beginning is from Grace Mattioli's new novel, The Bird that Sang in Color:

What pictures will you have of yourself by the end of your life? By pictures, I mean drawings, not photographs. A picture is easy. A drawing is earned. 

I offer a longer excerpt than usual because I thought it was interesting. What do you think?

The Bird that Sang in Color came out last month. It is a brother/sister story about Donna Greco and her brother Vincent. Donna sought the conventional successes in life, compared to Vincent who was an artistic free spirit. The story follows their relationship from their childhood in the 1970s to the near present. Mattioli tells this heartfelt family story with finesse and humor.


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Another weekly teaser event is The Friday 56, hosted by Freda at Freda's Voice, where you can find details and add a link to your post. The idea is to share a two-sentence teaser from page 56 of the book you are featuring. You can also find a teaser from 56% of the way through your ebook or audiobook.


From The Bird that Sang in Color:
"Hey, I'm doing the best I can," Vincent said defensively.
"That's why you'll never be anything but a flub!" Dad shouted at him.

Friday, February 19, 2021

The Anglophile's Notebook by Sunday Taylor - BOOK BEGINNINGS


I'm very late with my Book Beginnings post this Friday! I forgot to post last evening because I went to visit my mom and sister for an overdue celebration of my birthday. The festivities made me forget my blogging duties!

Snow and ice pushed back our celebration by over a week, so it was nice to finally get together out at their house. After lunch, we visited Tony's Garden Center, where this blanket of primroses made our eyes pop.

So, better very late than never, please share the first sentence or so of the book your are reading this week. Share the link to your blog post or social media post in the linky box below. If you link or share on social media, please use the hashtag #bookbeginnings. 


My Book Beginning is from The Anglophile's Notebook by Sunday Taylor:

Claire Easton awoke suddenly rom a deep sleep, her mind in a tangled fog.

This new novel follows Claire Easton, a magazine editor from LA on assignment in England to research a book about Charlotte Brontรซ. It's part literary travelogue, part romantic adventure, and all wonderful entertainment.


Please link to your Book Beginning post:

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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 The Anglophile's Notebook:

Though today Carlyle is far from a fashionable figure, in the 1830s and ‘40s he was one of Victorian London’s foremost men of letters. A Scottish writer and historian, Thomas lived with his wife, Jane, a prominent essayist and famous wit, in a little house at 25 Cheyne Row, one of London’s best-preserved Georgian streets.

Tuesday, February 16, 2021

Suzzy Roche: Writer, Singer, Songwriter -- AUTHOR INTERVIEW

Photo of musician and author Suzzy Roche


Suzzy Roche has had a successful career as a singer/songwriter, recording numerous CDs with her band The Roches, as a solo artist, and with her daughter Lucy Wainwright Roche. She turned to prose writing with two earlier books, a novel Wayward Saints, and a children's book Want To Be in a Band?

Suzzy's second novel, The Town Crazy, is out now from Gibson House Press. Find my review on this post.

book cover of The Town Crazy by Suzzy Roche

Suzzy talked with Rose City Reader about her new book, new music, and authors who inspire her: 

How did your new book, The Town Crazy, come about?

I don’t know! Unlike my first book, which came out of a short story I had written, this one seemed to appear out of thin air. I simply sat down at the computer and started to write from a deeply unconscious place, much like dreaming.

The story is set in suburban Pennsylvania in 1961, in a Catholic community. What drew you to this time and place for the setting of your novel?

The novel takes place during a time when I was a young child. I don’t remember much of my childhood, just fleeting images. I was interested in exploring those shards of memory. Though all the characters are fictional, and the plot does not bear specific resemblance to my life, there is something of the mood in the book that reminds me of my early childhood. 1961 seems like another era these days. I was also often thinking of the poet Anne Sexton as I wrote the book.

What themes do you hope readers will find in your novel?

Themes of motherhood and marriage. Childhood terrors and cruelty. Religion, as it is used to control and shame people. Small town power struggles. And how art can flourish or be destroyed.

You have had a successful career as a singer and songwriter. How did that career lead to fiction writing?  

I’ve always been drawn to the idea of making something out of nothing. As an artist, you are always coming up against the very hard truth that no one is waiting for your work. You just have to sit down and do it. Writing is a solitary endeavor, and therefore can save an artist’s creative life.

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

What I’ve learned over the years about creating anything is to keep going, never quit, but don’t push. Creations have a way of taking their time. They are like living organisms that need shepherding. You have to listen deeply to the thing you are creating.

Did you know right away, or have an idea, how you were going to end the story? Or did it come to you as you were in the process of writing?  

In this case, I had no idea what was going to happen any chapter. I let the story play out in my mind like a movie.

Were books an important part of your household when you were growing up? 

My mother instituted a tradition called “Reading Hour.” Typically, it occurred while she made dinner. She’d put on classical music and we all had to sit in the living room and read. We moaned and groaned all the way through it. We were also busy writing our own stories.

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

Larry McMurtry for his empathy, Elizabeth Strout for her biting wit, John Coetzee for his heartbreaking clarity, Meg Wolitzer for her vulnerability, Toni Morrison for her wild fearlessness. Just to name a few. Reading has so much to do with the frame of mind of the reader. Sometimes I revisit a book, and it hits me in a totally different way.

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

Right now I am reading Ronnie Gilbert’s autobiography because I am going to record it for Audible. She was a member of the folk group The Weavers.

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

You can start with 10 or 15 minutes a day. Also, keep the adjectives and adverbs to a minimum and try not to overuse the words was or is. REWRITE.

What is the best thing about being a writer? 

You can live in an alternate universe.

You have a great website and are also active on Twitter and Facebook. From an author's perspective, how important are social networking sites and other internet resources to promote your book? 

I am very active on Facebook and I do have a website. Because my book is published by Gibson House Press, an independent press, I doubt anyone would have noticed it was there if I didn’t have a fan base. I am very interested in my readers and listeners. They have kept me alive when the rest of the world ignores me. But it’s a relationship that requires care and respect, like any other relationship.

What’s next? Are you working on anything new right now? 

I just released a CD with my daughter Lucy Wainwright Roche. It’s called I Can Still Hear You. It’s a beautiful recording. Between that and The Town Crazy I pretty drained right now. I don’t have an idea in my head. Always an unsettling part of the creative process. But the field must lie fallow. I hope I’ll be lucky enough to get lost in another project, but who knows.



Monday, February 15, 2021

New Books and Birthday Books for MAILBOX MONDAY


It's Mailbox Monday and an icy Presidents' Day weekend here in Portland. Three-day weekends, snow days -- these concepts don't mean much when you are working from home anyway! So my office officially declared today a bon bon day and we are doing no real work. Which means I have time to catch up on my book blogging!

What new books have come into your house lately? A few have come my way since I last posted for Mailbox Monday:

-- The Anglophile's Notebook by Sunday Taylor, a novel about a magazine editor who travels to England to research a book about Charlotte Brontรซ. I've flipped through it and it is overflowing with literary tidbits and British coziness. This one has gone straight to the top of my TBR stack.

-- The First Lady of Underfashions by Christina Erteszek (available for pre-order now). This is the story of Erteszek’s parents Jan and Olga escaping WWII Poland, immigrating to America, and starting the Olga “underfashion” company. I love real-life stories of family businesses. 

Hubby knows how much I love coffee table books and got me two for my birthday he knew would be right up my alley:

-- Winston Churchill: Painting on the French Riviera by Paul Rafferty. Rafferty tracked down the location of many of the 120 or so paintings Churchill made in the South of France. The book features 35 of the paintings juxtaposed with a photograph of the scene from the same angle, taken in the same light. Rafferty also provides the story behind the paintings and locations, along with dozens of photographs of Churchill, his friends and family, the places he visited, and historic artifacts. It’s gorgeous and fascinating!

-- The English Country House by James Peill, photographs by James Fennell, forward by Julian Fellowes. Can’t wait to snuggle up with this coffee table queen on this snowy weekend!


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 Leslie of Under My Apple Tree, Serena of Savvy Verse & Wit, and Martha of Reviews by Martha's Bookshelf.

Thursday, February 11, 2021

Fear of Fifty by Erica Jong -- A Birthday BOOK BEGINNING



Hello 55! It's my double nickel birthday this week! 

I'm celebrating all week with cozy at-home festivities, since restaurants aren't open in Portland anyway and on top of corona lockdown we are gearing up for a big snowstorm. They predict five to ten inches of snow and the last time we had real snow like that, Portland shut down for two weeks! We stocked up on groceries and are ready to hibernate until it melts. 

So let's share some book beginnings. Please share the opening sentence or so of the book you are featuring this week. Share your link below. If you post on social media, please use the #bookbeginnigns hashtag. 


As part of the celebration of my 55th birthday, I'm finally reading Fear of Fifty, Erica Jong's "Midlife Memoir," published in 1994.  

So there I am at the spa with Molly, facing my fiftieth birthday, and feeling hideously depressed. I am no longer the youngest person in the room, nor the cutest.

My mom gave me Fear of Fifty when I turned 50 -- makes sense -- but I forgot to read it then. Just as good now! So candid, warm, enthusiastic, and honest. I love, love, love this book.


Please add the link to your Book Beginning post and not your blog home page or social media profile. 

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TIE IN: The Friday 56 hosted by Freda's Voice is a natural tie in with this event and there is a lot of cross over, so many people combine the two. The idea is to post a teaser from page 56 of the book you are reading and share a link to your post. Find details and the Linky for your Friday 56 post on Freda’s Voice.


From Fear of Fifty:
Now, you have to know that my father is the kind of guy who never has lunch with me alone because he thinks my mother might be jealous. If we meet during the week – which may happen every seventeen years or so – we snatch lunch at a greasy spoon like rushed adulterers.
I look forward to finish reading Fear of Fifty in front of the fireplace this weekend, with a warm beverage and a snuggly blanket. What are your weekend plans?

My other birthday week activities included:

  • Watching that lawyer cat filter video about 5,500 times!
  • Recording an episode of the Great Trials podcast about our BSA sex abuse cases, particularly a big trial here in Portland that resulted in the public release of the BSA’s “Perversion Files” on child molesters. I believe transparency about child sexual abuse is important, so I am always glad for the opportunity to talk about this tough subject..
  • Texted and FaceTimed with friends and family wishing me happy birthday. Definitely the highlight of my week!

Thursday, February 4, 2021

The Nine Tailors by Dorothy L. Sayers - BOOK BEGINNING

book cover of The Nine Tailors by Dorothy L. Sayers


Back again for another Book Beginnings on Fridays. I don't know what it's like where you are, but here in Portland, it is cold! Cold and damp and the rain is coming back tomorrow. This is exactly the kind of winter weekend that calls for an old-fashioned murder mystery.

Which is why I'm hunkering down with The Nine Tailors by Dorothy L. Sayers. This is the ninth novel in Sayers' Lord Peter Wimsey series and was published in 1934. It is my first read for the 2021 Vintage Mystery Challenge hosted by Bev at My Reader's Block. It counts as my "Murder by the Numbers" entry in the Golden Era category (mysteries published before 1960).

Please share your book beginning here by sharing a link to the opening sentence (or so) of the book you are highlighting this week. Share a link to your blog post or social media post if you play along on Instagram, Facebook, or some other social media that generates a link. If you just want to leave your opening sentence in a comment below, that's fine too! Make sure to tell us the name of the book and th author!

If you link to social media or post on social media, please use the hashtag #bookbeginnings.


From The Nine Tailors:

"That's torn it!" said Lord Peter Wimsey.

That first line doesn't tell you much, but the opening scene is a good one. Lord Peter and his butler Bunter have driven into a ditch in a snowstorm on New Year's Eve. They take refuge with the parson of the local church and become embroiled in a local murder that may be linked to the theft of an emerald necklace 15 years earlier. 

The title has nothing to do with sewing clothes. Nine Tailors refers to the tradition of tolling nine church bells when a man dies. 


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Another weekly teaser event is The Friday 56, hosted by Freda at Freda's Voice, where you can find details and add a link to your post. The idea is to share a two-sentence teaser from page 56 of the book you are featuring. You can also find a teaser from 56% of the way through your ebook or audiobook.


Fenchurch St. Paul is the smallest village, and has neither river nor railway; it is, however, the oldest; its church is by far the largest and the noblest, and its bells beyond question the finest. This is due to the fact that St. Paul is the original abbey foundation.

There is a lot about bells, the old church, and village life in this one. It is right up my alley!

Any other Dorothy L. Sayers fans? It's one of my favorite series. I hope to finish all the novels this year -- I only have two more to go after this. I haven't read the short stories yet and will save them for another day.

Wednesday, February 3, 2021

Announcing the 2020 European Reading Challenge Winner!







The European Reading Challenge started in 2012. Participants tour Europe in books by reading books set in different European countries or written by authors from different European countries.

Big thanks to all the participants who joined Grand Tour in 2020! The European Reading Challenge may have been more fun in 2020 because we didn't do much in real life traveling last year!


Each year, the Jet Setter Prize goes to the European Reading Challenge participant who reads and reviews the most books from different countries. There are a total of 50 European countries so the maximum number of books for this challenge is 50. So far, no one has come close to reading 50 books.

The 2020 Jet Setter Prize goes to repeat champion Maphead who visited 20 different European countries and reviewed the books he read. His wrap up post has links to all his reviews. He visited big countries like Russia and Germany, little countries like Switzerland, and even the tiny, independent territory of the Vatican City.

Maphead has been an enthusiastic participant over the years and has won several times, but not every time. Will someone beat him in 2021?

Honorary Mention (but no prizes) go to seven other participants who read and reviewed books from 10 or more unique countries:

The [Blank] Garden (15)

Typings (15)

Bitter Tea & Mystery (13)

Canadian Bookworm (13)

Books & Chocolate ((11)

Kitty Furious (10) (who participated in Instagram)

My own wrap-up post is here. I read books from 10 different European countries, but only reviewed a couple of them. I read many more books set in or written by European authors in 2020 than in years past, but for the 2021 European reading Challenge I am going to try to visit different countries. I need ideas for Eastern Europe and Balkan countries in particular. Any suggestions?

Congratulations to all the readers who completed the challenge! Thank you for posting wrap up posts as it makes it much easier for me to find you. There is still plenty of time to join us in 2021.


The gist: The idea is to read books by European authors or books set in European countries (no matter where the author comes from). The books can be anything – novels, short stories, memoirs, travel guides, cookbooks, biography, poetry, or any other genre. You can participate at different levels, but each book must be by a different author and set in a different country – it's supposed to be a tour.

You do not need a blog to participate in the European Reading Challenge. You can participate on social media like Instagram, Facebook, goodreads, whatever. Use the links to your social media posts. Or participate in the comments on the Challenge pages.

Sign up HERE for the 2021 Challenge.

Monday, February 1, 2021

January Wrap Up - My January Books


One of my bookish New Year's resolutions was to try to post monthly wrap ups of the books I read each month. I haven't done this in the past because I read so many books with my ears that I don't have book books to photograph. I also often give books away right when I finish reading them so don't have a complete stack to take a picture of at the end of the month. 

Because I made this resolution -- let's call it an intention, it's less than a resolution -- I did two things. First, I remembered to keep the books I finished reading until the end of the month so I could take a picture of them. Important. 

Second, I concentrated my audiobook selection on books that were already on my TBR shelves. This might sound silly to you. Why chose an audiobook when the perfectly good paper book is sitting right there, waiting to be read? I'll tell you. Because some of those books have been sitting on my TBR shelves for years - years! According to LibraryThing, there are over 1,700 physical books on my groaning TBR shelves. It could be many more years before I get to any particular book. So I decided to start reading some of them with my ears and clearing off those shelves just a tiny bit faster.

The result is that I managed to knock nine books off my TBR shelves, reread an old favorite, read one new one for book club, and still get in two audiobooks not otherwise on my shelves. 


My January books, in the order I read them, not the order in this picture, were:

The Boy, the Mole, the Fox and the Horse by Charlie Mackesy. A friend gave this to me and I read it on New Year's Day. It is charming and I understand its popularity. ๐ŸŒน๐ŸŒน๐ŸŒน๐ŸŒน๐ŸŒน

Lucky Jim by Kinglsey Amis made me appreciate this old favorite even more than when I first read it in college. ๐ŸŒน๐ŸŒน๐ŸŒน๐ŸŒน๐ŸŒน

The Red and the Black by Stendhal. This was a clunker for me. I found the hero, Julien Sorel, unbearable. ๐ŸŒน๐ŸŒน

Billy Bathgate by E. L. Doctorow. I'm not much of a Doctorow fan and was surprised how much I enjoyed this one. ๐ŸŒน๐ŸŒน๐ŸŒน๐ŸŒน

Now Now, But NOW by M. F. K. Fisher. This is Fisher's only novel. I read it for book club. It's an odd book, really four short stories about the same character, set in four different times and places, so connected by time travel. It was like Orlando, written by Colette, commissioned by Gourmet magazine. I'm glad I read it but I prefer her nonfiction. ๐ŸŒน๐ŸŒน๐ŸŒน

Ship of Fools by Katherine Anne Porter. This is on the Erica Jong list of Top 100 20th Century Novels by Women and on my Classics Club list. ๐ŸŒน๐ŸŒน๐ŸŒน๐ŸŒน

The Great Divorce by C. S. Lewis. This is one of the audiobooks I read that isn't pictured. Another bookish resolution of mine is to read several C. S. Lewis books this year. ๐ŸŒน๐ŸŒน๐ŸŒน๐ŸŒน

The Abolition of Man by C. S. Lewis. Another audiobook. ๐ŸŒน๐ŸŒน๐ŸŒน๐ŸŒน

Pale Morning Light with Violet Swan by Deborah Reed. I loved this book! See my review here. ๐ŸŒน๐ŸŒน๐ŸŒน๐ŸŒน๐ŸŒน

Revenge of the Middle-Aged Woman by Elizabeth Buchan. This was a nice surprise. It was much better, with a lot more heft to it, than the cover and description led me to expect. ๐ŸŒน๐ŸŒน๐ŸŒน๐ŸŒน๐ŸŒน

The Time Machine by H. G. Wells. I've been meaning to read this classic sci-fi forever and am glad I finally did. I didn't love it like I loved War of the Worlds, but it was still very good. ๐ŸŒน๐ŸŒน๐ŸŒน๐ŸŒน

The Laughing Policeman by Maj Sjรถwall and Per Wahlรถรถ. This early police procedural didn’t engage me, even though it won the Edgar Award for best mystery. It felt like a prototype compared to more recent versions of Nordic Noir like Jo Nesbo’s books. And the female characters were absurd – “nymphomaniacs,” shrews, or dipsos. ๐ŸŒน๐ŸŒน

On All Fronts: The Education of a Journalist by Clarissa Ward. I just finished this gripping memoir about being a war correspondent. Can’t wait to discuss it at book club! ๐ŸŒน๐ŸŒน๐ŸŒน๐ŸŒน

I usually only read eight, maybe nine, books in a month. I don't know why I finished 13 in January. We will see what February has in store. 

What was your favorite January read? What books are you looking forward to in February? 

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