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 was framed for killing his leading lady. 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).

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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: 

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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.



Friday, March 12, 2021

Wife | Daughter | Self: A Memoir in Essays by National Book Award Finalist Beth Kephart -- BOOK BEGINNINGS



Well, so much for my good intention of getting Book Beginnings on Fridays posted early this week! There was a big "Town Hall" zoom meeting for Boy Scout sex abuse survivors yesterday afternoon to talk about updates in the Boy Scout bankruptcy. I'm up to my eyeballs with that case because I represent many survivors with claims. So once again work made me forget my blog duties!

My apologies! And for those of you who prefer to post on Thursday or early Friday, thanks for coming back now. 

Thanks for all of you who join in every week to share the first sentence or so of the book you are reading. Book Beginnings on Fridays has been going on for years now and it is a highlight of my reading week. I don't always get around to visit everyone, but I do appreciate everyone who participates! 


My book beginning this week is from a brand new book, out last week, called Wife | Daughter | Self: A Memoir in Essays by Beth Kephart, a National Book Award finalist.

It's not hard to be good at kayaking across a smooth-topped lake on a puff-sky day, but I am actually so good.

-- from "Lily Lake," the first essay in the Wife section. 

Wife | Daughter | Self launched on March 2 from Forest Avenue Press, a Portland indie publisher with a big reputation for putting out first-rate fiction and literary nonfiction like Kephart's new memoir. 


Please link to your blog or social media post, not home page or social media profile. If you post on or link to social media, please use the #BookBeignnings hashtag.

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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 "A Shelter for the Truth" in the Wife section of Wife | Daughter | Self:
Sometimes Bill and I go from town to town, pretending, as we walk, that we live wherever we have found ourselves, wherever we have gone.

We choose as our own the house with a wide porch and blue-striped pillows on the wicker chairs, say, where marigolds grow in pots and mint in window boxes and a black cat nudges the edge of a stair with its chin.

Sunday, March 7, 2021

Mohammad Yadegari, Author of Always an Immigrant -- AUTHOR INTERVIEW

Mohammad Yadegari immigrated to the United States for college and graduate school where he met and married his wife Pricilla. He wrote his new memoir, Always an Immigrant, in the form of personal stories and anecdotes about growing up in the Middle East in the the 1940 to early 1960s and then moving to America. He's a good storyteller and the book is full of humor and real life wisdom.

Mohammad talked with Rose City Reader about cultural observations, his Always and Immigrant memoir, and his availability for book clubs: 

Please tell us a little of your background and how you came to write Always an Immigrant.

I was born in 1941 in the holy city of Karbala in Iraq in an Iranian family, lived until the age of 18 in that country, then traveled to Iran and lived four years there, and came to the United States to study in 1964. I received my BS and MS from State University of New York at Albany in Mathematics and my PhD from New York University in Middle East Studies.

As a professor of cultural history of the Middle East at Union College and The University at Albany, I was surprised at how little American students knew about the complexity of life outside the United States and how little they knew about past generations in America itself. For example, while women students made fun of modest Middle Eastern attire, they did not realize that similar modesty existed in the kind of clothing their own mothers and grandmothers used to wear. I was puzzled that almost all of my students were unaware that fitness centers were a fairly recent innovation in the U.S. Much has changed during the last half century of my stay in this country and many of my students did not realize the effects of those changes on society. Most such changes are learned through oral tradition which is dying steadily nowadays.

In my classes I drew parallels between the customs and traditions in the Middle East and those of the United States. My students were fascinated and it was they who urged me to write my stories.

The story of how you met and fell in love with your wife Priscilla is very sweet. What was her role as co-author of your book?

I love to talk and recount events of my life. When I started writing my memoir, I wrote individual vignettes about specific occurrences. Having heard most of those stories, Priscilla was in a position not only to edit my writing but to rearrange it to convey the meaning I had intended. When we had collected about thirty vignettes, it was Priscilla who arranged them in somewhat chronological order. She also suggested topics to fill in the gaps and make the material flow more smoothly. Her contribution was tremendous.

What do you want readers to take away from your book?

To understand that people of different cultures, all over the world, have similar kinds of hopes, aspirations, dreams, and even superstitions.

What do you think people can learn from immigrant stories in general?

Immigrants face special challenges when trying to acculturate to a different society. Their first and perpetual struggle is in language. In addition, they are constantly faced with prejudice related to race, color, cultural differences, and customs. What they are looking for but seldom achieve is what every human being seeks: respect.

Did you learn something about yourself from writing Always an Immigrant that you didn’t know before?

Before coming to America, I had an idealistic view of Americans and American life. Because of that, I did not realize how difficult it would be for me to be successful in the U.S. When I wrote the chapter, “Teaching at RCS,” I began to recognize how easily I had fallen victim to the racist tendencies of a group of adults who assumed they were better than me. It was then that I realized how naรฏve I had been.

What is your favorite review or compliment you received about your book?

“Riveting and compelling,” the first words from the editor of The Altamont Enterprise were much appreciated.

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

John Steinbeck (his style), Isabel Wilkirson (her truthfulness), Jean Paul Sartre (his existential philosophy), Maya Angelou (her irreverence to convention), Vladimir Nabokov (his vocabulary), and Jhumpa Lahiri (her ability to describe mundane occurrences in an interesting manner).

My style may have been influenced by Steinbeck.

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

I like to read books on human relations and social interaction. I recently read Isabel Wilkirson’s books The Warmth of Other Suns and Caste. I am presently reading Maya Angelou’s The Heart of a Woman.

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

Write and rewrite.

Do you have any virtual events coming up to promote Always an Immigrant?

I have promoted my book by podcast and speaking to book clubs. If anyone reading this interview has a book club and is interested in suggesting my book to your group, I can be reached at Myadegar@mac.com and I can join your group via Zoom or speaker phone for a more in-depth conversation.

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

I am in the process of reading and editing the translation of Always an Immigrant in Persian to be published by Jarf Publication in Tehran, Iran.



Thursday, March 4, 2021

The Lighthouse by P. D. James, an Adam Dalgliesh Mystery -- BOOK BEGINNINGS


I love mysteries! One of my all-time favorite series is P. D. James's Adam Dalgliesh series featuring Scotland Yard special Commander -- and published poet -- Adam Dalgliesh and his team of loyal inspectors. 

Are there other P. D. James fans among our Book Beginnings crew?


It is time again for Book Beginnings on Fridays, where we share the opening sentence or so of the book we are enjoying this week. You can play along on your blog, social media account, or in the comments below. 

If you post on a blog, Instagram, Facebook, or some other way that creates a link, please post it in the Linky box below. If you share on social media, please use the #BookBeginnings hashtag so we can find each other.


From The Lighthouse by P. D. James:

Commander Adam Dalgliesh was not unused to being urgently summoned to non-scheduled meetings with unspecified people at inconvenient times, but usually with one purpose in common: he could be confident that somewhere there lay a dead body awaiting his attention.

That is an excellent opening sentence, I think. I prefer long, opening sentences that get your attention right off the bat.

The Lighthouse is the penultimate book in the series and I'm sort of reluctant to read it, knowing there is only one book left after this. Oh well, there are so many series I still have to complete. And I suppose I can always reread this one!


I don't know why the pictures didn't show up on the Linky last week. Gremlins! We'll see if it works this time. 

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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 Lighthouse:
As soon as he had begun unpacking the books, he had found Monica's letter, place between the two top volumes. Now he took it from the desk top and read it again, slowly and with careful attention to every word, as if it held a hidden meaning which only a scrupulous rereading could discern.

Tuesday, March 2, 2021

John Haines, Author of Never Leaving Laramie -- AUTHOR INTERVIEW

John Haines was an adventure seeker from a young age. He biked through Tibet, kayaked the Niger River, and rode the Trans-Siberian Express from Beijing to East Berlin. His new memoir, Never Leaving Laramie (2020, OSU Press) weaves his travel stories with his philosophy of travel.

John talked with Rose City Reader about his travels, his work, and Never Leaving Laramie:

What lead you to write your memoir, Never Leaving Laramie?

I had time and a box of writing from over the years, usually for magazines, and detailed journals. Writing became another form of adventure, stringing stories into a thread for a book. I refer to the book as an "essayistic memoir" blending travel, culture, history and landscapes, mostly in places in transition, as I was.

Of all the trips you describe in your book, what was your favorite?

My favorite trip is always the next one. Beyond iconic places – The Potala Palace in Lhasa or the Great Mosque in Timbuktu – I value simple but durable moments: waking to dawn light in the Himalayas; sea kayaking on calm water off the coast of Hvar in Croatia after working in a war zone in Bosnia; walking alone on snow in a medieval Czech village remarkably undamaged by wars; and eating fish with water lily bulbs shared by the Bozo, a semi-nomadic fishing people in the Inland Delta of the Niger River in Mali.

You write about how growing up in the rural community of Laramie, Wyoming shaped your worldview. Can you explain a little about that?

Laramie is home to the only university in Wyoming, which gives it a continual cycle of student energy. It is surrounded by open space that begins on the edge of town and extends forever into the prairie, creeks and rivers, and mountains on the far edge of the high plains. The landscape serves as an escape for kids and eventually, inevitably, as a launchpad for wanderers into a wider world.

You had some amazing travel adventures and patched together a career around your travels before you went to work at Mercy Corps. Can you tell us about that transition?

I first heard about Mercy Corps when I was working in Central Europe and in Bosnia, and admired their predisposition for action and innovation. After helping to start an environmental bank in Portland, I joined Mercy Corps in 2002 to direct their domestic work. While there I worked on this idea to allow low-income people to invest in commercial real estate in their neighborhoods. In 2014 we formed the Community Investment Trust, a national project for Mercy Corps that puts real estate ownership into the hands of the BIPOC community, renters and first-time investors.

Who is the audience for your book?

People who are curious and have a taste for adventure, however large or small. I hope any reader will find something fresh in the stories of places in transition – from East Berlin to Bosnia, Tibet to Guinea – where the book moves. Themes of risk with beauty, pain, persistence and possibility flow through the book much as various rivers around the globe carry the stories.

In general, what do you hope readers will take away from your book?

I hope people have fun and relate to the elasticity of time and place that blends home with travel in the world.

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

I can write watching sports while drinking a beer, but I edit in quiet with coffee.

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

I read a range between creative fiction (anything by David Markson, for instance) and history (Michael Oren’s Power, Power, Faith, and Fantasy is amazing). I am currently reading Caste by Isabelle Wilkerson and Analogia by George Dyson, both of which take some time to absorb between chapters. I slip into reading the essays in Horizon, the final book of a favorite of mine, Barry Lopez.

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

I am committed to growing the Community Investment Trust into a national force, building replication from our successful East Portland pilot, to close the racial wealth gap throughout the US. I continue to write essays and am editing short stories I had mothballed.



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