Thursday, May 25, 2023

Mystic River by Dennis Lehane -- BOOK BEGINNINGS


Thank you for joining my on Book Beginnings on Fridays! Please share the opening sentence (or so) from the book you are reading this week. You can also share from a book that caught your fancy or you otherwise want to highlight. 


When Sean Devine and Jimmy Marcus were kids, their fathers worked together at the Coleman Candy plant and carried the stench of warm chocolate back home with them.
-- from Mystic River by Dennis Lehane. 

That's a great opening sentence, in my opinion, because it immediately pulls you into the story. You know the two main characters will be Sean and Jimmy; you know they have history together but are now adults; and you get a hint at their lives from the fact that their fathers worked in a factory, so you know they grew up with a blue collar background. I'm not sure "stench" and chocolate ever go together, but that's a quibble.

I am glad I finally read this one! It has been on my TBR shelf a long time. I finally read it as one of my TBR 23 in '23 books


Please add the link to your Book Beginnings post in the Linky box below. If you share on social media, please use the #bookbeginnings hashtag. 

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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 Mystic River:
“You ever think how the most minor decision can change the entire direction of your life? Like, say you miss your bus one morning, so you buy that second cup of coffee, buy a scratch ticket while you're at it."

Have you read this book? Or seen the movie? What did you think?


Brideshead Revisited by Evelyn Waugh -- WHAT ARE THEY READING?


Authors tend to be readers, so they often create characters who like to read or stick real books into their stories. I always like it when a real book gets a shout out in the book I'm reading. 

How do you think an author picks the books the characters read? I usually assume the characters' choice of books reflects the author's tastes or, maybe, what the author was reading at the time. But sometimes a character's reading material is a clue to the character's personality or is even a part of the story.

This is an occasional blog event. If you want to play along, please do! Grab the button, put up a post, and leave leave a comment with a link to your post.


I first read Brideshead Revisited in high school, after watching the tv miniseries with Jeremy Irons and Anthony Edwards on Masterpiece Theater. I read it again in 2004 when I was working my way through the Modern Library's list of Top 100 Novels of the 20th Century. I got a lot more out of it reading it in my 30s than I had as a teenager!

Recently, I read it again and loved it even more. Part of my enjoyment came from reading it with my ears this time. Jeremy Irons narrated the audiobook and did a terrific job. I think I also enjoyed it more now because I've read many other Evelyn Waugh books and had a better sense for his humor and the cultural references.

Which is probably why I noticed more which books the characters mentioned. There were several, but the two that I remember are Eminent Victorians by Lytton Strachey and Antic Hay by Aldous Huxley. 

Eminent Victorians was published in 1918 and is one of the few books the protagonist Charles Ryder took with him when he started college at Oxford. It contains biographies of four leading figures of the Victorian Era, Cardinal Manning, Florence Nightingale, Thomas Arnold and General Charles Gordon.  Because it was irreverent, witty, and debunked the pretensions about Victorians, the book was highly popular and made Strachey famous. 

Antic Hay is a comic novel by Aldous Huxley, published in 1923, which made it a new-release when Anthony Blanche was reading it in Brideshead Revisited. Blanche described his reading experience to Ryder over drinks:
"Picture me, my dear, alone and studious. I had just bought a rather forbidding book called Antic Hay, which I knew I must read before going to Garsington on Sunday, because everyone was bound to talk about it, and it's so banal saying you have not read the book of the moment, if you haven't."

I haven't read Eminent Victorians, but now I want to. I read and enjoyed Antic Hay, but all I remember now are a lot of beautiful young things running around post-WWI London, day drinking and talking about sex. 


Friday, May 19, 2023

People We Meet on Vacation by Emily Henry -- BOOK BEGINNINGS



Well, I was on vacation and got back too late last night to post in time. So here is a very late Book Beginnings on Fridays post! 

I took this Emily Henry book because it seems like the perfect travel book. I loved it and ripped through it on the plane ride home from Omaha. 


On vacation, you can be anyone you want.

-- People We Meet on Vacation by Emily Henry. 

I don’t typically read “romance” books. But there’s a fuzzy line between full on romance novels and the chicklit I secretly love — when it’s clever and sassy.

A while back, I found a copy of Emily Henry’s Book Lovers in a Little Free Library in my neighborhood. It was definitely clever and sassy! I wanted to read her other books so took People We Meet on Vacation with me when I visited my mom in Nebraska. It is completely different but just as funny and fun.


Please share the link to your Book Beginnings post in the box below. If you share on social media, please use the hashtag #bookbeginnings. 

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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 People We Meet on Vacation:
“There is literally no one on earth better equipped to have a magical vacation than a travel journalist with a big-ass media conglomerate’s checkbook. If you can’t have an inspired trip, then how the hell do you expect the rest of the world to?”

Thursday, May 11, 2023

Dr. Wong by Don Engebretson -- BOOK BEGINNINGS


Welcome to Book Beginnings on Fridays, where participants share the opening sentence (or so) of the books they are reading this week. Please share yours! You can also share from a book that caught your fancy, even if you are not reading it this week.


Cole Ember knew he was going to die and hoped it didn't hurt.

-- from Dr. Wong by Don Engebretson. Billed as Volume 1 in what will be a series of Cole Ember spy thrillers, Dr. Wong is an irreverent romp through the world of international espionage. 

Engebretson is a seasoned magazine and short story writer. His debut novel, Welcome to Kamini, followed a man in a failed marriage and professional tailspin to the Canadian woods of northern Ontario. Dr. Wong promises the same strong plotting, memorable characters, and captivating writing, but with non-stop action and laughs on every page. 


Please add the link to your Book Beginnings post below. If you share on social media, please sue the hashtag #bookbeginnings.

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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 Dr. Wong:
Blair Hammond was the epitome of a secret agent as portrayed in film, while the antithesis of one in real life. Intelligence officers in the CSIS — and America's CIA, Britain's MI6, Israel's Mossad, the list goes on — were most often brainy, introverted, humorless nerds.
Of course, when I tried to find a humorous teaser, it was impossible to find one in two sentences on page 56. But trust me, Dr. Wong is breezy, fast, and funny. 

Cole Ember is an operative for CASPER, a black ops force so black it’s rumored only in CIA bathroom stalls. Unbeatable in a fistfight, deadly with a gun, and dense as a paving stone. . . . Crossing paths with famed genetic scientist Dr. Wing Duk Wong, Ember slowly—very slowly—discovers that Wong has created a ruthless army of genetically modified humans to aid in his heinous plot to acquire vast wealth via the boldest, and most peculiar, terrorism attack in history.

Also on Wong’s tail is Canadian Intelligence Officer Olivia Laidlaw. She’s skilled, clever, beautiful, and deadly, albeit armed only with a combat knife and bear spray, per restrictions imposed by the Canadian government. Can this hapless pair find and defeat Wong before the world’s financial centers collapse, and thousands of innocent people die? Are you kidding?

Wednesday, May 10, 2023

Gemma Whelan, author of Painting Through the Dark -- AUTHOR INTERVIEW


Painting Through the Dark (2022, Shangana Press)

Gemma Whelan is an award-winning director, screenwriter, educator, and author. Her own experiences as an immigrant from Ireland inform her perspective on art and culture. Gemma was the founding Artistic Director of Wilde Irish Productions in the San Francisco Bay Area and the Corrib Theatre in Portland, Oregon, where she now lives.

Painting Through the Dark is her second novel. 

Gemma talked with Rose City Reader about Painting Through the Dark, her writing, authors she loves, and more:

How did you come to write your new novel, Painting Through the Dark?

My novel is based on certain experiences I had when I arrived in the U.S. several decades ago at the age of 21, with no contacts and little money. This particular story mirrors a situation where I landed in a menacing household and felt trapped and powerless. People with power and influence tried to use that power to coerce me, and they also assumed that because I was a young Irish woman with no resources, I should be grateful for what they offered me.

Most of the story takes place in San Francisco in the summer of 1982. What drew you to this setting for your novel?

I fell in love with San Francisco when I arrived there. To me it was a mecca! It whispered freedom. In my twenties, it felt like a place I could discover who I wanted to be. The city itself is stunning — the hills, the setting on the bay, the cable cars, the architecture, the different neighborhoods. I wanted San Francisco to be a character in my story.

What is you background and how did it lead to writing fiction?

Very shortly after I arrived in San Francisco I signed up for an acting class and knew immediately that theatre was what I wanted to do. I loved that you lay on the floor (gorgeous hardwood with sun streaming in…) and actually breathed! Imagine a profession where you began with the breath! And where the process called for you to go deep into yourself and also to explore the inner workings of others. I had always been an avid reader and loved words, and theatre was a continuation of this. I studied directing at UC Berkeley in the 80’s, and in the mid-90’s enrolled in an MFA program in Cinema at San Francisco State University. That’s when I started writing. Two of the screenplays I wrote then became the basis of my first and second novels (Fiona: Stolen Child and Painting Through the Dark.)

Your main character, Ashling O’Leary, leaves Ireland for San Francisco to become an artist and uses painting to fight the demons in her past. Why did you choose painting as her medium?

She made that decision! It was possibly a way to express what she wanted to without using words. Words would have been too direct. With painting she could experiment with color and texture and light and dark and discover what she needed to express. The Ireland of my and Ashling’s youth was one of silences, taboos. You weren’t supposed to speak of certain things. Painting is a way to get around this and is also a direct line to emotions.

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?

I had an idea of the outcome but had no idea how it was going to happen, how it would work out. I had several drafts where Ashling took different paths, but none felt right. In the end I had to let the writing lead me to finding the right way for Ashling to work her away through to the place she arrived at. I also learned that her art had to lead her there.

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

Resilience, overcoming obstacles, belief in yourself, belief in art and that it can change us, and the world.

What do you hope readers will take away from your book?

I hope readers might see some of their own journey, or that of someone close to them in Ashling. She’s tough, and she has to negotiate her way through hard and often frightening circumstances. I also hope that it shows how art can heal, that it can be transformative.

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

A friend wrote: “It is living in my soul. The story, the wonderful characters, the emotional landscape, your poetic descriptions, the depth of feeling, and the skillful expression of human behavior with nuance and color, and above all, believability, you have written the story of so many people.”

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

There were a lot of books in my house growing up and I worked my way indiscriminately through the library. I loved carving out time for reading. In the long summer holidays, I’d disappear for hours on end and seek out a place to read – a hidden place up the fields or by a river on the farm where I was raised. I also sneaked out of bed after lights out to sit on the landing where I could catch some light. That was before I got a flashlight so I could read under the blankets.

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

Ann Patchett, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Colm Toibin, Samuel Beckett, Tana French. So many more! I’m not consciously influenced by the writers I love and can only hope that some smattering of their brilliance seeps in somewhere! Beckett is light years away from Garcia Marquez in style and content. I can immerse myself in the lushness of Garcia Marquez, and also appreciate and connect to the stark beauty of Beckett.

What are you reading now?

I’m reading an ARC of a novel, About the Carleton Sisters by local author, Dian Greenwood. It’s a story of three vastly different sisters in middle age, facing the consequences of past decisions. The writing is sharp and incisive, the first-person narratives allowing us inside the heads of these fascinating women, all grappling with demons from the past, and facing down long held secrets. It’s a stunning debut—due out in June by She Writes Press.

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

I’ll be at the Garden Home Library in Portland on May 16, 6:30 pm, hosted by former Oregon Poet Laureate, Paulann Peterson. On May 21 at 4 pm, I’ll be at 21ten Theatre with veteran Portland actor Vana O’Brien. All readings are on my website.

What’s next? Are you working on another book?

I’m working on a book set mostly in India, and partly in Sri Lanka and Guatemala. As their marriage crumbles, a young American midwife with indigenous Guatemalan and Irish parents takes her husband back to India where he was abandoned, adopted, and raised, to try to understand the roots of their conflict. While Kiran heads for the past, Frankie — overwhelmed by the state of lower caste Indian women — resolves to face a future free from the bonds of society’s — and her own conditioning.



Thursday, May 4, 2023

The Birds by Daphne du Maurier -- BOOK BEGINNINGS


Thank you for joining me for Book Beginnings on Fridays! Please share the opening sentence (or so) of the book you are reading this week, or just a book you want to highlight.

I'm continuing with my Daphne du Maurier immersion with another buddy read. This month, we are reading a book of short stories. The cover of my copy is striking, to say the least!


On December the third the wind changed overnight and it was winter.

-- From the first and title story in The Birds and Other Stories by Daphne du Maurier. That's a pretty benign opening sentence for what I know will be a dramatic, if not scary, story.

Until recently, I had no idea that du Maurier wrote the short story that Alfred Hitchcock adapted into his classic 1963 movie, The Birds. Apparently the book and the movie are not the same, but I haven't started the book yet so I can't say for myself. 


Please add the link to your Book Beginnings post in the Linky box below. If you share on social media, please use the #bookbeginnings hashtag.

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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 The Birds:
A black-backed gull dived down at him from the sky, missed, swerved in flight, and rose to dive again. In a moment it was joined by others, six, seven, a dozen, black-backed and herring mixed.

Birds attacking. That seems like the movie to me. Now I am really curious about how the book and movie differ.  

Monday, May 1, 2023

Five New Books -- MAILBOX MONDAY



Mailbox Monday is a fun, weekly blog event where participants chare the books they recently acquired. What new books came into your house recently? 

Here's my roundup:

The First Lady of World War II: Eleanor Roosevelt's Daring Journey to the Frontlines and Back by Shannon McKenna Schmidt 

I prefer historical biographies to general history books, so this story of Eleanor Roosevelt's personal involvement in the war effort appeals to me. 

In August 1943, Eleanor Roosevelt journeyed to the Pacific Theater, where the United States was at war with Japan. A goodwill tour, diplomatic mission, and fact-finding foray, the 25,000-mile trip was further, longer, and more dangerous than any previously undertaken by the well-traveled First Lady.

The First Lady of World War II follows Eleanor on this daring trek, taken under arduous conditions in a theater of war that sprawled over vast ocean distances. The trip, which demonstrated how dramatically she had transformed the role of First Lady, still stands — in the words of a reporter at the time — as "the most remarkable journey any president’s wife has ever made."

No God Like the Mother by Kesha Ajọsẹ-Fisher

This book of short stories, published by Forest Avenue Press, won the Ken Kesey Award For Best Fiction in the 2020 Oregon Book Awards.

Kesha Ajọsẹ-Fisher's No God Like the Mother follows characters in transition, through tribulation and hope. Set around the world--the bustling streets of Lagos, the arid gardens beside the Red Sea, an apartment in Paris, and the rain-washed suburbs of the Pacific Northwest--this collection of nine stories is a masterful exploration of life's uncertainty.


Blood from a Stone: A Memoir of How Wine Brought Me Back from the Dead by Adam S. McHugh

McHugh's memoir came out last fall from Intervarsity Press. I was fortunate to get a review copy from LibraryThing. It sounds terrific!

"This is the story of how wine brought me back from the dead."

Thus begins Adam McHugh's transition through the ending of one career—as a hospice chaplain and grief counselor—into the discovery of a new life in wine among the grapevines of the Santa Ynez Valley of California.

With warmth and wit, Adam tells the story of what happens when things fall apart and when where you live no longer feels like home. From the south of France to Champagne to the California central coast, the trail winds toward new life and healing through the good gifts of wine, friendship, and a sense of place. Pour a glass and join the adventure.

This new, lyrical memoir comes out next week from Forest Avenue Press

As a neurodivergent child in a hundred-year-old house, Zaji Cox collects grammar books, second-hand toys, and sightings of feral cats. She dances and cartwheels through self-discovery and doubt, guided by her big sister and their devoted single mother. Through short essays that evoke the abundant imagination of childhood, Plums for Months explores the challenges of growing up mixed race and low-income on the outskirts of Portland, Oregon.

He Said He Would Be Late by Justine Sullivan

I got this new domestic thriller (2023, Henry Holt) right before my hip surgery two months ago then forgot I had it. It looks like a good one! 

A fast-paced, twisty psychological debut about the complexities of marriage and new motherhood, told through the frenetic lens of a wife seeking the truth about her husband, at all costs, as the validity of the life she once knew unravels page by page.


Join other book lovers on Mailbox Monday to share the books that came into your house lately. Visit the Mailbox Monday website to find links to all the participants' posts. You can also find the hosts' favorites at posts titled Books that Caught Our Eye.

Serena of Savvy Verse & Wit, Martha of Reviews by Martha's Bookshelf, and Emma of Words and Peace graciously host Mailbox Monday.

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