Bear Town

           

 

           I have just finished reading Fredrik Backman’s Bear Town, and it is (in my opinion) his best. Bear Town is a tiny town nestled deep in a Norwegian forest. Their junior hockey team is about to compete in the national semi-finals, and they actually have a shot at winning. The hopes and dreams of the town rests on the shoulders of a handful of teenage boys. A victory would not only boost the chances of the town having a hockey academy built there, but would also send Kevin, their star player, on to a future with the NHL. A victory would also mean everything to Amat, a scrawny fifteen-year-old treated like an outcast everywhere but on the ice. And it would justify the choice that Peter, the team’s general manager, and his wife, Kira, made to return to his hometown to raise their children. There are, in fact, a dozen characters who will be affected by the outcome of the game. Backman does a terrific job of presenting a whole cast of characters as individuals both flawed and heroic.

            The semi-final is the catalyst for a violent act that will leave a young girl traumatized and the town in turmoil. While the plot centers around hockey (any sport would have done), the story is really about moral failure and group think.

            When an unlikely hero steps forward, he saves more than one person from self-destruction.

            I was struck by the number of characters Backman could portray with such excellence, as well as the way he was able to juggle their appearances and interactions. I highly recommend this book, and this is from someone who knows next to nothing about sports! Certainly not hockey.

My Writing Clone’s Christmas List

 

Dear Santa,

      There are several items I’d love to have to improve my writing life.

       First, a carton of pens. I never seem to have enough. They keep disappearing. I prefer fine points.

       A large dose of neuro-transmitters to help my word recall which seems to be slowing down lately.

       A robotic dust sucker for my house. Vacuuming is such a waste of time when there are so many stories to write, yet the piles of dust bunnies have become quite distracting.

       Do you happen to have any magic pills for helping techno-idiots with technology? I’m pretty good at WORD, but not at some of the other computer-related things I need to know.

       A new pair of pajamas to write in.

       Books for the school in Thailand I visited a few years ago. I don’t know the name of the school, but it was in the long-neck tribe area. Their entire library consisted of a couple dozen books stuck in a plastic carton.

       Chocolate covered cherries.

       Santa, I’ve been fairly good this year, so I hope you will consider my list. Thank you in advance.

                                                                                            Yours truly,

                                                                                             Judy Higgins

 

      

Writers Should Read

Now that the longest day of the year has arrived, I’m already dreaming of sunshine and warm weather. This morning I saw what looks like the perfect place to be: Atlantis Books in Santorini, Greece. Imagine sitting at the table in the picture, looking out over the sea, and reading, reading, reading; going for the occasional stroll along the shore and then coming back to read some more, or maybe to just sit there and soak up the sun.

Atlantis Books, which opened in 2004, is in the tiny village of Oia in Santorini. It’s a small literary haven tucked into the basement of a traditional whitewashed building overlooking the caldera. The shop has become a landmark and must-visit destination for both travelers and locals.

Dan Stevens is Alive and Well

I’m not a big TV watcher, and there are very few programs I’ve watched on a regular basis. Lately, Foyle’s War and Midsomer Murders are about the only ones. But like so many other people, I was addicted to Downton Abbey.  When they killed off Dan Stevens, however, I almost gave up on the series. I’ve never been so upset over an episode on TV (A fictional episode, that is). I thought of sending certified letters to the producers, or standing outside their office doors with protest signs — anything, to bring Dan Stevens back to life. Alas, I had to get over it.

So, I was ecstatic to see him brought back to life in The Man who Invented Christmas. (Whatever else he’s been in between Downton Abbey and The Mans who . . . has passed me by.) This was the perfect movie for pre-Christmas week: entertaining, colorful, reminiscent of the good things about Christmas, and . . . . DAN STEVENS!

 

I’m Handing it over to the Spiders!

My house that is! Years ago (maybe about a century, it seems), I vacuumed daily, cleaned the bathrooms daily, polished furniture upstairs one day and down the next, polished silver once a week . . .  Maybe I was a little crazy. My house now looks like Miss Havisham’s with spider webs draped on and under everything. Spiders crawl around unimpeded by the besieged owner of this property, brazen in the knowledge that I no longer care, and that I’m no threat to their industry. Carry on spiders! I have more important things to do now. Books to write, stories to read, movies to see, wine to drink, cake to eat, and friends to entertain and be entertained by.

My Favorite Prom Story

            Even though it isn’t yet prom season, I want to share a story told me by one of my tennis friends. He attended high school in a small community in eastern Kentucky. When he was a senior, several of the men students, who also happened to be class and student council leaders, as well as team captains got together and decided they wanted to do something special for their female classmates. Like seniors everywhere, they knew that many of the guys would invite girls from other schools and other classes to the senior prom, and that many of their female classmates would be left sitting home dateless. The small group of leaders convinced the other guys that every girl in the class should be invited to the prom rather than bringing in dates from other classes and schools.

            I would love to know the tactics these young men used to convince their classmates, but convince them they did, and every senior girl got invited to the prom. How they chose their dates was quite interesting: they staged a poker game to see who invited which girl. Years later, I’m told, when there is a class reunion or gathering the women still express their admiration for what their male classmates did.

            I loved this story so much I incorporated it into my novel that is coming out in March, Unringing the Bell. The novel is a murder mystery, but with romance and humor embedded in the plot.

            Wouldn’t it be great to see the guys who planned and executed this run for office? Maybe on the platform that decency still exists.   

This Grandmother Doesn’t Bake

Other grandmothers bake cookies with their granddaughters, while I pour fake blood on my oldest and make her pose as a dead ballerina (see http://buckscountymysteries.com).

Back when I lived in Bucks County, PA, I woke up one morning with the plot for a murder mystery in my head. Since a “muse” had obviously visited me in my sleep and dropped it there, I thought I was duty-bound to write the story. Unfortunately, the muse neglected to reveal some essential plot elements as well as a couple of the major characters. I struggled to write the story, gave up, and moved on to other projects.

But the dead woman (a former New York City Ballet lead dancer) wouldn’t leave me alone. A couple years ago, I tried again and became intrigued with what can happen to innocent bystanders during a murder investigation, as well as how long a person can hang on to hate.

An attorney who graciously lent me some of his valuable time to answer legal questions pertaining to the story also suggested the title: Unringing the Bell.

When I finally finished the manuscript, I was full of uncertainty because the story doesn’t fit into the formula for most mysteries. It was only when an agent offered me a contract for representation, that I let my doubts recede. He told me that not everyone wants the same old stuff and that I should turn this into a series.

And that brings me back to my granddaughter and fake blood. For my website, I needed a model to portray the dead ballerina, shot through the heart by . . . . . Whoops, I almost gave it away. She also posed for the website for my other book, The Lady. (Xxxxxxx) Check it out!  I am definitely a proud grandmother!

The Key To Rebecca

The Key to Rebecca
by Ken Follett

This is a classic that I missed growing up. And I do think this book has to be considered a classic in a way. Ken Follett’s The Key to Rebecca took readers and critics by storm when first published more than fifteen years ago. Today, it remains one of the best espionage novels ever written.

A brilliant and ruthless Nazi master agent is on the loose in Cairo. His mission is to send Rommel’s advancing army the secrets that will unlock the city’s doors. In all of Cairo, only two peop The Key to Rebecca took readers and critics by storm when first published more than fifteen years ago. Today, it remains one of the best espionage novels ever written. Espionage novels aren’t my forte, but this one is a terrific read even for someone who prefers other genres.

A brilliant and ruthless Nazi master agent is on the loose in Cairo. His mission is to send Rommel’s advancing army the secrets that will unlock the city’s doors. In all of Cairo, only two people can stop him. One is a down-on-his-luck English officer no one will listen to. The other is a vulnerable young Jewish girl.

The first line of the novel blew me away: “The last camel collapsed at noon.” Six words and I know where the novel takes place (somewhere in the Middle East or Sahara), that someone is on a trip, that someone is in trouble. Six words and nine syllables! Wow!  I struggle with first lines when I write (and all the other lines, too).

I was also in awe at the way Follett is able to manipulate the reader’s empathy and sense of loyalty, gradually changing it from one character to another during the course of the novel.

Magpie Murders

Magpie Murders
by Anthony Horowitz

So, what do you do when you’ve finished all the episodes of Foyle’s War and then re-watched them for the third time? Find a book by the screen writer of the series, of course! Anthony Horowitz works his magic in his new novel, Magpie Murders, which delivers not just one mystery, but a mystery within a mystery.

When editor Susan Ryeland is given the manuscript of Alan Conway’s latest novel, she has no reason to think it will be much different from any of his others. After working with the bestselling crime writer for years, she’s intimately familiar with his detective, Atticus Pünd, who solves mysteries disturbing sleepy English villages. An homage to queens of classic British crime such as Agatha Christie and Dorothy Sayers, Alan’s traditional formula has proved hugely successful. So successful that Susan must continue to put up with his troubling behavior if she wants to keep her job.

Conway’s latest tale has Atticus Pünd investigating a murder at Pye Hall, a local manor house. Yes, there are dead bodies and a host of intriguing suspects, but the more Susan reads, the more she’s convinced that there is another story hidden in the pages of the manuscript: one of real-life jealousy, greed, ruthless ambition, and murder.

Madame President

Madame President: The Extraordinary Journey of Ellen Johnson Sirleaf
by Helene Cooper

Liberia is in the midst of a complicated, no-holds-barred election for the new leader of the country who will replace Ellen Johnson Sirleaf. Madame President  isThe harrowing, but triumphant story of Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, leader of the Liberian women’s movement, winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, and the first democratically elected female president in African history.

When Ellen Johnson Sirleaf won the 2005 Liberian presidential election, she demolished a barrier few thought possible, obliterating centuries of patriarchal rule to b the harrowing, but triumphant story of Sirleaf, leader of the Liberian women’s movement, winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, and the first democratically elected female president in African history.

When Ellen Johnson Sirleaf won the 2005 Liberian presidential election, she demolished a barrier few thought possible, obliterating centuries of patriarchal rule to become the first female elected head of state in Africa’s history. Madame President is the inspiring, often heartbreaking story of Sirleaf’s evolution from an ordinary Liberian mother of four boys to international banking executive, from a victim of domestic violence to a political icon, from a post-war president to a Nobel Peace Prize winner.

Pulitzer Prize–winning journalist and bestselling author Helene Cooper deftly weaves Sirleaf’s personal story into the larger narrative of the coming of age of Liberian women. The highs and lows of Sirleaf’s life are filled with indelible images; from imprisonment in a jail cell for standing up to Liberia’s military government to addressing the United States Congress, from reeling under the onslaught of the Ebola pandemic to signing a deal with Hillary Clinton when she was still Secretary of State that enshrined American support for Liberia’s future.

Sirleaf’s personality shines throughout this riveting biography. Ultimately, Madame President is the story of Liberia’s greatest daughter, and the universal lessons we can all learn from this “Oracle” of African women.

Whenever the present election is settled and someone comes away a winner, it will be interesting to see if that person is able to maintain the country on the path that Sirleaf set it on, or if Liberia will once again plunge into the pre-Sirleaf chaos, graft, and poverty.