I discovered a marvelous old-fashioned bookstore on the Alameda in San Jose, California, The Recycle Book Shop. There were none of the canned displays prominent in chain bookstores, nor the well-layed-out, equi-height shelves. No Starbucks in one corner. No stuffed animals or gewgaws for sale. Just books! Stacks of them. On the floor, on tops of shelves, on counters. People sat around on the floor dipping into the merchandise, trying out this book, or that book. It smelled like a book store, too. Dusty jackets. Old paper. Long forgotten titles jumped out at me from the spines, along with authors’ names that I hadn’t thought of in years. There were newer titles, too, but I had the distinct feeling that every book in the store had merit. I wound up with Book Two of Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan Novels, and I’m already well into it.
I just discovered a writer/artist whose whimsical illustrations I love. J Schlenker, a late blooming author, lives with her husband out in the splendid center of nowhere in the Kentucky foothills of Appalachia where the only thing to disturb her writing is croaking frogs and the occasional sounds of hay being cut in the fields. Her first novel, Jessica Lost Her Wobble, published in December 2015, was selected as a finalist in the William Faulkner – William Wisdom Creative Writing Competition and was awarded five stars from Readers’ Favorite. One of her short stories, “The Missing Butler,” received honorable mention in the first round of the NYC Competition.
Before she became a writer, her first passion was art in which she got her degree. In addition to illustrating her own books, she designs covers for other writers. Check her out at https://www.jschlenker.com.
I have too many books! No, that isn’t what I really mean. What I mean is that I have too many books for my bookcases. What I need are three-story shelves like these in Boekhandel Selexyz Dominicanen in The Netherlands. Dutch architecture firms SatijnPlus Architecten and Merkx + Girod transformed a decrepit 13th-century church into a spectacular bookstore in the center of Maastricht. The bookstore offers incredible views of the restored sanctuary, while the choir area is now home to a café. Imagine having coffee and a croissant in that café while reading a good book!
Maybe it’s a good thing that bookstore is in The Netherlands instead of in Lexington, KY. I’m sure I’d spend too much time there if it were nearby.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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!