Hey, I’ve Been There!!

by Jackie Houchin

Hi all. Are you ready for a tome? (I don’t mind if you skim this post!) If you hate reading about vacation itineraries, I hope you won’t cringe as you begin this. But it really IS about books & reading.

I’m bouncing off my fellow Writer in Residence friend, Gayle Bartos-Pool who wrote that wonderful post last week about how reading fired and inspired her own successful writing history. Her last words “Read On!” were terrific.

I am a prolific reader. I LOVE to read or listen to books. A while back, I wrote about The 52 Bookclub Reading Challenge that I’ve been in for three years now. Each of the 52 books must match a book category that the moderators come up with each year. So far, I’ve met the challenges. For this year I have but 14 of the 52 yet to read, and it’s just June. 52 bookclub page

However, I’ve read many, many other books in 2022. And when I say read, I include print books, eBooks, and audiobooks. Non-fiction, novels, inspirational books, study books, and children’s books fill in the gaps around my favorite genre – mystery.

So, when my husband and I went on a 23-day cruise in the Mediterranean and Aegean Seas, I decided to read a book set in every country we visited, including the ship itself, and a jet plane.  What fun!  I’ve read 13 and have about 6 left to read.

 I began this quest waiting at LAX for the flight that would take us to Portugal to meet our ship (with a stop in Montreal). I started with Agatha Christie’s DESTINATION UNKNOWN. (We knew where we were headed, but hey, you never know – as the protagonist in that book soon found out!)

We spent so little time in Lisbon, Portugal, that I haven’t considered a book set there, but I just recently came across 300 DAYS IN THE SUN by Deborah Lawrenson or A SMALL DEATH IN LISBON by Robert Wilson. Not sure I will get to them. They are a bit long. But who knows, maybe.

 As for that 4-hour stop in Montreal, I chose A DISAPPEARANCE AT THE BONNE NUIT HOTEL by Dominique Daoust, about a young female newspaper reporter who goes to Montreal in search of that “big story.”  It’s the first book of a trilogy.

(This is yet to be read.)

Our ship docked in five ports in Spain, with a stop at Gibraltar (a British Overseas Territory) after the first. I read Aaron Elkins, UNEASY RELATIONS, set in and on that famous rock. Wow, what fun to follow Gideon Oliver, the bone detective, up the cable car to the top for a really scary view, and then inside to St. Michael’s cave where stalactites come together to form of figure of an angel. There is a lecture hall beside it and Gideon spoke there!  It totally makes a difference reading a book when you have BEEN THERE!

 I read A FATALITY IN SPAIN by Blake Pierce, which is set in Barcelona (also in Pamplona). Oh, yes, I definitely remember that weird Antoni Gaudi modernistic church in town! And the dancing “giants” with the wooden heads!  Reading the story…I was there too, hearing, seeing, smelling. (Although we chose to wear a mask there because of the packed crowds in the streets.)

I am currently reading MISTAKENLY IN MALLORCA by Roderic Jeffries, an Inspector Alvarez mystery. It’s number one of 37! (And perhaps I’ll also read HOTEL MALLORCA; AN ELAINE PEARSON MYSTERY by Susan Linden Emde, if I finish the rest in good time.  It looks very interesting.

We also docked in Seville, Malaga and Cartagena, Spain, but I’ll maybe be happy with the two books I have already for that country.

By the way, I am also reviewing each book I read on my new and very simple WordPress blog – Words and Reviews blog.

 At Marseilles, France, we took a bus an hour inland to Avignon, France.  Since high school French classes, I’ve always dreamed of “dancing on the Bridge of Avignon” as the children’s song goes. Finally, after 50 years – I did it!   To remember that beautiful time in Provence, with everything lavender, I read, TO PROVENCE, WITH LOVE by T.A. Williams. More of a light romance than mystery, the protagonist is a writer and teacher, who came from England to write the biography of an elderly Hollywood film star. (Rosemary Lord, you would like this one!)

 ONE SUMMER IN MONTE CARLO by Jennifer Bohnet is a sort-of mystery and again a light romance, set in the Principality of Monaco.  It featured a lot of action and information about the F-1 Auto Racing circuit. While we were there, they indeed were setting up grandstands, pitstops, and pilon curve barriers for the race that would happen two weeks after we left.

 I was able to take my husband to Florence, Italy – a city I’d visited on my own three times before. Sadly, we were not able to go out into Tuscany for a visit to a vineyard and chateau. (Excursion cancelled.) But I was able to show him around one of my favorite cities, eat gelato, have spaghetti Bolognaise at my favorite café.  (Sigh) I’ve chosen A DEATH IN FLORENCE by Blake Pierce, or DREAMING OF FLORENCE by T.A. Williams.  I’ve read books by both of these authors (A Fatality, and To Provence), so I’m hoping for a different one.  Any Suggestions?

 I read AUNTIE POLDI AND THE SICILIAN LIONS by Mario Giordano, while in Sicily, and we actually took a private taxi to Taormino because of that book. We didn’t have an excursion booked there, and, well, why not?  It only cost E100.00 for the 30-minute trip each way, and a patient driver while we toured the town for a couple hours.  It made the book more real, although we did NOT visit Palermo, where the “mob” lived in the book. Hahaha.

 I have yet to begin DEATH IN THE SILENT CITY by E.M. Ali, but I can’t wait.  I loved Malta from the moment we first docked.  And indeed, the old city has red-stone walls protecting houses in the narrow winding streets just like on the cover. We entered one of those bolted doors with our tour guide, and into a beautiful studio where he was restoring stained glass windows they’d found buried after World War II. I always thought Malta was a part of Italy, but it is a country on its own.

 We had only two “at sea” days between distant ports, so I read two cruise ship mysteries. VANISHING VACATIONERS by Hope Callaghan and PINEAPPLE CRUISE by Amy Vansant.

Both settings in staterooms, dining rooms, decks, lounges, pool, etc., were so very familiar as I roamed our ship – the Nautilus, er, I mean, Oceania’s Nautica.

 Ah, Greece! I finally got to visit the setting of my all-time favorite book by Mary Stewart – THIS ROUGH MAGIC.  It is set on the Isle of Corfu in the beautiful Aegean Sea.  A romantic-suspense mystery that I first read when I was about 13 or 14. I’m sure I’ve reread it a dozen or more times since. I love it.  And now, I’ve seen those lovely clear-water coves and sandy beaches, the castle-like homes way up on the steep mountainside, the winding dirt roads suitable only for a motorbike, the enchanting Corfu Town and the harbor. (sighhh)

I read A CRUISE TO DIE FOR by Charlotte & Aaron Elkins, an art-forgery mystery set on a fantastic mega-yacht, on Corfu, and in Athens.

It reminded me of that sleek, black super-sailing yacht, The Maltese Falcon, docked near our ship in Corfu harbor. Oh, my, what an uber-expensive 180-foot beauty!  Seriously, “Google” this super-yacht by name and you will be aghast!

 I just finished the most fun, interesting, and un-put-downable audio book that I have listened to in a long time. SACRED GAMES by Gary Corby is set in ancient Olympia, Greece in 460 BC. The still-active archeological dig that we visited and loved is portrayed so clearly in this book (the author must also have visited the old Olympic Games site) that I was sharing bits of it here and there with my husband. “Oh, yeah! I remember that!” he would say.  The book is a murder mystery that takes place during the games, and a young Athenian man is the investigator. He has 4 days to find the murderer before the Games end and his best friend is executed. The action, intrigue, fast pace, brutality of the sports, and the setting, well, it was like walking there in person again.

Have you ever done this?  I mean read your favorite genre set in the places you have visited, be they in another part of the world, or nearby?  It’s amazing. It makes reading so much richer. Can you think of a book right now that is set in the last place you vacationed or visited?  Think hard, then go buy or rent it and READ IT.

I can’t believe I actually found a book – another light romance – set in Croatia (and part of it actually in Split, where we visited)!  CLUELESS IN CROATIA by Joy Skye was a fun book, and the scenes in the harbor, in the city of Split, even a mention of the cruise ships there was fun.

After Croatia we cruised across the Aegean Sea to the East side of Italy for a 1-hour long trip into Ravenna to see the glorious mosaics there. It was an eyes and mouth open wide to see all that fine work. But alas, I’ve found no mystery/ romance books set in this smallish, inland city, or any with Italian mosaics. Do YOU know of any?

Our last port of call was again across the Aegean, in Koper, Slovenia. As I said, I haven’t found a book set in Slovenia  yet. It was a beautiful town as we strolled through it. We bought a wood craft that I hope my hubby can duplicate for gifts for Christmas. We ate gelato, sat by an unusual fountain that reminded me of a dandelion puff! And we strolled by the small sunshine-bathed beach. I bought a little cup at a souvenier shop with the LOVE emphasized in the country’s name sLOVEnia.

Neither have I founda mystery set in Trieste, Italy where we disembarked.  At Trieste when we got off the ship with our luggage, VERY early in the morning, the Nautica was surrounded in the water by shimmering, semi-transparent jelly fish!  It was amazing!

 I hope to read A GIRL FROM VENICE by Siobhan Daiko, or maybe Jennifer S. Alderson’s DEATH BY GONDOLA, or maybe even one of Donna Leon’s more recent Commissario Brunetti mysteries, set in the floating city. We were not able to visit Venice – I really cried about that – but itineraries change and we make do. We did bus to Venice from Trieste and fly out of the Marco Polo Airport to Heathrow on our way home.

 For the UK, I read Victoria Tait’s book two in her new Dotty Sayers antiques mysteries VALUED FOR MURDER set in the CotswoldsAnd I read another UK book since we had that glitch in the British Airways jet – did you hear about that?

An hour out from London to LAX, the plane abruptly turned around, dumped fuel, and hi-tailed it back to Heathrow. It seems the captain was very ill with extreme lower-abdominal pain (appendicitis?) and had to return. Back at Heathrow, we all waited patiently till the paramedics took him off the plane.

THEN – after hours and hours we were bussed to a hotel for a free over-night stay in London, free dinner and breakfast, and then back to Heathrow for another try at LAX the next morning. Because of the additional day in the UK, I read THE CURIOUS CASE OF THE COPPER CORPSE, a Flavia de Luce novella by Alan Bradley set in England.

And finally, I will read DEAR PASSENGER: WELCOME TO MY WACKY WORLD AS A FLIGHT ATTENDANT by Elizabeth Calwell. It’s a very short, humorous little book and will top off my vacation reading adventure.

Okay, this is a really long post I know, and if you skimmed or stopped reading a quarter of the way down, that’s fine.  But, tell me, have you ever done what I did? Not the cruise, but read books set in places you’ve traveled (either before or right after).  Did it make the books better? More fun to read? Can you do it this summer?

And let me know if you know of a mystery/adventure/light romance book set in Ravenna, Italy (or mosaics), Slovenia, or Trieste, Italy!

A Life of Unfinished things…

 

 

By Rosemary Lord

Many of us get very reflective around this time of year, as we look forward to spending Thanksgiving with friends and loved ones.  I love this American tradition. As a transplanted, naturalized American, over the years, I have spent this annual celebration in so many different places, with many different people. I’ve listened to memories of childhood Thanksgivings, of different family traditions across the nation, handed downfrom great grandparents to sons and daughters and then to their offspring, in due course.

Frankly, I envy these traditions. And I just love the importance of all the special family dishes that are served. The recipes handed down through the generations have their ownstories. And the simple custom, at so many tables, of each person sharing what they are thankful for. It’s a wonderful time when everything else stops for a while, and people from different generations, different religions and all walks of life get together to simply say “Thank you.”

 After such a strange couple of years, I think many of us realize we have a lot to be thankful for. Maybe for things that we previously had taken for granted. Such as walking out in public bare-faced and exchanging smiles with strangers… an impulsive stop by your favorite family-run café – that is still in business. Or simply – hugs with friends.

As writers, we are more easily able to notice these little things that have come to mean so much. And as writers, we are especially fortunate that, whatever external restrictions the dastardly Covid plague inflicted on so many people, for us scribes, we could just keep on writing.

However, so often we get our story ideas from a chance remark in a casual conversation overheard – or eavesdropping (‘ear-wigging’ is the more colorful informal English term.) I would often make up my own version of the end of some snippet I’d heard and that would sometimes turn into a whole story.  

But during these cloistered times, we’ve missed out on overhearing strangers’ conversations.

The Covid situation affected people differently. All around us, some were having meltdowns, dramas, or ‘wobblies’ – as in “She/he’s having a wobblie” – a charming current English phrase. Others found a strength and a fortitude they hadn’t realized they possessed. They found a new purpose, as they stepped into the fray to help the home-bound, the elderly living alone, or the children without an open school to attend. They volunteered wherever they were needed. Many new friendships were created. Everyday heroes emerged, as people found innovative and creative ways to handle the situations we all found ourselves thrust into – and along the way, found ways to improve other people’s lives.

For writers, fascinating tales appeared for our writing brain to feed on. People stories.

These interminable lock-downs have given many people the chance to write that novel they always felt they had in them – but never had the time to pursue. For the uninitiated, they had their first crack at completing that novel. For us old-timers, it was the opportunity to maybe write outside our normal field. (Did I tell you I have a quarter of a noir, dark and creepy contemporary novel done? Who knew I could write that?) And for writers at every level, the burgeoning self-publishing market has been a boon and a blessing.

I have discovered so many new writers from all over the world – especially when I can get the bargain price of a used book, I don’t feel so guilty if I don’t like it. Plus, I have a whole slew of new books to read on my Kindle.

I must confess that my own, personal reading, at the end of a long day wrestling with Woman’s Club administrative ‘stuff’ is more and more escapist. Often tales of a newly widowed or newly divorced woman who decides to start a new life on the other side of the world and open a bakery or her own winery.  I’m re-reading my Rosamunde Pilcher favorites and re-discovering what a good, simple, nuanced writer she was. Her books are inspiring – usually about starting again, uncovering deep family secrets that lead to wonderful, happy endings. I like a happy ending. Especially these days. 

I think I have a life of unfinished things….  That’s what it seems like to me at the moment. Some painting and fixing things around my apartment. Some sewing bits and pieces. But mostly unfinished novels and stories, which is a good thing, because I have started some new writing projects and my busy mind keeps thinking of more. Not so good because I haven’t had time to complete them. And the characters in my stories are still whispering, nay yelling, in my head to share them with the world…

But I’m thankful for every moment when I am able to write – and plan that “next year it will be different. Promise!” Hmm, I think I’ve said that a time or two before. But I really, really mean it this time!

………………………………………………

What to Write When the (Ink) Well is Dry.

That is where I am right now.

Oh, sure, I’m writing every day: checks to pay bills, answers to emails and texts, posts on Facebook and Instagram, birthday cards to put in the mail that day, a grocery list, a “to do” list, a note to Hubby about an errand I need to do and when I’ll be back.

But creative writing? Um, no. Unless you count a quick book review I pound out in fifteen minutes, knowing that unless I do it today, it will be late, and then I’ll feel awful. Too bad I only skimmed the last two chapters… but you don’t mention how books end anyway, do you? And then I still felt awful, because I’ve always determined to finish a book – every word – before writing a review. Boo-hoo.

Oh, I do write curriculum for my third (used to be fourth) to sixth grade class* at church every week. That can be fun. The delivery can be somewhat creative, but not the text of course. It’s the Bible, after all.

In one point in last week’s lesson I was teaching how that precious Word of God is called “the sword of the Spirit” in the Bible. “Sharper than any two-edged sword, able to discern the thoughts and intents of the heart.” I’d been teaching them the first sermon preached by Peter, the fisherman-turned-apostle, when I came to its conclusion. (It’s a doozy!) I pictured a duel between forces of good and evil, raised my imaginary sword and did a bit of fencing (pantomime, of course), ending up with my opponent on the floor, my sword tip on his chest. The phrase “coup de grace” came to my mind, and still holding my imaginary position with opponent pinned down, explained the French phrase. “The final blow,” I said, looking at the fifteen kids slowly. “The thrust that pierces the heart,” I said. And then I jabbed my sword right to the floor… holding for a few seconds before looking up. Then I jerked it free, held it high, then slipped it into my imaginary sheath at my left hip.

There was quietness for a few seconds, then I had the kids read verse 37 of Acts chapter 2, which was the response of the crowd to the strong finish of Peter’s sermon. It reads, “Now when they heard this, they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest, ‘Brothers, what shall we do?'” Peter’s inspired use of Scripture had brought instant conviction.

But that was “creative” thinking and teaching, not writing. So what do you do when your ink well is dry?

  1. Read in the genre you want to write. Read for pleasure (maybe even some old favorites). Read those authors who inspire you. Read, read, read.
  2. Go online to the sites that list daily (a month at a time) story prompts or story ideas. Here’s one I sometimes use. (Click farther on the site for other ideas.) https://mailchi.mp/writerswrite/daily-writing-links-29-september-2020?e=befa474c79
  3. Start (or start up again) a daily or weekly journal. I have to admit that when we returned from our (fantastic) cruise and a week later faced the monster that became Covid-19, I quit journaling. (Crazy huh? What a “ripe” season of lockdowns, scary bar graphs, no one working, everything closed, ghost freeways, that I could have used in stories. Sigh!) Well, it’s not too late. Maybe begin with a “to do” list, and comment on your doings and feelings during that day. Or… you choose.
  4. Study books by writers that give instruction. A few weeks ago we had Sara Rosett as a guest blogger. She wrote about she used lots of things for Research in her historical mysteries. But she also mentioned a couple “How To ” books she has written. “How To Outline A Cozy Mystery” and “How to Write a Series.” Both are easily found on Amazon. (I recently bought them both and am eager to dig in, for at least a chapter a day.) Look for books on short story writing by our own The Writers In Residence, G. B. Pool.
  5. Take note of those weird dreams. Hey, maybe your creative muse is locked down inside your head, and wants to safely, with some social distancing via dreams, give your mind some help.
  6. Look at a calendar. Upcoming holidays are always good for getting the juices or muses working. Think back to fond memories. Think forward with some Sci-Fi or Fantasy weirdness. Let the seasons inspire.

Do whatever it takes, even acting out some scenes from your favorite book in front of your spouse, dog or cat, or the mirror. The movements, actions, even words may lead to some nice black… or maybe purple… INK in your writing well.

###

*I used to teach a class of 4th to 6th graders, but now that all must wear a face covering in class, I have inherited the 3rd graders as well. (They used to be together with 1st and 2nd grade.) According to the “order,” all students in 3rd grade and up must wear masks etc. Second grade and below do not have to. The Children’s Ministry leader felt it would be hard on some in a class that have to wear them while others didn’t. But, on the fun side, I’ve discovered that those third graders are pretty sharp too and I only need a little tweaking of the lesson that I prepare for the older kids. (PS: I wear a face shield, so the kids can see me better.)

2020 Visions For The New Year!

Read. Learn. Enjoy.

by Gayle Bartos-Pool

girl-reading 1423501_960_720Try the classics. Try some older writers. Try a new writer and hope they have something clever or interesting to say.

We are losing the language and our sense of humor and even our sense of right and wrong by leaving those books on the shelf. People are afraid to tell a joke for fear of offending somebody. Hey! The joke’s on them. They don’t realize they ARE the joke… and the joke isn’t funny. Suggest a book for them to read.

Some are eye-opening like Orwell’s 1984. Some are riveting like E. Phillips Oppenheim’s spy novels. Some are clever like Mary Roberts Rinehart’s mysteries. Some will stun you like Edgar Rice Burroughs Tarzan or the Barsoom series. Read. Learn. Enjoy.

What is your reading pleasure in 2020? Will you share a few titles on your TBR list?  Who are your favorite authors? What genre do you like to read?

 

2020 Reading Challenges

 by Jackie Houchin

And, if you’d like some direction, I have several reading plans for you for 2020. They range from DYR20 (Diversify Your Reading) which lists just ONE BOOK PER MONTH, but in categories that may make you “stretch” a bit, especially if you’ve been reading books in just one genre.  Here’s the link:  Diversify Your Reading Challenge – 12 categories  (Follow another link in this site, for the blogger’s 3-book recommendations for each category.)

Could you read ONE BOOK PER WEEK? (Whew!)  New mom, Mommy Mannegren, has a list of 52 categories for you to read in. You can interpret a category any way you choose (“a book with a senior character” could be an elderly woman, or a teenager in 12th grade), and you can read them in any order.  The 2020 52-book Reading Challenge

And…. how about TWO BOOKS PER WEEK??  This site is for the light reader (13 books), avid reader (26 books), committed reader (52 books)  and the obsessed reader (104 books).   About 25% of the book categories at this site are suggested reading for Christians.  (Read in them, or not.)   Multi-level Reading Challenges

And last, but no way least, if you are interested in reading the Bible in 2020, here are  23 Bible Reading Plans to Satisfy everyone.

 

 Wishing you the best health, success, happiness, and reading throughout the New Year!

new-years-eve-4652544_640

%d bloggers like this: